Tuesday, June 28, 2011

lost in the weeds again

Don't you just love it when you get caught in the flow of life? Sometimes it seems that you just do work. Life is just one step--and then another. Then suddenly--inspiration hits. Or at least that is how it seems to me. Recently my life steady. Now there is nothing wrong with steady. I like knowing what I have to do.  In the morning I rush to the "garden formerly known as the vegetable garden" and see what's in bloom.  Ah a Japanese iris--the anticipation and promise of the furled flower. My daylilies have so many scapes--they will be magnificent this year.

For now I weed and mulch. I never get finished--always more grass that grows. The violets that need to be pulled up. Goldenrod--beautiful but not in the garden. I put the weeds in my basket--they haven't bloomed yet. I can dump them on the compost pile. In a couple years they will be dark rich additions to the soil. How virtuous I feel. Always I get something done. If only I was always this good at weeding--oh well. There is a saying that a Zen student should embrace the weeds.

Then off to finish the big order. Add the binding. Pick the threads. One step just leads to the next.  What should I make next? A show I would love to do again writes that they will accept artists who have exhibited previously if these artists can show that they are doing exciting new work.

I love a challenge. What if? Suddenly my mind returns to all the sketches I have made in those quiet moments at shows. Those pieces that I know I want to make--if only I can realize them. I see a theme--a concept. I need five quilts for this show. Maybe a couple that I have already made can be tied in. I'll see how much I can get done. I sketch. Think. Sketch again. There are so many ideas just there--like the flower bud just waiting. Rough sketches. They will flesh out. Open.

And then start. If I think too hard I know I will scare myself. I tell my DH I have a great idea. It may work.  I start sewing immediately. Make the one I know the best--let the others follow. The idea is too new to explain even to my DH just yet.  I want to get that sound footing--that base from which I fine tune the other quilts. Oh yes, these colors are lovely. Such potential.

Isn't it exciting? Can I get it done? Will the quilts hold together? Does it even matter? Too much to think about. Time to do some more weeding. Relax. Maybe that is the key to inspiration. What do you think? What are your tricks?  Can you create a series of works or do they just happen?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

living intentionally--what is in bloom today?

This morning is slow, calm, grey.  A bit of drizzle. The hills in the distance are hidden by mist that joins the clouds overhead. It is soft and silent. Still. Focused.

I read an essay by Jane Dunnewold. This time it is called What Matters. How do you live creatively as an artist? The blog post is based on a lecture she gave initially at Confluence--sponsored by the Surface Design Association. Clearly an essay rich with poems and ideas. You can read and re-read it  HERE.

Now much of what she says is true--needs to be repeated but we probably know it. Just listen to this--I am sure you are nodding in agreement.

 Life happens. Your best intention is to allow it to do so, without getting in the way, and by being constantly present.

True but tough to do. Right. Make your choices as to what is important to you. Practice staying true to these choices. Develop a community and be present in it. But in order to be part of that community we each must develop our own individuality and creativity. Now that needs to be said again and again.  Decide what is important in life, practice paying attention to that part of it and eliminate some of the clutter.  She suggests:

Cultivate Curiosity.
Try to be surprised by something every day.
Life is a stream of experiences. Swim in it.
Try to surprise someone every day.
Write down these two events.
When something sparks interest - follow it.

Great ideas. Perhaps too much to tackle at once. Can't we try too hard and get discouraged in this pursuit? But isn't it the process of practicing this. Doing one thing every day. Living intentionally. Working toward the Sacred. Avoiding clutter. Isn't this the essence of the struggle toward creativity? As I said this is a complex essay with lots of thoughts--worth reading and re-reading. I can't summarize the whole post--I can't even wrap my mind around it. But that is, I think, okay. It is an essay where you take what you need today and maybe take something else tomorrow.
She concludes with a marvelous poem by Naomi Nye--The Art of Disappearing. You really should read the whole poem. I love it. But for now, just consider the final stanza:

Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.

Isn't that the key to living intentionally? Of taking advantage of your time and your own creativity?  Isn't that how we should try to live every day?

Today my garden is in one of those between times--only a few Siberian iris linger. The daylilies have buds, promises of their explosion of color and form that will soon follow. The mist focuses my attention.  At first I notice the weeds--how much they love this cool damp weather. The clutter they try to impose. I must weed again soon. But that is not why I am here this morning. I just need to check it out before heading to work.

