Inspirational Simplicity

March 10th, 2010

Quilted Maple, Broomcorn

Available!  $750

From Sweeping Changes

This piece is probably the closest of any of Rae’s brooms to a “traditional” broom.  If it were not mounted on the iron tripod, you could easily sweep the floor with it.  One of the few pieces Rae turned on a lathe.  She didn’t really like doing lathe work, too much flying debris, noise and dust, I think.

The skirt was modeled after a craft broom she saw in a shop down south, with the broomcorn stalks still attached, and woven in a circular pattern, making a besom rather than the standard flat broom.  Robert Burns wrote a poem/song to the besom.

The wood is a piece of quilted maple, part of a larger piece that Rae bought from BVC hardwoods while Larry was still in the business.  The rough-sawn wood did not reveal the deep, lustrous, curly grain until it was polished with several ever-finer grades of sandpaper, and finally fine steel wool, and then a simple clear oil finish made it glow.  I could lose myself in the swirls and ribbons of its grain.  That stick takes the broom from its otherwise simple appearance to a transcendent glory.  Or so I’ve always thought.

Click for larger image

Serpentine Sheddings, Visceral Wisdom

March 4th, 2010

From Sweeping Changes.

Ironwood, pig gut

This process of putting Rae’s pieces in this blog, of presenting them with as much of their stories as I can, has been a healing one.  It also has brought me tears, frustration, and joy.  One strange thing is the deja vu.  I am certain I remember writing about this piece in detail.  But I cannot find anything, and now I must draw the conclusion that I either described it in a dream, or told the story at either her memorial/birthday party or some other gathering of folk.  Ah, well, here we go again.

Rae had a lot of fun with this piece, from the rather simple design to the very complicated implementation.  I found a snippet in Rae’s Master’s Thesis, which I quote below.  For Sweeping Changes, she wanted a snake, shedding it’s skin, the skin becoming the skirt of the broom.

From her MasterSweepings manuscript:  “The first step of this breathing out is the process of thinking.  Thinking isn’t limited to intellectualizing — for me it implies a whole brain involvement to convey something that is felt, seen, and thought about.  This is followed by finding, which is a free ranging and instinctual process — and an allowing and a trusting that what I need will be found.  An example of this can be seen in the broom Visceral Wisdom / Serpentine Sheddings, for which I needed a snake handle that was shedding its skin.  My process was not to think, “now I need a 6 foot stick” — it was more like: “now I need the snake” — and then I waited/sought the snake, and accepted it when the right piece of wood came.  Then I begin the act of making — not just constructing an object, but responding to the construction and materials while “thinking” is engaged.”

The stick was a found piece of ironwood, with bark beetle grooves in it.  The skirt, to emulate snakeskin (she had no desire to either buy or collect enough actual snake skins to do it) was hand-painted pig intestine.  Yes.  Pig gut. (“visceral” wisdom…)

You can get pig intestine from a butcher shop, usually used for stuffing your own sausage into.  It comes in about 60′ lengths or longer, in a brine to preserve it.

We lived at Eagle Heights when she was making this piece.  We went outside with the gut, and stuck a bicycle pump into one end, and pumped.  It inflated like an insane balloon-animal, getting longer and longer but not thicker.  She then tied off the ends, and we strung it up like a clothesline to dry.  It shrank and flattened when it dried.  Did not hold the air very long, but long enough to make it ribbon instead of string.

Rae cut this 3/4″ – 1.25″ ribbons into even lengths of 4 feet.  She painted them with one of her favorite paints, a “Pearlescent” set of pastels that fairly glowed.  The effect was a magical multi-colored semi-transparent ribbon that did look a lot like a colorful snakeskin.  The ribbons were folded in half, leaving the fold at the top, and a colored string used to attach them to the stick.  Originally crisp and fluffed out, moisture form the air and time have left them more limp now, but still just as colorful and inspiring.  The same colored paint was used to trace the grooves left by the bark beetles in a crazy, random meander around the stick.

Sensuous Successions

March 1st, 2010

Tulipwood, flax

Available! $500

One of the 13 pieces in Sweeping Changes, and not included in any shows since, I think.

This simple broom was an exploration of shape and texture.  A very hard wood, it took a lot of carving to get the spiral worked into it.  It also took the light oil finish well.  Not a lot to say.  Within the design and its interaction with the viewer are possible associations and stories.  I know Rae, as a weaver and spinner, liked to work with flax.  The raw flax in this is quite different from linen.

