Tag Archives: indigo

Portraits — 1739 (a deleted scene)

Portraits

January 1739, Eliza Lucas

After both portraits were complete and Quashee had finished carving a pair of beautiful frames, there was little else to distract from the boys’ pending departure other than deciding where to hang the pictures. Mother auditioned the southern wall in the parlor, then the wall along the stairs, and finally, opted for the interior wall of the dining room. Morning and midday light flooded this wall and, of course, the painter Mr. Theus had cautioned about the damaging effects of direct light. Mother liked the placement, however, and stood firm.

Mother’s philosophy of life often placed the value of daily, casual pleasure above an object’s long term survival, unlike Father who would choose conservation every time. He protested her preferences, calling them ‘extravagant’ and ‘trivializing.’ But Mother wasn’t careless. Rather, she believed that lovely possessions were meant to be enjoyed, even at the cost of a diminished life span. She would hang the portraits where she could enjoy them with every meal — sunlight or no!

Father sometimes acted from a misplaced sense of authority in these domestic squabbles. In this case, I think the fact that these portraits were an extravagance to begin with made it harder for him to agree to the acceleration of their demise. I’m not sure why he offered up resistance, though, even I could see he would not prevail.

Yesterday, while Father was out seeing to the construction of canals along the Upper Field, Mother had the portraits hung. She declared their bottom edges perfectly parallel with the chair rail and beamed with delight. The sun beamed in as well. Even though the light that washed in was the wan light of winter, the sun made me worry, but it also brought the portraits come to life. At tea, Mother offered a stream of comments cheerfully enough, as if there were no undercurrents. Father assumed his place at the head of the table, glancing at the wall. If a man can brace himself without moving so much as an eyelash, my father did so then. Mother wasn’t crowing exactly, but close.

“Now look at those magnolia blossoms on the lower edge of the frame,” she exclaimed between bites of boiled bread pudding. “Our own Quashee’s work! What an expert hand! Why the petals alone make me swoon, never mind the carved stamen! Have you noticed?” Yes, of course we had noticed – on numerous occasions, in fact, each time at her proud insistence.

“It would be proper for the boys to eventually inherit these paintings,” Father said in a neutral manner. Mother grunted and spooned up more pudding. “The hall offers frequent viewing, too,” Father said. “Every entrance and exit affording a glance.” Mother seemed not to hear him. She was enjoying her pudding, making soft, barely audible moans. I believe Mother was using her gustatory pleasure as a means to stonewall him.

Father tried another tack, suggesting the fabrication of small cloth shades. These could be lowered over the canvases on sunny days. A compromise! A creative solution! Mother guffawed. She topped off her tea and then rattled on as though Father had not just spoken.

“Just look how the sunlight shows off all that refined carving!” She adopted her didactic manner — the importance of motifs, shadow and relief, and so on – acting the teacher to her slightly moronic students. Suddenly and with some vehemence, she condemned the shade idea as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘tasteless,’ and ‘a sorely misguided attempt to alter the nature of time’ – which was ironic, given that the commission of the paintings was itself an attempt to arrest time.

I turned to look at the paintings. The likenesses to my brothers were good, amazing in fact, but in the sunlight, which threw the carved wood magnolia blossoms into sculptural relief, it seemed that the frames were the focal point, not the portraits. In fact, the frames overwhelmed the faces that they surrounded. Since Mother’s taste was so often unerring, I thought it might be that I had yet to see the wisdom of her pairing. On the other hand, what if she’d miscalculated and the aesthetic mistake stood as evidence of her deep disturbance at her sons’ imminent departure. They would be gone for years.

Later in the afternoon, I closed the drapes in the dining room, figuring to protect the paintings for at least a portion of the day. The rust-orange cloth glowed with afternoon light, dimming the room somewhat but not entirely. For the first time since the portraits had been hung, I looked at them in the solitude of my own thoughts. There was dear George, chin thrust out, well on his way to becoming a man. It was easy to imagine how he’d look in two, three, even four years. The cheeks would be thinned, perhaps, his hair darkened undoubtedly, but he would wear an expression essentially unchanged.

Tommy was altogether another matter. For the entire sitting, I’d wondered which of my younger brother’s many moods the artist would attempt to portray. Even though Tommy had squirmed, whined, and been peevish, Mr. Theus had seen past all that to my brother’s vulnerability and incredibly enough, captured it. The expression on the canvas suggested tenderness, regret, and fear – the true attitude of an eight year old on the verge of leaving his mother for many years.

For all Mother’s talk about the easy and daily viewing of these pictures, I suddenly wasn’t sure that being reminded of her younger son’s very apparent lack of readiness for a long voyage and extended separation would, in fact, be pleasing to her. Once the thrill and novelty of the portraits subsided, mightn’t that vulnerable gaze accentuate the jagged edges of her broken heart rather than the opposite? How could Tommy’s eyes, rendered so close to tears by the artist’s skillful brushwork, do anything but haunt her?