Then I see it--my first Japanese iris is blooming unexpectedly.  Wasabe ute is its name.  Isn't it lovely. Flowers dancing floating above the leaves. Tiny raindrops on the petals. So simple and joyous.  Just look at those colors and forms. So complex but also so simple. It brings up memories of my images of Japan--a country I have never visited but don't we all have some idea what it should look like. Aren't they wonderful?

With more buds furled--the promise of sky and dance. Hope wound up and concentrated.

And for me this is one of the essences of the living intentionally. The dance of the Japanese iris focused against the mist of the hills. Maybe one can't follow all of the suggestions in her article--great guidelines. But just the act of observing this one flower. Focusing on its joy.  Isn't this what the leaf does--observing the present. And you--how do you live a creative life? How do you live intentionally? Do you live like the leaf? And what is in bloom in your garden?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

do we also tell the same story?

Recently I heard a great interview with Ann Patchett on--of course--my favorite public radio station NHPR.  Actually I have heard her three times talking about this book--she is definitely getting her work out there. Now you have probably heard of Ms Patchett--she wrote the best selling book--State of Wonder--set in the jungles of the Amazon River.  What I noticed was she always tells the same story about her inspiration and research for this book. She did go down to the Amazon for ten days--loved the first three days of her trip and then felt claustrophobic for the remainder of the time. After all in the Amazon you can't just go for a little stroll. Death is just around the corner. No sky to be seen--only trees and more trees.

Indeed as one interviewer, Virginia Prescott of NHPR noted--this sense of claustrophobia is also one of the themes of Ms Patchett's other books--Bel Canto, Run, The Magician's Assistant. You can read more about Ms Patchett HERE. And Ms Patchett who has clearly thought about this question replied--and I paraphrase:

We all have one story to tell.

Interesting statement isn't it? Are we all just going around the same story--the same concept--over and over again from different angles--whether it is the interactions of a small group of people in a confined space--or in my case, the feeling of space and the interaction of color in the landscapes of our memory? Certainly there are lots of authors who have a point of view--think of T.C. Boyle or Anita Shreve--don't you have some idea when you start one of their books what the mood will be? Can't one identify the baskets of a Kari Lonning? Isn't this what is meant by a point of view?

But don't the stories change as a person changes--either because they change technique or have different experiences? Didn't Bob Dylan's stories change as his life changed and he went electric? What about the many stories that Woody Allen tells--sometimes painfully personal, sometimes relaxed into broader explorations?

And how much is pre-ordained and how much the result of telling the story once and then wanting to explore it from a different point of view? Is Ann Patchett destined to write novels about claustrophobia
or could each novel raise questions for the next one? There are so many questions I want to ask. I know that I too have the story that I tell to those who are looking at my quilts. And yet I do change the story as questions are asked and the story evolves so that over time it differs significantly from the original. Yes this quilt views of the dawn is related to prairie sky.

Yes, they are the same story. But such different themes on the same story. Trying to create the feeling of space. A place to go to. Openness and freedom. The play of the colors.

Same theory as the rolling hills. Little short stories in time and space. Each piece teaches me something I will use in the next piece. Indeed I frequently dream of the next piece as I finish the current one. Should I try it in browns? What about greens? Greys? A quieter blue. Always more possibilities than I can possibly make? As Anne Truitt says, the problem is not in designing the next piece but in choosing which of the many pieces she has designed she should actually make.

I remember a discussion I had with a friend of mine Carol many many years ago. She had befriended a woman much older than herself. Carol said the conversations were always fascinating. The older woman said the questions were always the same--even though the answers might be different. Isn't that interesting and telling.

I want to ask Ms Patchett if she finds that the same thing is true.  Such an interesting question to muse about. What do you think? Do we all have one story? Does it change over time? Does telling the story over and over again help define the questions? Do the answers change? And how do you choose which questions to ask? Which stories to tell?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Walrus and the Carpenter

Recently I have been thinking about the poem by the great Lewis Carroll about the Walrus and the Carpenter. I knew this poem well as a child--haven't thought of it recently. Do you remember it?