What do you see?

Detail

Goddess of the Crossroads

February 27th, 2010

Wood, Embroidery

vailable!  $750

She of a Thousand Names, an Ironing Board Exhibition Honoring the Goddess, curated by Lynn Slattery  Helmuth.  1997

Rae was asked to participate as one of 13 artists for this show, the format determined by Lynn Hellmuth, with the theme being honoring the Goddess in her many forms, the medium sculpture, the common factor that of the ironing board.  In 12 of the pieces, and actual wooden ironing board was used.

Rae’s piece took an antique pine ironing board, made a base for it with two crossed boards and a circle of pine around them, a Celtic Cross.  The ironing board fit into a curved slot carved into the base (curved because the board had warped over the years, and was no longer flat).  The base also had 4 wooden Celtic spiral emblems in lighter color, repeated also on the bosom of the piece.  This was Rae’s first experience using a jig saw, which also produced the Celtic knotwork making up the “belt” visible  in the picture, and the individual pieces making up the bosom, beginning with a large oval, with two rounded triagles cut out, then a double spiral, carved where solid to make the breasts, and finally two more of the emblematic disks, also called triskels.

The goddess’ face is an oval of wood, almost featureless but for the hint of eyes.

Detail

The belly of the piece is one of Rae’s signature embroideries, a beautiful Celtic knotwork with the colors flowing from orange to gold.

On the back of the piece is her hand-written Artist’s Statement:
———————

Lady of Choice:
The Goddesses of The Crossroads

Each of us makes “choices” daily — from what to eat for breakfast, to far more important decisions.

The legends of many Goddesses say they spin out our lives, some even weave the patterns of the world — but the fates do not “choose” for us.  We have the power of self determination, we have “the ability to respond” — to our lives, our world, our ethical beliefs, our hearts.

The Journey through this life is not just about our bodies being born, growing, aging and ending.  It is also about our minds, hearts and souls…

The double spiral path, the three gates, the interlacing and nexus points of the paths of our lives (which are never lived in isolation) and the crossroads are symbols of the Goddesses who support and protect our right to choose…

For that ability — I see my hours of “making” as an offering to them, an acknowledge of this gift — to be a self-responding/self-determining creature…


One of the very few pieces Rae actually signed.

Others in the show besides Rae and Lynn were Janet Shapero, David Aguirre, Truman Lowe, Leslee Nelson, Claudia DeLong Pope, Nana Schowalter, Kitty Slattery, Nancy Cramer Lettenstrom, Paulette Werger, Helen Klebesadel, Kicki Hankell Persson.

Cauldron – From the Age of Water, Continuity

February 17th, 2010

Bronze, copper patina

From the Women, Domesticity and Objects of Power show.  This cauldron is one of 3 Rae did in Bronze, representing Water.  The Earth Cauldron I’ve already Presented, and the Fire is coming in a few weeks.  There was no Air, She ran out of time and access to the foundry before she designed one for Air.

The Water Cauldron came out exactly as she envisioned it, she was always very proud of it.  The designs are Celtic-inspired, with knot work around the rim, a mermaid holding the chain link for a handle loop (no handle has been made), and three naked goddesses for feet, their hair flowing up and merging with the cauldron.

The fantastic blue color was Rae’s choice of patina, created by brushing copper sulphate solution over the cauldron after all the spurs were cut, imperfections ground out, and the last of the plaster cleaned out of crevices.  She would patio the outside, , then the inside, let them dry to a flaky blue-white, then paint right over that again with the solution, 7 or 8 times, drying completely between.  The outer layers of the metal finally took the color, and now it is a part of the surface, and would take a lot of sanding to remove (as if!)

This Cauldron, like her Earth, was made over a beach-ball mold, with the knot work carefully measured and carved in a flat ribbon, and then melted to the outside edge.  Similarly, the feet and handles were carved in foundry wax and applied to their final positions before the burn-out and pour.

The Continuity Cauldron is heavy, though not as heavy as the Earth one, and it can actually hold water.  It IS water, in metallic form.  Happy Birthday, Rae!?

Corn Broom/Broom Corn

February 9th, 2010

Quilted maple, spalted elm, cane, reed

Available!  $550

Rae first presented this piece in a group show called Conundrums, if my records are right.  It was the last time she used a lathe.  The handle was not too bad, but the large piece of spalted elm for the bottom was just a little too scary turning at 500 rpm.

