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Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon

Trusting the Artist Self

Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon
Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon, glass, gold smalti, ceramic, 6×6 inches, ©2015

The individual pieces that make up a mosaic are called tesserae, and making a topography of tesserae is restorative to my soul. Especially in orange.  Sometimes I get this longing to make something without knowing how it will turn out.  My artist self can be very astute and wise in the studio, in ways that are much more difficult for me when out of the studio.

Out of the studio, I expect myself to know how things will turn out, in advance, in omniscience, in complete certainty.  Then I notice the impossibility of this, and often have sharp words for myself about being perfectionistic, and then if I am paying attention, I will notice this as well, and grant myself a moment of grace.

There are ways in which this patchwork trivet is imperfect.  It is bumpy, with crooked edges, and scratches, gaps in the grout, and unevenness of color in the finish of the frame.  Perhaps you catch yourself thinking, “But I like that it looks like it was made by hand instead of a machine” or maybe you see the whole rather than the individual tesserae.  This is when my wise artist self says, “You like this and if it has to meet some imaginary idea of perfect, you won’t make any art at all.  So what shall you choose?”

Patchwork in my Etsy Shop.

More ponderings in these posts:

The Beauty of Imperfection: Hozho

The Perfect Imperfections: Wabi Sabi

 

Rainbow Nametag from Junior High Camp, circa 1980.

Rainbow Language

Portable Rainbow by Margaret Almon.
Portable Rainbow by Margaret Almon. Glass on slate, 4×8 inches, ©2015.

I have a compelling desire to create rainbows.  I have made many of them in mosaic.  Once a woman came into my craft show booth and was smitten with one of my rainbow panels, but said she couldn’t buy it because her husband would be affronted by the gay implications, and gave an awkward shrug.  This made me both sad and angry.

With the Supreme Court ruling about marriage and gay folk in June, 2015, there is an abundance of rainbows appearing on my Facebook stream, and it’s outburst of talking my rainbow language, and to me this ruling good news, just as God’s love is good news.

 

Rainbow Nametag from Junior High Camp, circa 1980.
Rainbow Nametag from Junior High Church Camp, circa 1982.

My love of rainbows began at Moravian Church Camp Van Es at Cooking Lake in Alberta.  The theme in 1982 was The Rainbow Connection.  We each had a  slice a log, and a volunteer had applied rainbows and written our names.  We watched The Muppet Movie with the theme song The Rainbow Connection, and learned the to sing it.  We painted a large rainbow backdrop, in an open area in the woods.

We memorized Bible verses about the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise to never again cover the earth in a great flood, a sign of God’s love.  What gave it power was the idea that this love extended to me, though I felt flawed through my core, cracked with no method of repair.  True grace is a very difficult thing to accept, because the bruised soul assumes it applies to everyone else except her.

The Rainbow Connection
The Rainbow Connection

I took the idea of hope and love to heart.  I bought a pewter pendant cast in the form of a rainbow and embedded with an Ichthys fish(a visual pun, an acronym of the Greek letters spelling out Jesus Son of God, which also meant fish).  I wore it often, as a way to remain hopeful.

Now, some 30 years later, I look at it and wonder at the grayness of this rainbow, and no wonder I feel compelled to create them in full color.  For a girl of 14, coming out of a year of depression, the colors were intense.  There is power in symbols, but also the power of color itself, the incarnation of beauty.

 

Drawing as Meditation

Fabriano Sketchbook in Orange
Fabriano Sketchbook in Orange

This orange notebook is my reward for getting my tax organizer to the accountant.  I love the way the cover picks up different shades.  In 2004, I took a drawing class at the community college, as part of my year of experimenting with different mediums, on my way to making mosaics.  I was one of those “I can’t draw” people until I read Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and that book gave me the courage to take a class.  

