THE BACK STORY


THE BACK STORY: In January 2016 I launched "Well Used, Well Loved" (WUWL)a long term community art project that explores age, beauty, impermanence and attachment through a hand woven dish towel and reflective writing/drawing. Eight households from England to Oregon "adopted" a hand woven linen towel to use however they wish. Every other week I sent a prompt for reflection to be recorded in a small journal that I provided. The response to my initial call to participate in WUWL was overwhelming. Over 50 households expressed interest in taking part in the project and I only had 8 towels.


So I created a secondary project that dovetailed with the first one. This second group of ultimately 38 households (Maine to Arizona) wrote and drew on kozo paper (a special Japanese paper) to record their response to my prompts. Thru a hands-on workshop at my studio I taught local folks from this group how to spin their kozo paper into thread using a Japanese technique called Shifu. I created a video tutorial for those who wanted to learn to spin their paper from afar.


Prompts to both groups were the same. For example Prompt #6 was: "The materials for this project are hand woven linen and Kozo paper. Both are created from plant fibers, known for their absorption qualities. Absorption can also been seen as dissolving boundaries. In that light what parallels or connection do you observe between your own ability to absorb, to soak up, to empathize? What connections do you perceive between your linen/paper and the action of union, of dissolving boundaries, connection? What value do these actions have today.


In September I began to collect the 8 towels, the kozo papers and the journals for a future installation. The journals, the used/loved towels and the completed art piece woven from the community threads will combine to create an installation that I am currently designing.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Patience and perseverence.

    Today the last towel and journal from the Linen Team arrived back here in York. It was worth the wait.
Towel #V hard at work.
      Towel #V spent 8 months being well used and loved in a Navajo Nation school in Arizona. Journal #V is busting at the binding with life, text, images, beads, drawings, art, memories and stories.
    As I flip through the pages of this journal my heart feels so full with gratitude. THANK YOU Mrs. Wilson's art students!!
Towel #V has arrived back in York.

Worth the wait.
    Now that all the journals and towels have been returned, I am still hopeful that a few more of you Paper Team folks will send me your papers. I will happily spin whatever you have to offer me.
    During these dark months ahead I will design and create a piece that incorporates these spun papers.
    Now more than ever I believe in the metaphor of weaving as an illustration of community - and specifically of a balanced plain weave as an illustration of democracy. We are all part of the same cloth.
   I am still seeking a location to install the completed project.
With much gratitude ~ Sarah

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Gathering, Reflecting

    For those people who make art -- you know this time period.
If I were a hen -- I'd be sitting on my eggs.
Contemplating, keeping them warm, inspecting them every new and then.
Well Used, Well Loved - Journals and towels


    Well -- here I am -- exhibiting hen-like behavior. Not actually sitting on this stuff I gathered from "Well Used, Well Loved" - but contemplating it.
     Examining it, reviewing it. I am inspired by the stack of journals that were so lovingly created by the linen team households.
     I am awestruck by the depth of thoughtful writing and drawing that the paper team created. The Shifu spun threads from these kozo papers are seeped with spirit.
A response to Prompt #9 "Soft Matter"


     Entering into these dark winter months ahead, I feel the poignant potential of these materials.
    This time of waiting, sitting, listening and reflecting is a critical step in the art making process.
So like a hen,  I'll just sit here for now.


    Thanks for waiting with me.

Shifu spun threads waiting to be woven.







Thursday, October 13, 2016

From text to thread


SHIFU is the process of spinning Japanese paper into threads. This ancient technique of making thread allowed Well Used, Well Loved participants a way to safely and secretly share their responses to the project prompts.
beautifully decorated kozo paper
Fold and Cut
The process begins with the writing and drawing on kozo paper.
The paper is folded and cut into thin strips. Then it is torn at alternating ends to create one long, continuous strip of paper.

Kozo paper is all cut

Each place where this continuous strip makes a turn needs to be pre-spun. Using a little moistness on my fingers, I give this corner a little twist to make the spinning process more smooth. This turning juncture in the paper strip makes a small "seed" and gives Shifu threads their unique character.
Tearing the edges to make a long continuous strip
Once all the seeds have been pre-twisted I begin to spin the paper into thread - either with a drop spindle or on the spinning wheel.
I will upload a video of spinning in the next blog posting! Happy Shifu!!
From paper to thread


Monday, October 3, 2016

The list of prompts


WELL USED, WELL LOVED
A Community art project that explores age and beauty

Through the vehicle of a physical object (a hand-woven towel, a journal and kozo paper) over 30 households explored questions of age, beauty, value and attachment.

