Written September 17, 2013
When my great-niece Annie was just six months old, her parents asked me to create a piece of art for her. They wanted something that would hang in her bedroom now for her and others to enjoy, but also something that would carry her through her growing-up years.
I learned something with this commission, that is: It is a gift to be asked to create a lasting piece of artwork for a child. To be invited into her life and bring an intention to life was simply wonderful.
When we first started talking about the creation of this piece we went back and forth on all sorts of descriptive words, hoped-for dreams, and various concepts for it. At one point Sara said she particularly liked the word ‘goddess’ when thinking about her daughter. I’ve used that term a lot in my artwork, of course, but it took a different twist when thinking about it for a little girl now and as she grew up. What does it really mean to be a ‘goddess’? I found myself contemplating this throughout the design and creation of the piece until I came to a solid definition.
This definition for Annie (and frankly for all little girls) is that as she grows up, she stays strongly rooted in herself, never forgetting her inner strength and wisdom. So many of us lose our voices for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes a goddess does too and then she works like crazy, focusing on nothing else, until she finds it again. Even if she is afraid, she speaks what is in her heart and is true to herself when communicating who she is. And her heart is always overflowing with unconditional love – for others, of course, but also for herself. All of this while she explores the world and willingly shifts and changes with each experience.
That definition became my mantra as I cut and stitched and created for Annie, envisioning her as she sees the goddess in herself and keeps it alive as she grows up. Hopefully this piece carries the spirit of my intentions (and her parents’!)
So…on to the art itself. If you’d like, you can click on the image of the artwork above. It will open in a new window a bit larger so you can see it more clearly and thus understand the following description more fully. The warp strips are horizontal in this piece. They depict the elements of Annie’s life that are the foundation of who she is – faith, dreams, family, inherent qualities, and nature. The constants in her life, so to speak.
The top strip depicts Faith with papercut eyes of all of the loving family members who are no longer with us, but are her angels watching over her. I tried to make those eyes smiling because there’s not a doubt that they are tickled as can be to watch over her. Their angel eyes are each flanked by angel wings with pearls of wisdom to hold them in place. There’s lots of wisdom in those elders! And of course the music is that of one of her family’s favorite songs, Angels Watching Over Me.
The next strip down depicts her parents’ Dreams for her – to learn, create, grow, and succeed, and to be independent and healthy. Again, they are made of Tyvek papercuttings and adorned with beads. There’s also a reflective circle in there so she can see herself in those dreams for her. The music strip is the Beatles, All You Need is Love, because…well…isn’t that the truth? I also loved the first line of it which reads, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done” and would love it if she never forgot that.
The middle strip depicts Family. Of course, her beautiful core family will always be her biggest support which is why it’s front and center. The stitching that ripples out from that center photo represents the full collective of family that is the clan who will watch her and support her in all she does. There were just too many to put on that strip! The music stretched across this strip is Simon and Garfunkel’s, Bridge Over Troubled Water. A beast of a song filled with the sentiment that both her core and her large extended family holds for her.
The next strip down is for her Inherent Qualities, another source of support she will always have as part of her core self. Again, these are words her parents shared with me when describing her and again, there are mirrors in place so she can always see herself reflected in these descriptors – talented, playful, kind and beautiful, smart, strong, funny and sweet.
The bottom warp strip is that of Nature. Embodied in this is whatever concept of nature named as support – God’s creation, the universe, Mother Nature, and so on. And the rolling hill made out of music is Billy Joel’s, Just the Way You Are. I couldn’t resist yet another chance to include a reminder to sweet Annie to never ever change her core self for someone else.
The vertical strips or the weft of the weaving are those that get woven into the warp. These represent the multitude of experiences she’ll have as she grows up. They’re pretty colorful in comparison to the warp strips because this is what we all wish for her – a very colorful, vibrant life!
The strips on the outer edges depict music, poetry, literature, and artwork – some she’ll witness and some she’ll create herself, but all of which has the chance to move and change her. This was tough to narrow down since the world of creativity is so vast. I tried to squeeze in as many as I could in different ways. The left side starting at the top has Shel Silverstein, an author she will love now and through her whole life no doubt. And his book, The Giving Tree, carries a message that we all love to be reminded of from time to time. Also on this square is a strip of trombone music as a shout out to her daddy and Mozart’s name since it won’t be too long before she knows all about him.
The next square down on that strip has the song Tomorrow from the musical Annie as the center of a sun with rays pouring out on top of and underneath it. And of course, there’s a little mirror in the center so she can see herself as Annie on stage just like her mom did when she was a little girl. The music score below this Annie sun is Handel’s Messiah. An epic piece of music! Hanging in bead form is Bach since he also wrote a few epic pieces.
