Archive for the ‘Rae’s Art’ Category

Birth Tear 3

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

© Judy Chicago 1984 DMC floss on silk, 14" x 19.5"

From The Birth Project, design by Judy Chicago.  Embroidery by Rae and Kate Cloud-Sparks.  This piece evokes a lot of emotion, and I hesitated somewhat putting it here.  The thumbnail at left links to a larger version, if you wish to see it.

I don’t know how she got involved with this, actually, but Rae did have lots of friends in both Femiist and Artistic circles, so it is not that suprizing that she would know of Judy Chicago, and the Dinner Party.  I remember that she was excited by the fact that the Dinner Party had embroidery featured in it, as well as the ceramic place settings.  So when the call went around to find folks to help create the Birth Project, she and friend Kate Cloud-Sparks got involved.  Rae worked on it while we lived in Ames, Kate in Iowa City, and they both finished it in Madison, if I remember right.  While in Iowa City, Rae worked with the Emma Goldman Clinic for Women, and was an apprentice Midwife.  Ethan was to be born at home, but when she was 3 weeks late, the Midwives got nervous, the doctors talked us into a hospital birth.  Not very pleasant.  The women in her family all took longer to come to term, her mom used to joke that she had the gestation period of a horse.  So we braved it for Casey’s birth, and that went just fine.  Obviously from this image, and many of the otehrs in the series, Judy Chicago had a somewhat different view of birth.

Rae had done embroidery since her grandma taught her as a young child.  She made some samplers, some really cool designs on a pair of jeans I used to have, and often included embroideries in patchwork quilts.  The techniques she used in this piece developed ofer time, and she describes it as “painting with floss”.

Close up of stitching detail.

From the book produced of the entire Birth Project show:

“This piece was executed jointly by these two stitchers.  Rae did the blended outline stitching in a variation of the long and short stitch.  The blending was achieved through her unique use of as many as seven needles at a time.  Kate used a long and short interlocking chain or satin stitch on the body, working back and forth over the surface.  She used the thread to suggest anatomical forms, as she wanted the arms to show muscle strain.”

Judy Chicago wrote, in the Birth Project book, page 86:
“There are three embroidered versions of the Birth Tear, and each one is quite different.  I hand-drew the images onto silk for the pieces executed by Jane Gaddie Thompson (preceding page) and (jointly) by Rae Atira-Soncea and Kate Cloud-Sparks (right).  The embroidery by Etta Hallock (far right), was begun very early in the project; Etta transferred the black and white pattern I gave her to fabric herself, which makes the quality of the drawing quite different.  I specified the thread colors for all three pieces and did color studies for the piece embroidered by Rae and Kate.”

From Rae:
“Working on this piece and dealing with the energy radiating from this woman, who is obviously torn, made me work through what my hospital birth was like, what my home birth was like, and how birth is dealt with in this country.”

While this piece is technically not one of hers, I know she was proud to work with the other “needleworkers”, to be part of a large collaborative effort.  And I’m sure the experience helped build confidence toward accomplishing other projects that involved slow, meticulous detail.  She knew that the work did finally result in a finished product.  Like the Bridget piece, and the Guadeloupe.

Floss and scissors hanging from embroidery frame.

Sampler/Color Study

In Honor of Cinderella

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Click for larger image

Porcelain, Lace

This piece was inspired by the Cinderella story, and many other tales of with a female protagonist.  Rae saw many of them with a common element, the story was told always from another’s point of view.  The protagonist herself is silent, even silenced.  Hence the woman with the long neck in this piece has no mouth.  Her neck might even be elongated from the pressure of the things she wants to say but cannot.

This was one of the few pieces Rae tried in clay, though she used clay for the molds for some of her glass pieces.  It is fired porcelain, with an iridescent glaze.  The skirt is many, many yards of lace, which she was delighted to find in a bargain bin at a local fabric store just in time.  This piece was claimed shortly after the Sweeping Changes show by Beverly Gordon, in whose collection it now resides.