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

This time it was quoted by the unstoppable Miss Lanny on the Robin of the American Daylily Society. Now I have yet to meet this wonderful lady--and lady she definitely is--but I always look forward to her well thought out posts about life and hybridizing daylilies with her son and his wife--yes, they eloped at a daylily convention--these folks are very passionate and committed. Don't you just love listening to people who know something so well?  In this case they breed wonderful winter hardy clear colored daylilies--you can check out here. Isn't the Internet fabulous?

Well Miss Lanny and her family  realized they needed to add 130 new daylily beds--remember I said they are passionate about daylilies--and after the marriage they had another hybridizer who needed room for her daylilies.  So they ordered 122 tons of crushed stone, four truckloads of compost, lots of good top soil. I forget everythin--it doesn't matter anyway--you get the picture--endless mounds  that had to be moved into the new beds--often by wheelbarrow loads into the new beds. Tractors couldn't do many of the tasks.  How do you start? One wheelbarrow load at a time.

I was thinking of this when I began sewing the new quilt together. Now I love to make large pieces. The large canvas that can almost encompass the viewer. As I wrote about HERE--size can matter.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

thoughts on raspberries, compost and--of course--quilts

June--one of my very favorite times of the year. The garden is alive with color and promise beckoning me outside before and after work. As I weed and plant, I am constantly thinking of new additions. New plans that will make it even better. Shouldn't I move that blue iris over there? What about putting a daylily here? And then there are the raspberries.

Now I confess I love raspberries--so much flavor. Summer in a simple bite. That wonderful rose color. Dessert picked fresh in the garden as the day cools off. Delish!!!

But--and as you have learned--frequently there is a but--my raspberry patch is dieing. The plants become shorter and shorter. And they are in a location where their shoots spread into the asparagus patch. Even invade the Siberian iris. Now that is a problem.  With envy I admired the vigorous bright green rows of berries I drove by on my way to the studio.

So when my DH offered to plow up a patch in the meadow for a new berry patch, I leapt at the chance. Finally a berry patch surrounded by grass. The runners could be mowed. I quickly got on the web and ordered three different types of raspberries from Nourse Farms. I wanted raspberries for all seasons. And I knew that the old plants had played themselves out.

Plant in rich deep loam the directions said. Right, I grin. We live on top of a mountain. Now I grew up on the rich soils of Illinois. The soil there went down two, three feet. Lovely and lush. There is a reason my ancestors moved out there. But here, in Massachusetts there is ledge and rock sometimes even on the surface of the soil.  It is lovely--the views are great-- but the soil is thin, acidic and rocky.

After my DH removes the sod, I double dig the trench by hand, hacking through the stone,  pulling out the rocks and stray roots. Oh this is hard work. I bring in wheelbarrows of soil pushed aside years ago when the  meadow was cleared. But still I worry that this is not enough. The soil is not rich. It feels sandy and thin.

In for a dime, in for a dollar. Isn't that the saying? So I go to the local farm store--Shelburne Farm and Garden--and actually purchase bags of organic composted cow manure and lime. Remember I grew up on a farm. Buying bags of cow manure just seems weird--sorry.  I spend many hours of my youth shoveling manure out of the barn. I don't know if you understand what a big step this is for me. But if I am going through all this work, shouldn't I give my raspberries the very best start possible? I also buy lime. Lots of lime. I will create good soil.

And that is where this post actually becomes about quilts. (You knew I would get around to it, didn't you?) Sure my grandmother used my dad's long wool pants for the quilts that provided the warmth in the bed though she cut out the holes in the knees. And even during the Depression she insisted on selecting the feed sack cloth for the finer quilts that would decorate the top of the beds. I am convinced that sometimes the chickens ate pig food because the fabric was better.

And shouldn't we, if we are going to spend the time and effort making a quilt, make it using the best materials we can get. Not the discount fabrics that are out there. I tried that ONCE. But that is another story. Isn't it better to do it right?

Meanwhile here is the new raspberry bed. I mulched it with leaves raked last fall. Now I just have to wait until next spring. I can taste them already. What do you think? Do you have raspberries? And what materials are important to you?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

what's in a name?

