Stillness amidst the whirlwind

Sometimes in my artwork feel like I have multiple personality disorder. I have a different style for every medium, different styles for different genres, a designer hat, a children's illustrator hat, and a fine arts hat. One glance at my site makes it obvious that I haven't been able to commit to one thing and say, this is it, this is what I'm going to throw myself into and hone it to my own unique perfection. The honest-to-goodness truth is that I enjoy them all.  They make me all feel differently. Does anyone else struggle with this? 

I think for a long time I neglected my own work in the midst of teaching obligations and client projects. By my own work I mean that personal work that comes from a deep well within, that can only be developed with quiet reflection and, let's be real, struggle and tears. 

I  had a beautiful opportunity to do this over the past several months. It truly was the most fulfilling experience I've had in creating a body of work. I'm late in writing about it because...well, that's the way things go around here. Also, the inspiration for it is so close to home that I don't know how to write about it briefly.

The project was a collaboration between the poet Joy Sullivan and ceramic artist Carolyn Baginski, an installation we titled "Cabinet of Curiosities", as part of the Game Show exhibit which just ran at the EASE gallery in Columbus, Ohio. 

Our cabinet of curiosities in its entirety.

We filled it with imaginary unsent letters, matchboxes and angry flames, fishhooks and sutures, icicles and frozen ripples. Our work was a way of collecting and interpreting memories; a set of fragments and relics about experiences both precious and painful.  The art pieces can't be separated from the poems that Joy wrote; some of her work is paired with mine on the website the Storialist, here.

Here is an excerpt from what a draft I wrote about the project:

For this project we asked ourselves, 'if our longings and prayers  were made manifest, what would they look like?' We were inspired by the holy relics and sacred objects of various spiritual traditions, especially those that relate to the body: remains of saints kept in reliquaries; the tefillin of Judaism; and the rosary beads.  

Our shared endeavor has been to explore the roots of our own personal relics and our search for the sacred. So many of these, we discovered, are the traces of struggle. The struggle to heal from pain, to make meaning, to hear the voice of God, to weave a story. Thus, these objects, images, and words may be as sacred to us as a holy relic, or their power for us may simply be that they represent a memory.  Some are fragmentary, scarred, wrinkled, full of questions. 

I stitched and wove all my wishes and scars and heartaches into those pieces, as well as my happy memories. Just like I had to crawl in close to my deepest-down self to make these, they're best seen within inches, at angles, and touched.

Remnants and records, 2016. Monoprinted muslin, thread, fossils.

Remnants and records, 2016. Monoprinted muslin, thread, fossils.

Lacy Moon, 2016. Various papers and thread.

Lacy Moon, 2016. Various papers and thread.

When I made the pieces, I felt as I did when I was a little child, that the things I made felt so imbued with meaning that they might be magical.

Relics of memory, 2016. Felted wool, thread, found objects.

Relics of memory, 2016. Felted wool, thread, found objects.

My favorite parts were the places where our pieces connected or joined, revealing common experiences and kindred understanding.

Cabinet of curiosities (detail), 2016. Ceramic works by Carolyn Baginski; embroidery by Kristin Calhoun.

Cabinet of curiosities (detail), 2016. Ceramic works by Carolyn Baginski; embroidery by Kristin Calhoun.

Making some of them felt like prayers, murmured questions asked as my hand went around and around with the needle, like fingers work over beads on a rosary.

Eclipse, 2016. Monoprint on fabric, thread.

Eclipse, 2016. Monoprint on fabric, thread.

I think it was in those small movements, the repetition of sewing that I love so much, that I found the unexpected stillness and contemplation that eludes me too often. I found memories I didn't know were there, and new layers to ones that had grown ragged from repeated wear. Sometimes I do art to imagine a world, like those of the storybooks I loved as a child. For this project, though, I had to enter more fully into the world I already remember and inhabit. But it's more beautiful to me now that I've done so.

More of these pieces can be found on the thread drawings page of my site.