February 13, 2016

From "Stones" to "Holiness"

In the last two months, I've spent a lot of time in my basement wet studio, dyeing many gradations of different grays.  After the first set of gradations, which went from dark gray to very light, I found myself especially drawn to the very lightest of values.  (The photo above shows scraps from the fabrics that were eventually cut into blocks.)  So, already having narrowed from a palette of neutral stone colors to gray, I found myself narrowing it further to very pale grays.  This inclination of my eye and heart led me to an understanding/decision about the aspect of the subject--stones--that I was moving into:  the quality of holiness.  The original commitment to stones as a subject goes back to the experience of the Jewish practice of leaving small stones on a grave.  I've thought about why one would leave a token of a visit, and why stones serve so well as such a token.  I've been drawing stone shapes for many years now, thinking that the beauty of the shapes would be the focus of a quilt--and it may yet still be.  But I also wanted to work abstractly, extracting from the stone as an object something of the quality that so draws me to it.  As I puzzled over my attachment to the pale gray fabrics, the idea of holiness settled into my mind.  The holiness of the place where the stones are left--the cemetery itself, as well as the grave of a loved one--and the holiness of the relationship--of the love, of the attachment, of the grief--that is embodied in the gesture of leaving a stone.

I had been thinking for a while about a composition that would be very similar to an earlier landscape quilt, "Late March."  I had adjusted the proportion of the rectangles to be more suggestive of the actual proportions of random stones--they would be 9x11" rather than 9x12".  But once I found the new subject of "holiness," rather than "stones," that seemed too small, and I scaled up the blocks to 14x17.  The final composition is 85 x 70." As I chose the colors and decided on the layout, I had these qualities in mind:  quiet, secure, solid, protective, encompassing.
"Holiness" [photo from August, 2016; unquilted cloth stretched on a wood frame]
Most of the quilts I've made in the wake of my son Jeremy's death--quilts like Loss, Shelter, Regret, and Accident--have been exhibited and then rolled up and put away--they are not meant to be used or hung on display at home.  But this one I can imagine actually using as a quilt.  It won't be for a while, though, as I plan to hand-quilt it, which will take some months.

This last photo is for those who are interested in details about what dyes I used.  Unmarked squares are from dyes I mixed myself from primaries; one other one I mixed is identified as "Carol's black"--the formula known to anyone who has taken a dyeing class with Carol Soderlund.  The 600-numbers are pre-mixed blacks from Pro Chemical and Dye; the "Black CWNA, Dark Black, and Black Bang" are from Custom Set Procion Dyes.  The second number is the DOS (depth of shade), where .03 DOS means 0.03% (or 0.0003 of weight of goods).  The orange that I mixed with one bluish black is a primary from ProChem, "Strong Orange."  Not shown here are the samples that I didn't use because they leaned too much towards green, blue, or brown.