From later January to late September 2016, we explored together and alone the following questions. Some of us wrote in journals while others wrote on kozo paper.

HERE IS OUR ENTIRE LIST OF PROMPTS
 
Prompt #1 on kozo paper
Prompt #1 - Hello
Introduce yourself and your household.

 
Prompt #2 - Old and beautiful
As you look around your life and home -
What or who do you perceive of as "old"?
What/who do you perceive as "beautiful"?
Do you have possessions that feel too precious or special to use?
 
Prompt #3 - Will I be loved?
What connections do you see between being attractive/beautiful and being loved?
If I feel beautiful/attractive/appealing to others - will this mean I will be loved?
 
Prompt #4 -  Demonstrating Love
What actions, words, or attitudes demonstrate love?
 

Prompt #5 - Sorting
Prompt #5 on kozo paper
Spring cleaning: Attachment to objects, people, attitudes.
How do you sort, let go of these thing/ people that are no longer serving you?
How do you evaluate the need/desire to keep stuff?
 
Response to prompt #6
Prompt #6   Absorption
The materials for this project are handwoven linen and Kozo paper. Both of these are created from a plant material, a bast fiber - both known for its absorption qualities. 
Your towel, your paper has absorbed much in the last two months you've been together. Absorption can also been seen as dissolving boundaries, union.
In that light I wonder what parallels or connection you observe between your own ability to absorb, to soak up, to feel to empathize? What reflections do you perceive  between your materials (linen, paper) and the action of union, of dissolving boundaries of connection? What value do these actions have today?
 
Prompt #7     The Dark Side
For two months we have examined and reflected on different aspects of using and loving.
This week I would like to explore what might be considered the dark side of this topic. It’s a place that some might shy away from – with all good reason.  And yet, to know and understand something – we must be aware of its opposite.  In this case, what might be the opposite of “Well Used, Well Loved”?
In yoga class, sometimes my teacher will have us exaggerate the opposite of a pose – for example if she wants us to relax and drop our shoulders – she asks us to shrug them up, way up to our ears.  And then we dip our shoulders back down with new awareness of both positions. As many philosophers query – how can we know sunshine without knowing shadow?
These opposites are an integral part of Yin/Yang philosophy, Bali Hinduism and many other spiritual traditions.  Perhaps the deeper we explore both sides, the less obvious is the line between “black and white".
Prompt #7 in a journal
 
PROMPT #7
Do you see an opposite to Well Used, Well Loved?
Do you want to explore this opposite side?
If so, what do you see is the opposite of Well Used, Well Loved?
 As always – there are NO right answers to these prompts. And they are very personal.
To share them is your choice – not a requirement.



Prompt #3 response in journal

 
Prompt #8  Beauty, Economics, Well Being
Beauty is temporary - right??
You pick a beautiful flower and know it will fade, wither and die.
 
How is it then that I struggle to accept this?
How is it that I resist the inevitable aging process of my own body?
This is a normal, natural process.
 
For over 15 years I have colored my hair (in reaction to school children commenting that I reminded them of grandma.) I did not want to be like grandma while in my late 40s. So I took to coloring my hair.
 
Just this month I made the decision to "go gray".  In sharing this decision with a friend who is still active in her career  ~ she remarked  she could not choose this option. She feels obligated to keep coloring her hair while she is actively employed. "It's just a fact" she said  "To be valued in the work place you must appear vital and youthful. Gray hair does not fit."
 
My mind quickly queried about the connection between economic survival and our cultural attachment to beauty. Thus Prompt #8 is ~
 
  • What connection do you see in your own life between your economic survival/well being and your age/beauty?? Are you in a profession that requires a certain maintenance of image/beauty?
  • What connections do you see in our culture between economic survival/well being and age//beauty?
 
Prompt #9
Soft matter: vulnerability and love
Both our towel and our Kozo paper are soft materials - allowing them to show evidence of wear and tear - or use and love. Our physical bodies are similar.
  • Examine your hands - what signs of use and love do they illustrate?
  • What connections to your perceive between soft materials, vulnerability and love?


