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this art speaks. are you listening?

“Respect” wall-hanging no. 1, pictured above, is an example of art that speaks. It is one of the ways I’m trying to emulate the wisdom espoused in Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I found that book–a slim paperback–on a chance visit to a used bookstore in New Orleans. It was during a time when I was still working as a professor but sensed I wanted a different life, more open to creative possibilities. I found Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, at that same store, so I owe a huge debt of thanks to whoever gave those books up for adoption.

In Art and Fear: Observations about the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making, the authors offer sober, sensible yet not heartless advice for would-be artists. My favorite is what they call a “useful working approach to making art: notice the objects you notice. (e.g. Read that sentence again.) Or put another way: make objects that talk–and then listen to them.” (p. 101)

The “Respect” wall-hangings and quilts speak of a hopeful attitude toward living together, and that is the one I wish for us. They say: “Dream Big”; “Believe Racial Equity is Possible”; “Celebrate Beauty of All Kinds” and “Our Time is Now.” The back of this wall-hanging, which juxtaposes a vibrant African cotton in blue/green/and brown (an image that resembles a palm tree or a long-necked woman’s head) alongside strips of a lily-bedecked Japanese block print in blue, shows what can happen when strangers unite.

The three little birds from Bob Marley’s song are there too, in the white and black trim of the front; see them peeking through? The front also conveys a more explicitly political message, of course, thanks to the patches commemorating civil rights leader Malcolm X, reggae legend Bob Marley, and the BLM activists, whose rallying cry, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance” forms the heart of the matter.

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P.S. Caveat: This is not to say that I am sort of saintly warrior for racial equity, sitting around singing “Kumbaya.” I will admit that I did give a fellow driver the finger yesterday. He was the aggressive driver of a grey truck who cut me off while we were both jockeying for a place in the incredibly congested traffic of West Seattle’s detour route (which has forced us all into massive traffic jams for over a year now. Tempers are flaring.). And when he reached out to indicate his indifference to my honk, I noted he was Black. I acknowledge that exchange was not very nice. But he cut me off! Sigh. May we live another day and try again tomorrow…

P.S.S. Like “Respect” quilts, these wall-hangings are available to you now, via the Honey Girl Etsy store! As a fund-raiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, it’s a fairly painless way to give… and to be part of the change.

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a gorgeous new book, with Respect (no. 7!)

After a sad spell, I return with good news, energy, and curiosity alight, thanks to the fabulous new book by art historian Samantha Noël which just arrived today. I made Respect quilt no. 7 for her, in fact, in memory of our time together during the years at Notre Dame and in admiration for her work. She works on Black artists and culture-creators of the Caribbean and the USA, and shows how their creations are interwoven with real aesthetic merit and political intention, despite being misunderstood or written off by the authorities. I’ve been waiting for my copy of the book so that I could pose the quilt with it, and the combination is even better than I imagined. I love the way the quilt’s vibe matches the message of the book! dancing people, tropical landscapes, a jaunty air of subversion–they are soulmates. Knowing it was destined to Samantha, I made this quilt particularly bright and cheerful. Do you see the visual reminder of the year it was made?*

A couple passages will show you why I’m such a fan of the book. It’s Samantha Noël’s ability to bring you right into the scene, to take the reader on a sensory journey to Trinidad or Cuba, to jangling cities and noisy jungles, where a luscious tropical heat shields a whole different world of smells, sights, and sounds and people with deep customs and histories linking them to Africa and the islands. Or to the glamorous world of Josephine Baker in the 1920s, when she took Paris by storm. (It is still sickening to remember that despite amazing talent, Baker was rebuffed at home in the USA, and that some part of her success was due to her concession to perform in the nude, with a male partner, a titillating danse des sauvages for white audiences). Noël’s focus on Black culture, island diasporas, and Southern histories is also a breath of new air into my Northwestern life, and one I’m eager to take in. Plus there’s a very intriguing photo of Maya Angelou on an album cover, as “Miss Calypso,” that I’m dying to explore!

Samantha Noël paints a complicated picture of the jamettes, or women who belonged to the poor of urban Trinidad, whose male counterparts were called badjohns. Instead of consigning them to the toxic influences that dominated their daily lives (abuse, sex work, poverty), she also notes the feisty, flamboyant style they embraced and the important role they played in the neighborhood. Famous jamettes–Yvonne “Bubulups” Smith and Gateway Elaine, for example–could be seen during street happenings of all kinds, from political protests to Carnival carousing. The consequences were sometimes dire, as the author notes:

“When Bubulups initiated a battle with her opponents, policemen arrested a naked and wounded Bubulups. … The difficulty of a jamette’s life is best summed up in Jean’s words: ‘Listen to me Dinah. … The road I walk had nothing. It didn’t have no money, no food. I didn’t have no mother. I didn’t have no father. All I ever wanted in my life was money and that is the only way I know how to do it. And that is how I am going down.’ … society branded them vulgar. As uncouth spectacles, their physiques gestured indiscretion against the repressive colonial order. Vulgar now became the pejorative agent in the sociocultural framing of these Black working-class women.