From an interview by Amy Bethel, Rae had this to say about the piece:


Yeah. um, from a lot of the things that were a challenge or traumatic about my early life. And I decided to make a broom that was called “In Honor of Cinderella.” And it’s a broom that’s made out of ceramic with over 500 yards of lace as the skirt. And it has a head at the top that’s very realistic, that Deb Trent helped me make. And it has a really long neck. The neck is about 3 feet long. And there’s no mouth. And the skirt–the lace skirt comes up and there are these seven little ribbons tied around the neck, as well as being [], and it’s done in a real light colored pearlescent fashion–I mean, glaze. And it’s real pretty, you know? In this sort of bizarre way. And what it is is–it is about the heroine that so many of us grew up with is this woman who never complains or shares her pain or talks about the abuse that’s been heaped upon her. She just holds it all in. So her neck just keeps getting longer and longer because there’s more and more stuff tangled up down there. And it never comes out because she has no way to speak it. And in essence that’s me, because in my early years there was a lot of pain and there were things that happened, and I was never allowed to speak them. You’d be told it didn’t happen, it isn’t true, you know , etc., etc., etc.  And everything looks really pretty. You know, everything has that sort of white bread feel to it. That everything is chintz and lace and roses and it just wasn’t. You know? It just wasn’t. It was just swallowing it. It was just swallowing your pride, it was just holding back the words, it was just biting your tongue. And that piece was acknowledging that that is an experience that I had and that stories and media and Walt Disney and our parents and society as a whole really wanted me and everybody else to respect, love, cherish and buy the video of that victim. You know? And that was about healing. And that was about articulating that that’s what that piece was about. That culturally women are, you know, supposed to live these froufrou lives, but we don’t. That’s what we’re supposed to present to the world. And we don’t–you know, we don’t have that option to suddenly find a voice.”

And from her Master’s Thesis, Master Sweepings:


(ceramics, ribbons, lace)

Little voiceless victim, sweeping cinders.  Dancing the ball with silent broom princes.  Homage to voiceless women who survived.  To loosening the silken bindings.

This piece was very problematic for me.   I knew what I wanted to say and portray.  I wanted to place Cinderella on a pedestal  not as a princess, a woman (girl) worthy of attention by a prince and a fairy godmother.   No, I wanted to honor and expose what I see as the secret truth of Cinderella  Cinderella as victim.

For that is what she is.  She is not just the victim of an “evil” stepmother and step sisters, but also of the brothers Grimm and of our culture.  The brothers Grimm set down a version of a fairy tale in which a young girl seldom talks.  She does not try to defend herself or even attempt to escape the abuse/situation.  She is a “good” girl, who stoically waits for rescue, or relief or what  death?

And our culture has picked up on this idea  of the good girl waiting to be rescued.  We’ve made myths, stories, movies of this archetype: whole theories regarding women’s powerlessness have been named for her.  This is really interesting considering that the story theme in Cinderella is universal.  Many countries and cultures have story themes of young women left alone and abused, but many of these stories reflect young women who run away, speak out about their abuse or refuse to be abused.  Characters such a Caporushes and Tatergood are good examples of this alternative view.  (need references here, further explanation) It has become apparent to me how much Cinderella’s voicelessness is like my own voicelessness as an incest survivor.  The voice that could have let me save myself was cut off.  The words that could have revealed the secrets were silenced.  The challenge for me with this piece was how to make Cinderella recognizable and still portray her as a victim.  The plan was to create a head on a stick   a kind of puppet figure.  This would symbolize the collection of unspoken words.  The skirt would be made up of layers of lace fabric and bound with ribbons, symbolic of femininity, layers, tangled webs, Cinderella’s rags and her ball gown.  The skirt would be wrapped with rings of ribbon to represent the acts and circumstances that had “caught” the words in her throat.  Culture, life, abuse had all left their mark upon the victim.

I decided to make the stick out of clay.  Not only is clay incredibly pliable, but it is both fragile and durable (fired clay can last for thousands of years).  The surface of the clay is not smooth, it is banged up, it shows life experiences  like a survivor.  A clay face, the head of a woman who had survived, a tribute to survivors.

I made many heads that did not work.  What I wanted to create was a face that had no mouth, to further represent the voiceless quality of Cinderella, and for this to be successful, it needed to be a realistic face.  I wasn’t able to create a face/head that “read” well and that looked believable without a mouth; after three heads I was appalled at my creations, which ranged from abstract aliens to mouthless death masks.   About this time the hand of fate stepped in.  First a friend with skill to help me with ceramic realism moved to town, and second, all three of the heads in my studio were broken, probably by a tremor from the street.