* * * *

Painting from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The painter Copley was born the year before this scene takes place but the quality of both the painting and frame signal the kind of wealth accessible to Eliza’s family. In fact, it’s likely they knew the Isaac Royalls, both families having lived on the tiny island of Antigua for some of the same years. Both families may even have left partly for the same reason — the discovery of evidence supposedly showing that the enslaved were planning to blow up a building during a celebration of King George’s birthday and then take the harbor. That was in 1736.

The Isaac Royall house is situated not far from here in Medford, MA. It’s where I participated in a sleepover with The Slave Dwelling Project (see link on sidebar). Wrote about it here.

Sending children to England for schooling was not uncommon among the colonial upper class. Eliza Lucas herself sailed to England at the age of 11, returning when she was 14.

I believe the record shows that her brothers sailed from Antigua to England and not from South Carolina. One of many things that I changed.

Quash is a real figure of history, a literate bondman with high level carpentry skills. Later on in 1744, when Eliza got engaged to Charles Pinckney, her father and fiancé had a tug of war over him. Eliza’s husband prevailed. Quash was later baptized as John Williams and manumitted by Eliza’s husband and went on to acquire land and slaves and to purchase or free his immediate family members. At some point he disappears from the record, making me wonder if his success was unacceptable to his white neighbors.

See: Red, White, & Black Make Blue / Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life by Andrea Feeser.

 

What’s the story?

It’s done. Sky indigo-dunked by me. Foreground silk, I don’t remember (arlee barr?) Pink linen: Deb Lacativa. Plaid house window: a shirt of my husband’s. There is blue-grey linen from Montreal, dark blue linen purchased in NYC in another lifetime, and scraps of a skirt that I wore to my last (and loathsome) job.

I keep asking myself — what is this little piece about?

Sometimes the story of the cloth can be found in the fabrics. The clock print would be the obvious narrative (the relentless march of time, etc.) but for me it’s all about that red plaid window. It’s warmth. It’s comfort. K wore it for years and years: camping, mowing the lawn, walking around the North Shore, fixing stuff in the house.

Somewhere I read that when quilters place a red fabric in the center of a log cabin patchwork square, it is to represent the hearth of home.

Yes. That.

A recent experience offers something akin to permission to think about this a little differently. The experience? — this season’s Project Runway (yes, it survived Tim Gunn’s departure!)

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll know how often the judges insist on ‘story,’ which is something a little different and apart from the designer’s ‘voice.’ Each collection needs a story, the judges insist, a unifying theme. Sometimes what the designers say is laughably far-fetched, seemingly uttered just to satisfy the judges. Other times, you can see how the designer’s story directed construction and textile choices in a meaningful way.

Near the end of this season, the contestants were tasked with creating an installation, and the man who ultimately won simply could not find a narrative for his collection. He painted his cubicle an awful color and slapped up some floral cut-outs. It was dopey. It clashed with his exquisite garments. He flailed, openly complaining that he couldn’t find the story.

And yet, he won. The woven strips of leather, the craftsmanship, the authority of his designs were story enough, it turns out.

I’m still not sure what to think about this. Is the play of color and shape story enough? Maybe, maybe not. Listening (very part-time, I’m afraid) to Jude’s recent class, has me reviving old pieces. One side benefit to watching her create is this reconsidering of older work. IS this piece finished? Is that piece? Could something be added that would enliven it (i.e. tell a story)?

I’m quite certain that the reason making a gift for a particular person is gratifying, is because the recipient supplies the story. It’s built in. You start with this bib and that bob, and you’re off, all the while considering the person who will ultimately receive it. I know that this is an energetic matter, too, because as recently mentioned on Dana’s blog, after making a satisfying gift, I’ve tried to trick myself into thinking a subsequent piece was also a gift, to no avail.

Thoughts, please?

Blue Cross and endings

These mosaics aren’t about my sister, per se — more about clearing out her apartment. The first four pictures show how she lived. The second four, the clean up.

As of this morning, it’s done. Keys handed over. Inspection performed. Cancellation of lease signed.

There were a lot of people at the housing office. Bundled against the cold. Stacking and restacking all the papers they’d brought. Proof of this. Proof of that.

It wasn’t lost on me that to each and every one of them, my sister’s death represented a boon — a chance to move up a slot on the waiting list. My sister was on that list for eight years. Waiting. Wondering. Whenever she’d trot out her conspiracy theories, I’d push back, “Nah — we’re just waiting for someone to die.”