… she captures the attention of onlookers. Her monumental presence captured in the photograph also highlights her explicit control of the domain around her as she literally makes space, transforming the tropical, colonial territory as she traverses it.

Their movements were akin to the steel bands, whose rhythmic and melodic sound also emitted an unruly flair as the steel pan voiced the Black masses’ desire for acknowledgment of their political, social, and creative presence. The jamettes thus reveled in the music in their costumes, oscillating their hips with their arms akimbo, some waving the flags of their affiliated steel bands and others simply moving to the music while singing refrains from popular calypsos. If the jamettes were indeed primitive, it is because they were appropriating primitivity in their performance as a means of challenging the colonial order.” (pp. 133-135 in Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism, Duke University Press, 2021).

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BIRTHDAY SALE!

Select Honey Girl quilts will be on sale for one day only, March 10, 2021. Check it out!

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photo of Maya Angelou album cover courtesy of: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36595496

*the ox on the green & yellow square is a symbol of 2021: Year of the Ox according to the Chinese zodiac.

Plate 1 of “Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism”, by Samantha A. Noël is juxtaposed here to a “Dancing Feet” star in Respect quilt no. 7, by yours truly, Honey Girl Books and Gifts, 2021.

On left above, an oil painting by Aaron Douglas, Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery to Reconstruction, 1934, courtesy of the Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

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in honor of a certain special person … can you guess who?

“One showing is worth a hundred sayings” — Chinese proverb

I’m trying to be discreet but I’m so happy I could burst! and so I’m sharing a few images of the latest “Respect” quilt (no. 6) that shipped out today. It is heading to a person I’ve never met, but hope to some day…

May 2021 be the year when we all make a new friend.

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turning the tables, with a little help from Janelle Monáe

Hey everybody! Weird couple days, eh?

Since I’ve already expressed my view on the recent, lamentable events of the Trump regime, I’m ready to move on now. Got to cheer up. I began the day in the usual way.*

But today, before I sat down to work, I could not resist playing Janelle Monáe’s stirring anthem, “Turntables”— and sharing it here. I can’t be a pessimist and we can survive. You can survive. I LOVE THIS SONG! Click on that link. Get up out of that chair, listen to the song, look at the video, dance around, punch the air, punch the f****s, and get ready to move on, cause the tables bout to turn! 12 more days.

This song is totally in sync with “Respect” quilt no. 6 (above, in progress), which juxtaposes two vignettes in Sheila Bridges’ Harlem Toile de Jouy around the gorgeous silhouette of a proud Afro-wearing woman (designed by AphroChic), to show the power of art to change the world.

The square on the left features an elegant lady facing a maid holding a mirror. I added a gold crown on pink cotton, and a big bloom from a vintage bedsheet (thanks, Aunt Babe!) to lend an air of baroque excess to her coiffure. On the right there is the same scene minus the elegant lady, of the servant holding a mirror, but this one is printed on red. The mirror-holder is cut from the lady and juxtaposed to a strip of black and brown flames above a square of shiny red satin. Result? Instead of being a lady-in-waiting, the lady holding the mirror is now in charge. She’s an artist, a poet, mirroring the new reality of a world going up in flames.

Enjoy the inspiration, and get through the days as best you can, safely and kindly. We can do this!

* with “morning pages” and a conversation with great minds of my choice. This is a practice I began 23 weeks ago, inspired by J. Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Well, she urges the three morning pages. I added the great minds to think with. Today, I read around and found gems in Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, Sir William Osler, Osler’s “Way of Life” and other Lectures, and Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air. Wonderful stuff.

Later on, I read the New York Times, and lamented briefly, despondently, about our nation’s leadership. Then I moved on. Now I’m going back to work, back to my art, and the community of sisterly souls (at least in imagination).

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an unexpectedly happy outcome

Respect quilt no. 4, wrapped in a dry cleaning bag from Notre Dame

“Respect” quilt no. 4 produces an unexpected outcome in many ways! This photo underlines the incongruous combination: a hand-made quilt in honor of African-American friendship and love, with patches saying “One Love” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” is carefully tucked into a bag labeled Notre Dame.

