September 23, 2009

Retrospective: Stitching Broken Into Whole

Portal (2006). Stitching and tea stains on paper, mounted on stretched fabric.

Ring the bells that still can ring
This is your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

—Leonard Cohen

This is an excerpt from my undergraduate senior thesis, which describes my attempt in 2005-2006 to clarify my spiritual path by making art about it.

…This piece begins with the idea of a stained glass window, one that is beautiful and simple and transcendent despite showing the scars of old wounds. But my intention is to suggest stained glass, not to try to emulate it. I struggle to find a shape that seems appropriate, something simpler and less majestic than the soaring spires of cathedral windows.

Perhaps, I eventually realize, what I want is not a window so much as a doorway, a portal. This insight brings the piece into greater clarity; now I understand more not only about the shape (I settle on an elongated oval that resembles a keyhole) but, significantly, what purpose the piece should hold for the viewer. I want it to be, rather than a beautiful object to be looked at, a beautiful opening to be looked through—an entrance to deeper knowing.

…It takes a couple of hours and a great deal of patience to tear the medium-weight drawing paper into the right shape and then to tear that shape into smaller irregularly sized pieces. Then I reassemble the portal shape by adding one piece at a time, using tiny strips of masking tape on the back to anchor the joined pieces. Next comes the slow work of stitching closed the tears I have created, using heavy quilting thread the same color as the paper, which will only be evident on close inspection.

I am thinking about what brokenness means, how breaking apart is useful to an eventual coming together. Art therapist Catherine Hyland Moon points out the many expressions that use the word “break” as a metaphor for transition and new insights: breaking new ground, having a breakthrough, breaking away. “We are made ready to nurture others through our own experiences of brokenness,” she writes.

I’m ready to begin staining the reassembled shapes. I prepare five different teas at high concentrations: an herb tea made of various red berries, an orange herb tea, green tea, lemon herb tea, and a chai black tea. I haven’t tested the resulting colors to determine how they will look when dried; I’m just playing it by ear.  With a watercolor brush, I begin to apply the various colors of tea to the paper, staying mostly within the bounds of the stitching but allowing some degree of overlap. Deliberately, I paint each shape with concentrated tea, careful to include the quilting thread as well because it will absorb the tea colors. It takes four separate tea applications, with hours between to allow the paper to dry, before I’m satisfied with the results.


...The portal is one simple shape, but it comprises so much turmoil—tearing and rejoining, overlapping stains in diverse colors of varying saturations. It speaks to me of wholeness that evolves from brokenness. It is our scars and the marks of our varied experiences that make us the complex and beautiful human creatures that we are.

1 comment:

  1. OK, I generally prefer to leave vaguely intelligent comments on blogs, but here I'm left with wow ... stunning - so I'm afraid that will have to do ;-)