Works In Progress for Gathering exhibit

August 2003

Click to view final "Gathering" Exhibit
The story behind my “Gathering” exhibit:

One summer day my three-year-old stomped from our backyard into the kitchen in a huff. With one hand on her hip, the other pointing up toward the telephone line attached to our home, she declared, “Mom, those birds are talking about us!” Twenty-five years have passed, but her perception made such an enduring impression on me, that I have used bird imagery frequently in my work ever since.

But it was something that I wrote in a letter on June 14, 2000 that sowed the seed for the artwork in my “Gathering” exhibit. It was sent to my friend who was dying of cancer. Immediately after our last conversation, I sat down and wrote to her all of the things I thought about after we hung up the phone. My last line read, “…if I ever take a day in my life for granted, I hope Heaven allows you to direct a pigeon to drop poop on my head.” Marylee died a couple months later. At her funeral we sang “On Eagles Wings”, one of the songs she chose as she helped to plan her passing from us.

During the following days I directed my grief toward making a drawing on fragile rice paper, which now hangs above my bed. It is of a robin holding a worm in her beak, perched on a telephone line above floating red leaves. And I began to pay close attention to the mourning doves perched on the telephone wires along my route to work.

The story behind my “Gathering” exhibit: Picture of five lines, pencil on rice paper
Five lines

pencil on rice paper, 25 x 33 inches

Then one day while I was outside chatting with my neighbor, I noticed birds landing on the lines above my house. I said, “Chuck, what’s with these birds? I keep seeing them all over the wires, lots of them, more than normal…” And he looked up and answered, “Ah, yes…they are gathering.”

This uncomplicated reason struck me as if I’d been suddenly enlightened, and I wondered, why hadn’t I realized that before? I continued to take more notice of the comings and goings of the birds in my neighborhood and, in the Fall of 2002, wrote this poem entitled “Gathering”:

If it was not for my wondering
on our road one autumn day
Chuck would not have said,
“They are gathering.”

Had my neighbor been less tall
I would not have glanced up
to see over his brim those birds
parked in a row.

I might have flown through
another half-century unable
to grasp the customs and
rhythms of gathering.

But this nomadic traffic that
lights on my telephone lines
compels me to focus on going
and coming home.



I became preoccupied with observing and
photographing birds that were gathering on the lines and in the trees in my neighborhood and along the country roads that I pass on my daily route.
The story behind my “Gathering” exhibit: Photos of birds gathering on the lines and in the trees














The story behind my “Gathering” exhibit: Gathering information on birds habits
And I began collecting information from books and articles about the habits of birds and listened to reports from my bird-watching friends.














I arranged these pieces of information on boards in my studio.
Arange photos of gathering exhibit













Gathering exhibit collage and drawing
Then I added to this collage a drawing that I had done many years ago of Marylee resting against a pillow. It was important for me to keep her in mind as I proceeded with this project.












View of the northwest side of my studio as “Gathering” progressed
Gathering exhibit in process, view of the northwest side of the Barbara Grant studio

Gathering exhibit in process, view of the northwest side of the Barbara Grant studio

Descriptions of the development of the individual pieces for this exhibit follow:


Antenna


For this painting I used a reproduction of a landscape that I found in a second-hand shop. What attracted me to this piece was its smart-looking frame. I painted white gesso over the reproduction, which was adhered to cardboard, taking care to protect the frame. As I began applying paint, I found myself vacillating between whether I was trying to depict land, sea, or sky. On this unresolved surface I plotted the lines of my telephone wires and TV antenna.
Gathering exhibit, photo of Antenna painting in process
















(I love to observe the happenings on this antenna. There is a cardinal who loves to perch here to serenade his mate. And once I witnessed a mourning dove enjoy a 360-degree ride when Bob switched the antenna from inside our house to catch the news from Milwaukee’s TMJ4.)

Anyway, I marked off the space with a grid and painted many layers on to the tiny blocks trying various color combinations.

Gathering exhibit, photo of Antenna painting in process with gridsGathering exhibit, photo of Antenna painting in process with grids

But ultimately, I let the grid go, and covered the sky with pale green.

Gathering exhibit: Fianl painting of the Antenna: acrylic on board, 7 ¾ x 11 ½ inches

Antenna

acrylic on board, 7 ¾ x 11 ½ inches


Arkansas bird


Last Spring my husband and I trailered our boat down to Red’s place – an old resort on Hamilton Lake in Arkansas for a week’s get-away. One afternoon I was stretched out on a chaise lounge staring up at the intensely blue sky and the clouds that floated overhead shaping and re-shaping. A bird flew into my view and landed on a telephone line. I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture before he flew away. That is the picture I used to compose this piece.


Gathering exhibit, photo of Arkansas bird ark work in processGathering exhibit, photo of Arkansas bird ark work in process with borders

I added a second border with doves painted in silver acrylic flying around it.

