Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tribute to Fran

It has been two years since I have written a blog post but felt I needed to write more than just a Facebook post about the creation of my 'Tribute to Fran' fabric collage piece. (I also recently found out that some folks still find my blog and enjoy it. Who knew?). So much has happened in the last two years with my life and my art. I have been mainly painting, not felting, but last weekend I took a class with Ed Johnetta Miller about creating faces with fabric collage. Here is the piece I had so much fun starting in class and finishing after. A Self Portrait.


The reason I was interested in taking the class was that after Fran died, I had gone to help with cleaning up her quilting studio and of course came home with quite a few of her things. I had collected some sheer fabrics that I thought I could use in nuno felting. I wanted to do a piece that was about her, created out of her own fabrics. I also had taken all of her 2x2" fabric squares that she had cut for creating watercolor quilts. I am not on good terms with my sewing machine so I had planned on using them to make a landscape without sewing. Here is a photo from when I was sorting the fabric squares by color.  The boxes on the end of the table are full of more squares. It was a great color exercise to just sort the squares and made me feel closer to Fran looking at all the fabrics she had chosen.


When I saw the ad for Ed Johnetta's class I thought I would just take it to find out the proper way to put a fabric collage together but I would be doing landscapes with my own work  after the class of course. But that is not how it went. Instead I created "A Tribute to Fran".



It is based on this photo from when she went to do a semester abroad while she was in Paris. I did not remember ever seeing this photo but her husband John said that she was very fond of this photo. That coat was special to her as well...I think it is still around. I remember Fran being away in France. (Fran was 8 years older than I, the eldest girl in our family of six, 5 girls in a row with one boy who is the youngest). It was the first time I had heard the word 'Sorbonne' and thought it was funny; sore bun. The other thing I remember was her making something she called a truffle when she came home. They were chocolates that were made to look like potatoes with almond slivers for the eyes. They were special and stored in the freezer but I stole a few and loved how they melted in my mouth. And that is about all I remember of Fran in France.


I was drawn to do the photo because of the shapes but also maybe because this was while she was still more a member of our nuclear family, one of the six and not off in North Dakota or North Carolina with a family of her own. I look at this photo and think of her as Frannie. I believe this was also before she started to really suffer from the depressions that would plague her for the rest of her life. Fran and I shared a lot of similarities, one being that we both made our first suicide attempts when we were away at college and we both found help and healing in our art. I think at one point she made an art quilt about her mental health journey. Among the fabrics I found fabric from a hospital johnny and one that she printed herself of pills representing all the psych meds that were tried. The johnny fabric is in the 'sky' of my portrait. The pills are over her shoulder and the brightest pink in her hair. Another nod to the mental health struggles are in the green fabric with the swirls symbolizing how the thoughts like they are just swirling and how moods can spiral up or down. I also cut a lot of teardrop shapes for the pieces I used but as I was laying them out and over lapping them they looked more like the scales on a dragon. I liked that idea of tears becoming a kind of scaly armor.



Fran loved to hide images in her quilts and she had a great sense of humor. I think she would have loved that I gave her a real carrot top....or is that too corny? I also included a birds nest in her hair.  I included her cats as well. And the frog because one of her nicknames when we were growing up was Frannie Frog.
Butterflies are featured not only because Fran loved them but also because they can symbolize transformation after death. Music is also included since Fran was a proud member of the choir at her church.
I was nearly finished with the piece when I figured out I had not included any of the fabrics with a sewing theme. I searched in a few of the boxes and could not find any. I decided to give up on it but just for the heck of it I asked out loud for Fran to show me where they were. Not even a minute later I found the perfect piece with colors that would even work. It made me feel like she was working with me on it. I did not agree with her however later on. The canvas I used had been one of hers I think. I found it in the basement. It had just one drip of red paint on it. Unfortunately when I put the glue on it the red started to spread all over. I went ahead and put the johnny fabric over it but that red paint came though. We went back and forth. I felt she was insisting on that red. I over ruled with some gesso.... since it is MY piece, and we did not always see eye to eye in life....after all we ARE sisters.
Among the fabrics that I found in her studio that I took for creating a piece about her was the one with her writing....

and this sweet little candlewick angel, which sits over her shoulder and helps cover the red blotch.



The butterfly in that photo is one of her earrings the mate to which was lost. Another lone earring from her collection is stuck through the canvas like she is wearing it. She also is wearing one of her pins. It was fun adding these 3-D elements.

I think Fran would be pleased....even without the red blotch.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

For the record....a bad month.

I feel the need to write these things so that I can remember that there is a reason that life seems a bit hard right now. A reminder to be kind to myself and make self-care a top priority.
In the last month there has just been a lot of big and little things that happened that could rock my emotional boat. The biggie is that we have seen sister Fran's cancer progress so quickly. In the end of May we were all able to enjoy what we thought could be our last full family get-together at a house in North Myrtle Beach. Since that time Fran went from being able to enjoy our time at the beach together to going in to hospice on the 7th of July.