I sought technical assistance from two ceramicists, Deb Trent, the friend, and Elaine Shear, Professor at the UWMadison.  We discussed exactly what I needed, the symbology of the final piece and why I wanted things a specific way.  Deb and Elaine were concerned by my desire to have the stick be one piece, and how would it survive the firing.  With the input and work of the three of us,three new heads/handles began to materialize.  The first head took on a coloring book appearance, with a long braid down the back becoming the broom stick.  Another seemed too young, and did not have the eyes of a survivor.  The third was very simple and smaller in scale, more like a fireplace broom.  At first I was drawn to the coloring book piece, which I thought might be the most recognizable.  But the third really gave me the sense of victim.

I designed and directed the faces, but Deb was instrumental in shaping them.  I joined the faces to the stick, and then worked closely with Elaine on firing processes and glazes.  The head needed to be very stable, and we created a number of sample tiles.   I also had to create a specialized stand for this piece, one which had to be created while the clay was still wet and pliable.  A stand of steel and wood was developed and the ceramic neck had a hole that allowed a long dowel to fit into the head.

I decided on lace ribbons rather than fabric for the skirt.  Ribbons would allow for a closer association with broom, as well as reflect the tattered quality of Cinderella’s life and world.  I wanted to portray the aspect of a spider web, the sense of trapped-ness.  But lace has other qualities, it can also draw one in,  people are fascinated and intrigued by it and how it was made.  It can look soft and inviting and yet be scratchy.  It has a tactile quality, in both feel and sound.  The lace skirt in my broom thus draws the viewer in, and like a survivor, invites one into her space, shows her wish to be touched  nicely, while at the same time the expresses her retreat due to fear and memory.

I used over 500 yards of lace, and over 100 yards of ribbon in the skirt.  With the assistance of Melanie Herzog it was wrapped in five layers that got systematically higher and smaller.

The whole piece was a catharsis for me on many levels.  This was an act of making something that honored me, my past, and the pain that many of us had experienced and survived.  It also came at a time when I found out that my sister (a woman who lived Cinderella’s life fromsociety’s point of view) had been a victim of the same abuse I had experienced.  And finally, the piece allowed me to experience my belief in art as a collective creative process.

I had worked with Judy Chicago on the Birth Project and, like many, experienced a great deal of disappointment and even loss.  I loved the idea of women coming together, and I came into the project with a romanticized idea of a feminist art “quilting bee”, complete with process, political correctness and consciousness raising.  For the most part I was disappointed, for it was not really a collective process.

Now I had the opportunity to work with women on my own piece, to thoroughly discuss the process, the piece, the motivation behind it, etc.  I was not disappointed by the support and graciousness of my advisors.  Each gave freely of advice, help, skills, knowledge, and talent.  Each seemed clear on the collective process, yet aware of the integrity of the piece as mine, growing from my creativity.  This experience allowed me to better understand the Judy Chicago experience, though I still had personal issues with Chicago’s style.  Working with the Deb, Elaine, and Melanie was also not a feminist quilting bee, which is itself a romantic notion.  It became one of those proverbial growing experiences, in which I learned more about the collective process of creativity, about art not being made in a vacuum, and about trust and generosity.”

Witches Broom Borealis

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Found wood, painted honeysuckle vine.

This broom started as a beautiful piece of wood with a natural spiraL created by growing together with a vine.  The skirt is honeysuckle, like that in Honeysuckle Dreams, but with each piece painted with pearelescent paints.  
The  stick was also painted,first black, then with subtle highlights of sparkling color.  The inspiration for both was an astronomy picture of a nebula called the Witches Broom.
Nothing hidden, no subtle symbology in this one, just a cosmic flying broom.

Wi5ches Broom Nebula

Ancient Mother, Modern Lies

Sunday, December 6th, 2009
Closed at MFA show

Closed at MFA show

Available! $1000

From the Age of Confusion: Ancient Mother, Modern Lies
walnut, silk, bronze, clay, mirror


(click images to enlarge)

