Winged – A Symbol Takes Form

As an artist, I work in a variety of disciplines. I’m mainly known as a photographer because I’ve done that the longest and sold thousands of works through 20 years of art fairs and gallery work. Ceramics, fiber, mixed media painting, and most recently tapestry are included in my art practice. Every discipline requires study. More importantly, every discipline demands practice. Lots of it. Over and over and over.

Learning a new media starts with the basics. Learn a technique. Put it to work. Most students learn by copying others. Moving beyond copying to finding your own voice and style is the path to artistry.

At the end of the last century, about a year into my ceramics study, I was struggling with a form. I asked for advice. The teacher told me I was at a point when I needed to reach down a little deeper and find the answer myself. “When you can take an idea and make it a “solid,” you have reached the first level of mastery. You won’t progress until then.”

What a challenge! She was (and still is!) a good teacher. That’s where I was with “Winged.”

For the last several years I have been exploring symbols from different cultures and different eras, and marveling at how humans have used the same structures to represent ideas. Peoples who are tens of thousands of years apart or tens of thousands of miles distant have used the same symbol to convey the same idea. Our DNA remembers and reaches back hundreds of thousands of years. The symbols unite us.

I chose tapestry for this series because it is a tactile medium, a forgiving, medium, a challenging medium. It uses spun fiber, which women have been doing, in much the same way for maybe 40,000 years. Weaving is a woman’s art. I stand on the shoulders of thousands of generations of grandmothers and aunts. It connects me.

“Winged” is inspired by the Maori object Kākā Paori, a ring that fits around the leg of a kākā bird and is used to tame it. Stylized it can represents the character of the bird. It is intricately carved of stone and valued as a heirloom. In many cultures birds represent the connection between the humans and the sacred, wisdom, or freedom.

I wanted to take this simple ring, sometimes represented as a “C” on it’s back, and create a representation of a winged bird. I knew three things: it would be woven side to side, it would be 3D, and it would need a supplemental warp. Supplemental warp was new to me, and I didn’t have a teacher for it.

The images below show the progression of the piece and the completion of the first wing.

Note that I was weaving from the front until the wing started taking shape. Since it would be folded over, I started weaving from the back to keep the ends on the proper side. The cartoon was used only for shaping. The weaving was free form. I added colors and shapes as I went, using a rough idea for how I wanted it to look. The idea of free form weaving gave it an organic, natural feel.

Finished, mostly. 8×10 inches. Wool warp and weft. 9 epi.

“Winged” was one of those projects that I figured out as I wove it. I knew it was possible and understood the basics in my head but had a hard time visualizing it. Of course, it seems simple now.

Lessons learned:

— Supplemental warp and 3D pieces are intriguing. I see more designs in my future.

— 22 gauge wire is too small to support the wings, which need to be tacked down. It is strong enough to give it some shape.

— The Shasta Combs on the Mirrix make this project easier. Supplemental warp can be challenging. The combination of the combs and the tensioning device on the Mirrix made it easy to release the warps, tighten the loom and rewarp it. (I don’t represent Mirrix Looms, just use them!)

–Don’t overthink the design. I spent far too much time trying to figure out how I was weave this — more than the weaving itself, I think.

There’s still lots for me to learn. My circles aren’t what I want them to be, nor are my selvedges. The trick, of course, is weaving, weaving, weaving! And don’t be afraid to try something new.

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An Artist’s Journal, Ireland: The Sea

There are people who spend their holidays in cities. The nightlife, bustling streets, museums, people-watching, top-rated restaurants.

There are people who crave the land. They hike through mountain passes, through meadows of wild flowers and brambles, skinny-dip in cool lakes, light safe camp fires in the evening and pull comforters around them against the dew as they retell old stories.

Then there are sea people.

For each, something in that place, in their soul, pulls them in. The sea is mine.

Ireland is an island. Of course there is sea. On the east, the Irish Sea is rustic, waves crashing against rocky crags that emerge and submerge with the tide. The sun rises, tinting it pink.

On the west, the sea is majestic, strong, relentless. Angry waves, pulled from the New World, crash against the cliffs. Gentle water laps on the beaches. Ireland is not a land of sunbathers. The water is cold, the air is damp, the skin is very, very pale.

Beaches are for walking. Cliffs are for contemplation.

For this artist, nothing is more difficult to capture than the sea. A photograph does not whip the wind, forcing the jacket closed and the scarf wrapped tighter. A painting cannot scent the air. A drawing lacks the colors.

