29 June 2006

Biography of a Paper Lantern

Almost a year ago, I was living in my parent's house while shopping for a new home of my own in Maryland. Our family of five was living off of the bare minimum at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

My extendo-family does an annual reunion at The Outer Banks, NC, and as we packed up the car for the trip, I felt a tug for something creative to occupy my hands and brain. It's a 6 hour drive and I was just itching for something to be busy with. All of my own art supplies being packed away, I raided my mother's well-stocked art room for something- ANYTHING- creative to do with my time.

Mom handed me a couple of swatches of muslin that she'd printed on using Lazertran paper. Assuring me that the pieces were scraps and I could do whatever I wanted with them, she opened up her fabric drawers (sorted by color family, no less) and let me loose. I grabbed pieces of this and pieces of that. Interesting patterns or colors that appealed to my eyes. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with all the scraps I chose, so it freed me to choose anything. Knowing I had to keep it contained in the minivan though, I limited myself to only the things I could carry in my hand. A fistful of fabric, a sewing needle and black thread, and a pair of embroidery scissors later, I was climbing into our beach-bound caravan. Still no vision for a masterpiece.

I played with my goodies for over an hour. Folding, scrunching, wadding, stretching, and juxtaposing different colors and patterns. Nothing was coming to me. No lightbulbs lit up. Well, one of the kids asked me for a drink. Someone else got upset because they dropped their book in the crevasse between the van seat and the door. But no artistic epiphanies.

* A friend and I joke each other that art is it's own creature. "I am ART, I don't need you," it seems to say. An artist can't force her art to do anything. It decides what it's going to become. It is the thing that, in the end, calls the shots. As the artist, you just have to start with a concept and then hang on for the ride. (We came up with this "art motto" at 2AM in the midst of a flurrious artistic weekend get together. We were sleep deprived, loopy from ink vapors, and intrigued that our creative visions seemed to be taking a different route from what we'd set out to do. This concept is not gospel- just the rantings of two art-high women in the wee hours of the night.*

So... I was riding to the beach, waiting for these scraps of fabric to tell me what they wanted to become. I finally just began stitching pieces in layers. One scrap of muslin over another piece of polka-dotted cotton. Sandwiching that on top of a larger piece of turquoise. I liked the way the colors and textures harmonized. Without any direction other than visual pleasure, I made 2 or 3 of these "fabric sandwiches."

Mom also let me grab an old chenille glove she had lying around. Upside down, it looked like a guy walking and carrying something in his arms. I stitched his arms together to form a cradle for an object that was TBD. I had no idea what.

The guy is holding a green plaid heart- does it represent the things I hold dearest?

The fabric hasn't told me yet.

The fabric sandwiches, now stuffed with their own scraps to make them puff out a bit, reminded me of Chinese paper lanterns. Aha! The fabric was beginning to tell me what it wanted to do. As I stitched a few more newly identified "paper lanterns," I contemplated. (When I focus on a creative project my synapses seem to fire better. I think of and about things that I normally don't have time to stop and consider.) And here's what I came up with:
I love art. I love literature. I love music and culture. I love to travel. I'm a wife. I'm a mother. I'm not rich in money, talent or time. I'm not highly educated. I know a little bit about a lot, but a lot about very little. I'm in serious need of expanding my horizons. There are so many things I want to do. Both specific projects I have on hold and just a general lingering urge to go, see, do, experience. All these desires in my spirit... they hang like paper lanterns. (You can read my sentiments on this in my very first post, Grasping at a Straw of Creativity.)

"They Hang Like Paper Lanterns"

I had never put imagery to my creative dreams and wanderlust. I just sorta let them be what they were and adopted the menatality that "this is not the season." Which has some truth to it. BUT, I'm feeling so much more at ease now that I have an image in my head rather than just a pithy saying.

Now, I envision each idea and dream that is unfulfilled as a lovely paper lantern above my head. They aren't bearing down on me and hovering accusingly (as in, my third child's baby book that I feel guilty about never finishing and barely even STARTING), but now they provide a soft glow on the activity in my life. The more paper lanterns that hang up there in my "someday" sky, the more romantic and atmospheric their light in my life becomes. The future is full of possibilites, all strung together to softly illuminate the dance in the garden called "Present."

