Monday, November 17, 2014

A Memory in Memory

A couple of days ago, it was my Tunisian sister-in-law's birthday. Affectionately called Tata (diminutive for "aunt" in French), she lived right next door and had received the Final Invitation to Eternity the week before. So for the last couple of weeks, I have been engulfed in Tunisian funeral rites and receiving family and friends coming to express their condolences. My daughter managed to fly in from the States in time (funerals are within 24 hours in the Muslim world) and we said a last goodbye to Tata with the support of cousins, nieces, nephews, and family friends.

While helping to put things in order, I came across a watercolor that I did for her in 1988 for her birthday. We had little people hanging around then so playful ideas, like teddy bears, appeared. The painting was at the bottom of a sack, and a bit worn with yellowed, spotted paper. I cut it out, spatter painted a new background, glued it on, and sent her a happy birthday message in a prayer.

May she be granted peace and may her birthday celebration bring her joy in the Beyond. 

In loving memory of Tata (November 1945-November 2014).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Memories of Kindergarten

Homework for Sketchbook Skool this week was about telling a story, drawing from memory, and drawing upon Memories, particularly about the first day of school. In addition, imaginative elements could be added, such as dinosaurs, dragons, or dancing dogs (now there's an alliteration--comes from teaching literature to obstreperous students--and that would be a consonance. I better stop analyzing or I could go on like this all day...).

This type of project requires l-o-n-g reflection as kindergarten was over half a century ago, but I did manage to dig up a memory of THE first day of school. Little did I know at that time that I would be a student for life. 

Anyway, in the meantime, I had been doing a small sketch in pen everyday for a 75-day challenge (the point being to develop a habit of drawing and improve line work). Each page contains a quote, a short diary entry, a drawing and a "take-a-line-for-a-walk" (paraphrased from Paul Klee). One day, I sketched a stack of books on a small table in the living room. Two remotes were perched on top. --Light bulb--

So the Book Stack Beings found their way into my drawing, which was about the only day I e-v-e-r cried in school. In my family, we had a new baby brother and we were therefore 3 kids five and under. I imagine my parents were overwhelmed. I got on the school bus as directed and went to kindergarten, however, nobody explained the procedures and that school was only a half day. At one point, all the kids disappeared and I found myself alone and abandoned. The teacher came running: "Why aren't you getting ready to go home, Dear?"

And yet, I remember that the stacks of books were magical...

Of course, I put the SBS teacher, Mattias Adolfsson (the boy with the cowboy outfit and glasses), in my class, along with an Edward Lear figure (the boy standing on his head) from the front page of the "Book of Nonsense" whose limericks I have been teaching.

My drawing took me all week because of the detail work. 

The combination of Memory and fantasy made the project fun, however, upon reflection I find this type of illustration not really to my liking (although Mattias's work is wonderful). It feels imposed, stiff, and puerile--for me. 

It doesn't speak to me because of my daily reality in a country that teeters on the edge of chaos. The temporary government has little authority, increased administrative problems make my working environment kafka-esque causing a huge waste of time (I'd rather be blogging), garbage continues to pile up, and the whole country is tense because of elections that will take place on Sunday (Oct. 26th). The stakes are high and the religious party, which is well-funded (from the Gulf), is not known to be "fair-play." Religious extremists with Kalachnikov machine guns are doing their best to sabotage the elections, with an increase in terrorist incidences. Facebook appears to be cut off for the time being (which cannot be a good sign).

The drought currently plaguing Tunisia (it has rained maybe five times since June, that is, in 5 months) represents well the political and economic situation of this small country. I should be stitching or sketching a drought, a blighted landscape, not a kindergarten... 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rosie's Sister

I dressed up my sewing machine a bit in honor of Rosie, who has been on my mind recently.

For those unfamiliar with that World War II poster girl icon, Rosie the Riveter, here's the original image by J. Howard Miller. This poster was used to persuade 6 million women to go to work in the armament and aviation industries when men marched off to war. The patriotic red, white, and blue tells the viewer to serve the country in its time of need. It was a very successful propaganda campaign indeed.