The handle started as a piece of quilted maple, the same that Inspirational Simplicity came from.  After turning and polishing it, she carved corn ears into the parts she left square.  Then used wood dyes to color in the kernels of the corn.

She turned the base, mortised a square hole to take the top, and burned designs in, filling with more dye.

The skirt is a set of handwoven baskets, dyed to look like multicolored corn.  Many people on first glance start by wondering where she got such corn ears, they look so realistic. 

remembering Rae

February 9th, 2010

After Helen called –I poured my grief into an embroidery. See it http://labweb.education.wisc.edu/~lnelson/memory-cloths/atira.html
She was such an amazing person. I met her as my student & she became my teacher — How to live with integrity, creativity, humor and love.
“Atira” is also the image on my home page, www.LesleeNelson.com
She changed lives.

The Witch is Free

February 7th, 2010

Sweeping Changes Series
Glass, Acrylic

The Witch is Free, the glass broom, was the culmination of many trials, many failures and restarts, to make a broom from Glass.  Rae loved the Glass studio, and was particularly drawn to sandcasting and slumping.  She wanted to make a glass broom, and tried many times unsuccessfully to do one in a sand mold.  She learned a lot about the technique in the process, and did make some other glass pieces in the mold, but what she tried to do for a broom just never worked out.  The process she was trying involved taking wet olivine sand and 2 boxes.  sand was put in one box, a cut off broom was pushed down most of the way into the sand, more sand and the other box placed over that, with waxed paper along the seam so that after tamping down the sand, the two boxes should have been able to separate, so the broom could be removed, leaving the sand forming a negative impression of the broom, and a hole to pour the molten class through.

Every attempt ended up with the sand collapsing, refusing to hold its form, possibly because of the size of the broom, or the fact that the individual broom straws would mingle with the sand, pulling it apart as the mold opened.  In any case, she gave up that attempt.

While in class, she learned of the “Witches Ball”  often found in glass factories, and also sometimes in breweries and other places.  The idea was that witches sometimes spoiled the work in the annealing kiln or vats, and that the shiny glass globe would capture her interest.  In the version Rae found the Witches Ball had a hole in the bottom that the witch’s spirit would fly into, and not be able to find its way back out of.

So the only time Rae actually did work with molten glass was to make the top of the broom you see here, tantalizingly shaped so that no witch could resist it.  Attached to a 1 1/4″ thick stem of class for the handle, all that remained was to attach the skirt.

The skirt, since it could not be a cast of a real broom, posed some problems.  She tried taking glass rods and heating and drawing them out.  Too tedious, and too regular.

Steve Feran demonstrated how to create glass tubes and rods, by grabbing the end of a ball of glass fresh out of the oven, and running out the door with it, getting as far as possible before the glass cooled, and began to break into sections.

For the Sweeping Changes show, Rae did a combination.  She had some irregular glass rods made in this way, some glass tubes and pipettes from a lab supply house.  She heated the ends and made them curl at the top, and curve like broomstraw would.  Held piece by piece in place with a dab of silicone caulk, and clear nylon cord wrapped around the bundle.  The whole thing was beautiful, and fragile.  Many rods broke in transport, and the whole skirt was eventually replaced with acrylic rods, which still sparkle, but do not shatter and cut.

The piece is now in the collection of Casey Heinzel.

Classical Proportions/Narrow Perspective

February 1st, 2010

Available!  $900

Age of Knowledge, 1994: Women, Domesticity and Objects of Power

bronze, wood, mirror 26”h x 14”w x 9”d

I know Rae had fun making this piece.  The concept was straightforward.  She had been working for some time with the FatAn collective, preparing an anthology of works on Fat Activism.  She was never thin, though I do remember a time when we could wear the same jeans.  But she was a feminist, and outraged at the culture of artificial beauty that surrounds us.  She knew from experience that she could not lose her weight and keep her health, and who she was.

The modern image of female beauty is fairly recent, in its thinness, at least.  If you look at classical statues, the proportions of the women in them are much rounder than anything you’d see in a magazine.  So this piece is a statement of how our perspective has literally changed.  The columns (made from wedding cake decorations!)  and the pulchritudinous forms lounging at their feet represent classical beauty.  The mirror is made intentionally too thin to ever be able to see all of yourself in it, no matter how thin, and so is an analog to the internal image many women have that they are fat.