I slowly stopped drawing as I became engrossed with mosaics, but I came across a book on Urban Sketching at the library, and suddenly I was ready to draw again.  Then I heard Danny Gregory on NPR’s Here and Now, talking about drawing as a way to connect with your own creativity, and the present moment of your life in his book Art a Before Breakfast.  

Wheeled Mosaic Nippers in Green Pencil by Margaret Almon.
Wheeled Mosaic Nippers in Green Pencil by Margaret Almon.

I have been sketching each day, and for those moments, I am practicing seeing what my subjects look like, not what I assume them to look like.  I find my mind races ahead with judgements like, “Those wheels are perfectly round because wheels are round” or “This is too hard to draw.”  It is a relief to go back to looking at what I am sketching, and follow the contours.

 

Listening by Nutmeg Designs. Glass on slate, 6x15 inches.

Listening: Gift for a Spiritual Director

Listening by Nutmeg Designs. Glass on slate, 6x15 inches.
Listening by Nutmeg Designs. Glass on slate, 6×15 inches.

Listening was my natural state as a child.  Listening to the adults tell stories to me, or talk to each other above me.  I became a writer with my storehouse of listening.

Stratoz and I had a Christmas commission to create a sign with the word Listening for a spiritual director.  Listening had become a gift of her vocation, when her natural state was talking.

I was introduced to spiritual direction at the University of Scranton in the early 1990s, where I had my first librarian job.  The University had a contemplative spirituality program, and I started seeing an Ignatian nun(as she called herself) once a week.  She asked me about my experiences that week, and asked me where I found God in this.  Then she would listen.  It was as if she was handling a treasure, gently holding it in her hands.

Winding my way around the letters of listening many years later, I am grateful for the listeners in my life who encouraged me, recognized me, loved me, and my desire is to stay true to my listening nature, and in turn encourage, recognize, and love.

Sunflower Mandala: Meditating Around the Circle

Sunflower Mandala Mosaic by Margaret Almon and the Grout Monster
Sunflower Mandala Mosaic by Margaret Almon and the Grout Monster

The Grout Monster came over before our open studio.  She grouted pendants, picture frames and a house number with ease.  Then came the sunflower.  The GM removed the painter’s tape after grouting, revealing a berm around the edge.  One petal reached past the others and broke through the berm, and she had the inspiration to begin carving the still malleable grout with a blade, tracing all the contours.  

She thanked me when she was done.  She had found it meditative. She asked me what mandala meant.  It is a sacred circle.

Her stepfather had died that week, and she told me about asking the funeral director to put the chairs in a circle.  This was the one thing she wanted, that her family could see each other and tell stories about her stepfather.  

In her grief, she created intricate beauty, both in the honoring of her stepfather, and in delicately outlined petals. 

Sunflower Mandala Mosaic by Margaret Almon and the Grout Monster
Sunflower Mandala Mosaic by Margaret Almon and the Grout Monster

 

Contemplative Photography at the Michener Museum

Powell Door Detail
Phillip Lloyd Powell Door Detail at the Michener Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Powell Door
Phillip Lloyd Powell Door at the Michener Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz discovered that the Michener Museum now allows photos of their collection.  This is one of our favorite museums and we often wanted to photograph inside.  When I wrote about the Phillip Lloyd Powell door, the Michener graciously provided a photo for me to use, but the pleasure now is in choosing details and angles.

There is a meditative practice called Lectio Divina, reading aloud and letting images and words resonate.  When I look at photographs from a museum trip, it is like Divine Photography, where I continue the process of seeing and contemplating.

The door was open on this latest visit, unlike the stock photo where the door is closed.   What a delight to focus on the hidden parts, the door tucked behind the wall, with its single knob.

House Number 205 in Yellow and Orange by Nutmeg Designs

Being Present in the Studio

House Number 205 in Yellow and Orange by Nutmeg Designs
House Number 205 in Yellow and Orange by Nutmeg Designs

In reflecting on the evolution of Nutmeg Designs house numbers, I am taken with how they have taken on a life of their own. Stratoz and I started collaborating in the studio with words around 2008.  He used his stained glass skills to shape letters that were legible and lovely, and I used my small pieces to create mosaic backgrounds.  A friend suggested we make house numbers.  One suggestion can make a big difference.