Rosie's image seems to appear frequently these days and came to mind when I wanted to express an idea about my sewing machine that had nagged at me for awhile. And so, Tessie the Tailor, Rosie's sister, came into existence.
Having a professional interest in the representations of women in the media, I found myself reflecting on the image and analyzing it as I drew. The point of the Rosie image was, of course, to convince women that they were strong enough to do a man's job (as if they didn't have enough to do already). In fact, it is a masculinized image. I found it interesting to examine the feminine features as compared to the masculine features of Rosie. 

First of all, what's in a name? The name contains the hard consonants of R, S, and T that suggest masculinity while the "ie" of Rosie brings it back towards the feminine. However, "the Riveter" carries strong connotations of masculinity. Consider other aspects of the image:

Feminine Traits                Masculine Traits

1.  red scarf                   1. blue working clothes
2.  a few escaping curls   2. black hair (a harsh color)
3.  red cheeks                3. square, firm jaw  
4.  small nose                4. firm chin
5.  shaped eyebrows      5.  black eyebrows with a no-nonsense expression
6.  mascara                   6. black eyelashes emphasize the hard, no-nonsense look 
7. lipstick on full lips       7. lips turned down at the corners       
8. one well-manicured fingernail 8. the hand is very large
9. ---                             9. a muscled arm that has the sunburn of a worker
10.---                            10. The flexed arm that ends in a hard fist
11.---                            11. The figure itself is not elongated or elegant, but 
                                    rather broad and stocky.
12.---                            12. Thick neck.

At this point, the scales tip toward the masculine and one may wonder whether Rosie was a man or a woman. It's not that women don't have traits listed on the masculine side. There are women with strong chins and square jaws, like me, for example. However, the sum of the male traits gives an overwhelming impression of masculinity. 

In addition, the power establishment was only letting women into the work force as lowly workers. There is no suggestion of possible promotions, career, or any sort of professional aspirations. Women were going to give a hand--temporarily. 

Obviously, the artist was a male and, consciously or unconsciously, created an image that told women they had to be more than they were; to be a woman was inadequate. Looking around at representations of women in the media today, I'm not sure we've made much progress. We must remain vigilant. 

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I want Tessie the Tailor 
representing MY sewing machine at all!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo, 2

Campers at Grandma's Boot Camp delighted in getting away from camp for an excursion. The Bardo Museum in Tunis houses one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world--a wonder to see. 
One large hall contains mosaics of Roman houses in Tunisia, each one the size of the wall. To get such detail, the pieces of mosaic are minute.

Note the soulful look of the bull.

From the chained dog in front of his doghouse in the upper right corner to the elegant woman choosing jewellery in the bottom row, this sophisticated mosaic exudes human activity.
And of course, complex borders (to die for) frame each work.
This one is particularly interesting for the horse, and for the woman spinning with a drop spindle on the left.
For those interested, click to enlarge and read the information given by the museum about Roman houses.
The subject is dear to my heart as there was a Roman house in a field behind us. My Roman-rock plant table is proof. Recycling at its best.

And then, back in the States, my eldest granddaughter is studying Rome in school. However, she's too embarrassed to tell the teacher about what she has visited...ahhh, teenagers!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Flower Power or Sketchbook as Memory

Remember Flower Power in the late 1960s? My mom had a different take on that. She loved fine china with all its complex and flowery designs, and checked out junk and antique stores regularly in search of teacups in Spode or Lalique or Royal Albert...the list of companies in her mind was lengthy. I suspect her collection grew once all the kids went out into the world, because to amass such an extensive collection on my dad's meager teacher's salary was quite a feat. And she would use them lovingly, when friends would come around, on formal occasions, or just for her afternoon cup of tea. There were flowery, decorative stacks of them in the dining room to brighten the grey, drizzly Oregon winters.

Truth to tell, I raised my eyebrows and never quite understood. Give me a big, sturdy mug so I don't have to worry about breaking anything.

Recently, however, with the online classes at Sketchbook Skool, my thoughts have turned towards the sketchbook or art journal as a work of Memory, as a commentary on one's life to be bequeathed to loved ones eventually, to the younger generation. I tend to use my Textile Sketchbook/Art Journal in that sense, but, paper and paint never tempted me much. That may be changing. One of the assignments concerned teacups and suddenly there was a torrent of outpouring from SBS students remembering mothers and grandmothers. This seems to concern women in particular (what is it about teacups?), but the Memories were there.