    Playing with color and language on kozo paper

 
Prompt #10 "Saying Goodbye"
 
My most successful public workshop is the Mandala Community Weaving. To introduce this project I sit and talk with students about Mandalas - especially ones of sand  made by the Tibetan Buddhist Monks. I guide them thru the story of how the Monks take a long time (a  week or so) to make these Mandalas, using colored grains of sand that just lie on top of an outline.
I talk to the students about how the monks make the Mandalas over and over again -  as a practice and a lesson. I show them photos to show how after spending days working on the Mandala, the Monks sweep it up into a brass bowl and then with great ceremony they pour the sand into the closest body of natural water.
 
After sharing this story I ask them: "Why do you think the Monks spend a long time making something beautiful and then pouring it into the water? What lesson do you think the Monks are trying to learn?"
 
I have asked this question to hundreds of young people - and invariably I get an array of beautiful answers. The most memorable response was from an 8 year old in Maryland last spring.  He said "I think that they are trying to learn how to say good bye to something that they love."
 
Yes, exactly.
Isn't this the most difficult lesson we as human beings must learn. Whether it is a beloved flannel shirt that is just too tattered to wear anymore or your elderly mother who is frail and failing - it is very hard to say good bye.
Letting go and saying good bye is hard.
This will be my last official prompt for the project - we will be saying good bye to this effort in a month.
 
Prompt #10 - How do you say good bye to something or someone that you love?  Do you have a ritual for saying good bye? Can you share a story?


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Beginning from this end

handspun kozo paper from the mountains of CO
 "What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from"
       T.S. Eliot from The Four Quartets

And here we are - the end of the first phase of "Well Used, Well Loved" our community art project where we have explored age, beauty, loss and love. It is, however, just the beginning of unraveling, examining and reflection on what transpired over the past nine months.

Towels, journals and papers return to the studio
Our well used and loved towels are arriving back here in the studio.
Our creatively expressed papers have come back as well. Some kozo papers arrived in spun paper form and others await my hands to turn them into thread.

My own summer was rather eventful - as you might note from my last blog posting. Add to the loss of my own well loved Mother - the addition of a new daughter-in-law in a big family wedding in our back yard.

Kozo spinning lesson
I am blessed to live a creative and busy life - filled with loving family. And now it is time to pour this love back into "Well Used, Well Loved."
Beginnings and celebrations

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Well Used, With Love

Her well used, with love hands.
If there is one object that we can observe that is well loved and well used - it would be our hands. I mentioned this in the last post and the last project prompt.

My mother with her beautiful hands slipped away on the silvery trail of the full moon on June 20th at 9:10 PM.  Flying across Casco Bay, right out the Hussey Sound, she sailed towards a new horizon.

I photographed and drew her hands her last few days. It has been a distinct privilege and true joy to be her daughter - she was a true gift. I feel like I am just beginning to know her.

Me and Mom Summer 2012

Monday, June 13, 2016

Soft Matter

Soft matter: vulnerability and love

Prompt #9
Both our towel and our Kozo paper are soft materials - allowing them to show evidence of wear and tear - or use and love. Our physical bodies are similar, vulnerable to abrasion, cuts and also open to compassion and a tender caress.
Examine your hands - what signs of use and love do they illustrate?

What connections to your perceive between soft materials, vulnerability and love?
Hands and feet have stories to tell as us.
One participants response:"When we think of soft we often think of vulnerable but we don't as readily think of hard as brittle.
As a child I was obsessed with my hands and how smooth and "unused" they looked. I admired (OK, I was a weird child) old people's hands. The ropier the better.
And to think I have a pair of my own now!
I'm not sure if I thought things that had been used over a long period of time were more interesting but I think I did, were such hands more loved or more useful? I can
't say. Perhaps even more appreciated.
The kobo paper is a perfect example of soft and strong at the same time. People can be like that as well. Love always makes you vulnerable but who would choose to live without it?"

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Behind the couch


Towel III. Lurking behind the couch.
What lurks behind your couch? Between the cushions, hidden away? Is it something that you intentionally hid there to avoid confrontation? Or is it something neglected?  Or simply something forgotten in the busyness of life?  

In our Well Used, Well Loved project we are on prompt #8: which examines the connections between beauty, economics and impermanence.
  • What connection do you see in your own life between your economic survival/well being and your age/beauty?? Are you in a profession that requires a certain maintenance of image/beauty?
  • What connections do you see in our culture between economic survival/well being and age//beauty?
 In a manner - this is something that gets stuffed behind the couch - not talked about - but when the topic is brought out to the light - I am not surprised at the energy that it consumes. Just ask any woman of a certain age about her choice to color or not color her hair.

