Text-iles

All winter long, I’ve been chipping away at a new addition to All Flesh Is Grass. “S A Y” is finally finished.

“S A Y,” altered dish towels, 2017.

Threads were snipped and carefully pulled out to form the letters:

St. Leoba

Detail: St. Leoba: Words and Deeds, 2016, purple thread on loose leaf paper, entry for the New City Artist Exchange
Detail: St. Leoba: Words and Deeds, 2016, purple thread on loose leaf paper, entry for the New City Artist Exchange

I recently participated in the 2016 New City Artist Exchange. My contribution to the exchange was an edition of 14 hand-sewn pages called “St. Leoba: Words and Deeds.”

The inspiration for this series came from St. Leoba, an Anglo-Saxon nun that I learned about during my research in Ireland. Leoba had a dream that she pulled an endless purple thread from her mouth. She desperately pulled at the thread and soon it completely filled her hands. She asked a wise woman to interpret her dream, and the woman said that the dream was a prophecy: Leoba would share wisdom and love with the world through her words and deeds.

 

Sand

States of Becoming Sand, periwinkle shells and thread on pillowcase, © Amanda Wagstaff 2016
States of Becoming Sand (All flesh is grass.), periwinkle shells and thread on pillowcase, © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

It’s no secret that Annie Dillard’s writing has had profound influence on me, how I live, how I think about the world, and the art I make. I even named one of my grad school projects after her book “For The Time Being.”

I reread her writing from time to time, and she often pops up unexpectedly in my thoughts. This happened a few times in Ireland, and one particular instance led to new soft sculpture called “States of Becoming Sand.”

Walking along the coast at Howth, just outside of Dublin, was one of my favorite rituals during my life in Ireland, and I enjoyed watching the coast and cliffs change throughout the seasons. There are a few spots along the cliffs at Howth where smooth pebbles, sea glass, and shells accumulate. In particular, small, bright white periwinkle shells litter these beaches. I began collecting these shells and broken shell parts, because I was so attracted to their smooth surfaces, and because they stood out so starkly against the darker, more colorful bits of beach.

And because they reminded me of passages in Annie Dillard’s book “For the Time Being.” The book is a long meditation on the natural world, humans, and suffering. It is about the tension between the individual and the universe.

Throughout the book, she meditates on ten subjects, one of which is “Sand.” She tells the natural history of sand, the process of it’s formation, how rock is worn down by wind and water, how sand is transformed by tremendous pressure into more rock. Sand travels thousands of miles. It accumulates. Everything becomes sand.

The periwinkle shells are in the midst of this process, slowly being worn down by waves and friction. I decided to collect the shells in various states of becoming sand – whole shells showing signs of smoothing, broken shells revealing their inner structure, and small white bits that barely suggested their previous form.

Now, they are part of “All flesh is grass,” an ongoing series of work that I began in Ireland and intend to continue forever.

Tree of Life – Tree of Knowledge

Since returning to Virginia, I’ve continued to research textiles, quilts in particular, and recently, I ‘tumbled‘ upon Indian Palampores and Tree of Life quilts. Palampores were intricate hand painted/dyed textiles featuring flora and fauna (and sometimes a central “Tree of Life”) that were made by Indian artisans for export abroad. These textiles were popular in 18-19th c. Europe and America and were often incorporated into bedcovers or quilts.

The Tree of Life motif was also used in this quilt by Ernestine Zaumseil:

Ernestine Eberhardt Zaumseil (American) Bedcover, ca. 1865 American, Cotton ground appliqued with cotton, silk and wool; 88 × 86 in. (223.5 × 218.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of George E. Schoellkopf, 2013 (2013.958) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/625591
Ernestine Eberhardt Zaumseil (American)
Bedcover, ca. 1865
American,
Cotton ground appliqued with cotton, silk and wool; 88 × 86 in. (223.5 × 218.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of George E. Schoellkopf, 2013 (2013.958)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/625591

I’ve been making fabric ‘sketches’ in the studio, sometimes embedding found natural materials, and these quilts struck a chord. I was reminded of the stone Adam and Eve carvings from medieval crosses I’d seen in Ireland and Scotland.

Left: Adam and Eve from standing stone at Kells, Co. Meath, Ireland; Right: Adam and Eve from St. Martin's Cross at the Abbey of Iona, Scotland. © Amanda Wagstaff 2016
Left: Adam and Eve from standing stone at Kells, Co. Meath, Ireland; Right: Adam and Eve from St. Martin’s Cross at the Abbey of Iona, Scotland. © Amanda Wagstaff 2016

In each of these carvings, Adam and Eve stand beneath a stylized Tree of Knowledge – a trunk and two arching tree branches. I’m intrigued by this imagery and this particular design. I’m also attracted to the damaged stone – I only have access to this image through an eroded version, where the forms are even more simplified. There may have been details that added to the symbolism which are now lost. It’s a great metaphor for how knowledge and meaning are simplified or ‘eroded’ by distance. A good metaphor for memory. But to be honest, I like this chunky, faded version better. I think it is still ‘rich’ with meaning.

Below is a sketch from the studio with a bit of Adam and Eve/Tree of Life peeking through:

IMG_5589
flowering quince branches, fabric, and felted wool in/on pieces of denim pants legs