The Woolblade in a vintage photograph
In another post, in another year, in what now seems like a galaxy far far away, I announced a feature called Guess the Artist. I provided clues to the identity of the inspirational person behind a new fiber work I was creating, which began its life as a scarf, and then evolved into a long glove with a life and ideas all its own. It reminded me of a formidable gauntlet in an old tv series called Witchblade, which I wrote about here. And so the Woolblade was born.
The Woolblade today
No one ever did guess the artist, except for the artist herself, which is I suppose the best response I could have hoped for! In the interest of fairness, I’ll once again offer free choice of ANY ONE ITEM in my online shop – scarves, wrist warmers, note cards, mounted photographs, my book of poems – to the first person to guess correctly. As a reminder, the previous clues were that the artist is female, not American, contemporary, and has a certain connection to interior states of being and mythical magical subjects. Samples of my work appear at right in my etsy showcase, but you can see my full inventory from which the lucky winner will be able to choose their reward here. As for the artist, she will be receiving the Woolblade in the mail soon. I wanted to keep it here, but for me it refused to transform into an invincible weapon of myth and legend. I can only assume that there is only one true wielder of the Woolblade, and on anyone else’s arm it remains a whimsical fashion accessory made of alpaca fiber. The Woolblade leaves next week on its journey across the sea to the Old World, whence it surely originated, centuries and maybe millennia ago, to find its home on the arm of the Warrior Woman to whom it belongs.
The Woolblade in its untransformed state
I have friends in blogland who not only believe in simplicity and elegance in art, they actually create stunning works that live up to this philosophy. I agree with them in principle, admire their creations, and often need to hold myself back from overthinking or overworking a piece, be it a poem, photograph or fiber object. Simplify! Walk away! Less is more! All true, but the problem is, I am not a simple or an elegant person. I am messy, vague and confused, but also ruthlessly analytical, impulsive and intense. When I read T.S. Eliot’s quote “oI wondered if maybe I said it first in a bar right before I fell unconscious off my seat, and then he stole it from me. Except that I have never been in a bar drinking next to T.S. Eliot. I think.
Me and Leo the Lion Before his Haircut, 1968, Rome
It was ever thus. I may have been a shy quiet self-conscious child, but possessed of a delicate touch I was not. I have vivid memories of being first gently urged and then firmly commanded to “play nice” with my toys, and somehow always ending up with everything broken. At age 6, I drowned a beautiful puppet from a set made in Italy while playing house. Mind you, the “house” was an elaborate structure with multiple levels and rooms built underneath a small square cardtable from all sorts of available household materials borrowed and re-purposed without permission. The “drowning” occurred in a small realistic bathroom area, complete with miniature tub full of water. Unfortunately the puppet was made of painted clay and held together with glue and therefore not waterproof, as her immediate disintegration proved. Don’t let the sweet face pictured above fool you. Leo the Lion later lost part of his luxurious mane when I started giving my stuffed animals haircuts to see if it would grow back. It didn’t. He was never the same after I opened him up to see what he was made of, and then stitched him up again hoping no one would notice. They did. I also shaved Barbie’s (or was it her annoying younger cousin Skipper?) head and painted her face blue. I have no good explanation for that one! I don’t recall any anger or frustration behind these acts of seeming destruction and defiance. It was more about uninhibited curiosity, an inborn dissatisfaction with the surface of things and a deep desire to see how it all worked on the inside. I wish I could share more images of some of my old toys, but none of them survived into my teenage years. In my twenties, I tried to write an overly clever poem called “Return of the Broken Toys” in which the spirits of these victims of my careless childhood impulses sought me out to reproach me while I attempted to explain myself. Ironically, the poem shared the fate of the toys, and could not escape my rough handling; I cut and took it apart until it was beyond repair and eventually needed to be discarded.
As my aggrieved parents looked on, not only did I routinely rip the clothes off my pretty dolls, open the seams of my stuffed animals, and take mechanical things apart that I had no clue how to reassemble, until my playroom resembled both a hospital ward full of the walking wounded and a junkyard, I also applied my scissors and crayons to the covers and pages of books – dear sweet books who somehow forgave me and became my best friends later in life and to this day - leaving them full of holes and marks, inside and out. The edition of the Annotated Alice pictured above is the only book to survive those days. Somehow it inspired enough awe and respect in me that the pages remain intact and unmarked, and only the cover bears a few of my faded marks. To be fair, I wasn’t any better playing nice with myself -- so many little girl dresses torn or stained, so many shiny black shoes scuffed, so many scraped knees and elbows, and the kind of perverse spirit that drove me, in spite of a bad cold and parents' orders, from my bed in a summer house one morning, barefoot in my nightgown, to greet the day, damp grass and dawn chill be damned!
How can I follow signs I cannot see?
I ended up with a high fever after that little expedition, and to this day have no real memory of what drove me to leave my bed and venture outside, (so bold at age, was it 8?) but a very clear memory of how it felt once I found myself there, free and alone. I never did learn to play nice. I don’t own many dresses nowadays, and prefer sneakers to shiny black girly shoes. In fact, dark colors suit me best, not because they’re slimming, but because they show wear and tear more forgivingly. I still have a strange urge, at odd unpeopled hours, sometimes late at night or early in the morning, especially if I have been indoors for a long time, to venture forth into the world, even if I’m ill, even if the weather is bad, and just exist in a way that harms no one but is absolutely against all common sense, propriety and normalcy. My midnight excursion in 18 inches of newfallen snow last week, that yielded the photographs above, is but one example. And I still succumb to the curiosity which urges me to take and break things apart, material and metaphysical. I’ve never been very good at leaving things well enough alone. But now I like to think instead that I am VERY good at NOT leaving things well enough alone, and this is who I was and am and need to always be.
It's all in the details
I still go too far. But I am also occasionally capable of restraint. I have learned to set things aside when my impulses will do more harm than good. I have also learned that there are times when simple elegance is not an option, and outrageous uninhibited excess is precisely what is called for. The making of the Woolblade was one of those times. This item was never meant to be sold or shown, or useful in any situation I can imagine, unless you are a wanderer in the land of unicorns and wraiths and need just the right fashion statement for the cocktail party of the year. It was fun to make something completely without meaning, purpose, and sense, in which my own instinct to overdo was just what was needed!
Even as I wrote this, and prepared to post the photographs of the finished product, I felt the Woolblade was not finished, and that by not going too far, I had not gone far enough. I deleted the photos and continued to add new elements to the piece, and even then there seemed to be further extremes to explore. Perhaps a new project awaits. Perhaps I need to set aside time to create one utterly ridiculous, outrageous and irresponsible item for every dozen serious pieces that defer to the need for restraint. I do believe the act of creation needs to be taken seriously by creator and audience alike, but it can also be an occasion for absolute whimsy and nonsense, the sort that makes the audience shake their heads in confused disbelief, and the creator laugh and clap their hands like a child – look what I did! – and then reflexively look around and think - uh-oh, I’m going to get in trouble for this!
Here's to a little unrestrained nonsense and mischief in your creative lives!