This is one of the pieces from her MFA show, Women, Domesticity, and Objects of Power.  As most of the pieces, its title begins: From the Age of…
Rae really liked creating this piece, I know.  It combines many different media, tells its story without translation or comment, a different story to each viewer.  She got to work with silk, and photo transfer images; wax figurines that were spin-cast; stained glass; terra-cotta; and wood.  Each aspect could stand alone, together they make an exquisite piece.  AMML_opened
I remember the piece started with the images on the silk, behind the bronze figurines inside the cabinet.  She had seen a set of lovely silk pillows/sachets with goddess images on them, and discovered the images were photo-transfers, so she selected a dozen images of women: the Laussel goddess, Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, others I recognize but can’t name, since I did not take any Art History classes.  She chose the size she would eventually make the box for each, then experimented with the technique till she was satisfied.
The little bronze figurines were painstakingly molded in wax, she carried around a Tupperware container with dental tools and would work on them during lectures and between classes, at meetings, and while watching TV.  They depict shamelessly large, brazen (literally!) voluptuous sexy women in a variety of poses.  The spin-casting technique was fun, too, I helped her set them up.  Instead of a large foundry, the molds were in small steel cylinders.  these were placed on an armature, the molten bronze poured in, and the lid slammed down, which engaged a lever and fulcrum, spinning the mold at several G’s, forcing the molten liquid into the small spaces before it cooled.
The wooden cabinet is reminiscent of a wall clock in shape, I had to help her determine the miter angles, she used spline joints all around, the only metal in the hinges and to tack the back on.  The walnut is carefully matched for color and grain.  The colored glass carefully cut to fit into the doors, I remember holding my breath during that, we only had one piece of glass to use, the last of its color, a beautiful smoking golden.AMML_top_open
AMML_top_closedThe top was another achievement.  Looks a bit like a birdhouse, maybe ready for a cuckoo to pop out of.  The door and it’s frame appear to be made of one piece of wood, so well matched is the grain, but it was not.  The door itself was a piece of Walnut burl, and the frame was carved to receive it’s curves.  Inside Rae placed one of her ubiquitous mirrors, framing a terra-cotta goddess like the neolithic figurines found in Europe, very much like the one in the Spiritus piece from last week’s blog.
I think you know who the ancient mother is, and I’ll let you infer yourselves about the modern lies, as Rae would have.  Enjoy!

Spiritus Muliebris: volutum per aspicio paternus: Totem Series

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

(Divine Female: Evolution of the Patriarchal Gaze)patriarchal_web

basswood, ash, bronze, stone, broomcorn

Spiritus is one of Rae’s Totem series, which started with Celtic Totem, and also includes the Jumping Knot Broom.  Like Celtic Totem, it tells a story.  But not a folktale, rather the story of the historical record of how the female figure was represented in art, and in spirituality.
I remember Rae asking me what the Latin word for “gaze” was.  She tended to think I could answer any question immediately, and I had, after all, taken 2 semesters of Latin in High School…  So I looked up a variety of words for her, and she crafted the title of this piece from those words and definitions, taking no more liberties than is common in pseudo-latin for scientific names, and certainly few Latin grammar purists to complain.  The name is permanent now in any case, and fits the meaning intended.  The broom represents the evolution over time of the representation of the female form, specifically the sacred feminine form, the evolution of the gaze of the patriarchy.
The broom comes apart for storage and transport, like the Celtic Totem, with the stick part forming a tenon at its base, fitting into the base of the broom.  So I will start the description of the broom from the bottom, which is the beginning of the timeline represented, as well.
SPIRITUS_BASEThe very bottom is a block of Ash, with some beautiful grain in it, supporting a block of limestone, to protect both the stone and any floor it would have to sit on.  The Ash wood was sculpted to fit the irregularities of the stone underneath, and two holes were bored through the wood and the stone.  The stone itself then represents the Earth, the oldest (non)representation of the sacred female.
Above the stone is Rae’s representation of one of the oldest female figures found by archaeologists, on the Isle of Malta.  Several of thesefertility_Goddess_low statues, all without heads, dating to ~3500BCE were found.  Called by Marija Gimbutas the Giantess, she was obviously important to the people then, and her size, like those of the Willendorf and other figurines, implied that slimness was not a valued attribute in representation of the sacred female.  Rae added a head, I don’t remember what it was modeled from.  The broom makes up Her skirt and legs, with bolts connecting the base below, through the two broomcorn “legs” and into the body of the Goddess, who was carved into two large pieces of Basswood glued into one block.  A cavity in the body accepts the “neck” of the head of the goddess, who’s hare curls into a bun which becomes a snake, coiling up and around the rest of the sculpture.
spiritus_lionsspiritus_lions_backThe next figure is also very old, a curvaceous female with large breasts and buttocks, flanked by two lions, indicating her power and status.  Also very much not a modern pinup. The snake crosses her belly and continues up, she stands with her feet together on the head of the Malta goddess.  Some archaeologists have stated that since there is no head, and all the Maltese figures are “obese”, there is no way to state that it is indeed female.  But ther is definitely no doubt of the gender of this figure.
spiritus_top_frontStanding on her shoulders, with the snake curling around an ankle and between her legs, is a figure from Hindu temple walls, a Lakshmi, perhaps.  Hand on outthrust hip, large but not pendulous bosom, she appears confident and unashamed, but perhaps a little flirtatious, too…
Next is a highly decorated bust of an Egyptian goddess.  More aloof, regal.  More obviously decorative, her power from her rank and position, a beauty to be observed from a distance, with awe and respect.  Rae painted some of the neckpiece with opalescent colors, also used on the earrings of the Indian goddess.
Atop the whole is a bronze statuette, the Virgin Mary, which Rae began with a small statuette, added wax to create a halo with 3 small sand-dollars in it, and added a snake curling around the base of her robe (not under her foot), and 3 starfish on the rock at the base.
It was a lot of carving, a lot of sanding.  There was more wood removed than remaining in the end, and she faced lots of challenges with leaving enough for strength.

