The Mystery of Inspiration

A local architect and his wife came in when I was hosting an open studio years ago. The man sat down at my sewing machine and began stitching in a chaotic way. It was funny at the time, back and forth, back and forth, with gusto. I had never seen anything like it.  Seeing the action of the thread opened something up in me, that hadn’t been there before. Now I use that wonderfully chaotic stitch frequently. Free motion they call it. After years of stitching cards, table runners, and scarves, like contact improv on my sewing machine, who knew it would become a favorite tool?

And so, in the spirit of not knowing where my inspiration may come from next, I invite you to join me for the statewide Vermont Open Studio Weekend in May and see how you might be affected. My new series of dolls will be on display along with my latest banners, table runners and place mats. I will have a tent set up and we will be a diverse group of artist showing their work inside.

I’ve been on the tour for 15 years as both visitor and host. Sometimes random introductions and unusual settings trigger new ways of thinking for me. I remember visiting a potter and walking around the backyard to enter their studio. Fragrant lilac trees were in bloom, the barn was old and weathered, the fence and old stone foundation were crooked. Suddenly I felt transported to the early 1800’s, like a time traveler. It was unexpected and added a dimension to my “tour adventure” that I could not have planned.

I remember my art teacher in high school, Ruth, inviting a woman into our afternoon class in 1978. The woman was a weaver and dressed in her own handmade jacket.  Not every hair on her middle aged head was in place and she spoke warmly about her work with a logical sense of order that took us on a visual tour of her process.

“First you locate the big patch of goldenrod in the field next to your house” she said. “Harvest it at peak season, take the yellow flowers off and stick them right into your pot of boiling water. You can use a camp stove, or your kitchen stove, depending on how fancy your kitchen is…” I was mesmerized.

Her down to earth style, poise and commitment to her craft, set us at ease. She brought worn leather bags full of her weaving samples. Raw wool, carded wool, vegetable dyed wool, all ready to show our class to help us understand her process with our eyes and ears.

What affected me most was:

Ruth must have thought the woman was important enough to invite to class and the woman acted as though she was. I was impressed that she was doing something she loved and wanted to tell us about it.

During the summer in high school I studied with dance teachers from New York City who brought advanced technique and inventive modern classes to our small, rural city. I soaked up their moves, mannerisms and hip words. Strangely enough what affected me most was their street clothes. We wore Levi’s and clogs in the country, the skin tight bell bottom cords they dressed in were like dance costumes. The style of the leather slouchy bags, Frye boots and kohl around their eyes affected me more than the dance classes. They wore their clothes with ease and confidence: heady perfumes and unusual jewelry from street vendors.  In high school watching these dancers from “The City”, cool and lithe, I wanted to be just like them. When I got dressed that summer and for years to follow I would create an outfit that I thought would pass their test.

I was also inspired as a young person wandering through craft shows seeing artisans showing the world their hand tooled belts, elegant pottery, quilts, and puppets. George Skatchard, Mary Azarian, Woody Jackson and many more interesting and industrious characters showed their work on a regular basis. Worn jeans, dusty with clay, tweedy wool sweaters, long hair, all shouted “YES” to making useful and beautiful things and living entrepreneurial lives. Many of them moved to Vermont during the “back to the land” movement in the 1960’s and I benefited from their passion and experience as their contemporaries were my teachers.  The climate I grew up in in Vermont was supportive of artists and craftspeople and I am grateful I grew up nurtured by many creative types.

What if being affected by someone or something can really make a difference? Like a subliminal permission slip? In spite of a well meaning teacher or parents instruction, “Priscilla, the sky can’t be red!!!”, perhaps that kid may say, “yes, it can” because they saw my artwork which has a red sky. My artwork doesn’t have to follow those rules.

Finally, I never quite know where my next inspiration will come from but I keep my eyes open. I hope you can visit a few studios in, or around your town this year. It might be someone’s art, a story they tell, a book on their studio shelf or a person you “bump into” when you are out and about. I hope you have a great time.