Over time, my main goal with the Paper Lanterns fabric collage became: keep it simple, use supplies I already have, and give it away when I am done. Oh, and GET IT DONE! I didn't want the collage itself to become another "paper lantern." Too ironic. So it became my in-the-car-and-I-need-something-to-do project. I took it on the plane to my church's Women's retreat, I took it on our 8 hour drive to Gatlinburg for T'giving, I sat and watched movies with my husband while I stitched away at it.

The fabric told me it wanted beads on it. So I added beads. It wanted the lantern poles to be on grassy hills. So I used a few strips of VERY old green fabric my mom used for a dress in 1974. Then the art asked for some metallic touches, so I wound some stylized curls of thin copper wire and stitched them on. The art said it wanted something 3-dimensional for the lantern poles. I tried sticks from my yard but they broke. I tried a few other things, but nothing worked well. The fabric and I settled on black denim, cut in spiraling strips then rolled and sewn onto the collage. It provided a little bit of texture but was still flexible enough to move with the rest of the collage. Hopefully the fabric was alright with my compromise.

Beads, black denim and 1970's green flowery hills.

Hey, the ART asked for it, it wasn't my idea!

Finally, after 7 months of labor and rebirth, here's what the ART decided it wanted to become.
There are several areas of the collage that I'm not super-pleased with, but it was my fault for not translating the art's instructions very well. I made choices based on what I thought the fabric was saying to me, but turns out I misunderstood a few of it's ideas. (No, I'm not going to tell you what they are!)
They Hang Like Paper Lanterns allowed me to do some deep reflection. I didn't spend a cent to make it! I whiled away the hours on several long road trips. It was not as simple (ie. straightforward) as I would have liked, but that's ok, I learned a lot. A lot about fabric, beads and wire. And sticks from my garden (they don't bend very well), not to mention myself. And I sent it to my crazy 2AM art-friend as a birthday gift.
One paper lantern down, 5 million to go!

27 June 2006

The Opposite of Holy is Dumb

Kids have a great ability to take a spiritual truth and boil it down to it's essentials.

This morning Rebekah and I were listening to a song about Christ being the Lion and the Lamb. She has often commented on how "weird" it is that Jesus can be both a lion and a lamb at the same time. She understands the symbolism behind it, strength and power coupled with meekness and humility, and yet she is still blown over by the idea. (Shouldn't we all be?)

So today she piped up, "Mom. The opposite of holy, is dumb."

Quiet laughter on my part. "Why do you say that, Babe?"

"Well, you told me once that if you put a dumb lion and a dumb lamb together, they'd just eat each other. But if you put a holy lion and a holy lamb together they don't hurt each other and will lie in the grass together. So the opposite of holy must be dumb."*

*I believe my actual term was "instinct" or "nature." But "instinct" encompasses the inability to reason, so dumb is probably not too far off.

Following her logic: If God has created us and chosen us to do good works in His name (holiness) and if He has called us to bring glory to Him (holiness) and instead we wander through this life doing our own thing, making our own way, and choosing glory for ourselves; we are not being holy, we are being dumb.

So today I'm asking myself, "Do I want to be holy, or just dumb?" Makes the choices in life a lot clearer, doesn't it?!

The Toothless Philosophe

14 June 2006

Homemade Cathedral 2: Stained Glass

Finally, we get back to the cathedral.

It's been hanging over my head for the last 3 months, mainly because I really want to complete it. It's not 100% done yet, but we are plugging away. In fact, it stormed a few days ago just as the girls were getting ready to head out to play with a friend so they all ended up in the garage working on the cathedral instead.

Today's entry is about how we tackled the windows.

We created our own simplified version of stained glass. Both Ellie and Rebekah got to make a rose window (although Ellie decided to make hers a "tulip window") and a clerestory for their transept.

First, they drew out their designs on butcher paper, then laid a sheet of plexiglass (from Home Depot) over it, traced the outlines with black acrylic paint (which creates a slightly raised ridge to make a "well" for the stained glass paint), let it dry, then filled in the spaces with color. You can buy stained glass window paints at most craft stores.

After the glaze paint dried, we used a plexiglass adhesive to glue the windows to the inside of the cathedral walls. For the remaining windows, I opted to use colored cellophane from the craft store. Easier to attach, but also easier to tear and remove, as Destructo-Anna will tell you.

Stained glass trivia:

- An artisan skilled at glasswork is known as a glazier.

- If you want to make green or blue stained glass, add copper to the molten glass.

- Red and orange are made by adding gold oxides.