Now my friend is starting her own business, and she wonders what it will be: the idea that creates resonance and draws people in.  It is hard in that place of uncertainty, and yet to know then what I know now would’ve scared me too.  Our orders for house numbers tripled in the 2nd quarter of 2014, and in 2009 I didn’t have a way to track orders, or clients, or pacing myself, but I do now.

There were two more orders in my inbox this morning.  If I get ahead of myself, and focus on my narrative of “how will I get this all done?” then my anxiety rises.  But if I go into the studio, and start making, I am fine as I focus on: the beauty of glass, the delight of color, the emerging of a whole from the pieces as I unite them with grout, the happiness of our clients.

One Pebble at a Time

One Pebble at a Time
One Pebble at a Time: Making Mosaic Stepping Stones in 2005

When I started making mosaics, I felt an intrusive guilt that I wasn’t making collages anymore.  Collage was my first step into art, my first furtive kindness to myself in allowing myself to make art.  When I started making collages, I felt anxiety because I believed I should be writing poems instead.  I had been a poet since I was 12.  I was good at writing poems.  I won awards; I had poems in magazines; I was a Poet and had no room for any other self.

There is a fierceness in kindness, protecting the unfurling heart.

The stepping stones were practical.  Stratoz and I had bought a rowhouse with a long narrow backyard, and I decided to make pebble mosaic stepping stones for our garden.  A stepping stone allows a firm footing for walking  through mud, and can define a space, guide a path.

As a child, stepping stones were magical, jumping from one to the next, each a self-contained world.  Stepping stones are human scale.  I had an anxious mind demanding superhuman scale, a speedway, a leap through time, tessering.  When I took a small step, there were large repercussions in my fearfulness: what if I am choosing the wrong thing?  What if I am meant to write poetry and I displease God, and vanish from the earth?  What if I am moving too slowly?  Or too fast?

I had given myself a year to explore different mediums of artmaking, and it took all my grit to continue exploring.  When mosaics spoke to my heart, I felt both joy and fear, because to enjoy making mosaics stirred up the the thoughts of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, and the fear of never ridding myself of the fear.  That I continued on, one pebble at a time, is grace.

There is a fierceness in kindness, protecting the unfurling heart.

 

What kindness will you give yourself?

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 25, The Dove, No. 1, 1915, 151 × 114.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

K is for Hilma af Klint: A to Z Challenge 2014

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

 

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 38, The Dove, No. 14, 1915, 154 × 128.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.
Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 38, The Dove, No. 14, 1915, 154 × 128.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

 

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 25, The Dove, No. 1, 1915, 151 × 114.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.
Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 25, The Dove, No. 1, 1915, 151 × 114.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint(1862-1944), was of the first generation of Swedish women allowed into Sweden’s art schools.  She discovered spiritualism and attributed her paintings to a higher consciousness working through her, and she and four of her friends were influenced by Theosophy and Rudolf Steiner.  I discovered this in the middle of reading Rudolf Steiner’s book on color theory.

Some of her spiritual paintings were first shown the exhibition,  The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 at LACMA Los Angeles 1986, along with famous painters such as Kandinsky and Mondrian, but Hilma af Klint was out of the loop of the art world, with her paintings.  In a way she reminds me of Albert Barnes and his Barnes Foundation, in her guarding of her work, which cannot be sold, only released to institutions in order to support her archive.  Because she has no collectors and is not part of the marketplace, it’s like her work became immaterial.

Hilma af Klint: A Paintings for the Future  Painters’ Table
Includes 20 minute video on af Klint’s work.

Kopenhagen Magasin with many images of af Klint’s work.