For many years my mother made what she called “soft sculpture” dolls. The bodies were cut from muslin using a pattern she had purchased over 40 years ago (“Gingersnap Friends” by DreamSpinners; see the last photo, below). She embroidered the faces, added yarn hair and other details, and sewed clothes for them — often using recycled fabrics. She made these unique and personal dolls for family and friends (mine, made when I moved into an apartment with no roommates, is shown below; she dubbed the winking doll “NTR” — the No Trouble Roommate). Recently my brother asked her to make dolls for his granddaughters, but because of her illness it was too much for her. I took it over and — due to time constraints — attempted to simplify their construction. I figured if I used colorful, printed fabric then the dolls were already “dressed”, saving me some work. Once I found the vibrant colors and patterns of Bright Eyes fabric by @annamariahorner I decided they didn’t need hair or faces either. And they really came alive when I added embroidery details to their knees, elbows, and heads.
My mother was delighted with the colorful dolls and she helped me stuff them (when we were finished, she said “I mean how can a kid look at that and not smile?”). I told her that hers were “Fine Art” and mine were “Folk Art”! Her mother fondly called her “Frankie” so we christened our soft sculptures “Frankie Dolls”.
Drawing has been my superpower this past year; creating a visual diary of an ... unusual ... year while warding off fear and tension and anxiety. The healing power of art.
This sketch takes me right back to a cold Sunday evening last December, gathered outdoors in a pandemic "living room". Basking in the glow of a propane heater and a Philadelphia Eagles football game and once again hearing the familiar voices and laughter, the delightful familial boisterousness. Sitting in that enveloping darkness with my glass of wine, crying tears of sorrow and joy...
A second quarantined Easter. No shared family brunch or dinner. No readings and cake and brandy together. Instead a quiet, contemplative day to feel the sunshine and listen to the birds sing and watch the wind rustle the prayer flags.
After the pandemic, in addition to returning to a world of shared celebrations, we are also "returning to a world of hatred, cruelty, division and a thirst for power that was never quarantined. ... As we leave the tombs of quarantine, a return to normal would be a disaster unless we recognize that we are going back to a world desperately in need of healing. ... The work that Jesus left his followers to do includes showing compassion and forgiveness and contending for a just society. It involves the ever-present offer for all to begin again." [Esau McCaully writing in the NYTimes]
Rice Pudding. I never used to like it, but now I can't stop eating it, especially when made with a fresh brown egg from E's chickens. My dad declared it the best he'd had since he was a kid. Meanwhile, spring has sprung seemingly overnight and this little one sits and draws and visits bookstores and sings of the "diamond in the sky" and that little one plays the harmonica and names his relatives and rides on the back of a bicycle and the kiddlywink twins rattle tambourines and roll themselves around, already speaking their own secret language. And E's chickens continue to squawk and strut and lay their eggs and life starts over again...
I pluck a book off the shelf and find this quote that seems to describe my quarantine sill life drawings: "Art is a way of preserving experiences, of which they are many transient and beautiful examples, and that we need help containing." [from the book "Art as Therapy"]
A week with two horrific mass shootings leaves me feeling as wilted as the tulips. And elected officials who want to preserve and enhance gun rights but seek to remove and restrict voting rights? In what democracy does that make sense?
I saw this on Twitter: Musicians in recording sessions say, "A microphone is the opposite of a gun; you point it at the thing you want to live forever."
This is a happy and relaxed moment I want to freeze for my mother and father: her posing for his photo in front of the “Maja” sculpture on a bright, wintry Sunday afternoon in 1973 on the East Terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “Maja” is by the German Bauhaus artist #GerhardMarcks and was first exhibited in Philadelphia in 1949. I recognized her in a recent newspaper story and was reminded of this long-ago visit. The statue was removed from the terrace in the 1990s and recently restored to the new “Maja Park” at 22nd Street. Until a year ago when her illness and Covid hit, my 94 year old mother was still regularly going to the Art museum with her dear friends.
In the “before-times” I made chili for family get-togethers, not only doubling the recipe, but often adding in extra cans of beans and diced tomatoes and making rice, stretching it to feed a crowd. With no occasions to make my chili during the “quarantine-times”, I had a craving for it. My go-to recipe from @wednesdaychef uses beer (and coffee and chocolate!). I made a not-doubled pot using a bottle of @yardsbrew Philadelphia Pale Ale and we enjoyed it so much I made it again the following week with an Irish Golden Ale by @sullivansbrewco_ that simmered for hours on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon. I pickled thinly sliced onions and cabbage in the juice from a jar of @woswit bread-&-butter pickles and dropped them in the center of my bowl of chili — the perfect accompaniment.
There is a Celtic spiritual practice called “walking the rounds” — a way of meditating or praying by walking in a sun-wise circle around a sacred object. Knitting in the round seems to me like a manifestation of this practice — the fingers making stitches rather than the feet taking steps. I started this top-down, knitted in the round, yoked “Koivua” sweater two years ago using leftover yarn from other projects. I knitted in fits and starts. Around and around and around, sun-wise, star-wise, moon-wise. The repeating pattern grid as my guide. Walking fingers to calm the mind. This sweater at the end — my sacred wearable object — a warm bonus...