I’m thinking the blue cross in my new quilt piece (more of a doodle than anything) might represent aid coming from unexpected places (a blue cross being a less recognizable symbol of aid than a Red Cross). The bird and flying insects represent freedom. The underlying thought is that it’s too bad my sister had to die for me to be free. It wasn’t the route I would have chosen. And my problems didn’t set it up that way.

In other fiber news, I added an external pocket to my denim travel bag for my phone. Yeah! Also, the pennant I contributed to Mo‘s project, “I dream of a world where love is the answer” has flown home, along with tokens. In particular, I love the little white star. Thank you, Mo!

And lastly, the woman who taught the Indigo workshop I attended in 2014 down in South Carolina, Donna Hardy, posted this on Instagram this week.

I am shipping off a heavy weight cotton rectangle with a simple resist that came from Africa. It’s an honor to be part of this project, too.

PS my eyes feel 90% better already!

The Spiral of Work — October 2014

polebarn-indigo-ravenel-deemallonContinuing with a one-year-backward-look as a tool to propel some completion of unfinished work, here’s a shot from last fall. This time last year, I was busy integrating my experience from the Sept. ’14 Sea Island Indigo workshop. I really can’t believe that was only last year! Was it?!!
indigo-clothhoop-weaving-deemallonAnd, here is a piece that was begun in Jude‘s Considering Weave class. Not sure what I’ll do with it, or even where to find it!

Another incomplete piece:
indigo-quilt-moon-deemallonI’m happy to say that the October 2014 folder includes a few finished things as well: two dolls that I made for my sons and the “LA Circles” quilt that I finished a couple of weeks ago.
boydolls-deemallon-ragdolls The book to finish is a memoir about the descendant of slave owners in Texas — his process of investigation and atonement. It’s called “Tomlinson Hill”.  I purchased the book after hearing the author interviewed on the radio, and within a couple of weeks (during The Slave Dwelling Project’s overnight in Medford, Mass., at the Royall House and Slave Quarters), I met two or three people who were descended from slave owners and learned about the group, “Coming to the Table“.  The group is “for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.” There was a meeting nearby recently, but I don’t seem to be in a phase of life where it is easy, natural, or right (somehow) to join a group or even attend meetings. Too much else pressing, including the need for restorative solitude.
tomlinsonhill-deemallonBut I can read. The book comes at a good time — I started and then put down “Purity” — Jonathan Franzen’s new novel (I’m a fan!). I was going like gangbusters because it’s a “speedread” from the library (7 days, no renewal), until I realized that the toxic relationships described in the story were just too close to some parts of my current reality to make the read pleasurable. I like books that challenge me and make me uncomfortable (and those that don’t, btw), but this was too much. Control what you can control, right?!

Hearts for Charleston — Dana

And now for the incredible work by Dana of Raven and Sparrow.


One of the things I love about this quilt square is how it captures both the chaotic rupture of grief and the renewing power of hope. Look at the way Dana combined neat, orderly elements with loose and ‘messy’ ones.  The contrast speaks volumes.

heartsforcharleston-ravenandsparrowThe couched red threads on the left speak to blood, disorder, hate, and loss. They scramble and defy the cool, ordered grid below. The purple cloud of gauze has the visual feel of smoke or staining. It spreads across the surface and behind the heart. Looking at it, we wonder: is the damage done? How much further will it spread?  The heart is stained and rent. The edges of the central rip are frayed — in contrast to the neatly applied stitches that define the heart’s outer edges.  These skillful choices elevate the image to something beyond the cliche of the broken heart.    A five-petaled flower grows out of the place of brokenness and brings its purity into the messy tumble of red. It speaks to the enduring power of hope and also of forgiveness, an apt reference for a community living their Christian values.  Like Liz, Dana dyed her strips especially for this project. Not only that, but she used a resist to spell out the words, “open our hearts” — words spoken by President Obama in his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney.   Dana also used a resist to create a series of small hearts along one of the strips. She beautifully embroidered nine of them.

IMG_2342The floral embroidery in soft colors lends a sense of peace and purity to ‘the Nine’.  The pretty uniformity of these hearts stands in contrast to the wild chaos opposite. And, it’s something else.   It’s that this line of uniform and sweet encircled hearts suggest that in death, the Emanuel Nine became united — in faith and essence perhaps?

On the reverse side, with white thread on white linen, Dana stitched simply, “Remembering, June 17, 2015.”  All in all, this is a beautifully executed and powerful visual statement about loss and hope.  Please read more about Dana’s process, and enjoy her other beautiful dyeing and needlework and her extraordinary flare for table setting.

Specifically, the project is discussed here and here, here and here.

Thank you so much, Dana!

To read more about this project,
please refer to the the sidebar category:
“Hearts for Charleston Quilt”.