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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.

***

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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seen on this day

Bonne fête de la Saint Valentin ! Happy Valentine’s Day !


Here are some images of beloved sights from my world, and a favorite quote by Epictetus to warm hearts wherever you are:
“Faithfulness is the antidote to bitterness and confusion.”
The Art of Living

P.S. Being faithful applies to your self too, your principles, hopes, and dreams. Live deliberately, like Thoreau said. What better time than now? Back to “Respect” quilt no. 7 I go…

(Respect quilt no. 7, in progress)

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spring into hope!

Life can be sweet. Hard but with moments of grace. As I was writing this, Richie Havens, “Here Comes the Sun” came on the airwaves thanks to my favorite radio station KEXP, and reminded me of this flowering tree seen recently in Chinatown. Yes, let’s have some hope! Spring is coming, hate has lost, help is on the way. Tomorrow Trump has to leave the White House by noon, and we’ll have new leaders : President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris!

After four years of Trump, it is amazing to survive intact. And after all those years in the drear darkness and punishing snow and winds of Indiana winters, I am surprised by the light touch of winter in Seattle–it’s a damp darkness, slow-moving but livable. While we await vaccines and better times, I gave myself a task of capturing the rage and despair inspired by Trump, but now that “The Ten Days til Post-Trump” is done and published, I am ready to move on.

We persevere, holding book discussions while shivering at a picnic table, finding things to do at home, suspending judgment, just getting by. My sewing gives me hope and love; I hope the feeling comes across and gives you a little lift. Here is a sneak preview of “Respect” quilts no. 7 and 8, in progress.

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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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a twist on Audre Lorde’s fatalism

Audre Lorde once challenged us, saying: “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, in an essay that stands alone in the annals of feminist thought. It’s the ultimate conundrum, the inflexible status quo: our master patriarchy and its soul-mate capitalism. Their attitudes, expectations, their demands persist. Yet we try.

Lord knows I tried, during my stints in the ND administration. And now I’ve moved on, leaving the next generation of generous women to see what they can do.

Now I’m communicating in a different medium, of fabric instead of faculty meetings. Now I tell my views in the abstract, universal languages of color, shape, and texture, to convey wisdom, build community and share love. Now I use the tools of the mistress.

Yet the tensions live on.

Looking at “Respect” quilt no. 5 this morning in the frosty light, I see a visual response to Audre Lorde. The black arabesque lines of the black-and-white trim (formerly a duvet cover) now appear like wrought-iron filigree, the bars of a black gate, a baroque barricade. These vertical lines of fabric (inspired by the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend), which are broken by the vibrant squares, reveal my interpretation of “Respect”.

They tell of strong women embracing life. Powerful metaphors–of grinning skulls, dancing feet, peace symbols, girls jumping rope, horses running, clouds, whirlwinds–are unleashed and draw in the eye, capturing the gaze in dream-like intensity. This story is bursting through the wrought-iron gates. And it will persist; it’s well sewn.

Happy hopeful holidays to all!

*Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and homophobia. The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, a book of feminist essays, was published in 1979.

I came to love her feisty spirit in graduate school in the 1980s, inspired by the radical work I was learning about in Women’s Studies (estab. 1982), with strong, witty professors such as Christine Stansell, Natalie Zemon Davis, Joan DeJean, Kay Warren, and Sandra Gilbert. And that quote, that concept, that challenge, has stayed with me ever since, like a nagging reminder of the work to be done and a depressing reminder of how fragile progress is, how ubiquitous the forces of “order.”

P.S. “Respect” quilt no. 5 is destined to another person who inspires us: renowned artist, quilt-maker and writer Faith Ringgold. More on that to come! I’m hoping to be able to wish her a Merry Christmas and Happy Quilt Day on 12/25… gotta get back to work!

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Nikki Giovanni rules!

How happy I was to see Nikki Giovanni smiling from the pages of the New York Times yesterday! The article, by Elizabeth A. Harris, is a very nice tribute to her life, her feisty spirit and announces her new book of poetry, Make Me Rain, which sounds wonderful. Today I share three rules of life shared by Nikki Giovanni. They are all one really needs to know, to survive in this day and age in the USA:

  1. The best thing you can do for yourself is to not pay attention [to other people’s opinions].
  2. You can’t let people you don’t know decide who you are.
  3. I’m not going to let the fact that I live in a nation with a bunch of fools make a fool out of me.

Thanks, Professor Giovanni. You rule! (And that’s not the only reason I am making a “Respect” quilt for you!)

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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!

***

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!