Hmm!

How fitting, that an institution that has inflicted so much pain on people of color (beginning with the Potawatami and Pokagon peoples whose land it sits upon, to the many unhappy students of color I met during my 27 years there), is now being put into symbolic service as a wrapper for love. Furthermore, it is heading to Rwanda, to celebrate the union of a young white woman with an African man, in holy matrimony next spring. (Being an ND grad, she’ll get the joke for sure.) I hasten to add that ND has its good sides too! That is where we met and studied French together, in other times, times that look more innocent now….

Let the liberation continue! May you have loving spirits and soaring minds, as long as you all shall live.

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approved! by C. Mazloomi, no less

You heard it here first! The eminent scholar, author, curator, and expert quilter, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, supports the “Respect” quilts I’m making; in fact she considers it “a very meaningful project.” Thank you Dr. Mazloomi!

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The “Respect” quilt project: Post-election Update and Jubilation!

The “Respect” quilt is a result of Black and white creators working together to honor Black women’s beauty, history, and resilience. It is also a timely product for this moment, when we celebrate that a Black woman, Kamala Harris, has become VP-Elect of the USA!

ORIGINS: The first “Respect” quilt was created by a former teacher, a white woman, for a former student of hers, a Black woman in South Bend, Indiana. When in her class at age 15, the young woman wrote and illustrated a short story, Overcoming Adversity, which stayed in the mind of her teacher all these years. (Discussions are afoot about revising it and publishing it with Honey Girl Books and Gifts LLC.) “Respect” quilt no. 1 was delivered in October 2020; she loves it!

MATERIALS and IMAGERY:  The “Respect” quilts tell little stories, each one different, through fabrics such as the historical vignettes of antebellum Blacks in “Harlem Toile de Jouy” designed by Sheila Bridges, and the stunning black on white AphroChic silhouettes (both of Brooklyn, NY), African fabrics from Cultured Expressions (Rahway, NJ) and other fabrics purchased from African-American business women across the USA, including Our Fabric Stash in the Pike Place Market (Seattle).  The quilt backs are more overtly political: the red fabric is decorated with a swath of denim with a pocket, and three patches: a portrait in yellow and black of Malcolm X, “One Love,” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.”

TIMELINE and COMMITMENT: “Respect” quilt no. 3 is now available! No. 4 is already reserved. Nos. 5 and 6 are coming along nicely. The series will continue indefinitely. After an abrupt realization of my own many privileges (again) this past summer, as I remembered that Grandma D. was born and raised in Rhodesia–a British colony, what is now Zimbabwe–and Grandpa D.’s family emigrated from England to South Africa, yet I no one ever told us why, or whose lives they impacted, I have vowed to make “Respect” quilts a part of my legacy. Maybe someday others will join, and “Respect” quilts will cover the country! This is meant as a way to give back to Black women and girls the love and admiration they deserve, now, and from this generation forward.

TWO WAYS WE GIVE BACK:

1. Retail sales (online). At $779.99 each, the “Respect” quilts sold on the HGBG Etsy website (below) are a fund-raiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of St Joseph County, IN & King County, WA. For every “Respect” quilt sold, 50% of the proceeds, minus materials, are donated to the BGCA. 

2. Inner circle & non-profit offer (by invitation): At $250 each (cost of materials), a “Respect” quilt can be made for a church benefit, political fund-raiser or given to a well-deserving person of your choice.

Warm wishes,

Julia, Honey Girl Books and Gifts

https://www.etsy.com/shop/HoneyGirlBooksGifts

https://www.honeygirlbooks.com/

Seattle, WA

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“Respect” 3 is here!

Quilts? I just make them. The rest is up to you.

I’m pleased to introduce you to “Respect” quilt no. 3, now available!

I hope its bright colors and cheerful, feisty message will buoy your spirits. You deserve it. It’s been a rough year.

P.S. Can’t say enough how I love working with these fabrics.

The striking black on white Afro silhouettes on fine canvas make me feel like I’m surrounded by friends as I work. AphroChic is a great discovery, from my June 2020 researches into Black-owned businesses. (They actually promote T’ai chi too!)

Another finding is called “Harlem Toile de Jouy”–tight canvas printed with historically embellished images of Blacks in antebellum USA, in black and other colors, by Sheila Bridges. Those pics are fun to use as a centerpiece to each quilt top. No. 3’s combo, of a young woman at a picnic (with a lot on her mind), and a careful fox looking out of a tree, creates a quiet mood.