Rainbow Tipi

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

rainbow-tipiThe Rainbow Tipi was one of Rae’s first large pieces as a student artist, around 1981  We were living in a trailer park in Iowa City, I was working at the Amana Furniture & Clock Shop, Rae was taking classes at the U of Iowa.  She was exploring her Native heritage, getting a few stories out of her mother, grandmother, other family.

Her vision was for a portable shrine or temple as the Yurt would later be.  She researched the history and construction of Tipis,  checked methods for decorating canvas, and designed the interior.

We had a small craft business, our own and consignment, we called The Enchanted Glade, in the “Hall Mall” in downtown Iowa City.  The name changed to the Rainbow Tipi when we moved to Ames later, in honor of the tipi, which we took camping to several pagan gatherings, and lived in our last 8 months in Iowa City, with both the boys as young kids.

EZ Casey tipi blanktipi_layouttipi_downThe canvas for the cover was laid out in our tiny yard in the trailer park, the design penciled on, then gesso wherever the paint was to go, then pencil again, using string to draw the arcs of the rainbow after figuring out how to get exactly 5 rainbows in the hemisphere.  The edge was painted black for about 14 inches, and around the top, the smoke hole, were the phases of the moon on a black background.

The interior of the tipi had a tipi liner, common in modern tipis, to allow air to come in around the base, flow between the tipi and inner liner, and then out, creating a draft to take smoke out, and keep the tipi cool in warm weather.

tipi_firedoorfelted goddesstipi_watertipigoddessearth

The liner was designed with 5 goddess figures on it, connected by more rainbows.  The door was was through a flame-circled womb.  A buffalo-woman made of felt, a water-goddess of blue silk with beadwork , a painted tree-bark inspired Earth Goddess, a spider-woman, and I just can’t remember what the last one was…Air? (several of these were later resurrected for the Yurt).  Each one had her arms curbing upward, and a silver painted moon/mirror in place of a head.

We used the tipi as a home, for camping at several Pagan events, and when we moved to Madison, we put it up out at Barb  and Cal’s farm, then a CSA, west of Madison.  They used it for some rituals, and as temporary shelter for some of their workers, I believe.  Eventually, as all canvas does, it was lost to the elements.  We had taken out the liner to store, since it was more fragile and we didn’t want the elements ruining it.  Which is how some of the interior pieces ended up in the Yurt piece.rae with tipi

Ancient Wisdom Strikes

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
Ancient Wisdom Strikes

Ancient Wisdom Strikes

Maple, Koa, silver, grass fibers

Ancient Wisdom Strikes was one of the most time-consuming of the Sweeping Changes brooms.  The stick was a solid piece of hard Maple, carved into two intertwining snakes, in a sort of Caduceus.  The snakes have little forked tongues made of silver, looking like lightning striking the outstretched arms of the priestess between them.

The priestess figure will be familiar to students of history, or religion, or religion.  Priestess or Goddess, with a snake in each hand, found in Knossos, Crete, by Arthur Evans around the beginning of the 20th century, dating to 4000 years ago or so.

Rae carved the figure from a piece of Koa, a dark, rich tropical wood that carved well and took a great satin finish.  The Goddess/Priestess has an owl sitting on her head, symbol of wisdom and spiritual power, and holds the two snakes with are touched by the silver tongues of the snakes, like lightning bolts striking and imparting energy to her through them.