This time of year, I LOVE iris. Little iris cristata blooming so bravely in the cold. Miniature bearded iris that burst into bright purples and blues, ridiculous yellows--so complete and outrageous. The blue Siberian iris that I plant in masses of sky against the red poppies. And especially the hybridized Siberian and Japanese with lush variations of whites and blue, lavenders and purples. Each filling an unexplained need within me after the greys and browns of early spring.  I pore over the catalogs dreaming of new colors. Oh spring has come!!

And in western Massachusetts I scour the local paper hunting for that one iris sale. Each year a local farm opens up for one week-end. I never know which week-end it will be. This is a bit of paradise on earth. Last year I bought more Japanese iris than I could imagine. This year the sale was last week-end. Now Saturday was my birthday. My DH had left at 6:15 to assist his students at the State Middle School Science Fair--never let it be said that teachers don't work hard!!! But that was OK--the iris sale was happening.

I left the house as early as I could to drive up to the sale. What a treat! I was the first person there. The son--who loves to talk iris--was there. I could ask him any question about iris. Learn so much. He showed me the Iris Setosa--a flag iris from Alaska. The Iris Versicolor--a New England flag iris in beautiful lavenders and blues. There was the yellow Siberian he had hybridized. It was hard to remember them all. I made a list in my mind.

As he and his dad were digging my "must-haves", I saw another one--so many subtle colors. What was it? Could I have some? Now when I first started buying iris I didn't care about the names--if it was pretty I wanted it. Until I discovered that I had purchased the same lavender iris three years in a row. As the son said, it proves I know what I like--but still.... So now I try to label all my flowers just so I know. I snapped a picture of the mystery iris.

Exquisite isn't it? Alas the label had fallen off this one. The son is getting some advanced degree and isn't around all the time anymore. He said it was by Schafer-Sacks. Same family as Banish Misfortune, Sun Comes Up, Here Comes Dragons. Aren't those names great? Now I confess I didn't recognize the name Schafer-Sacks though I frequent their web site http://www.jpwflowers.com all the times. Do check it out. Aren't they gorgeous?

I mentioned that I loved Sarah Tiffany--yup, the same breeder. Careless Sally. Again. It turns out Schafer-Sacks had been breeding Siberian iris and got some unusual results. They kept pushing these results until they got some very distinctive iris. Roaring Jelly--yes, I have that one also. Mad Magenta.

What fun the challenge is identifying this iris. I get on the internet. What are the colors of each part of the iris? Oh there is so much to learn. Yes, I think this one is Salamander Crossing. Great name. But then I discover another problem. I have this iris labeled In Full Sail--but In Full Sail is yellow. OK. What can it be? Look at that hint of blue in the center. The many different colors. The prominent veins. The hint of a ruffle. So much to note.

Clearly it is not Sun Comes Up. Look at the different colors. The center here is not white but almost lavender.

Maybe Echo the Sun. Oh so much to learn.  I must examine it more carefully. Look at some more pictures. What fun it is. Being forced to pay close attention to detail. Knowing that there is a style--part of a series--but then trying to distinguish it.

Interestingly I receive an e-mail from a fan this week. She had seen my quilt prairie dawn in The Art Quilt Collection. See this really is a blog about quilts--it just sometimes take me a while to get there. Anyhow, her question to herself was why did this quilt look so familiar. After all, she is from Florida. Never seen my work in person. Then she realized that I had also written an article in Threads magazine way back in 1999.  She was still making the little purses that I showed in that article. Isn't that cool? I  confess her e-mail made my day. Not because I am still making those little purses--I have redesigned them. Nor because I am still making quilts like prairie dawn--I am trying to explore other concepts. But because my quilts are recognizable.

Among all the quiltmakers out there, she knows it is mine. Isn't that great? Isn't that what having a style is all about? Taking a concept and exploring it--seeing where it leads. Not because you can't do other styles--make other pieces--but because there is something very powerful in paying such close attention to detail and pushing the envelope. Schafer-Sacks now have the most wonderful iris in cinnamon and whiskey, a warm rose plum. My wish list is growing. I must find out if their garden is ever open to the public. I really should join my local iris society--maybe they offer tours.

And you--do you work on a consistent style? Do you keep pushing the envelope? Do you even think that is important? And what is your favorite iris?