Nothing contains the sea.

Photo: Cloonagh Cliffs, Sligo, Ireland. ©Jeane Vogel Studios

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An Artist’s Journal, Ireland: Listen to the Voices

Sukanya left on a flight to Toronto this morning, ending the first part of our residency and project in Ireland. I’m continuing on for more shooting and artist meetings.

Loughcrew Cairn was the planned stop for today. There was a possibility that it would be closed or that no one was available to give me the key to the cairn. Unlike Newgrange or the other developed sites in the Boyne Valley, Loughcrew Cairn has been untouched. The roads are too narrow for motor coaches. There are no tourists. The experience is solitary.

The road leading to the cairns is wide enough for a car. It’s a two-way road. When another car comes from the other direction, we figure out a way for one to pass. One pulls over to a slightly wider section, hugging the hedges and hoping not to scrap the rental car’s paint on the stone wall. The other inches past.

There is a small parking lot, not much more than a wider section of the road. A woman coming down from the cairns lets me know there was someone above with the key. I could climb up.

Wide, awkward steps lead to a worn mud path. The air is not cold, 13C or 53F. The wind is stiff and there is a mist that changes to drizzle and fine rain, then back to mist again. Stupidly, I left my hiking stick in the car. I miss it within minutes, but look down the 50 or so steps I’ve just climbed and decide it’s not worth the bother.

I will regret that decision.

The locals says it’s an easy 10 minute walk to the cairns. Maybe if you’re 20. I am not. Still I climb the path. A sharp incline then a flat. Incline, flat. I stop often to take in the scene. This hill is the tallest around. Even with the fog in the distance, the view is far into the countryside.

A couple of U-shaped gates keep animals out. Stouter people also, I imagine. The swinging gate is positioned at the top of the U. Swing the gate completely through the inside of the U and enter. Then swing the gate around to the other side of the U to exit. Clever design.

I reach what I think is the top only to see the steepest and longest hill yet ahead of me. Sheep wander on the hill to my right. The clumped droppings on the path are sidestepped.

The cairns peak over the top of the hill, urging on the tired muscles, and aching knee and back that might have been comforted by the walking stick.

Loughcrew Cairn, at the top of a long climb. An ancient burial site, Loughcrew is at least 5000 years old, older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramids of Giza.

The main cairn is smaller than the one at Newgrange, but surrounded by stone circles and dozens of mounds that have not been disturbed. A couple that passed me on the way up and are waiting to enter. Together we go into the chamber, dropping low to avoid cracking our heads on the stone above. One has a torch, so we can see the obstacles in the short passage. The sides are maybe 26 inches wide, if that. The passageway roof is no more than 3.5 feet tall. We have to scramble over a rock that blocks the way to main chamber. The space is tight and the rock is about 2 feet tall and spans the opening. I’m clumsy but get over it.

There is barely room for three of us in the chamber. The roof is made of concentric stone circles that open to the light above. There are three smaller alcoves that would have held the ashes of the dead. On the walls we can see carefully etched petroglyphs, some of which I haven’t seen at other sites or read about.

Petroglyphs inside the cairn

Many of the sites do not allow unaccompanied visitors into the chambers. Photography is prohibited. Not here. A little bit of trust and a carefully made image is the reward for the climb.

It’s cold and wet and windy, but it’s hard to leave this place at the top of the this part of the world. There is no magic here, as some suggest, but there are voices. There is a sense of land and history and culture that is unavailable unless you make the climb.

Take in the view. Listen to the voices.

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An Artist’s Journal, Ireland: When Artists Collaborate

About a year ago, Sukanya and I began the long process to reach out to artists in Ireland in hopes of collaboration. We knew we were taking a risk, and we knew that funding organizations would not understand our mission. We wanted to talk to artists and writers and storytellers. We wanted to build relationships that might lead to collaboration and exhibits around a theme of strong women, mythical women, modern women, ancient women, women whose stories are not written in books, but told from grandmother to granddaughter, aunt to niece.

Four women and one man made the commitment to organize meetings with people they knew. They didn’t know us. We didn’t know them. We trusted that it would work. If it didn’t? We’ll learn about that, too.

It did work. Each of the five brought along another 30 along. Thirty new collaborators. Thirty artists and writers and storytellers and musicians who want to connect to other artists to create and learn and share.

