The Selfie: Unabashed Absorption or Self-Reflection?

Both. Put a smart phone and a Facebook account into the hands of the general public and all of a sudden many Americans look like self-absorbed, mindless twits. And if you haven’t caught on, I am shamelessly promoting this blog with a photo I took of myself here at Homestead National Monument in front of the Ephard-Palmer log cabin. I used an SLR digital camera, so that’s alright then. And yes, I am damned proud I can still fit into that prairie dress I made 30 years ago. That alone is worth documenting for posterity. That being said, the art of the self-portrait is an under-rated art form that has been around for thousands of years.

Prarie Dress 2

Some of the earliest cave drawings and indigenous art contain hand prints left by the artist, sort of as a way of saying, “Hey, look at me. Remember me.” As a figurative artist, I just love looking at self-portraits. Isn’t it wonderful to gaze into the eyes of say Georgia O’Keefe, Lucious Freud, Da Vinci and the like? In effect, the artist has now become the art.

A few years ago I was convinced by my friend and professional photographer, Rob, that I needed a portrait as a marketing tool to help promote my textile art. It was pure hell. It took two hours, 150 photographs and a few dirty jokes to even get me to smile. It was very intimidating to let another person into my inner sanctum so to speak. I was sure he was going to catch a glimpse of my 7 year old self. The image of that school photo taken in second grade is still burned into my mind. I was wearing an ugly brown plaid dress, a crooked smile, and a hunk of my 1″ bangs stood straight up in the air.

How had this happened? I started out life as a pretty cute kid with cornsilk blond hair tied with bows into tiny pigtails. Around the age of four my hair turned dark and was kept in two braids, still pretty cute. However, when my mother brushed and braided my hair I took to whining and complaining as she untangled the ever present snarls. In second grade my mother had had enough and had it cut off into what was then thought to be a stylish new do… The Pixie. Arrrgh.

Maybe I should start by explaining that my mother took me to her beautician, if you want to call her that, Iva Lou. She had hair the color of a bad spray on tan and a perpetual cigarette dangling from her lower lip. She catered to old ladies and little kids, neither of whom were wont to overly complain, mostly because they didn’t know any better. I am not sure why my mother went to her, but Mom assured me that the more Iva Lou talked the shorter the cut, and boy could those two talk. I usually left the beauty parlor, and I use that term loosely here, looking like a shorn sheep whose fleece had been removed with a lawn mower. At one point my bangs were 1″ long!

This went on until I was a senior in high school, (yes, I am a slow learner.) Every attempt to grow out my hair was an utter disaster; it hung shapeless while everyone else had perky flip hairdos. In frustration, this would ultimately result in a trip back to Iva for a new shearing. Thanks to my current, and very talented hairdresser, Kristi, I now know the secret to great hair is a great haircut.

So, these little foray’s into the self-portrait are just my way of banishing that 7 year old who sometimes still likes to sneak into my consciousness in an attempt at stealing my self confidence. It is also a way of reassuring myself that women can still look good as they age.  Could that old adage, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better” really be true?” Perhaps if you have a good haircut and a better camera.

Thelma and Louise

As I prepare for another art adventure this week, I have been thinking about all of the travel adventures I have had with my best friend Anne. She has played Thelma to my Louise over the past 40 years, all without picking up any deadbeats, killing anyone, or managing to drive our car over a cliff. But what to do when Thelma lives 3,000 miles away? Anne was our foreign exchange student in high school and she lives in Wales. Although we have traveled all over the world together, she is not always available. So rather than stay at home, I have discovered the charm of solo travel.

“I haven’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on my bucket list.”
– Susan Sontag

I think I have already mentioned how shocked a young waitress was recently when she learned I was dining alone. Her eyes became the size of saucers when she learned I was heading out on a hike afterwards, “Really?” she exclaimed, “I didn’t know you could do that, I will have to try it.” I was afraid if I told her I also went to the movies alone and traveled solo she might drop my dinner on the floor and I was pretty hungry, so I kept that information to myself.

Many of my female friends also think I’m just plain nuts to travel alone. They always want to know if I am afraid. What they don’t know is there is little to fear except the fear of the unknown, which really is the point of travel to begin with. It is a fallacy to think that bad things happen when you are away from home, most auto accidents occur within one mile of your home, air travel is safer than driving your car and someone can break into your home just as easy as a cabin, hogan, or hotel room. Heck, I never could get the door to lock at the last National Park residence where I lived for two weeks this summer and no one was really concerned, “Hardly anyone comes down here after closing except the rancher that lives down the road.” That was good enough for me, I grew up on a farm where we never locked our doors either until one of the neighbors reported a peeping Tom looking in her window and my Mom put her foot down. See what I mean about s*** being more likely to happen at home?