The bottom square on the first strip is the ever-popular and stunning Starry Night by Van Gogh, one of my favorites. The music score underneath it is Thriller by Michael Jackson because 80’s music never gets old and someday she’ll be dancing to that on a dance floor having a ball. And of course Goddess Frida’s name is there as well as Schubert which I played a lot of when I was a young piano student.
The top of the strip on the right has part of the piece called Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt. The swirls and spirals are so pretty and I can see her someday googling the full image or some of his other gorgeous ones. Also on this square is music by Brahms and the name of a famous, though lesser known artist named Mary Cassatt who studied and became a professional artist at a time when women simply didn’t do that.
The middle of the far right weft strip is the music When Irish Eyes are Smiling with Annie’s smiling eyes in the middle. The square also carries all of the Irish love she gets from that limb of the family tree starting with her dad and grandpa and continuing on to her great aunts and uncles and great grandpa O’Connor. Hiding on this square is a strip of oboe music – a shout out to her mom, a master oboist. And Georgia O’Keeffe’s name is hiding behind the orange ribbon at the top, unseen on the image of the piece, but visible in the image below.
The bottom right square on the piece has the song Nocturne in E Flat by Chopin which is her Great Aunt Ellen’s all-time favorite piano recital piece that she still sits down and plays once in a great while. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam is just a taste of the Sistine Chapel ceiling that she must see someday and stay as long as she wants even though the guard will be hollering for her to move on to the next room. The artist Monet and composer Beethoven are represented in beads. And the pink tulle is just plain fun for little girls – and big ones too!
The sentiments of authors, poets and artists continue down either side of the piece’s outer endges with quotes from some of my favorites – Maya Angelou, Edgar Allen Poe, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Jane Austen. There are a few repeats – Mary Oliver and Rumi – because you can never have too much of either one of these brilliant people.
The middle two strips of weft represent all of the places she’ll go and the people she’ll meet, each providing exposure to new cultures and beliefs and each offering an opportunity to learn and grow, shift and incorporate. You’ll find in the maps a few nods to specific places like her ancestors’ homes of Sweden, Norway and Croatia; part of Katerina’s Russia; Hershey’s Mexico City; Alexandra’s Korea; and Ryan and Joe’s Denver (wrapped around the bottom frame.) The strip with people’s silhouettes are all of the diverse people she’ll bump into along the way, but for now she may see Grandpa Barry’s dark beard or Great Uncle David’s spectacles, yes?
The core strip of gold ribbon and wire gets back to the essence of the piece, that is, her core self. It runs straight down the middle wrapping in and around the other strips, depicting the strong core we all envision for her. The red beads represent her strong anchored sense of self, the blue beads her voice, and the green beads her pure heart of unconditional love. And of course, here is where you’ll find what her parents call the Annie beads mixed in and wrapped around their core family photo. These symbolize how loved she was and how their hopes and dreams for her were solidly in place before she was even born.
As I created this woven intention of love, I envisioned Annie as her now almost two-year-old self giggling at the silly silhouettes of people or driving a little car along the road path or looking close at the mirrors to see her reflection. And I saw her big brother Cole, getting close up and seeing and reading each detail, filing it away, asking questions, seeing connections. I pictured Annie at 16 years old saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of the Beatles.” Or at 22 wondering who exactly is Artemisia Gentileschi and pulling out her phone smarter than anything we have now to find out.
I hope it lasts forever, but alas, art doesn’t always do that unless it’s positioned in hermetically sealed space where it can’t be touched. And if you read the paragraph above, you know that’s not its intention. If something doesn’t hold up and it falls away or gets ripped or needs a touch of glue or a needle and thread or for heaven’s sake, a stapler, by all means Annie and her parents have my permission to take their own creative hands to it and patch it up. Or better yet, they can call Annie’s old great aunt and invite her over for tea and she’ll bring her supplies to spruce it up.
The piece was completed June 2013 and consists of linen strips woven together and mounted on a 24×36″ canvas base with multiple found objects stitched onto it. Special note: My dear friend, Cheryl Spieth-Gardiner, very graciously assisted with the master-level sewing on this piece. I asked if I could borrow her awesome sewing machine and she wisely offered to bring it to my studio instead, following my directives for each square and adding a few of her own creative ideas. Here is a picture of Cheryl with the piece after adding her signature to the back.
And here are a couple of pictures of Annie seeing her art for the first time, touching it and loving it just as I hoped she would.
Goddess Annie is a mixed-media creation with linen strips mounted on a 24×36″ canvas base along with Tyvek papercuts, fabric, found objects, and beads.