Monday, January 17, 2011


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 “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go,” I 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.    

Sole Survivor

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!


  1. Gabriella, once again your words are just perfect! They are lovely, honest, fun and true. You are an artist! Thank you.

  2. Luis, thank you for saying so! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. All the best to you, my friend.

  3. I feel I could 'handle' life with those woolblades. They're awesome. Regal. Emblematic.

    You're snow pictures are batted cotton-like and amazing.

  4. KASS - Yes there is something strangely empowering about any special accessory - even if it's really too comfy and fuzzy to prevent or do any harm!

    I love that you mentioned the batted cotton-like appearance of the snow - it does have that quieting and softening look and effect on everything it covers, even though in reality it can be such a sharp and cold substance, and so damaging at its worst. I can't resist a good contradiction! Best to you.

  5. Oh Gabriella you made me smile and laugh, you tell your childhood stories so well.(a Pipi Longstockingish movie appeared in my imagination)
    And you're right ofcourse,too much can break something or.... lead to something very exciting new.
    Lots of examples around us, human made and in nature too. And your woolblade looks stunning, the possibities of the design are endless(colors and materials, I mean) Still, I have no clue to the mystery artist??

    I was a different child, I rarely played with my toys and several are still intact, I loved to play with water, cardboard boxes,paper, paint,scissors,branches and flowers etc. and I still do.

    Enjoyed your post my dear, x Renilde

  6. RENILDE - I'm glad my childhood tales made you smile and laugh - they are a lot more fun to tell now than they were to live through! I was thinking about it again last night and I do recall getting yelled at and made fun of a lot! Little did they know then I would grow up to be an artist and writer and have the last laugh!

    I love the image of you playing with natural materials instead of toys! See, the child you were knew everything already - I'm happy she is alive and well today!

  7. Hi dear!
    You creations are so beautifull, you know that I recognize in them lot of the magic camelot's castle...

    love the foto of you in Rome with the leon :-) nice rember.. (I must say that you stayed (be) the same)

  8. Ciao, Laura! I'm happy you can see the magic in my creations! And also that (at least on the inside) I haven't changed much since childhood! Many thanks, my dear, and all the best to you!

  9. Gabriella your writing is so evocative and beautiful! As I was reading your post I could relate to it as images of my own childhood kept flashing in my mind. Also the T.S.Eliot quote is so true. As an artist one needs to explore,experiment and look beyond the usual laid down norms and you have been doing just that which is evident in all your work. Great post it was a pleasure to read it :)

  10. Narayan, it's good to know my writing reaches you! It is strange, isn't it, that certain qualities that are necessary and beneficial to the artist and make complete sense in the pursuit of a creative career can be so negative in any other context! Good thing we found our outlets or we'd still just be bad children!

  11. Oh G I laughed at the childhood minx you were - and can only imagine how challenging it must have been for your folks at times! But I loved the night shots - the midnight wandering; the stillness, emptiness, solitariness...

  12. Fiona - it just proves you have to be careful of the quiet ones! Yes, I do feel for my parents, but don't worry, they haven't ever let me forget how challenging it was for them! But they're also very happy and proud how I turned out! Glad you liked the night shots and that they convey the sense of solitude I indeed felt that night! Stay well.

  13. Greetings, Wong Ching Wah- I am glad you liked this! All the best to you.

  14. Those wrist warmers are simply fantastic!!! Love them!!

    Loved your story. I laughed. You were the opposite of I actually played with my barbies until I was mom thought there was something wrong with me. I think I lived in a fantasy world. While you were painting their faces blue and shaving there heads I was adding makeup and curling their hair....omg!!! I would of rather had a little more of you in me!!

    Those pics form your midnight outing are absolutely stunning! They caught my eye!!

    G.... we need warm and not cold. Man it's way to cold up!!

  15. Hi Manon - glad you like the wristies! I've cranked out 45 pairs of them since I created the design back in the fall, and they're still so much fun to make!

    I'm with you on the fantasy world. I collected stuffed animals well into my teens and liked them all a lot better than people!

    Snowing here AGAIN and frigid temps due over the weekend. Sigh.

  16. Dear Gabriella,

    another post i love so much. The beautiful memories, your beautiful thoughts and ofcourse the beautiful photographs and wristwarmers. I just LOVE them. And i think you were inspired by (i have my own world) right? Haha, i'm afraid to look like a pumpkin head (is that the right expression for arrogant? LOL) but i think i recognized the form of lines and colors in the wristies. :-p
    At the moment my health (energy) is very very bad, so i'm silent again in blogland. Say hi to Brian as well, telling him this.
    I hope i soon can leave comments again on all my favourite blogs.

    Sweet greetz and kisses for the both of you, Monica

  17. Dear Monica - I am so sorry to hear you aren't well! Please take good care of yourself and take all the time you need to get your energy back. I sent you a package this week and I hope it gets to you more quickly than your last package to us! No, you are not arrogant - there is only wisdom, and no pumpkin seeds inside that head of yours! Please feel better soon - I am sending you all my love!

  18. those woolblades are wonderful, I am sure they have unreal powers. and your story about your childs play, adventures, and creativity are inspirational. play and unrestrained nonsense is very useful when creating I totally agree.

    thanks again gabriella for a wonderful read.


  19. I'm glad you enjoyed this, T - it's important to keep the inner child alive, even if my inner child gets into trouble a lot! Thanks for your comment, always good to see you here!