My Funny Frannie, we called her our blue footed booby because of the shoes she had to wear on the beach due to Doxil and little orphan Frannie since she lost her long locks to chemo.
Fran at the hospice facility with her two daughters and kitty Maggie.




My dad and I went down to North Carolina to be with Fran and her family and spent over a week doing what we could to try to make this last part of life easier. It was an incredible experience, deeply emotional and utterly exhausting and heartbreaking and yet somehow there were times that were beautiful....a sacred time. I will never forget the feeling of waking up after an afternoon nap taken after staying up all night with Fran. While I slept it had rained and when I awoke it was to see this glorious rainbow that lasted so long. I had hoped it was a sign that Fran was finally released from her pain, but as of this writing she is still hanging on.



At the same time that this is happening my daughter has been having problems with one of her eyes. First it was thought to be just conjunctivitis, then ocular herpes, and finally after about a month it was decided that it was a rare disease called acanthamoeba keratitis, basically amoeba in her cornea. It is a serious problem. Her eye looks a lot like this one.
We wound up having to go to NYC to see an expert in this rare condition that can come from improper use of contact lenses. As of this time treatment is working on the amoeba but is so irritating to the eye that new medicines have been ordered as of this week. She still can not see out of it....just shadows but it is too painful to have it open much anyway. It was awful to be in the doctor's office and have all the doctor's in the practice come in to see this rare problem. Great to have them all on board but really brings home how serious and unusual this is. And when she could not see the very big letter 'E' on the chart my stomach did that thing that happens when we feel punched in the gut by life.
Adding to this 'in your face' reminder of how fragile we are and that life is uncertain and a gift to be cherished were two accidents. First my brother was rear ended by someone not paying attention....maybe texting. He was sore but basically ok though the car was totaled and if he had had a passenger it would have been a tragedy. Second was my son who narrowly avoided a head-on crash caused by a drug dealer/user without any insurance. His truck is also totaled as the back axle was ripped off so great was the force. These are those things that we struggle with being thankful that it was not worse and yet hate that it happened at all. They remind us of just how quickly life can change.
My daily life changed a lot when on our way home from our vigil with Fran I found out that something had gotten in to my chicken coop at home and killed all but one of my girls. Anyone who knows me knows how big a part of my life my girls were. They were not just chickens or pets, they were my companions. I was a crazy chicken lady and I probably talked to them more on a daily basis than anyone. First while we were in NC I had gotten a call from my chicken sitter to tell me that my special girl 'Sweetie' had died. Thankfully she died peacefully of natural causes. She was the one I had to take in the garden with me to protect her from the other girls. It is so lonely out there now.

Sweetie in the garden with her chicks.


My son, who also talked with this little chicken at times, buried her and made this little cross out of tobacco lathe and hay bale twine.

I had known that my coop was not as secure as it should be. And I had worried that something was going to get in so it is not like I did not know that there was a possibility of an attack. I was actually more worried that something would dig under the coop to get in. I knew that chicken wire was not supposed to be good enough to keep things out but in 8 years here and several over in my old house I never had a problem with holes in the wire. I guess I was due....plus the wire was probably weaker after all those years.

A few months ago I had asked my father if he thought we would travel more together if we did not have the chickens and he said yes. I was very lucky that I had finally found someone to watch them so that we were able to go to the beach with all the family but it is still not the same as being able to just leave home without asking for help. We still have the cat to worry about but it is easier to find someone to care for one cat than someone to take care of a flock of chickens. Libby has chickens of her own and she took better care of my girls than I did, bringing them treats etc.. I felt so so sorry for her finding the horrible slaughter. What an awful thing to have happen to her. Again my son came and did the job of clean up so that when I got home it was just to an empty coop. I am thankful for both Libby and Buddy for all that they did.
I am taking it all as a sign that I need to be chicken free for a while. Dad's macular degeneration has been pretty stable but at 88 years old there is no telling how long we have left to be out and about traveling together. I know I can get chickens later but I do miss my friends and while I can replace 'the chickens' I can not replace Momma the matriarch and top of the pecking order, who had a stroke and I rehabilitated but still stumbled a lot,


or Dottie whose voice I could distinguish and who always answered my questions,



 or Handsome who must have had a terrible fight trying to protect his ladies,

or Millard who....well you get the idea.


Monday, April 17, 2017

An Artist's Tool Box Mystery, the final chapter.

Only a few more items remain to be shown. The first is likely the most valuable single item, a book of gold leaf. (And another mention of Hartford, CT)





Some of the leaves have been used but only in small pieces.

 

There are several unused pages.




