Crafting a mystery

Making your unknown known is the important thing.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Who was she? I have no idea. But I was inexplicably drawn to her photograph (at left) in an album that once belonged to my mom’s stepmother, affectionately known as Granny Bee.

When Granny Bee died, my mother inherited this magnificent album of sepia-toned photographs — some dating back to the Civil War. Many are marked with the names of photography studios in Chicago or Aurora, Illinois; others are from studios in New Hampshire. Sadly, the folks in the photographs are not identified. Not a single name, event, or date is penciled anywhere.

Bee had no children of her own. I was her only step grandchild — by marriage — so the fate of this antique album now rests in my hands.

As it happens, I often use vintage photographs in my mixed-media artwork. (I make high-quality copies and preserve the originals.) In particular, the dour-looking mystery woman in Bee’s album is a perennial favorite. Her deadpan expression is so priceless that she’s played a starring role in countless craft projects, from greeting cards to note pads. She’s worn a red poinsettia on her head for Christmas cards, for instance, and a witch hat on Halloween party invitations.

This week I finished a more lasting tribute to her: a mixed-media “reliquary” of found objects. (Please click the image at the far left for a larger view.) The word remember is incorporated throughout the piece, along with scraps from an old hymnal, sewing notions, vintage fabrics, feathers and twigs. The door to the piece opens to reveal a small collection of old bottles filled with found objects.

“I like photographs that leave something to the imagination.” — Fay Godwin

I’ve even tried to give my mystery woman a proper name. “Isabel” or “Esmeralda” both seem to suit her — yet somehow I sense I’m on the wrong track. Early on, I tried to investigate. But even before her memory was fogged by dementia, my mother couldn’t recall the name of the relative in the photo — nor could she determine her kinship to our beloved Granny Bee. So I’ll have to settle for the stories conjured by my own imagination.

All said and done, crafting something with my hands sets my mind whirling in a thousand different directions. Making art is another way of telling stories. And I love how the process has created my special relationship with the incomparable “Isabel Esmeralda” — a relationship that reaches across time and never stops delighting me.

If she were alive today, would the Victorian mystery woman be honored — or appalled — at being the center of attention in my art pieces? I wonder if I could make her smile. — Cindy La Ferle

_____________________

“Remember” was chosen for the 2012 All-Media exhibit at the Ann Arbor Art Center, opening September 7, 2012. To view more photos of the piece on Facebook, click here.

Ancestor art

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.”  ~Georgia O’Keeffe

One of the many things I appreciate about my artist-architect husband is that he’s always encouraging me to push my own artwork to the next level. Given that our family has been in a crisis mode (my mother’s health) for the past year, it’s not easy to make time for art, let alone enter our work in competitions.

Regardless, earlier this month Doug printed out the forms for the Anton Art Center‘s 38th Michigan Annual Art Exhibition and nudged me to enter one of my new pieces.

I’d been working on a mixed-media assemblage (mounted on canvas) that was inspired by a post-Civil War photograph I found in my Granny Bee’s family album. The woman in the photograph isn’t identified, so, sadly, I have no idea who she is. Yet her pensive expression and confident pose always intrigued me.

In my assemblage, the woman’s photo is surrounded by found objects — twigs, feathers, part of an old leather Bible cover, and vintage fabrics. In the background, you’ll also see a scrap from a notebook of shorthand that Doug brought home from a thrift shop.

Titled “The Importance of Ancestors,” this piece pays homage to the “stuff” we leave behind — and how tokens from the past can influence our memories of a person. It also plays with the idea of having roots and family trees.

Thanks to Doug, I entered the piece in the Michigan Annual Exhibition, and was pleased to learn this week that it was accepted. The opening reception is on January 27th, 6 – 9pm. The exhibit runs through February 24th.

One final thought: Athletes typically have their own cheering sections, but most artists and writers labor in solitude. If you practice any of the arts for business or pleasure, it’s important to have close friends and advocates who keep you encouraged and inspired. (Of course, a supportive spouse is invaluable.) Cherish those people — and try to schedule more time with them. Avoid the naysayers who trample your dreams or spend most of their free time watching mindless games and shows on TV.

Seek out the company of other creatives, and be sure to applaud their efforts and talents.  — Cindy La Ferle

— For a larger view, please click on each photo. —