Gathering exhibit: photo of Arkansas bird ark work: thread & acrylic paint on fabric; quilted to canvas; 20 ½ x 31 ½ inches

Arkansas Bird

thread & acrylic paint on fabric; quilted to canvas; 20 ½ x 31 ½ inches



Connecting


Several years ago, while browsing in Chattel Changers, a consignment shop in Milwaukee, I came across a religious reproduction framed in gold and matted with three cut-out arches. I purchased it because I was drawn to the arches. When I recently pulled this out of storage to make use of it, I found that the frame had fallen apart.

Gathering exhibit: process of Connecting art work

I salvaged the matt and covered it with fabric. I used pastels on paper to create the scene of the telephone lines connecting.

Connecting art work: Pastel on paper, 18 x 30 inches

Connecting

Pastel on paper, 18 x 30 inches



Fallen tree – day / Fallen tree – night


In the beginning these paintings were positioned vertically with the tree branches on the left margin arching over the profile of a woman. I decided to paint out the women in both compositions and lay the trees down. Then, using a ruler, I blocked off the space like a brick wall.

At this time, I was reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying* and came upon this principle: “For what happens at the moment of death is that the ordinary mind and its delusions die, and in that gap the boundless sky-like nature of our mind is uncovered.”

And so I painted these bricks as sky.

Gathering exhibit: Fallen tree day art work in process   Gathering exhibit: Fallen tree day art work in process

These paintings sat on a ledge in my studio for many months in this bleak phase before I decided to sprinkle the space with nests and birds gathering – one as mid-day and the other as mid-night.

Gathering exhibit: Fallen tree mid-day art work: Acrylic on paper, 18 x 24 inches   Gathering exhibit: Fallen tree mid-night work: Acrylic on paper, 18 x 24 inches

Acrylic on paper, 18 x 24 inches

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, New York: HarperCollins, 1993, page 12


Gathering triptych

While vacationing with Kathy and Toodie in Florida, I came across an art shop selling a tiny triptych with religious Byzantine reproductions on cardboard. I brought it home and painted white gesso on the panels. The composition was designed by using my photos of telephone poles and birds on lines.


Gathering triptych art work in process   Gathering triptych art work in process

I used a dental tool to dig along the lines into the cardboard. I filled the resulting crevices with red ink and used acrylic paint to build up the surfaces.

Gathering exhibit:Gathering triptych art work:Graphite, ink & acrylic on board, 8 x 15 ½ inches

Gathering triptych

Graphite, ink & acrylic on board, 8 x 15 ½ inches



Homing in


This tiny painting of a tree is one I have been adding to and changing for some time. It seemed too flimsy to stand on its own. While relaxing one night in a bubble bath, the idea occurred to me to frame it with a quilt.

















I selected a piece of fabric to surround the painting and secured it with glue and stitching.
Gathering Homing in painting details















Then I rolled up some pieces of blanket material to tuck around the sides underneath.















I inserted the outside of Ruth’s old handkerchief around the padding to provide an accent between the fabric and the surrounding canvas.

Gathering Homing in painting details













gathering homing in paiting details

To print the design on the canvas, I rolled ink onto a sheet of plexi-glass and drew lines across it with a chopstick to make a grid pattern.




















I placed this inked plexi-glass plate on my printing press bed. On this I laid a piece of canvas with the center cut out. I piled several press blankets on top, and rolled it through the press to transfer the ink from the plate to the canvas.

gathering homing in paiting details


Much of the ink did not pull off of the plate, so I lightly sprayed water over it. When the canvas was rolled through the press a second time, not only did all of the ink transfer, but the wetness caused a cloud-like effect amidst the grid pattern.

This was a happy mistake, for now it appeared as if sky surrounded the tiny tree painting.

Gathering Homing in painting details













gathering homing in paiting details


I sandwiched batting between the canvas and backing, machine quilting along the grid lines. Then I painted birds flying toward the center. To this I attached a border of fabric to mimic the handkerchief material in the center.

gathering homing in paiting details  

I added a thinner darker border to finish the edges.

gathering homing in paiting:acrylic & mixed media on wood & canvas; quilted, 22 ½ x 18 inches

Homing in

acrylic & mixed media on wood & canvas; quilted, 22 ½ x 18 inches


Labyrinth


A few years ago, my parish provided a labyrinth for anyone inclined to use this for meditation and prayer. I didn’t know anything about this practice, but I went to find out. The path of the labyrinth was lined off with tape on the floor of the fellowship hall, which was dimly lit with votive candles. The atmosphere was hushed with only a few walkers deep in their own thoughts. I was moved by my experience that evening to write this poem:


Seeing no way in as I approach,
Panic pushes me to step over the line;
I enter from where I am.
Stocking feet step carefully, quietly
One in front of the other.
Inside the contours we stir around
Turning back, re-circling silently
Moving past one another.

After ten minutes of this endeavor
I pass “go” – the starting point
Marked by a box of tissues, and I think
Isn’t that just like my life?
Timing, which is everything, keeps me
Too far ahead and so far behind.
Once again I begin this journey
Pretending to know how.

My lives pass before my eye and
Pound inside my inner ear,
Tracing imprints on layers of my chaos – Uncoiling and clarifying all that was
And all that ever shall be – Oh,
The uncertainty of all those choices!
I think of my family then and now
And stop in my tracks.