We listened. And the end of one week of meetings, hikes, stories, art sharing, we are overwhelmed with the communion of artists and generosity of their time and spirit. We have more than an overwhelming amount of source material, we have relationships upon which we will make art.

We can never repay the generosity and kindness of our hosts. I can’t mention everyone, each who chose to meet with us or collaborate added immeasurably to our remarkable experience.

Miriam arranged for a group to meet us in Mullingar, in Jancita’s studio near her home. Seven women brought art to share, fiber to contribute to the group weaving, and stories aplenty.

On to Athlone, where Rosemarie organized a night in a yurt on the Hill of Uisneach, and a private tour with Ruth, a university lecturer and historian. Ruth led us on a three hour hike, up and down the hills of the royal land of kings that once lit the Beltane fires, signaling to all other communities that the festival could begin. She led us to Goddess Eiru’s burial site under the massive Cat Stone, and thousands of other details we could never remember, but will be familiar when we next come across them. It was windy and cold and damp. We didn’t care.

Patsy, the artistic director of the Fire Festival at the Hill of Uisneach, fed us and pampered us as she shared traditions of the land, helped us understand the role of the faeries. She shared her remarkable sculptures, and the inspiration behind them.

Rosemarie wasn’t done. She introduced us to adults with disabilities, who added their art to our projects, treated us to art exhibits, a night out at Sean’s pub (est. 900CE), and introduced us to music (thank you Aine), and wise women aplenty.

Sheila, at ArtFarm near Galway, sustained several personal losses and was forced to cancel. We hold her in our hearts and look forward to the time we can meet.

John led us to Susan’s pottery studio in Midleton near Cork, we we met with nine women and two men who had writings, poems, stories, and art to share. The state of the world interfered a bit and world politics crept into our conversations with reminders that artists and writers have the distinct privilege to address injustice and inequities on our work.

We know this is just the beginning. Individually we will make work that reflects our new relationships and new understandings. Together, we hope to create and exhibit work that brings our discoveries to new venues and new audiences, who are then inspired to join the collaboration with their work.

Our first task is to absorb what we have learned.

Then we make the work.

The entire project documentation is found at https://symbols-and-stories.com

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Anatomy of An Artist Resident, Part III

Anatomy of An Artist Resident, Part IAnatomy of An Artist Resident, Part II

Jeane and Sukanya leave in for Ireland portion of the Symbols and Stories project in fewer than six days. It’s a busy week. Holidays for Jeane, family preparation for Sukanya. Packing for both.

Each woman is a seasoned traveler. We can back a family for a week’s vacation in a day. Just us? A few hours. That’s for clothes and necessities. Each is taking art supplies, and that takes more careful selections.

The dates, late September, were chosen to fit enough time before major holidays for each. This week concludes the Days of Awe, the Jewish High Holy Days for Jeane. Yom Kippur is Wednesday. No packing or planning will happen from Sunday night through Thursday as Jeane prepares the house for the holiday, shops for the Break the Fast (Yom Kippur is a 25 hour fast from food, water, and just about everything except prayer and reflection),  and observes the holiday.

In early October is Navratri, the Hindu celebration of Mother Goddess Durga, and lasts nine days.

choices

A small sampling of yarn before making choices. Jeane wants all of them!

The window was narrow.

Actually, immediately after Yom Kippur, about the time we land in Dublin, begins Jeane’s favorite holiday Sukkot, eight days of dwelling in a rickety booth and reflecting on ideas of charity, shelter, sustenance, and study, among other things. She hates to miss it but will find time to observe it somehow.

selections

Yarn that made the cut. about 8 grams of each.

Part of this residency for Jeane is tapestry. Three looms were chosen, two of which are for Jeane’s work, one for community work. It is hoped that pieces will be added to the communal weaving from anyone who wants to participate.

A natural fiber, a blade of grass, special fabric, yarn — anything with means and a story is welcome to be added to the story and final work.

Looms aren’t enough, though. There has to be yarn to weave. Tapestry yarn is different from knitting yarn. For this project, single strand Faro was chosen. But there are 80 of so cakes from which choose?

Obviously, selections are made. It’s easier to decide whether to take that extra black pair of pants!

Please follow our travels & project at www.symbols-and-stories.com

 

 

 

 

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Shanah Tovah, 5779

Tonight, at sundown, Jews around the world begin the commemoration of Rosh HaShanah, the traditional birthday of the world, the New Year. 5779.