In reality though, I think hair coloring is just the surface of this topic.

I am curious about the conversation that lurks behind the cushions.
What do men have to say about this prompt? 
What lurks behind this topic?










Saturday, April 30, 2016

Becoming well loved

Tea dyed paper hanging
This is from one of the Paper Team participants - sharing her process and her beautifully transformed paper ~~

"I admit I was cowed by the beautiful paper that people were weaving. I don't decorate paper....oh, unless you consider tea dying....OK, maybe I do. SO, I did. I used the paper I wrote on and the paper I hadn't yet written on. Some of the text transferred and the paper turned translucent. Still drying but I am so glad to have been "pushed" into thinking outside my own particular box. The paper is becoming, ever more, well used and well loved."

The part of her story that I really connected with is when she compares her paper efforts (her work) to the those of others.

This is the very same trap that I fall into.
I compare myself to others, measure myself with someone else's standards,  -- and guess what?? Whenever I do this - I fall short - I just can't measure up. I feel less than - unworthy.

In an effort to break this habit, I am slowly re-patterning myself.
Perhaps this will be a life long project - but I am committed to becoming well loved (by me!).

Thanks for sharing your tea dyeing story!
Sarah

Friday, April 15, 2016

Our connective tissue

Towel II cools with the bread.
As a weaver and thread enthusiast, I am well aware of all the metaphors that underlie my work.  One of my current passions is thread as connective tissue between living organisms - the element that binds you to me, binds cultures throughout history, binds seemingly disparate tribes. Sort of gluten perhaps?

And yet sometimes our threads do not connect - we have different points of view on the same issue. This is where conflict could arise. But what if rather than conflict we simply nodded our head - and agreed to disagree? Then the connective tissue that binds us together is unbroken.

"Well Used, Well Loved" has a closed Face Book group - where we share our thoughts, response to the prompts and the photos. This is a safe place for our participants to be vulnerable and share ideas, opinions - each one unique. I, for one, have had my eyes opened to feelings that are quite different than my own. 

We are on Prompt #7 "The Dark Side"

For two months we have examined and reflected on different aspects of using and loving.

This week I would like to explore what might be considered the dark side of this topic. It’s a place that some might shy away from – with all good reason.  And yet, to know and understand something – we must be aware of its opposite.  In this case, what might be the opposite of “Well Used, Well Loved”?
Towel VII helps with Easter eggs

In yoga class, sometimes my teacher will have us exaggerate the opposite of a pose – for example if she wants us to relax and drop our shoulders – she asks us to shrug them up, way up to our ears.  And then we dip our shoulders back down with new awareness of both positions. As many philosophers query – how can we know sunshine without knowing shadow?
These opposites are an integral part of Yin/Yang philosophy, Bali Hinduism and many other spiritual traditions.  Perhaps the deeper we explore both sides, the less obvious is the line between “black and white". 

PROMPT #7
  • Do you see an opposite to Well Used, Well Loved?
  • Do you want to explore this opposite side? 
  • If so, what do you see is the opposite of Well Used, Well Loved? 
 As always – there are NO right answers to these prompts. And they are very personal. 
To share them is your choice – not a requirement.
I am so very grateful for your companionship on this journey of inquiry.
Here are two responses: one visual, one written ~
Visual response to Prompt #7
"I can't seem to shake the last prompt regarding opposites, darkness and light... it follows me through my day and even seems to be stalking me in my sleep. Clearly something, I have not given enough consideration to, is seeking my focus and attention. As I sat staring at VIII on my kitchen counter this morning I wondered... is she a continuation of VII and all the woven and numbered towels before her? Cut from the same cloth, but with her own unique sewn and stitched edges. That's when it hit me.... the idea and nature of EDGES is what has been insistently prodding me. Edges, transitions and the nature and power of something to be itself and at some point (visible/invisible/tangible/intangible) become/express something else. It's time to grab some paints and stay tuned to what is bubbling up from the edges and transitions of the dark woods I am about to wander through."




