Happy Imbolc!

Caged Heat

January 28th, 2010

Maple, copper, textiles

Caged Heat is a not at all subtle political artistic statement.  For Rae, politics was personal, and spiritual, and personal.  Some of you might recognize the title from a 1974 exploitation film about women in prison.

Since Rae server her time in 1973, and was still on parole in 74, it came at a time she was a bit sensitized to some of the stereotypes in this and other shows.  The basic idea is that if you put a bunch of women together in close confinement, lots of violence and sexual abandon will result.

Rae was always a sexual being.  She was an incest survivor as well.  And a feminist.  These things are not separate, but integral parts of her and a result of her life experiences.  Caged Heat is about the oppression, including self-repression, of the sexuality of women.  The heat is the sensual, sexual, generative power of the female body.  The cage is the Burka, Habit, Wedding Dress;  it is the shaming, the peer pressure, the law;  it is myth, story,  parable, custom; it is rape, abuse, mutilation.

The story is told with textile art, 7 small vignettes in embroidery and applique:
The story of Pandora
Woman as property, passing from father to husband, represented by the wedding dress and land title.
The biblical story of Eve
The Chastity Belt
Female circumcision
Heat-to-toe clothing
The Witch-burnings

The centerpiece is a large copper, um, well, see if you can figure that out yourself.  One little surprise for folks is the mirror inside the slit.  Rae even had a good reason for making it that size.  Take the more common size of female pudenda, get the ratio to a newborn head.  Now increase it so a fully adult head could fit through.

The cabinet the pieces fit in is made of slightly spalted maple.  Closed, it looks shrine-like, open vaguely lunar.  She was making a statement about organized religion, too. But the exterior of the cabinet also has some detail, she carved parts to appear that the wood was actually woven, like a basket, with some parts coming out, perhaps unravelling.  The message overall is that the heat will not be caged.

Rae was very fond of Caged Heat.  She even requested in her funeral instructions that it be placed on her wheelchair. And so we did, with 3 live rose plants, which we later planted out back at our house.

To end, here is in Rae’s own words her artist’s statement on Caged Heat:

Caged Heat

Women have long worshipped at the shrines of our own apocalypse.  The aspects of our horsemen are: Sin, shame, control, fear, temptress, uncleanness, vassal/vessel-hood.  This shrine represents these aspects, aspects that have caged our passions and actions on conscious and sub-conscious levels our interior lives.

These subtle and not so subtle stories, myths and practices have guided our actions, interfered in our relationships and even guided the laws and morals of many of our societies. And women have fallen prey to belief in these aspects.  We believe it of our selves, of other women, of our heroines.

Sin — in the figure of Eve, causing expulsion from the Garden of Eden

Shame — because Pandora released all the sorrows on to the world

Temptress — We cannot be left alone, we cannot be trusted, we can not control our own actions or bodies

Control — Her hair, her skin, and her body must be hidden so as not to tempt or be tempted

Fear — women might judge a mans ability, demand more from him or even seek her pleasures somewhere else, and there is always the fear — that she won’t offer him the best vessel for his pleasure

Uncleanness — Women bleed, we leak milk from our breasts and fluids from between our legs…

Vassal/vessel-hood — we hold the next generation, and we must be “protected” “wedded”  “bedded”…

Women have been reclaiming and struggling for their rights for the last 100 years.  For each step forward, weighted down by these stereotypes and myths, we are dragged back. In the form of backlash groups, woman to woman sexism, legislation, younger women redefining immediate past history, the ongoing ritualization of women’s lives, the lack of equality in almost every country in the world, the ongoing economic and employment sanctions/limits placed on us, etc.  And somehow, the majority of women still assume that the balance of power is still justified, that men still know more, understand more, are generally more trustworthy then other women, and so on.

This shrine was created within ritualized processes to make a change in the world.  With each stitch I visualized a world where women where respected, where we were valued for who we are and what we did, and we had equality.  Each image was created and researched to bring to light the myths that do effect the world view within many cultures.  The shrine was created as a form coming undone, while the vulva shape was created in a size that is of an equal ration to the human head — to symbolize the birthing of new ideas in adults.

These icon images were done in simple embroidery stitches.  Stitchery is an art form long used and perfected by women, and it has a long history of encouraging revolution.  It is also my first art form, begun around the age of 5 and continuing.