May 5779 be a year when families are reunited, in peace. May 5779 be a year of creation. May 5779 be a year of hope. May 5779 be a year of redemption. May 5779 be a year of understanding. May 5779 be a year of love. May 5779 be a year of safety.

May 5779 be a year of health.  Shanah tovah um’tukah. שנה טובה ומתוקה

Vogel.AYearofHealth2

A Year of Health, © Jeane Vogel Studios

 

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Hummers

Four or five hummingbirds zoom around the window. Two males chase each other off. It’s not the females they vie for, I think. They want first shot at the refilled feeder.

One lands. Drinks.

Some land on the feeder, some hover.

Empty. Full. Empty. Full. Some days the weather is cool, and the nectar lasts. Hot days are the worst for all of us, flora and fauna. The nectar heats, encouraging the mold to grow quickly. Ignore the mold at the birds’ peril. Bad nectar will kill them.

The hummers arrive in St. Louis in late April, feeding for strength to continue their trip north. They will fly as far as northern Ontario. Were I am scant 3 grams and winged, I might join them.

Or not. I don’t have the energy anymore. No one puts out feeders for me.

The birds I think of as “ours” arrive in late May. The are the ones who will mate and breed and feed hatchlings from our nectar.

I know some of them, all females. The males pass through in April and come back again in late August, or as late as October, depending on their understanding of the coming winter.

This year, the males showed up in mid-August. Their early arrival could predict hurricanes in the Gulf they are avoiding, or an early winter, or an inability to tell time, always chronically early or late. I know people like that. Birds too, I bet.

Our backyard is a declared sanctuary for animals. Moles and voles tunnel through our yard while neighbors set traps. Bunnies are born in warrens that the mower avoids, week after week. The garden is a smorgasbord. Take what you need but EAT ALL OF IT. No “one bite and move one to the next,” if you don’t mind. I can share.

Feeders reward us with many visitors. Crows, starlings, pigeons are tolerated so that maybe an Indigo Bunting will linger a few days. Three species of woodpeckers visit, munching on insects that would harm our trees. From March to May, gold finches will arrive in brown plumage and leave in bright gold. More than three dozen species have been seen at the feeders, including a hawk of some stripe that waits for the smaller birds and baby squirrels.

Great circle of life, baby. Great circle of life. My partner cringes. I chase squirrels, he goes after the hawk.

The hummers are the real reward.

Iridescent green or ruby patches at the throat. So much power and stamina and beauty and grace.

There is one who has visited my window feeder for the last two years. We know each other. Every morning and evening she would feed, then hover at the window, engaging in conversation. I speak aloud. She hovers for a moment. A moment is a long time to commune with wild being of another species. Every day in season. For two years.

It’s August and she hasn’t returned this year. I miss that morning greeting. Hummers don’t live long. Perhaps she died. Or moved on. Why would she come back here? Our nectar isn’t special.

Wait! There she is! Once. She hovers. We talk. She is gone.

I think she was saying goodbye.

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An Argument with Art

Artists have total control over what they create. Total. Control.

They choose materials, set the design, tell the tools what to do.

It would be nice if it worked that way, wouldn’t it? Every artist and writer knows it doesn’t.

The art makes decisions, too. The art is alive.

Artists are partners with the art. We are not the only partners. God, goddess, muse. They all get credit sometimes. Some art is inspired by other art. Some art is outright copied.

Not all of it is good. All of it is alive.

img_0104

Take Them Home, Wedge Weave, 9×6 inches, inspired by Diné weaves of the 1870s, and 2018 US immigration/asylum crisis. 2018

Not all art argues with the artist. Some is compliant, resourceful, helpful. What if we add this little element here, the art whispers, so quietly the artist thinks it’s her idea. The art and artist work without distraction or ego.

Other times, every minute is a struggle. The art is not gentle but yelling. NO! You are doing it wrong. That is not what I am!

The art is alive. The art knows what it wants to be. Listen.

“Take Them Home” started out as an exercise. Could a simple wedge weave pattern could be effective?

A description of wedge weave deserves its own essay. The short description is a wholly original weave created by Diné (Navajo) artists in the 1870s. It’s woven with warp yarns laid on the diagonal to the weft (the threads that go up and down), instead of perpendicular to them. It takes longer to weave a wedge weave. Maybe it just seems longer.

Diné weavers abandoned the style in the 1890s because collectors wanted straight selvages. They didn’t like the distinctive scalloped edges that add to the visual appeal of the work.

The Diné weavers are venerated by each new wedge weave if we remember and honor them in the work.