Cretan Snake Priestess

Cretan Snake Priestess

Prestess/Goddess at top of broom.  Detail

Priestess/Goddess at top of broom. Detail

The skirt for this one is an antique-looking broadleaf grass, looking somewhat like corn sheaves, slightly thinner.

The symbology here is not subtle, the name of the piece tells the story.  Wisdom, sought after or not, can come with a blinding clarity and immense power.

Cosmic Sequence: Sky Broom

Monday, October 26th, 2009
Sky Sweeper in Sweeping Changes

Sky Sweeper in Sweeping Changes

Available! $500

… and back to the Brooms.  This week’s entry is a monumental broom, the tallest from Sweeping changes, titled “Sky Sweeper”.  Made of found wood, ting-ting, silver solder and glitter.  It soars over 8 feet tall, with a crown I always thought looked like a dragon’s head.  (I love the shadow it makes as well, with a strategically placed light)

The stick is a piece of ironwood, (Ostrya virginiana, hophornbeam), with another piece the rootball from I believe a willow, with the ironwood cleverly inserted into a hole and filled with a mix of sawdust and glue to make it disappear.  The hornbeam cracked as it dried, revealing its spiral grain, and Rae worked solder into these cracks, tappisky-stickdetailng lightly with a hammer.  a tiny bit of glue and a few sprinklings of glitter…


Detail of “head”

The skirt came from a florist supply house, they called it tingting.  Some of it is natural, some dark dyed, some gold and some silver with glitter.  About 1/4 inch at a time was wrapped around the stick, then another layer, then another, and the final layer with a few turns of silver cord.


Skirt with base visible

You may have noticed by now I describe the process a lot.  I watched, held, and helped, as well as consulted and opined on the process a lot more than the design and symbology.  So I know more and remember more about those things, and am more comfortable relaying them.  Anything I say about the inspiration or meaning is mostly my own interpretation, or my imperfect memory of what I heard Rae describe at a show.

I have not yet described for any of the brooms what went into making them stand up.  Rae went through quite a process to try to figure something out in time for her Sweeping Changes show.  The totems were not really a problem.  The Celtic Totem actually has an iron I-beam under the skirt.  The bronze broom is welded to a circular plate with bolts through it.  But for the ones with fiber or broom or twig skirts, she consulted with several of her instructors, and tried to come up with something that would not get in the way of the broom’s lines. For this and several of the others, she ended up with two small iron rings welded to 3 soft iron bars 1/8″ by 3/4″, the rings surround the end of the stick, the bars go down and flare outward, and have small hold used to screw them down to platforms.  (we were not  very good about documenting process, so I can’t show you under the skirts, sorry.)

Sky Sweeper was inspired by Chinese Dragons, and stories/folklore Rae found concerning storms being caused by gods sweeping out their domiciles.  Sand and dust storms from the dry stuff, and rain and wind from the cleaning.

With Respect to the Whore of Babylon

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
From the Age of Control

From the Age of Control

In the Collection of Helen Klebesadel

Since I’ve bounced from brooms to cauldrons, them mirrors, I thought I’d introduce one of Rae’s Cabinets.  The Whore, as she affectionately called it, is now in the Collection of Helen Klebesadel.  It consists of a solid black walnut cabinet on a walnut base, with copper panels filling the doorframes.  The top of the cabinet is a fairly good example of standard cabinetry, albeit with some odd angles, since from above it forms an isosceles trapezoid.  The base is unusual in that it appears to be on tip-toe,  its four legs including two widely spaced to the sides, and two very close together front and back, all tapered to be smaller at the floor..  The top edge of the cabinet, and the skirt of the base are crenellated, reminiscent of castle fortifications.

The design was intended to look medieval, for a couple of reasons.  In keeping with reclaiming objects of domesticity and power, in her researches Rae discovered references to the cabinets in feudal households, wherein the wealth of the house was kept (often that meant the few coins they might have, but certainly the precious and rare papers, and the best of the clothing, which often represented the real wealth of the household, in embroidered and beaded dresses and such.  The lady of the house would have the keys to this, often the only locked container in the home.  The walnut was stained dark, and the wood slightly distressed to make it look older and well used.