A little shot of adrenaline now and then wakes you up, helps you to notice your surroundings and makes you feel alive. Luckily, common sense runs deep in our family, so I do make an effort to avoid deliberately putting myself in harm’s way. In order to avoid plowing into a random buffalo or Black Angus, I avoided driving on the prairie after dark. I also endured severe cravings for a good steak dinner while in Nebraska a few weeks ago, a state with more cattle than people, after I figured out that the only place to get one was in a beer joint with about 50 pick up trucks parked outside. Something about the proposition of being the only female in such a fine dining establishment puts a real crimp in my appetite, and remember that door that wouldn’t lock? I draw the adventure line at anything but a stray bit of livestock following me home.

I will be off on my next National Park adventure at the end of this week. Stay tuned here to learn what happens next, and stay safe out there!

Mesa Verde and Black and White Thinking

The  Ancient Puebloan People of Mesa Verde are known for their unique Black on White pottery. Much of it was raided and sold by pot hunters, a practice that. unfortunately, is still occurring today, do you hear me eBay? There are still fine examples to be seen in the museums here and I am struck by how many of these ancient designs have been used by quilters and artists for centuries. It seem even Hitler stole the swastika from the ancient ones. However, being a therapist by trade I am reminded of a type of cognitive distortion referred to as “back and white thinking.” I fear, and notice the verb I use here, that I have my own black and white thinking process going on.

Mine is the staunch, and heretofore, unshakable belief that I am an acrophobic (fear of heights) person. I have been afraid of heights ever since about the age of three, when my Dad put me on his back piggy back style and climbed up a rock face in The Hocking Hills. Ever since then I have not been able to climb up a 3 foot step ladder without my knees knocking together. Flashback to the 1960’s, the last time I visited Mesa Verde with my family. They were either very ignorant about the conditions of the hike or were being very cagey in not telling me that you had to climb three ladders up the face of the cliff to get out of the place. I suspect the latter. Although I did ask why I just couldn’t go back the way we came in, I was told that due to “federal regulations,” this was not possible (so they said). So, with my Dad pushing from behind, I made it up to the top. My knees, however, kept locking in place making my progress so slow, that I can still remember other visitors shouting up to the top, “What’s going on up there, is something the matter?
This all leads me to the point that it is fear that often  keeps our thinking and actions locked into place, just like my knees. Knowing that I was deathly afraid of heights I applied for this artist residency anyway, a sort of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy,” that has worked out pretty well for me. I must say I have been put to the test both yesterday and today. During the hike yesterday to Petroglyph Point I came to a part of the trail where I had to get my leg up on a rock ledge to get to the next level and I was just too short to do it, I contemplated going back the way I came, but fearing Federal Regulations finally found a hidden hand hold and went on up. Not one minute later, the trail turned to a near vertical angle and I was literally hanging on to trees (shrubs?) to keep from pitching backwards into the canyon. Brought me right back to those childhood cartoons where the tree breaks. I was expecting to see The “Road Runner and TNT next.

Today I went on the most vertically challenging ranger lead hike there is, to Balcony House. This gem required climbing a 32 foot ladder up the cliff face, that’s three stories folks, then at the end climbing up the cliff using hand  and foot holds carved in the rock, luckily there was heavy duty iron chain to hold onto. You can bet your life that I never looked down not even one peep.

One last fear-based challenge takes place first thing Friday morning when I take my first back county hike out to Long House. To get there I will have to drive about 45 minutes down a road that is officially closed and locked for the season, then hike out to the dwelling alone, Incidentally there was a siting of a mountain lion in the dwelling this spring… I will have a radio with me, but of all things, I am worried I won’t be able to work the radio properly. Is there a name for that? 

Eating Crow

There have been quite a few times in my life when I have had to eat the words that have come out of my mouth. This started pretty early on. One evening, around the age of ten, I was standing at the sink and crying because I had to wash the dishes and touch all that icky food left in the bottom of the strainer. I distinctly remember telling my mother that when I grew up I would never have to do such a horrible thing because “I’m going to marry a rich man and have a maid.” Like that ever happened! I didn’t even own a dishwasher until 3 years ago. Other famous proclamations included never working with children or becoming a supervisor in my professional life. (I have been the supervisor of children’s mental health services at our agency for eight years now), and telling a previous employer during an evaluation that “I don’t really need any goals, I just want to enjoy living my life.” Just a minute while I pick a few feathers out of my mouth.