This forced me to think about 18 of my mom's teacups gathering dust in my cupboard. I looked them over and realized they really are beautiful. I chose one and started a layout over two pages.
Because of the complexity of this design, I got distracted by another cup in blues that seemed just a bit simpler in design. (Hmmph! It still took me 3 weeks to finish.)
I glued a recycled watercolor painting to the corner. I like the yellowed paper and the hard lines of the geometric patchwork design that contrast to the swirly florals. Done with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, I had fairly good control over the floral design. Then the moment of truth came when I added the watercolor shadows.
After spending so much time on the finicky flowers, I nearly had two heart attacks when I ruined it all twice...however, if I've learned one thing at Sketchbook School, it's to keep going. And so, it all worked out in the end. And I thought often of my mom--OK, Mom, got it, teacups are useful (to paint). A series may be developing here.

Now, I find it comforting to think that maybe one day my granddaughters will sit and sip tea from their great-grandmother's teacups while looking at their grandmother's sketchbooks. They will remember... Memories of Flower Power...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo Museum, 1

As the Bardo Museum in Tunis contains one of the most spectacular collections of Roman mosaics in the world, the Camp director decided to take campers to visit and sketch. However, the palace itself is worth the visit.

The Bey (King) of Tunis resided in the Bardo Palace, which was constructed in the 19th century, until it became an antiquities museum in 1885.

The museum has been renovated and extended, however, one can see the former splendour of the palace.  Leading up to the front door, a series of lions stand watch. The National Assembly now meets in that section of the palace.
Some exquisite ceilings can be seen.

I could live under this ceiling.
Maybe the most spectacular and certainly over-the-top: an ornate mezzanine floor.
It's hard to know what to admire first, the woodwork, the painted ceilings, the metalwork, or the gorgeous marble of the columns.
And of course, lovely tile work graces many walls. 
Memories of Istanbul, for the beys were of Ottoman descent and kept ties to the center of the Empire. One can't help but admire the sophisticated use of pattern and color. 
I'll have to go back when the weather gets cooler.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If the Shoe Fits...

After the Little People left, I vowed to do some Spring Cleaning early, you know, some deep cleaning, organizing and junking stuff that will never be used, especially in my workroom, which is really my playroom, but don't tell my family (I keep the ironing board set up and ready to go to keep up appearances). In the corner, a framed pen & watercolor painting from the 1990s leaned against the wall, out of use and forgotten.

It was just at this moment that the cat decided to have an accident (he tried to tell me he was desperate) on the frame of the painting...which in turn required a thorough cleaning of the whole corner. I took the picture out of the frame, washed the frame and put it in the garage for future use. The painting was yellowed so I tried to put it in a drawer, however, it was too big. I'd have to roll it up.

Then I looked it at, I mean I looked at it. I remembered...I remembered the lovely Tunisian wedding shoes with the tapped design in silver foil, nailed onto a wooden clog. They dated from 1940 and belonged to my Tunisian mother-in-law. The craftsmanship was outstanding, but one shoe was obviously made by an apprentice and the other by the master, seen in the clarity of the detail work.

Then I remembered the hours spent gripping a Rotring pen (maybe a 0.2 or smaller). It probably took me more time to draw them than it took to make them. I framed it up with a patchwork design. 

These clogs are not particularly comfortable, but the modern ones are worse. My daughter's wedding shoes are too narrow, less attention is paid to the craftsmanship, and the designs have been simplified. Yet, they're pretty to look at.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the sketchbook as a "travail de mémoire", Memory, which is linked to recycling as well. I took my "fancy" sketchbook (Stillman & Birn with heavy paper), painted a background with watercolors, then cut out and glued on one of the shoes.
Of course, I had to tell the story of the shoes and the painting. Maybe one day a family member will read it. Memory, memory...
The patchwork sections frame a watercolor of figs. I like the contrast of the yellowed paper and the stark white of the journal.
That old painting has taken on a new life and I like to look at that "fancy" sketchbook often. Now the shoe fits much better...