This is Gray Bear. At least, that is who is he to me, even though we only met for the one day it took me to make him. He has since traveled across the country to his destined home in the wilds of Montana… or really into the arms of a little boy. He is the finishing touch to one of my best kept secrets, and it is certainly a hard thing to keep such a secret from a dear friend for so long!
In September 2014, I had the idea of putting together a (surprise) baby blanket for my friend Katie and her little boy to be. I envisioned making something that as a whole represented her nearest and dearest friends and family members, so I put a call out to those who might be interested in contributing a personalized square. In anticipation of having to stitch everyone’s individual creations into a streamlined grid of a blanket, I requested 12″ squares, knowing that this way I’d have some extra fabric to work with. I also wasn’t sure how many people would end up making something and wanted the pieces large enough so that together they equaled the size of a baby blanket. Although they did end up varying in size, it was easy enough fitting the pieces together in a tidy fashion. As I began to assemble the squares, I got a bit carried away and made a few extra ones to include throughout. What resulted was not really a baby blanket, but a quilt large enough to fit a twin size bed!
When I was a child, my parents had a large quilted bedspread with an overall forest scene pattern. The print appeared as though you were flying above a forest and looking down on the treetops. Repeated throughout the forest, the pattern featured an estate-like building, some deer, and possibly a bird or two. Even though these things repeated over and over across the entire bedspread, I loved to lie on top of it and imagine scenes happening between the deer, the various estates (I thought of them as castles), and who might be living in them. As I worked on this quilt, I imagined Katie’s son growing up and asking, “Who made this one, momma?” and her replying to him with stories her childhood and from all of her friends.
Here you can click on the individual squares to view up close, and to see who made each one…
Lastly, a few more detail shots. As you can see here, Gray Bear fits into the “pocket overalls” in the second row. These were Katie’s husband’s first pair of overalls that his mother sent to me whole, and I stitched onto a square. I put them near the top of the blanket so that as the little one grows, he will be able to reach into the pocket for his special friend, who will have a safe place to sleep each night.
Sometimes the magic just happens.
This past spring I completed my two-year painting training at the Free Columbia Art Course, in Philmont, NY. I knew that the summer ahead was going to be a busy one and that continuing my painting work would be challenging. But in an effort to maintain an artistic practice, I decided I would dedicate the spare moments of summertime to drawing in a sketchbook. The only rules were: draw often, draw from real life (not photos, ever!), and draw whatever is available, wherever I am. I have a particular goal in life to draw animals, as I find them or as they appear before me, and was honored to have shared those moments that I found with them. Not pictured are a pileated woodpecker, a few other birds, and a bear (only after he ran across the road). It is through drawing plants and animals in real life that I can form a deeper relationship to their being, with the hope of eventually bringing them to life in children’s book illustration.
Here are just a few (!) the results… CLICK on individual photos to view in their entirety.
Opening Speech (edited for blog post) from:
Conversations with the Sea: A Collaborative Presentation in Words and Pictures at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers – Friday March 28, 2014
Over a year ago I watched a trailer for a documentary film featuring the Laysan Albatross. The film is called Midway, and is the creation of artist/director Chris Jordan. To this day, I have not actually seen the film itself but I’ve watched the trailer countless times [to my knowledge, the film has not actually been released]. I was so moved by both the incredible beauty and the deep sadness of what I saw, and I felt such strong desire to respond to it in some way, but I had no idea where to begin…
I did know however that I wanted to respond in an artistic way, because it is through art that we have the power to transform; to transform what we see, to transform our understanding of a chosen subject, and to transform ourselves. In order to live our lives in a conscientious way while facing some of the dark realities of our time, we have to carry a bit of that weight with us throughout every day life. But through art, we have the power to balance out the darkness through the presence of light.
A conversation between my friend Hannah Fries (poetry and associate editor at Orion magazine) and myself is what eventually brought the idea for this project into being. We began it merely because we wanted to explore an artistic dialogue together, never knowing we would end up presenting it at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. What our audience hopefully experiences between Hannah’s poems and my illustrations is really an artistic conversation, and a means for us to more deeply explore a challenging reality of our time. And that conversation is an ongoing one.
Neither of us has ever seen an albatross in person. When we began this project, we approached the actual topic from afar… imagining our albatross way out in the distance, coming towards us. As the project progressed and we came into closer relationship with our albatross, both the project and ourselves were able to transform.
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We wanted to give our festival audience a better idea for the size of bird we were talking about, so I made a quick wingspan sketch. Although the larger bird, the great albatross (10 to 12-foot wingspan), is not featured in the Midway trailer, I realized through some research that most of the albatross families are endangered in some way due to ocean pollution or other ecological issues. The laysan albatross pictured below (6-foot wingspan) is the one from the trailer, and thus speaks in some way for all endangered species.
“Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time?
And allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?”
~ Chris Jordan