Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Buttons for Big Grace

In this photo, my mom, Grace Higgins, is pictured with her sister, Rosalie, to the right. They are two very stylish young women, making due with limited means during the war. Note the flower in my mom's hair!

I have been vacationing in Narragansett, RI--right by the ocean. And while I was relaxing, I was organizing the buttons I have been working on all summer, making them into sets, picking out vibrant-colored embroidery thread and sewing them onto cards I had made with my mom's image on them. I am getting them ready for their 'debut' at the Peters Valley Craft Fair, taking place in September. Click here to get further information. I will be joining the New Jersey Potters Guild, along with Itsuko, Sandy and Susan.

These buttons were a summertime obsession. They are in honor of “Big Grace,” my mom, but never called that to her face – my petite sister is also called Grace.

My mom was brought up as a Bronx “princess.” She sewed all of her own clothes – dazzling outfits! One I found in the attic was a marine-blue bathrobe-styled coat with matching palazzo pants with a Hollywood waist (mom’s description). The shirt matched the lining of the coat – a bright red rayon printed all over with palm trees. I put this outfit on and felt like a bona-fide movie star! This was one of many, many outfits, some with matching hats.

All this glamour was left behind, regretfully, as my mom had six kids. She was widowed at a young age, 47, and had a bedridden mother in the living room. So the talent for sewing supported the family. The prospective brides, bridesmaids, mothers-of-the-bride, cocktail hostesses, cruise ship vacationers, and even nuns came in for fittings – she did all of the new, shortened habits for the local convent in the 1960’s.

As a child I was surrounded by the trappings of all this – beautiful tweeds, shimmering satins and silks, and buttons, buttons, buttons! There were the buttons covered with fabric that matched the outfits, the standard white shirt buttons, the fancy mother-of-pearl buttons, even ones with sequins and rhinestones!

We were able to play with the cookie tin filled with the odd buttons. These were boring sets, ones with no match, or ones not suitable for fine garments. But there were also those jars of real beauties, not to be touched.

When I was starting to work in clay, I asked Big Grace if I could borrow some buttons, to make stamps out of them. She resisted, out of habit, I think. But finally she relented and let me loose. I went carefully through the jars, looking for those unique patterns, collected from the many trips to the notion district in NYC – off 7th Avenue, just north of Macy’s.

I found a few choice ones and proceeded to make impressions in clay. To my horror most of them dissolved! Who knew what they were made of? But I was able to salvage a few and made some great stamps that I use to this day to impress my work in porcelain.

So my tribute to Big Grace is these buttons. There are 100 cards, with her image, of all varieties – colors, patterns and textures. The hardest part was stopping! But I had to control this obsession, and move on.

Now for new vases, inspired by my Aunt Rosalie....

Thanks to Itsuko for all your advice and help.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What images inspire you?

There have been many passing thoughts since I lasted posted a blog entry, and I wondered if anyone would have been interested. One of the most thought-provoking ideas, I think, is what inspires an artist in their day-to-day living: their home, family, the world around them, museums, other artist's work, media, animals, cooking, gardening, philosophy, science...

The photo above is an extreme closeup, from an article on the web 'Fractal Food'.

If you get National Geographic's 'photo of the month' in your email, you might have noticed a great short video 'Pattern Recognition'. If you missed it, check it out here, it's only about a minute long, but packed with visual inspiration!

A highlight of the NCECA conference (National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts, I think) for me is the slide presentation of the demonstrating artists. After a day or two of seeing a person presenting their technical expertise, their working methods, the nuts and bolts of their work, we see them all tidied up, onstage, with a wonderful powerpoint presentation of their completed work, past and present, the world that inspires them, and the 'why' of what they do, so successfully. We even get a glimpse of the times they are unsure of their path, and what got them out of it. This is always a huge boost for me - not that I equate myself with an established artist, but that anyone dealing with creative issues has these 'bumps' in the road, which seem like major obstacles at the time.

I was watching 2 wonderful documentaries on the Ovation channel recently. One was on the photographer Sally Mann. She was very controversial during the 1980's (not sure of the year) when her book 'Immediate Family' was published. It featured nude photographs of her three children, and started a huge public uproar about whether it could be considered child pornography. I even remember a local Montclair grandmother getting into trouble when picking up photographs from her local Moto photo (I think), who turned her in for taking nude photos of her grandchildren. Anyway, Sally Mann discusses this controversy. She felt that she had been looking so long for inspiration for her work, and very suddenly saw that the beauty of the world was right in her own backyard, swimming in the water, playing dress up, and getting a swollen eye from a bug bite. The nudity was just a fact of daily live in the country. Her intense visual reporting of all these details is beyond a retelling, but more of an invitation into a very private world. She wants us to see what she sees. It's a great film.

The other documentary was called 'Matisse and Picasso', and it dealt with the lifelong friendship and rivalry between two geniuses. Picasso had a painting of Matisse's that he held onto all his life, and one of his final self-portraits pictured him wearing one of Matisse's peasant blouses. And Matisse, lucky enough to have a Russian patron buying a number of his works, immediately then steered him in the direction of Picasso. This film was a great look into their friendship, with wonderful footage. 

My favorite clip was of Picasso forming a bird out of a clay pot, fresh off of the wheel, flipped sideways. And you can catch a glimpse of the potter at the wheel, over his shoulder, looking on in fascination, as he continues to turn the wheel and work. I would love to download this clip, but I think it may be a copyright infringement. So, if you get the Ovation channel, look for the documentary. It has wonderful old footage. If I can get a still from the movie, I'll include in the future - it's choice!

bye for now, Ellen Mulligan