Wedge weaves traditionally do not have fringes. Diné weavers create work that is finished off the loom. No fringes or threads in the back to needle in. They are masters. There is no wasted movement or energy in a Navajo tapestry.

This piece wanted fringes.

Nope. That’s not a wedge weave look. The artist and art argued. Out loud. For a full hour.

The art won. THIS is who I am. THIS is what I want to say.

“Take Them Home.” The children.

Take them home.

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In Praise of “Bead-worthy”

Every once in a while as an artist you want to give your creative brain a break and do something mindless — but fun.

Mirrix offered a beaded bracelet weave-along this week. That sounds like fun! I haven’t worked with beads in years. While other artists created elaborate patterns from the tiny Delica beads comingled in one little bag, I carefully constructed a random pattern! It’s a cute wrap bracelet that took only a few hours. 37080544_10216947923436142_6423456644406968320_o

While weaving it, I was reminded of the year I spent creating a beaded collar for my daughter’s bat mitzvah tallit nine years ago. A tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl. It’s personal and special. And sometimes 13-year-olds love it for a minute, then forget it.

The few hours I spent working on this simple bracelet evoked the most powerful memories of struggling to craft a gift that a 13-year-old would love, and the adult she would become would treasure.

I knew the tallit would take a while to create. Starting from scratch, I purchase the silk, dyed it, purchased more, dyed it again, and prepared it for the collar and fringes (tzitzit.) Creating something this special requires thought, study, reflection. I wanted it to be right. This is a garment she would have her entire life.

A year is a long time to work on a project. Of course, I had to do it in secret so it would be a surprise. At times I’d look at it an wonder why I was putting in the effort. I don’t have time for this. Was this worth it? Was I making it to satisfy my ego? Was it any good? Would she care?

Hammy is an animal person, so animal scenes were drawn, beaded, changed, re-beaded.

Hammy Kotel

A dolphin, horse, panda, parrot, butterfly. I sewed the collar to the shawl hours before presenting it to her. She loved it. Then it sat in the tallit bag.

Five years later, in 2014, she is no longer a child. At 18, months before she moves to Namibia to study animals, she flies off to Israel. At the Kotel, the Western Wall, she pulls it over her head.

Knitters and weavers know the phrase “knit-worthy” or “weave-worthy.” A knit-worthy person is someone who appreciates the hand-knitted gift, will care for it, and understands the hundreds of hours –and pieces of your soul– that went into making it. There aren’t very many “knit-worthy” people out there.

Whenever we make special gifts for someone, we take a risk. Will it be appreciated? Will it be valued?

It’s funny how writing works. This started out to be a piece about a simple, fun beaded bracelet. It turned into praise of a “bead-worthy” daughter.

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Finding a New Voice

When you’ve spent a lifetime as an artist, perfecting skills, developing an eye, creating bodies of work that resonate — or don’t — with collectors, you are used to success. You are used to being good at what you do.

If being good at what you do is getting boring, here’s my suggestion: change media. Decide to create new work in an entirely different genre, then watch your ego crumble!

I first picked up a camera when I was about 10 or 11. My dad was stationed in Germany in 1961 during the Berlin Wall Crisis. I got the impression there wasn’t much for an Air Force Lieutenant to do there, so he purchased a nice German camera and slide film, and photographed the beginnings of Cold War Europe.

When he came home, the camera sat. I found the brown leather case fitted around the fixed-lens rangefinder camera and started to learn.

That was 1966 or so. I’ve been a photographer ever since. Oh sure, I’ve worked with pastels and watercolors and fiber and clay. I’ve always had a knitting project on the needles. Maybe somewhere there is a basket that I need to finish weaving. But photography has been my medium for 50 years.

Then I was attacked by tapestry. I chose that word on purpose. The discontinuous weft-faced weaving that looks so simple grabbed me and threw me to the ground! I was buying looms before I had any idea what I was doing.

Roughly three years later I’ve studied with some of the best tapestry artists in the country, created, learned, made mistakes, and started over. But there is is an exhilaration in learning something new, something hard, something that takes work and practice and thought and concentration and planning.

Photography is still a love, especially working with film. I will continue to exhibit and sell photography, but a devastating storm at an art fair this spring convinced me it was time to leave the art fair circuit. It was time to find a new voice.

I am not yet good at my new medium, but I will be.

So, here’s to starting over, learning new skills, creating new art, and finding a still quiet voice!

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