Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Culture’

Cauldron – From the Age of Water, Continuity

Wednesday, 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!?

Classical Proportions/Narrow Perspective

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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.

Bridget: Lady of Faith Lady of Infamy

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Bridget piece open

English Oak, Mahogany, embroidery.

This piece is breathtaking, truly.  The images I’m posting here do not, cannot do it justice.   Rae worked on this for over 3 years, researching, collecting images and stories, designing the embroideries, finding the wood.

Detail, center section

Bridget: Lady of Faith Lady of Infamy is a tribute to the Irish Goddess and Saint.  It contains images from each iconography, and deftly shows how they interact and mingle. The three panels represent the goddess on the left, the Saint on the right,

and in the center, an image of the woman who was both, surrounded by the many names given to her, and symbols linked to her: Horseshoe, Acorn, Holly, ferns, a yellow flower I don’t remember the name of…  She also put a copper cauldron, in the style of her Water Cauldron, below her image in the center panel.

detail of Goddess panel

The left panel features a sacred spring, with a flame rising from the water, and an ancient Oak tree shading and sheltering it.  The pool is circled with rocks, there is grass, a small Rowan tree, the sun setting in the distance. (or is it rising?)

The right panel has the tower from St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare, a celtic stone cross, and the eternal flame

tended by the Brigidine nuns, who are “unlike any other Catholic Order, for they embrace the Goddess aspect of Brighid and honor that fully.”

Detail right pane

The triptych is embroidery floss on linen, and I watched it slowly form.  I even timed Rae working on a section, calculated how long a square inch took to finish, and then extrapolated.  There are over 600 square inches of embroidered area in the piece, and it took her between 3 and 5 hours to do a square inch, depending on how many different colors it included, how often she had to change needles or thread, and how much attention she could give it.

I had some scraps of English Oak from a project long ago, and so Rae was familiar with the deep brown, open grain.  We found some at BVC Hardwoods (Thanks, Larry!), and Rae designed the cabinet/frame to look cathedral-like.  When closed, you see a pair of Mahogany Celtic crosses, with velvet behind them.

Doors closed

Overall, a true object of devotion and beauty.

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

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

AMML_detail

(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.

Women, Domesticity and Objects of Power

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

So, a special treat today:  Context.

I have collected some info and images from Rae’s MFA show, titled above.  The show was November 6-23, 1994 at the Gallery of Design, 1300 Linden Drive.  At that time it was Family Resources and Consumer Sciences, now the School of Human Ecology.

Her Artist’s Statement:

Women, particularly cultural feminists, have often considered the possibility, questioned the probability, and even a romanticized the concept of a women’s culture. When I explore the concept of women’s culture, as a feminist, a storyteller, and an artist, I am drawn again and again to the concept of common objects. Common objects fascinate me — the careful consideration to function (its domestic roots) mars our perception of its grace and beauty, for, to be special something must be rare.

In a women’s culture, what might be different in the perception and the value of common objects?

I began to envision what common objects would be like from an intact, continuous women’s culture. If such a culture existd through the ages, what would those ages have been called? We have the “Golden Age” for mainstream culture, and the Renaissance, and the “Middle Ages”. Would it be different if there had been a dominant Women’s culture or even a valuation of women? I know they would be different for me. Using as my starting point stories such as the magic mirror of Snow White’s evil stepmother, or myths such as Cerridwen’s Cauldron of regeneration ( how did a cooking pot becomes a source of reincarnation and knowledge )?, I began to construct any exhibition of found objects from this “mythical” women’s culture.

I not only wanted to explore the concept of a women’s culture, I choose to layer it with the shadowed influences of existing culture – its legends, stories and processes and my own life experience and concerns. What resulted is my manifestation of Objects of Power.

This statement was posted in the show and on a brochure which was handed out.  What few people have seen is her first draft of the statement:

I am working from 3 premises:

•      There is a perceived division between art and craft, functional and non-functional, which does not exist in all cultures and in all times.  It does not exist in my reality.  I like to push this culturally oriented imaginary line around and see what I can come up with when I explore common objects, traditional and non-traditional materials and layered symbology.

•      Certain “Common Objects” fascinate me — they can be graceful and powerful, as well as functional.  We usually miss this grace and beauty, because we assume to be special something must be rare.  Many objects live with us in the mundane-but they also live with us in the world of dreams, mystery and legend.  My work seeks to delve these mysteries and reveal how common objects can become the icons of mysteries we all recognize if we care to look — if we dare to know.

•      Objects that are a common part of our culture often have rich associations with legends, histories, fables, folk-tales and folk customs.  I explore these associations by researching references to each object in mythic, poetic, and cultural literature.  I use interactive and multifaceted meshed layers that reflect this history and hidden meanings found in the research, with concepts from my own life experiences and response to the stories.

This process manifests pieces that are powerful, unique, and sophisticated.  These simultaneously simple and sophisticated pieces reflect the mundane perspectives of our society, but reveal a connection to the power of objects through their secrets, stories, mysteries, and innate grace.

Also from the brochure:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND APPRECIATIONS

COMMITTEE MEMBERS:
Truman Lowe – Art Department
Leslee Nelson- Art Dapartment
Elaine Shear – Art Department
Diane Sheehan – ETD Department
And Larry Junkins–
he touched my heart & my art, Blessings.

SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Valerie Weihman – MATC
Tom Loeser – UW
Martha Glowicki – UW
Steve Feren – UW
Fred Fenster – UW
Brian Painter – UW
George Cramer – UW

SPECIAL FRIENDS
Those who helped make this show possible
Helen Klebasadel    Jini Kai
Amy Bethel    Mary Walker
Barb Westfall    Mary Bennett
Ari-Asha Castalia    Ann Schaffer
Leslee Nelson    Sara Killian
Suzann Hart    Val Weihamn
Casey Heinzel    Ethan Heinzel
Deb Trent    Bev Gordon
Betsy Tuttle and the folks of the Gallery.

And All My Love To,
MATH HEINZEL
Who suffered so gracefully for my art …

The pieces that were included in that show, some renamed:

BROOMS

From the Age of Mystery:  SWEEP OF THE MILKY WAY  Wildwood, Broom Corn
From the Age of Community: COOPERATION    Bronze, Bronze Wire
From Sweeping Changes: INSPIRATIONAL SIMPLICITY Quilted maple, Broom Corn

CAULDRONS

From the Age of Water: CONTINUITY    Bronze
From the Age of Fire: TRANSFORMATION Bronze
From the Age of Earth: REGENERATION Bronze

CHAIR

From the Age of Consideration: FAT GIRLS LIKE TO ROCK TOO Ash and Pecan

CUPBOARDS

From the Age of Confusion: ANCIENT MOTHER/MODERN LIES Walnut, fabric, mirror, bronze, clay, glass
From the Age of Consciousness: CAGED HEAT    maple, copper, cotton, silk, satin
From the Age of Control: WITH RESPECT TO THE WHORE OF BABYLON copper, lace, walnut, silk

MIRRORS

From the Age of Knowledge: CLASSICAL PROPORTIONS/NARROW PERSPECTIVES    Bronze, Wood, Mirror
From the Age of Acceptance: MIRROR OF DEATH/MIRROR OF LIFE     Bronze

——————–

I have not found any photos from that exhibition, though I will continue to look.  We do have photos of all the pieces, some in previous posts here, others yet to come.  For now, for your gazing pleasure, the Rocking Chair that she made to fit a large woman, and which now belongs to her little sister Dawn.  Made of Ash and Hickory.  Fat Girls Like to Rock, Too:

Proportioned for the goddess in each of us.

Proportioned for the Goddess in each of us.