The African strips of fabric, found notably in the center of no. 3–the orange and green flowers–are also new to me. It’s amazing how they tell stories all by themselves. (Note how there are three flowers in the quilt, from bottom (closed like a puckered bud) to mid (open and central) and higher (moving into sky). I just love messing around with those strips of fabric imported from Ghana, courtesy of Lisa Shephard Stewart at Cultured Expressions.

The whole feeling of “Respect” quilt no. 3 could be summed up as foxy, contemplative, smart, visionary, earthy and natural.

No. 4 will feel more hip and hetero-sexy: it includes a man and woman dancing to a boombox!

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“Respect” quilt no. 2 is here!

Like a proud momma, I’m pleased to show you my new baby, “Respect” quilt no. 2. It’s already sold, but orders are now being taken for nos. 3 & beyond, at the “Election special” rate of only $500 for this unique coverlet or wall-hanging (54″ x 78″) made of designer and African fabrics, cottons and flannel, from Black-owned businesses coast-to-coast. Don’t delay, only 2 more weeks until Election Day… and the end of our special offer.

Just contact Honey Girl B & G! (We specialize in cozy).

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a sassy quilt

The “Respect” quilt is coming to life and it’s a sassy one!

A concept comes to the world, little by little!

The backs are red flannel, with a panel made to look like a jeans jacket with bright yellow, red, and black patches declaring a strong engagement in today’s hot button issues. These materialized thanks to email exchanges with the young friend who got me thinking about what it means to “Respect” Black lives and hopes for the future, all the while acknowledging the pain that exists. They include a portrait of the intense, bespectacled Malcolm X (a leader of Black civil rights who was murdered at age 40), “One Love,” a song by reggae legend Bob Marley, and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” an awesome slogan most recently adopted by Black Lives Matter protesters and our allies. The patches have a history of their own! Malcolm X comes from Burbank, CA; Bob Marley hails from Crewe, Cheshire, UK; and “Respect” is made in Sevilla, Spain, all thanks to the magic of Etsy.

FYI: Hey readers! I need Levi’s for these quilts. If anybody wants to donate a pair of Levi’s, I’ll pay $5 plus ground shipping. (Thanks Treehugger, for the jeans I’m already getting from their readers!).

“Respect” quilt no. 1 is all basted up (see the long white threads?), while awaiting the last steps: the quilting and the binding. Quilt no. 2–now bedecked with a flowered trim from a vintage Martex sheet–stands by waiting for its turn. Take a peek at the symbolism: the Harlem Toile de Jouy pieces–designed by Sheila Bridges and embellished by yours truly–are cheerful correctives to the history of race relations in the USA. The playful square with chemistry attributes suggests that women’s intellectual prowess does not rule out their spirit of fun.

Eclectic, connected, and high-spirited, that’s it: the “Respect” quilt project.

More to come!

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respectfully yours (and homage to Yayoi Kusama)

Respect quilt no. 1 has rolled out of production as you see below!

If there is one lesson this work is teaching me, it is to focus on the center. Start at the center. Get the center right and the rest falls into place gracefully. It holds for stitching up a quilt as well as standing on one leg in a crane pose during T’ai chi.

As legendary martial artist Peter Ralston reminds us, “Centering is perhaps the best way to calm our thoughts and emotions. Putting attention and feeling in the center region of the body allows for a shift to a state of being that is calm, nonthinking but aware, balanced, in-the-body, grounded, present, and alive. It coordinates and harmonizes all movement in the body. Every action and movement is done with more power and control when directed from the center.” (The Principles of Effortless Power, p. 10).

In design, the center draws in the eye and creates a feeling for the whole. Yayoi Kusama understands that so well! Her Infinity Rooms are none other than spherical objects–with an invitingly open door. When people go inside, they are thus engulfed in the aesthetic, caressed by its special air and light, the weirdly round architecture giving us an unforgettable memory of coziness and wonder.

In fabric, things work a little differently, though I certainly hope people will one day wrap themselves in my Respect quilts!

The message is straightforward, if told through abstract shapes: in no. 1 (on the left below), the central red and black squares resemble the African continent (top) and a couple of ships bobbing at sea (bottom). They remind us of the slave trade, life’s vicissitudes, and the urgency of action. In Respect quilt no. 2, the central red and black squares resemble a curvy female form (top) and people talking or embracing under a blazing sun (bottom). They memorialize women’s vitality and community-building powers. None of this was premeditated; the images just came to shape when I unrolled that tantalizing package of African fabrics from Cultured Expressions: it’s magic!