As a result of that last statement, my boss sent me to a Franklin Planner seminar on, you guessed it, setting and achieving goals, which I had to pay for out of my own pocket by the way. The seminar tied goal setting into your personal value system. Now I had a reason to set a goal or two. Ever since that day I have set goals in spades and have accomplished a lot, including going back to college and getting two degrees. I only mention this as this past year I set some goals that have really moved my art quilt career along.

I am basically a type B minus personality. It takes a lot to get me riled up. I am also notorious for putting things off. I do things when I “get around to it.” I had been talking about getting a website, learning Photoshop, and getting in some galleries for several years, but never got around to it. Then SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) started their Visioning Project this time last year. You had to publicly declare your goals and keep an online journal on their website for the entire year. My goal was to develop some marketing tools, and I’m proud to say I just completed this goal and then some. I especially wanted to set up a website,, and a paper portfolio.

If you were a little mouse in the room on my first day back to college at the age of 45, you would have had the opportunity to see me have an anxiety attack when I was asked to turn on the computer sitting behind me. Honestly, I thought the campus was so overcrowded and we were forced to have our English Comp class in a computer lab! I had to ask a little twenty something where the “button” was that turned it on. A dear friend of mine helped me learn to do web searches and really saved my bacon on various research papers, so you know I’m a bit challenged when it comes to IT matters. But with many stops and starts, a battle with Walmart over the purchase of Photoshop Elements and guidance from both of my wonderful sons, I can say I was able to overcome the computer technology I needed to complete my goals. The results are the paper portfolio shown above, a website, this blog and new business cards. I am ready to get out there and market my work. It’s gonna be a good year. I’m pretty sure I’m not finished saying dumb stuff, but I am very practiced at eating crow. It’s an acquired taste.

A Bird in the Hand or Show Me the Money

Design Wall with New Project

I have been really busy lately. This is the “Year of Taking Myself Seriously as an Artist,” so I have been putting in a lot of studio time working on my new series. I have also been working hard on my Visioning Project goal, the development of marketing tools such as a website, paper portfolio and this blog. I just submitted an application for a solo show this summer and am working on my entry for the SAQA, No Place to Call Home show. So, when my friend Kim asked me if I would accept a commission, I had to think a minute, “Yes,” well actually… “HECK YES!” Every artist gets a major ego boost when their work is admired in a show, but the greatest form of flattery is making a sale.

Freezer Paper Pattern
Now Kim has been a great client over the past several years. She has ordered numerous quilted collages for gifts, and even commissioned a quilt for her mother-in-law, (now there’s a gal with a golden heart), but she has never ordered anything for herself. Some artists aren’t fond of commissions because clients can be too picky or they feel confined in their creative process, but Kim told me to do whatever I wanted and actually said, “surprise me.” Her only request was to ask if I would include a little bit of a certain shade of green somewhere in the piece. Like I said, what a gal!

Center Medallion Taking Shape
Kim has a fizzy personality and a great sense of humor. She rides a motorcycle in her spare time, so I really wanted the piece to reflect her personal style. I came up with a color palette that I thought was perky, making sure to include her celery green. The major passion in her life during the past few years has been the ongoing restoration of the family homestead in rural Ohio. Wanting to make the work personally meaningful, I decided on the idea of making her home the centerpiece of the work. I asked her for a couple of photographs and enlarged one into a pattern. Next I searched my stash for potential fabrics and placed them on the design board to peruse for a few days before making the final selections.

Homeplace IV: Redfield
I also felt that the piece needed some natural fauna, since Kim is a country girl that likes to garden. I started the quilt before the leaves were out on the trees, so I fished a few leaves out of my pond and used them to make heliographic and cyanotype prints. The piece was quilted and a few beaded embellishments were added. Coincidentally, this piece fit nicely into my new Homeplace series and became Homeplace IV: Redfield. I presented the finished work to Kim this week and she was thrilled to pieces (no pun intended) and actually cried. The next day she let me know that her family was also moved. Kim says she knows that if her father was still living, he would be thrilled too. How much more gratification does an artist need? She even paid her bill.

The Artist As Art

As artists we are always scanning the environment, analyzing what we see for compostion, perspective, hue, value, texture. We use our critical eye to help us translate our world into art. But what happens when that critical eye is turned on us? Last year I decided to focus on taking my self seriously as an […]