I really hate winter; January and February are blah no matter where you live, and March isn’t much better. Here in South Texas, weather varies, wildly, from 85 degrees to 19 degrees, with tornadoes and wind and rain and sleet in between, sometimes all in the space of a day or two. November has Thanksgiving and December has Christmas, but February has only Mardi Gras for lively diversion (though you really ought to be in New Orleans to enjoy it).
The winter blahs were a big reason I went on and had the knee surgery in January (so I can tango in Buenos Aires, remember? 1/19/17) I figured that six-to-twelve weeks of recovery at this time of year is no great inconvenience. Plus which, I had this March 1 deadline for an art quilt submission to a museum exhibition — quite a gutsy undertaking on my part, given that I have never presumed my art quilts to be museum worthy, even if I have won some ribbons in quilt shows along the way.
Actually, the nature of art, and the creative focus of the artist have been much on my mind for several months, especially since I joined the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) and decided to move beyond hobby and craft. The quiet concentration, the attention to detail, and the resistance to distraction that creation demands do not come naturally to a type A, goal-oriented person like me. Type A’s are rarely into process; rather, we are more about getting it done, getting it accomplished, and moving on to the next goal.
In a way, that attitude is endemic to our entire culture. We all want fast, easy, done: quick-and- easy recipes for the holidays, quick-and-easy ways to lose weight… quick-and-easy quilts to make as gifts. Nobody has time for intricacy and contemplation; nobody has time to smell the roses. And I was like that too, until I retired and suddenly realized that I had met all my major goals in life, both professionally and personally. With the experiences of a lifetime behind me and the time I have left ahead, what would I do now? For a type A “goal digger” like me, that is a dismaying question, because it means finding new goals and redefining the self in light of them.
I returned to where I had always been: in the arts. This time, though, I would study and practice and learn, not to earn degrees or secure a job, but to concentrate on the process involved in creation and the development of my own unique artistic abilities. I took a wide variety of classes and workshops, began to write regularly and publish again, and set up this website. And I started a big, ever-growing inspiration folder in which I collect all sorts of oddities and ideas that “speak to me” for exploration somehow, sometime in the future.
All of which brings me back to this winter and this museum exhibit. Several months ago, I had come across an old photograph of abandoned oil derricks in Kilgore, Texas, taken in 1970 by an EPA photographer. I found it intriguing because the picture embodied a story rooted in the boom-or-bust nature of the Texas oil industry. More than just a static depiction of the busted half of the equation, however, this photo shows the abandoned rigs to have been on a farm, presumably once a working, productive, happy place — especially with the promise of an oil fortune in the back yard. And now it was all dead, defunct. There is a whole narrative implicit here, which makes for great art. Thus, when I came across the call for submissions to an exhibition called “Wild West: A Salute to the American Frontier,” I knew I had the perfect inspiration.
I was well aware that this would be a real creative challenge for me, both in terms of my skills as a quilter and my self-confidence as an “artist,” but it was time to push myself and risk the rejection, just as I had so many years ago when I was starting out as a freelance writer. Furthermore, I also knew that I was facing knee surgery and a couple months of recuperation, so I had a forced block of time to devote to such a challenge. After all, nothing overrides feelings of pain and discomfort like a concentrated focus on something else that’s important.
“Busted” (see the Gallery) took about three months of steady work start to finish, from initial sketches and pattern making to the final binding. I did the large-scale preliminary work, which involved a great deal of standing, ironing, and getting up and down, before the surgery, and then afterwards, with limited mobility, I was able to sit for most of the sewing, appliquéing, quilting and hand finishing. Toward the end, though, the March 1 submission deadline weighed heavily and I had to put in some long days to complete the piece in time to get it professionally photographed. (That’s what happens when a “goal digger” deemphasizes the goal and concentrates on the process.)
Nevertheless, I actually beat the deadline by a couple days. Feeling pleased with my work and proud of myself for overcoming the creative challenges I had encountered, I went on line to the museum’s website to submit my entry application. And there I read, “Wild West: Exhibit Postponed.” They had moved the goal post on me!!!
I reacted as only a true “goal digger” would: I screamed and cried and went to bed — and dreamt of a one-woman show.