Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chitlins', Art and Holiness

Yesterday I had to absolutely go into the studio...although I was there last Friday, it had been 3 whole days without being able to be there or in the basement workshop.  The longer I'm away, the more sullen and surly I become and then I am pressed to summon up energy in surpressing those feelings and behaviors in order to maintain some appearance of civility and sanity.  When ideas are calling me I see stitching, design, quilt possibilities EVERYWHERE...on buildings, dashboards, road construction, billboards, etc, and getting back into my space becomes a near obsessive CALLING.  After I left there yesterday to return back into the world, I felt like the best of me again and welcoming to interact with other human beings again. 

I worked on one of the studies I mentioned in a previous post.  A study that now has a specific vision.  A couple of years ago I was enamored with making silk paper.  Some time last year I started stiching on it just to see how it takes the needle and thread.  I've shown snippets of this particular piece before.  It keeps intriguing me but yesterday I knew the piece had found it's voice and I was listening.  This piece was talking to me..."order the stitches a little bit more Karen", "redo that line of stitches", "repeat the shape below", "take it down further"...and then from my own voice a phrase from one of my poems came to me while stitching and I knew it was the title of the piece...PRIMORDIAL WOMB.   When I picked this piece back up a few weeks ago I was working with the title of Amoeba and I thought the stitching would be a combination of hand and machine.  But yesterday Primordial Womb said all hand stitching and I chuckled at the idea of me doing "slow cloth".


While winding down I pondered what I was experiencing...a conversation, a dialogue, with something I was creating, something that many may view as an inanimate object.  From there I was led to how some cultures hold views that everything has spirit and everything is connected and when we, as artists, enter that realm and practice this belief, are we not entering Holy space?  Estella, my sisterfriend, wrote "poets mostly talk to God..."  I've read on blogs of visual artists and in conversations with artist-friends who speak of being in "the zone".  Personally, for myself, that zone is a communion with God and my time in the processes of creating art is an offering, an invitation for God to enter.  Even when I'm piddling (its a matter of showing up), even when things aren't working out (its an effort in maintaining belief), even when I'm doubting myself as an artist (its the questioning that leads to answers), even when my well seems dry and cracked (its the silence and space I need at that time for something fresh to enter). 

I was thinking of changing the name of my studio to "The Chitllin' Circuit" which I think is brilliant on lots of levels.  First, the space is housed in what use to be Mellwood Meat Packing, later Fischer's Meat Packing...the hogs where actually slaughtered there and the building is just a spit-throw's distance from the neighborhood known as Butchertown where historically, slaughter houses where located (they are all gone except for one).  When my children where younger and we would pull up behind a 18-wheeler of live cows (usually on Sunday evenings the trucks would begin lining up to unload) and the eyes of the cows could be seen peeking out from the holes, I would say to my children, you are looking at your hamburger.  I'm surprised not one of them are vegetarian but my point was to drive home the animal sacrifice that was made for them to enjoy their food.  I had a ceramics teacher in college who lived on a farm in Indiana and they raised the food they ate including meat.  He purposely wanted his children to participate in the slaughter of the animals so they would hold a deeper appreciation for what it took to get food to the table and not be ignorant to the facts.  Conceptually, this city girl thought that was kinda cool.

But I was talking about "The Chitllin' Circuit".   This was also the name that African American artists gave the route of venues mostly throughout the south that they could work in...months on end travelling from one spot to the next.  It was a difficult and hard way to make a living in the era of racial violence and segregation. As a cultural, historical, and geographical connection, I thought the name to be perfect.  But weighing my views on art and holiness, the current name will stay until a time, if ever, I can change it.


  1. Thank you for that beautiful description of the conversation and communion with God and the cloth. You described perfectly something that I have struggled to put into words, and which I have been fortunate enough to experience on occasion.

  2. I'm glad we can share a mutual experience this way...and those "occassions" carry us a long way, eh?!

  3. I agree with Beverly.........your description was perfect for the feelings I hold when I 'need' to get back into the studio or even painting. Sometimes I can just feel it bursting at my seams and I MUST make my art. While it may not be art to others (is that my inner critic speaking?) there is such a strong desire there that I cannot ignore it. I had not heard of the Chitlin Circuit, but I thank you for sharing it with me/us.
    You are such a wise, wise woman!
    xo and Peace back at ya!