-The term "rose window" refers to the gigantic circular window usually found above the main door on both the nave and the two transepts. Compare:

- Lead, a very soft and bendy metal, is used to hold the individual pieces of colored glass in place. This is what gives stained glass windows their neat "jigsaw puzzle" appearance. Here is one of our co-op friends examining the stained glass display at the Washington National Cathedral.

- If not for the Gothic fascination with making cathedral walls soar to heaven, the glorious cathedral window as we know it today would not exist. Flying buttresses were invented to uphold the side walls, which enabled architects and builders to create thinner walls with more open space for windows. Once wall space and windows became a possibility, windows became a beautiful medium for Biblical teaching, portraying local history, and noting the rich and famous of the region. Below are 2 examples from the National Cathedral:

This is one of a pair of windows detailing the Lewis and Clark expeditions. Close examination reveals rattlesnakes, wigwams, elk, Yosemite falls, coyotes, cacti, and all kinds of other flora and fauna they encountered on their journey to the West.

Here is the Space Exploration window. A tribute to the advances in space travel and exploration, this window actually incorporates a piece of moon rock donated by NASA. (It's that tiny white speck in the central black circle.) Cool, eh?

Some neat websites I've come across in researching stained glass:
This is a wonderful example of how stained glass and mosaic work together. St.Peter Mancroft Church Through the tragic loss of a medieval window, a wonderful new window is created using the remaining shards. Notice how there are random hands and angel's wings scattered about. Crowns hanging in mid-air. Foundations of buildings that reach up and just end in nothingness. What a great way to honor and preserve the church's heritage, and recycle at the same time. Think they were concerned about the ecosystem back then? ;)

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is the only museum I know of in the US that is devoted solely to stained glass art. Steve and I took the girls a few years ago when we were in Chicago for my cousin's wedding. If you ever find yourself at Navy Pier, this is a fun exhibit. And, it's FREE!

Aanraku Glass Studios is out in California. Click here to see their gallery full of examples of contemporary stained glass art.

06 June 2006

Nerd or Geek? Cast Your Vote Today!

My father, silly man, always acted like being called a "nerd" was the highest honor. As teenagers, when he would tell yet another corny joke, we'd all roll our eyes and inform him that he had reached a new level of nerd-dom. He would blush, bat his eyes, smile a bashful smile and humbly respond, "I'm not your average fool, you know." (Ponder that comment for just a moment.)

They say that a girl will marry someone who is just like her Dad. Well I sure proved that maxim! Steve is right up there with the elite nerds. A Nerd among nerds, if you will. Sometimes I feel kind of bad about calling him a nerd, but what other terms are available to me? "Intelligent"? "Super-duper smart"? "Ruler of the network world"? "Corny joke teller extraordinare"? None of that seems to quite encapsulate the man I know.
Remember now, my upbringing was one in which calling someone a "nerd" was the highest compliment. (And remind me later to tell you how my family warped the term "stupid" into praise for a joke of particular hilarity. "That's so stupid!" was often giggled around the dinner table to much chortling and milk spewing. My poor Mom.)

So anyway, back to the nerd issue. My friend, Rhonda, calls her hubby her "geek." So I began to wonder if maybe being a "geek" was more P.C. than being a "nerd." I decided to do a little research, and I think you'll find the results surprising. And stupid too... in the best way possible.

From The Free Dictionary:


n. Slang
1. A foolish, inept, or unattractive person.
2. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.Dr. Seuss's Nerd

[Perhaps after Nerd, a character in If I Ran the Zoo, by Theodor Seuss Geisel.]

nerdy adj.
Word History: The word nerd, undefined but illustrated, first appeared in 1950 in Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" (The nerd is a small humanoid creature looking comically angry, like a thin, cross Chester A. Arthur.)

I've always thought Dr. Seuss was a genius. Now I know it.

n. Slang
a. A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
b. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.
2. A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.
geeky adj.
Our Living Language Our word geek is now chiefly associated with student and computer slang; one probably thinks first of a computer geek. In origin, however, it is one of the words American English borrowed from the vocabulary of the circus, which was a much more significant source of entertainment in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century than it is now. Large numbers of traveling circuses left a cultural legacy in various and sometimes unexpected ways. For example, Superman and other comic book superheroes owe much of their look to circus acrobats, who were similarly costumed in capes and tights. The circus sideshow is the source of the word geek, "a performer who engaged in bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken."

Is it preferrable to be a sideshow performer who bites off chicken heads, or a sneery humanoid from a Dr. Seuss book? The polls are open. Cast your vote.