A couple of weeks ago, I received a nice phone call from Andrea Ray of AQS; Flooded won a second place award at AQS Lancaster. I was my usual stiff, barely articulate self on the phone, so I don’t think I quite conveyed that I’m grateful to AQS and those who sponsor the awards. People do appreciate their stitching in Amish country, so winning an award there at a show like AQS is quite an honor.
The show’s program included artists’ statements, which I thought was a nice touch. There are those who prefer to let works speak for themselves, but sometimes it’s good to have a little background on a piece or insight into the creator’s thoughts.
Another AQS show will be held in Paducah, Kentucky April 23-26. My portrait, Under the Ginkgo Tree, will be there but alas, I will not. If you’re in the area, do drop by the show and let me know how it goes!
Here’s the current portrait in progress. I’m glad there are career options which involve stitching dog rumps.
I’ve been working on this thing for ages. If memory serves, I started it well over a year ago, then lost my drive when things went sour with my family. Since picking it back up, the stitching has drug on … and on … and on. There may also be a technical issue in that the chalk guide marks I made on the the kid’s skin (not in this photo) don’t want to come off easily. Not surprising, given that they’ve been on there months! I have a deadline in mind for this piece, but I may be at the point whether I’d rather put it aside for a time and look at it with fresh eyes than rush to meet the deadline. Who wants to make art that’s “almost good” if it can be improved with just a little more effort?
Sometimes I go out in the garage and bully around pieces of wood. This is the first lathe work I’ve done in about a decade:
This is a maple and walnut pizza peel for my husband, who’s a fairly amazing and meticulous chef:
There’s no particular rhyme or reason to these things, but it feels good to turn my hands to something different now and then. Relaxing. Not everything is curing cancer, as my husband likes to say.
A couple of weeks ago, I met a lady who asked if this bag is one of my fiber-based portraits:
Heh. No. Although it bears a slight resemblance to Adventure Time’s Jake, it’s really just a small tote meant to hold a couple of books. It has the side benefit of embarrassing my kid if I carry it when he’s around, and making store clerks eye me nervously. I didn’t go into explanations, though – the whole introvert thing plus fear of being a bore – but I found it amusing. Oh, I do wish the big portraits went together as easily as lining a couple of scraps of fleece and sewing on appliques!
She was a nice lady, though, one of those super efficient-looking people who is out to change a chunk of the world and is going to make a pretty good go of it. One of her efforts is sewing pouches and bags, which she sells on Etsy. Proceeds from sales help feed gorillas and chimpanzees living on a preserve in Cameroon.
I like that. I’m attracted to that quality. I like people who have vision and try to put their thumbs on the scales to improve things a bit, whether it’s ladies jetting off to Cameroon to nurture primates, people planting a row for the hungry in their gardens, or teachers like Marilyn Belford helping students fulfill their creative drives.
I’m at the point in life when one looks at what has come before, makes some guesses about what may come next, and makes changes. Don’t want to be a sour, depressed, lonely old woman? Start making changes now. Get out and meet other people, think about others, find something that matters to you, and do it. Then when the depression comes and the negative mental tapes start playing, you can take some comfort in at least doing something useful. That’s my current plan, at least. Thus, the casting about for things that matter.
I started this process some months ago. My first effort was predictably hilarious, involving a group which sews quilts for traumatized children. Nice group, good people, something I’m capable of doing. Unfortunately, one of the beneficiaries was an old client of mine, a shelter which commissioned some work then stiffed me several years ago. The shelter’s behavior was the very antithesis of their stated mission. That incident still burns and fills me with humiliation; I do wish I’d taken them to small claims court. But I didn’t, and now it’s water under the bridge. I couldn’t stand to have any connection with them, though, even in a very circuitous manner! So much for the quilting group; back to square one.
More casting about. How about the Humane Society? Or a local fiber arts group? Then I ran across Days for Girls, a group of volunteers who sew and distribute feminine hygiene kits to young ladies who otherwise would have none. This was an issue I’d heard of before, actually, girls dropping out of school because of lack of access to menstrual supplies. It’s hard to imagine as I sit in my middle class house with its running water, washing machine, and ready access to stores with pretty much any good I could want. However, if one lives in an area where the very existence of menstruation is taboo and resources can be limited, one’s options can devolve down to using the likes of twigs, newspaper or rags. Or, as Celeste Mergens discovered during her work with an orphanage, girls can be reduced to either sitting in a bunk room and bleeding out on a piece of cardboard, or “being used” by staff members in exchange for supplies. One can imagine the emotional and health consequences.
According to one story, as many as 30% of girls in Uganda drop out of school as a result of being shamed after having an accident or falling behind after missing days of school. That in turn can lead to a ripple effect of girls being married off far too early, getting pregnant earlier in life, having less education and less of a shot at fulfilling their potential. Uganda is not the only place in which this is an issue, of course; it takes place all over the globe.
A little health education coupled with distributing reusable sanitary supplies can yield great dividends, it seems. Sew up a drawstring bag, a few pads and liners, and a young lady can stay in school longer and have more options in life. Fewer pregnancies before her body is ready, less harassment and shame, maybe a shot at doing something wonderful or simply having more control over her life. That is potentially a great yield for all of us for a pretty minimal investment in terms of time and materials.
Of course, how do we know that Days for Girls’ distribution of menstrual supplies really pays off in practice? One could fill journals with accounts of kind but misguided “improvement” efforts, changes initiated by westerners who of course know better than a bunch of uneducated villagers. There was the infamous case of, I think, composting latrines being distributed in rural India. “Look! How wonderful! If you use this, you won’t have to defecate in the open anymore! The feces will get composted or maybe turned into fuel for campfires or spaceships (I don’t quite remember this detail), and ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS POUR WATER DOWN ONCE A DAY!!!” My gosh; what a deal! Who wouldn’t want that? As it turned out, the young women who were tasked with hiking down to the river or well and carrying back heavy loads of water. They didn’t particularly enjoy the additional work. Then someone made the “wonderful” discovery that if a few stones were flicked into the apparatus, it ceased to be usable and gee whiz, one wouldn’t have to carry water back and forth anymore. This information spread and toilets became unusable. Back to square one.
Ernesto Sirolli has a wonderful TED talk, “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” In it, he recounts taking part in a project in Zambia, a project intended to encourage Zambians to farm in the lush soils along the Zambezi river. The organizers planted gorgeous Italian tomatoes, zucchini. They couldn’t believe the Zambians weren’t interested in farming, though, so they paid them to do so. The tomatoes grew huge, juicy and succulent. Then, as they were ripening, “overnight, some 200 hippos came out from the river and they ate EVERYTHING! ‘My God! The hippos!’ The Zambians said ‘Yes. That’s why we have no agriculture here.’ ‘Why did you not tell us?’ ‘You never asked.’ “ Sirolli then recounts watching other blundering aid efforts and states “I became quite proud of our project in Zambia because, you see, AT LEAST WE FED THE HIPPOS!”
If we really want to help people, we need to ask. We need to get to know them, observe, ask what they really want and need. We need to find out if we’re really meeting their needs or instead some scenario we’ve cooked up in our minds, and we should plan on going through several iterations of a project before arriving at a viable approach. Does Days for Girls pass that smell test? As near as I can tell, the answer is yes. Days for Girls representatives meet with the young ladies who use the napkins; they seek feedback and make changes. The designs have been modified in response. Schools request additional distributions, which means the washable napkins are actually getting used.
For a small investment of time and effort on volunteers’ part, young ladies can stay in school and have more options. In my book, that even beats feeding hippos.