The copper in the doors consists of two lace doilies, and two engravings on lace frames.  They were created using two different techniques, one of which (electroforming) Rae experimented with quite a bit, and created some beautiful pieces I’ll show later, the other was just for this piece.  The latter was acid etching of an image.

Copper etching of Whore and her mirror

Copper etching of Whore and her mirror

When she decided to use images and symbology from the Book of Revelation, specifically the Whore of Babylon, she found a couple of woodcuts, created a photo-resist image on a sheet of copper of each, and then let acid etch away some of the copper, making a relief image in the copper.

Original image

Original image

The lace was actual lace doilies, stiffened slightly with wax, with a thin layer of metallic copper paint spread on them.  The electroforming process involved a large tank, thick ingots of copper attached to a positive electrode, and the lace with the copper paint had wires attached, connected to a negative electrode, and the lace suspended in a bath of copper electrolyte solution from a bar that moved gently back and forth in the solution.  Copper ions came off the ingots, through the solution, and onto the lace, until they were thick enough for her purposes.  Usually the “mandrel” or form is then removed, but Rae had put copper on both sides of the lace, so it is still trapped within.

Copper Lace

Copper Lace

The two pieces that back the images were attached to them using copper rivets, and the whole then re-immersed, to join them together, stopping when the etched images started to lose definition.

The inside of the cabinet has a glass tile mosaic on the floor, a circular mirror reflecting the viewer, and a lace lining.

Inside of Cabinet

Inside of Cabinet

I know Rae did a lot of reading and collecting material about Revelation, and some of the many interpretations of that work.  I don’t have a lot of it in my head, though, so can’t really give too much more.  Like many if not all of her pieces, though, there are layers of meaning that she intended, and even more that are invoked in the viewer.  Maybe you can see it at Helen’s sometime.

Mirror of Life, Mirror of Death

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
Celtic Mirror Back

Also Known as the Celtic Mirror, this piece was first shown in 1994 at the show I highlighted last week.  Called “Age of Acceptance: Mirror Of Death/Mirror Of Life”  It stands 15″ tall, weighs about 10 lbs.   On one side, shown on the left, is a Celtic Design consisting of 5 triple spirals, or Triskelions.  The mirrors “handle” is a braid, which turns into a base consisting of 3 snake heads.  Lots of symbology here.

In her words from a later artist statement:

“My stories begin with the myth, the folk tale, the superstition and the stereotype hidden in our own homes.  The familiar object with the obscure story attached, the piece we are aware of, but don’t notice, the inconsistency that some of us avoid…  The relationship to women and the contradiction we live with daily…

…Similarly, the pot changes from a simple cooking implement, to a cauldron for unholy potions, our contrary roles of nurturer, healer, poisoner, witch….  The mirror becomes an object of vanity or magical sight. Mirrors gave me a gift of story about beauty,  about vanity, a view of women as perhaps less intelligent, more fragile in their beauty that draws rescue, or repels it with the contradictions of intelligent and beauty… Woman as more susceptible to “evil”, or  our powers to entice or attract “evil”, or be evil…  Contradictions in the face of beauty… ”

Mirrors are a common magical tool.  They can not only reflect the real world, they can be a window into the spiritual, the future, the invisible.  For this purpose, it does not need to be a perfect reflective surface, so Rae did not polish the mirror surface to its potential.  She had found pictures of old bronze mirrors from Greece and Rome.

Celtic Mirror Front

Celtic Mirror Front

The ‘face’ of the mirror is just reflective enough to give the impression of looking through a veil at a golden version of the room you are in, heavily distorted, and only coming into focus when you relax and look “through” it.   It is too heavy to use as a hand mirror, but stands well, and is stable on its three snake-head ‘legs’.

The mirror top was made of a circle of wax in a plate, with the decorations made by cutting out of a thin slab of wax. Details and the spirals were cut in with clay tools.  The handle was an actual braid of human hair, the snakes made by creating molds from Geltrate and plastic snakes, then pouring molten wax into the molds, and melding the wax to the hair, with a chopstick to give it rigidity to stand up long enough to place in the plaster and cast the bronze.

Handle and Base

Handle and Base

The name came last.  I am not positive about it’s exact meaning.  Like much art, the artist creates, has a vision, and the viewer (consumer? audience? ) interacts with it, their own experience informing their interpretations.  Literally, given the magical use of mirrors for scrying, the mirror of death could mean peering through the veil to communication with those who have left the world, miirror of life to view the present or future.