I have been looking up information about gilding and finding out that I did not know a lot about it. There are so many different types and applications for gold leaf. When I was thinking that this was Madge's paint box I thought that maybe she was trying something like Klimt did with his use of gold leaf in his oil paintings but it sure did not seem like her style. When I looked up the tole painting I thought that that type of decorative painting would probably have suited Bertha better. I also found reference to sign painter's using gilding for lettering. That would tie in the sign painter's paint. I have been assuming that this was a woman's collection of items, in part because of the reused cosmetic bottles I think. 
The final item was another box. It was a box that held Gold leaf but that is not what was in there. I love the graphic design on this box, too bad it got written on.


Here is what was in that box.




A small flat head screw driver, a bit of white chalk, and a few more paper clips....


Two boxes of razor blades....



(Note that Marlin seems to be most proud of their gun line)

A box of crayons from Milton Bradley (another company not far from my home)....



And this box of Mongol water soluble colored pencils. And I had thought that watercolor pencils were a new invention in the last 20 years or so. 




A big part of the mystery was solved for me as I pushed the pencils back into their box after inspecting them. I guess there is not doubt now who the artist was.





And under a paper towel lining the bottom of the box I found this ruler and calendar card.




So, we now know that my great aunt Bertha Caswell was the artist and that she was doing some sort of gilding and painting with oils and metal powders. The other day when I was researching a bit more about gilding I found reference to gilders quill brushes. These are made with long hairs and have a natural quill ferrule. They look very similar to the brushes I showed in chapter 2, so the transparent part of the brushes must be quills. They are used for lettering. Maybe even for making letters like these... 

...which I noticed on the outside of the box after putting all the contents back. I felt stupid that I did not see them sooner but then there would not have been so much of a mystery. And I would have missed out on a lot of fun trying to piece together the clues and I probably would not have looked at all the items so carefully. So because I was not careful enough in looking at the outside of the box when I found it I was given the opportunity to look deeper at the contents. I think there might be a lesson here.
I still would like to know more about how these things were used so I will do more research and also hope that someone out in internet land might be able to help.
The end.



Saturday, April 15, 2017

An Artist's Tool Box Mystery, Chapter 3

The bottom of the box contained two more separate boxes that held their own treasures. But first there was a pile of rags such as every artist needs. As a textile artist I also saw some beauty in the rags themselves. Subtle colors and interesting patterns in the stains. Note that the artist was using old embroidered bed linens for rags. Old cotton has such a distinctive feel to it.


There were several different jars containing various mysterious liquids and powders.

 
Many of the jars were re-purposed cosmetic and medicine jars.
I love the one with the flowered top.





Some of the bottles and jars have hand written labels but the labels mean nothing to me.




Well, I know that Turp is short for Turpentine but I have no knowledge of what Hour Varnish is or what Cabots could be.

The small bottle of Higgins Ink looks very familiar as does the jar of  Vaseline though with a notable difference; there is no 'Ponds' after Cheesebrough so it is from before those companies merged.


 "White Petroleum Jelly"; you mean there were other colors?

There was also an unopened box of an oil paint medium



Another mention of Boston


The Cigar box was a treasure on its own. The outside looked really good.


And the inside cover was beautiful.

Besides being wonderful containers for all sorts of things cigar boxes mean something to me since my hometown here in Connecticut has a long history in the tobacco and cigar industry. In fact the first cigar factory in the U. S. was located here. I grew up with a tobacco curing shed right in my back yard and spent quite a bit of time working to raise tobacco. In fact this particular box came from a factory in Connecticut.
 

The labels on the box are all clearly legible. There might be some information here that could solve our mystery but will take more research. When did cigars last cost between 8 and 15 cents?
 




 
One side of the box looked great but the other....not so much.





Apparently something that was stored in the box at leaked at some point.

 

This is what I saw when I opened the cigar box.


Another small bit of that black velvet and many bottles. The bottles hold metal powders.





There were many colors and various makers.



And the artist had apparently also made a mix that was put in an old salt shaker.

I am guessing that the silver powder from the pill vial in my first post was one of these metal powders. I did some research and found that these are used for tole painting;often with a stencil, and other types of decorative painting.
Remember the metal box from the first post? I am guessing that that was painted with these powders for practice using them.


And in the bottom of the cigar box there were a few more of the sharp pointed styluses (or styli), a large paper clip, something that looked like foil, and a few tongue depressors.


The small bottle is another old pill bottle that now holds silver powder. It originally held Alophen a mix of Aloin extract, Belladonna, Powdered Ipecac and Phenolphthalein. It was another medication for constipation. I have no idea who in the family had that type of problem so that is no help.


And now since I am tired and we will be having a family get together tomorrow I find I have to end this post without finishing the story. More tomorrow or the next day.