Thursday, April 14, 2016

So many threads





Towel V gets wet and messy with a ceramics class.
    I've been away from home for a spell - and there are so many photos and stories that I want to share about what's gone on in this project!! I will be breaking it up into a few blog posts.
    Our 8 Well used, loved towels are out in the world - living large with individuals and families, a classroom and households from England to Arizona and Oregon.
    Our 38 paper team folks had their spinning workshop
kozo paper before it becomes thread
this week. Soon I will have a tutorial for those who could not join our workshop.
   I am in the thick of writing a grant to fund this project for deeper exploration. All is well - I just need to catch up on some news here!
Towel II helps clean up.
    Many of you are contributing the our closed FB group - and I am delighted to see that the threads of connectivity are weaving a tight web.
   That's it for today - back to grant work!
I'll do my best to keep posting your images and stories.
Peace, Sarah

Towel VII helps with birthday confections!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Uncovering the connections






Periodically I pose a question or some point of reflection. Here are some words that folks have shared:
"Each week as I ponder our prompts, I fall deeply into my head, becoming reluctant to post. This afternoon I walked into my studio and found some threads from a recent project, lying on my work table in the shape of a heart. I taped them to my journal and these words came forth."
"I realized today that I might actually be a bit sad to send VIII back at the end of this project, the connection she symbolizes is to me like a link to an old friend being newly remembered. Ahhhh."
"I would describe my relationship to my body as well used, but until recently not well loved. In truth, I spent the better part of fifty years "thinking" I loved my body. "Thinking" I understood the nature of our relationship, "forcing" my ideas about how I should look, act, and feel, "meeting out" my own sense of timing and rhythm, and "dictating" my ideas about what I should eat, drink and do upon this aspect of my Self. But it wasn't until I journeyed through the dark under...ground of cancer that I came to be open enough, to see, know, listen to and love my body as my most faithful and true consort/companion."
journal writing with a well loved pen
The writings and drawings on the kozo paper will be spun into thread and woven into a community art piece.  The writings and drawings in the journals will be shared in an exhibit this fall, along with the 8 hand-woven well used, well loved dishtowels.





Sunday, February 14, 2016

Witness and Companion

Dede the bear
    Meet Dede. This is the bear that was given to my daughter when she came home to us 26 years ago. This bear is the most well loved and used creature that I know.
    She has been my daughter's companion EVERYWHERE -- summer camp, Disney World, sailing summers in Maine, Canada, France, school, colleges and now her life in Portland. This spring Dede and Zoe will graduate from college.
     Dede is showing serious signs of love and use. Her right arm is completely withered. Her eyes, nose and toes have all be repaired. There is hardly any fur left on her hide. But isn't Dede beautiful?
This is the kind of beauty that makes me weepy and weak - the beauty that is from love, from attention and companionship.
   I LOVE Dede for being Zoe's faithful side kick for all these years. I knit her a sweater for Valentine's Day 
Dede in her new sweater.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chew on that

Birthday cookies with towel.
Thank you to all who continue to post in our FB group (closed for now) - to share openly your musings on age, beauty, wear/tear, love and cherishing. Whether it may be an object, a memory, a person or a dream - it all weaves together to create a life, a family, a community, a culture.


Your words give me much to "chew on" as well.
"I wanted to be a part of this project to come out of my isolation, and perhaps get some inspiration for this stage of my life. I spent 7 years managing my mom's life (she had dementia) and she passed away in May at 96. Now I'm getting back or trying to find my own path again. I teach yoga now which I love. But the rest of my life is a mess! So much paper and memorabilia to sort through!! So what did I get for this project?? More paper! Couldn't be more appropriate. I don't know how to start with this paper and all the other paper in my life. All I can say is wow!!"




memories, photos, weave together to tell our story

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Inspring Words

Not only are the towels getting well used - but people are sharing words. I am inspired and in awe.


Here are two quotes ~


"More discussion with a couple of friends over a cup of tea after good soaking walk in the rain... We talked about the beauty of old objects and how it applies to the beauty of old people. It came to us that it is the stories that "old objects" conjure up for us that makes them so special, beautiful. We need to pay more attention to the stories of people, especially the elders in our lives"


"It's springtime in high school. The youth (flowers) are wearing me down (rock). I am grateful for the wisdom of age that allows me to accept them as they are and enjoy their zest for life. The hole is old. Its beauty lies in the patience to accept the endless drips that created it. This beauty was not formed overnight but through decades of quiet fortitude. It inspires me."


The Paper Team is exploring creative ways to introduce themselves to each other.

 


Towels get a work out!

Towels find a home in the drawer.
The linen towels are getting a great work out - I am pleased that people are not treating them as precious!
Spinach wrap!



Bread baking towel


Vegan Chicken parm gets splatters.




 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Paper meets people





 Images of the Kozo paper as it arrives and settles into life. Thank you for sharing these Paper Team!!