Waiting for balance – then moving
Steadily again aiming for the rose.
In the center I exhale through a smile.
I can’t think of anything I need right now.
Wanting to dance and stifling my giggles,
I re-track my steps and find my way out –
Not wanting to disturb this pensive
Prayerful path for others.




Gathering exhibit: Photo of Labyrinth art work in process
But I realized I had more to say, so I plotted the lines of the same labyrinth onto the center of a square piece of canvas. This made me think of a board game, so I blocked in lines like a chessboard.









Gathering exhibit: Photo of Labyrinth art work in process
Then, thinking of these lines as telephone wires, I chose the White Crowned Fork-tailed Thrush from one of my bird books, to perch in the empty blocks of space.






 

 

 




I came across a thick metal button that got rejected while I was rolling coins at the bank where I work. I sewed this in the center with gold thread.







So far I was using ink and acrylic on this piece, but I decided to quilt it for some reason. It wasn’t easy sewing through the layers of paint, but it was doable with my sewing machine.
Gathering exhibit: Photo of Labyrinth art work in process








Gathering exhibit: Photo of Labyrinth art work in process
I added a frame of quilted fabric around the border.

To stop the viewer’s eyes from circling around and around, I hand-stitched gold thread from the center button to the bottom corners. These lines make this piece more grounded.










<empty>Gathering exhibit: Photo of Labyrinth art work: acrylic & mixed media on canvas; quilted, 19 ½ x 19 ½ inches

Labyrinth

acrylic & mixed media on canvas; quilted, 19 ½ x 19 ½ inches


Telephone lines


I am attracted to the way the telephone wires slice the sky into sections. I chose one of my photos that best illustrates this to compose Telephone lines. I enlarged the photo on my scanner and, using carbon paper, traced the image onto the fabric.
Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone lines art work in process











Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone lines art work in process
Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone lines art work in process
I sewed together the fabric and canvas backing with batting sandwiched between them, and quilted along the lines of the telephone wires.

















Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone lines art work in process
I used ink to color the telephone pole and place the birds. And I stamped the trees into the fabric using a rubber stamp. I stretched the whole piece onto a wood frame by stapling the raw edges to the back.












I hand quilted a labyrinth design in each corner of the border
Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone lines art work in process









Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone lines art work: Ink on fabric; quilted, 14 x 17 inches

Telephone lines

Ink on fabric; quilted, 14 x 17 inches


Telephone Pole


I am a quilting novice. Last summer I attended a beginner workshop to learn the basics. That experience has been supplemented with books from my library and help from a few of my friends who are experienced quilters.

Using a photo of a telephone pole in my neighborhood, I plotted out a pattern, cut pieces of fabric and sewed them together.
Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process














Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process   Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process
The telephone lines were stitched with my sewing machine.

As I began experimenting with free-motion stippling*, my stitches were jerky and erratic. Then Jamie loaned me her grippy gloves, and I went crazy all over the piece with circles and zigzags. The gloves provide much better control for moving the fabric under the needle. I used up all of my thread on hand and then restocked with extra large spools.


Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process   Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process
*detail photo showing stippling


Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process   Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work in process
I sewed bird-shaped buttons to the lines.

Quilting for me is like painting with fabric and drawing with thread. I love the way the stitching tames the puffiness of the batting, giving the design texture and rhythm.


Gathering exhibit: Photo of Telephone Poles art work: acrylic painted on buttons & fabric 
quilted to canvas, stretched on wooden frame
24 x 20 inches

Telephone pole

acrylic painted on buttons & fabric
quilted to canvas, stretched on wooden frame
24 x 20 inches


The gathering


There is a tree near Milwaukee’s shoreline that has always caught my attention because of its odd shape. I painted my rendition of its twisted form on a small, framed block that I found at a second-hand shop. I dabbed at this painting for a long time before I finally added the tiny gold birds on its branches to bring it to completion.

Gathering exhibit: The gathering art work: acrylic on wood block, 8 ½ x 7 inches

The gathering

acrylic on wood block, 8 ½ x 7 inches




The mourning dove



For this painting, I secured a piece of canvas board to the inside of an old frame I found in a second-hand shop. Initially I was making a vertical painting of a brick-wall sky, but it wasn’t working. So I covered both the canvas and frame with white gesso, turned it horizontally, and began again.
Gathering exhibit: The mourning dove art work in process










Working from one of my photographs, I painted a watercolor study of a scene I view most mornings on my way to work. It is of a mourning dove who sits alone on a telephone wire above the west side of the road less than a half mile from my home.


Gathering exhibit: The mourning dove art work in process   Gathering exhibit: The mourning dove art work in process


After laying out this composition on the canvas, I stained the frame with Paynes gray. Then I dug into the lines crossing through the sky with one of my dental tools from Janie. Finally, I built up layers of acrylic paint on the surface.


Gathering exhibit: The mourning dove art work:Acrylic on framed canvas board, 10 x 12 inches

The mourning dove

Acrylic on framed canvas board, 10 x 12 inches


Click to view final "Gathering" Exhibit