Monday, June 6, 2011

flowers in the sidewalk

Sometimes life just happens. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed isn't it those little things that can make a day special? Saturday I was chatting with dear friends of mine whom I hadn't seen since they left for the Everglades last November. Sure I had read about their adventures with alligators and pythons, the trip in a plane skimming over the tall grasses. Their glee in telling of sunshine and warmth--usually they wrote just when they knew we were having yet another snow storm--UGH. I had kept them up to date with tales of snow shoeing in the moonlight. The dainty spring flowers. But in person, conversation just flowed. Laughter. Surprise at his beard. You must know that moment.

Then three women walked into my studio. Nothing wrong with that. The studio is open to the public. I want customers and conversations. It turns out these women were quilt makers. One I had met before--the others just knew of me. They drove up from Connecticut. Girls day out. One of them was carrying a bag. Would I like to see their quilt? Of course.  After the decided to visit Shelburne Falls, they wanted me to see the quilt. How special that was. Turns out there were seven of them--they had decided they would make a quilt for each of them when they turned fifty. What a great idea. This one had taken them three years--not working on it all the time. But still trying to make it just right. Not a bed quilt--but a throw. Or maybe a wall hanging. About 3 x 5 feet. Created in blocks. Each one made by a different woman and signed. I presume the recipient is a gardener. I confess I was so busy admiring the quilt I didn't ask.

I loved it. The careful embroidery around the lotus. You must know the words to the song--"inch by inch, row by row..." Wasn't that the theme for this quilt?

 The bright wonderful colors in the chili peppers and leeks.

 The artichoke--they made sure I looked at the artichoke. And it was delightful.

And the morning glory. I love that carefree feeling of morning glories--catching a bit of that warm summer sky in a flower that stretches up and then covers itself in blue.

The lilies of the valley--brings back so many memories to me. My grandmother's house had a special place under the pine tree. You could pick a dainty handful. Can't you just smell them? A special smell of spring.

There was so much more--poppies and corn, eggplant and pumpkins. A cabbage. The iris. Then they showed me the back. Which said it all.

Flowers growing in the cracks of the sidewalk. And isn't that what friendship is about. Those tiny things we share. Those wonderful memories that just happen in the day to day passage of life. Those bright moments of joy and laughter. Shared experiences that hold us all together. Isn't this one of the reason that quilts are such a powerful form of art? What do you think?

As for me, sometime soon I will go over and visit my neighbors. Maybe have a margherita on the porch. Play penny ante poker--I always lose. And laugh and share stories. Aren't friends wonderful?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

the quilts of Ann Brauer--June edition

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the weather was hot and so humid you could almost cut the air with a knife. Then line after line of storms came through--hail, lightening, wind and rain. Oh how it poured. Luckily for me, the most severe ones missed us--my heart breaks looking at the pictures of downtown Springfield. So much devastation. Another disaster in a spring of disasters. I am awe struck by the power of Mother Nature.

Meanwhile June for me will be a month of preparation. I am getting two new windows installed in my studio--the first one is already in. I now have screens that I can open. How nice it is.  On Saturday June 11 the village of Shelburne Falls will be celebrating Riverfest. As usual, this is a fun event for the entire family. The highlight is the Frog Parade that goes right past my studio. The costumes are fantastic.  I should be working in the studio most days so do drop by if you are in town and check out my windows. Of course if you are coming from a distance you might want to contact me first.

I am also busy preparing for craft shows later this summer. July 14-17 I will be doing the Guilford Craft Show  in Guilford, CT http://www.guilfordartcenter.com I haven't done this show for a couple of years but I am looking forward again to being on the Town Common. This year they have added Sunday hours. Do check it out if you are in the area. Then in August I will do the Berkshire Craft Show at Monument Mountain High School and the American Craft Exposition in Evanston. Both should be great and I will tell you more about them next month or you can check the listings on my web site.

After some thought I decided that the June Quilt of the Month is "red sky on the hill". I love this piece. It is a bright and cheerful portrayal of the sky at sunrise--or is it sunset--against the darkening hills. The quilt is 45 x 45 inches. Normally it is $1200 but it will be $500 plus tax and shipping until June 10. As usual, there is only one quilt and it will be sold on a first come/first served basis so e-mail me if you are interested. The colors are just a bit brighter than this image. Do note the little hints of stars and sky in the quilt.