The #koivuasweater was designed by @boylandknitworks
So many thoughts have been coursing through my pandemic-addled brain and I’ve missed recording them in my quarantine “Captain’s Log” (the artist Roni Horn said “I like the word ‘log’ as opposed to ‘diary; or ‘journal,’ I’m not telling you what I’m doing every day. But when you add all of these bits together, you get my sensibility”). So much has happened this past month — impeachment trials, weather events, Covid anniversaries, approved vaccines, caretaking challenges. ▪️
When my cousin visits from Texas she delights me by bringing whole branches from her Bay Leaf tree — leaves still attached; I pluck and store them in a plastic bag. Our grandfather was a Ship’s Captain. At one time he worked for the Southern Steamship Co. and did a regular run from Philadelphia down to Galveston, TX and back. Last week my cousin and much of her state were without power for days when a rare snowstorm and deep freeze surged down into the center of the country — into a Texas whose power infrastructure was not winterized while their Senator famously escaped to Cancun leaving his dog Snowflake behind. Like so much lately, truth is stranger than fiction. I made a pot of chili and splurged — putting three bay leaves in. I say to my mother, Where you going mum? “Crazy,” she answers, “Truly.”
My Vice President wears pearls, so I wear pearls. Imagine that I can actually say that sentence — been waiting my whole life! ▪️ I’ve worn this pearl choker necklace (a gift from a dear friend years ago) every day since Inauguration Day because VP Harris wears pearls. It feels good to put on a lovely piece of jewelry even though I’m not going anywhere. A little sparkle and shine. And, when I need to — and I generally do — I can finger the pearls like worry beads or a rosary to help ease anxiety. This week we passed this mark: 100 million known cases of Covid-19 worldwide.
VP Auntie gold dust
Tears of joy today that @kamalaharris is our Vice President — 100 years after women in this country finally wrestled their right to vote from the men who tried to keep it from them.
“...We seek harm to none and harmony for all...” [a line from the Biden inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb” by the remarkable Amanda Gorman]
[sketch from a photo posted by @meena Harris]
"Armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, ... tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt." [sketch from a detail of the 'The Apotheosis of Washington' — a fresco painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi at the top of the Capitol's Rotunda; 180 feet above the Rotunda floor]
Our Ms. Armored Freedom was gazing down as the mob incited by our Kingly President stormed the Capitol...
My Presidential Inauguration-adjacent story: On January 20th, 1985 — the day of Ronald Reagan's 2nd inauguration — I was living just outside Washington DC in Maryland. The daytime temperatures were forecast at 7 degrees F with wind chills at -25. I was driving a little Dodge Omni with metal door handles that pulled up to open the car's doors. Something was already wrong with the front, passenger side front handle — it could only be opened from the inside. The morning of the inauguration I unlocked the driver's side with my key (no keyless entry then!) and the frozen-cold, metal door handle broke right off in my hand! What to do?! No way to open the locked back doors so I couldn't get in through them. How was I going to get to work?! Wait! An escape hatch! The car was a hatchback and the key opened that back trunk door. I unlocked and lifted it, ducked my head, climbed in, hauled myself over into the back seat as gracefully as possible, and was able to stretch to open the driver's side door from the inside so I didn't have to throw myself over into the front seat. Then I opened the side door, got out, calmly smoothed my skirt, got in the front seat, said a prayer of thanks for the hatchback, and was on my way. I always thought of it as "Reagan's revenge" as I didn't like the man's policies and never voted for him. Because of the extreme cold that day in 1985, the inauguration was moved inside — into the Capitol Rotunda — where high above Armored Freedom and her fierce eagle were busy smiting and trampling the Kingly...
Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem at the Inauguration and posed in the rotunda with Armored Freedom above:
We lost a dear friend last week: "...She liked to invite troublesome people into her heart because she had the natural gift of unconditional love and sympathy. She dedicated her life to understanding everyone because no one was unworthy of love to Marmee" (a quote from one of her grandchildren). And today I found this quote that my mother has written in one of her sketchbooks: "Patti Smith believes that when people close to you die, you absorb what you most admire in them. It's like they leave a little gift."
I baked a Lemon Olive Oil cake. Simple and plain to soothe the soul; it smelled so good when I took it out of the oven.
Mitza’s wooden figure mannequin trying to remember the steps to the dance and keep her balance, just like us...
I can’t get the images from yesterday’s violent attack on the Capital out of my head. The ransacked Parliamentarian’s office with papers strewn about. The broken sign from Speaker Pelosi’s office. Too many people not wearing masks! Lawmakers cowering on the floor. So many questions. Sadness that, yes, this IS who we are. Anger that a mob of white men with beards and flags and horns and arrogance are allowed to freely invade and roam a place where previously people in wheelchairs protesting the loss of their health insurance were dragged out and a small group of Black people praying and singing were handcuffed and removed (including the recently elected Senator from GA, Rev. Warnock). But, also the knowledge that our Democracy worked — the Congress came back and did their job. When I checked my phone at 5 AM this morning, there was the NYTimes headline: Congress Confirms Biden’s Win, Defying Mob Attack; Electoral Count Is Completed Despite Mayhem Incited by Trump.
Remembering “the near and the dear ones, the old and the young” on this quiet and isolated pandemic Christmas holiday ▪️ My cousin sent this note that captures the feeling of the “full-family” celebrations we had for many years at our grandparents’ house.