I started making Walking the Dog soon after my mother died in 2005. It is a kind of modern day mourning needlework piece, popular in 19th century America, although in mine, there are no figures dressed in black, grieving under weeping willows. My mother loved color and I never ever saw her wear plain black or brown. I thought about her throughout the process, about her gift of nonjudgmental encouragement and her willingness to provide time, space and materials for everyone in our household to create works of art. To her, art wasn’t an extra, but an essential part of everyday life.
I often think about how wise and thoughtful she was. In a term paper about art education for her master’s degree in 1965, she wrote, “The student should be encouraged to find his own way, but this does not mean the void of laissez-faire.
Children need a structured exposure to many ways of seeing, doing and thinking. To teach art, the teacher must be an artist. By having confidence in their own abilities, teachers will be able to sensitize children to want to learn and care—not just problem solving. Through intuitive discovery a child will find himself, what he believes and be really free, even in a computer society. By giving students something to do—learn and contemplate what they can understand naturally—will give them the values needed today.”
I started making Walking the Dog by spreading out a bunch of metal parts I’d been collecting onto my work table. Several of the objects, like the wrenches and drawer pull, I’d found a few years earlier at the Liberty Tool Company in Liberty, Maine. I had no plan and tried to approach the project as an open exercise that may or may not lead to something tangible. I started playing around with the shapes and a figure emerged, then a dog made from an old key and a lamp pull chain leash. Later I added a handbag to balance the dog on the other side. Earrings and a brooch became her breasts and tummy. Then the figure needed a place to be, so I made her a hillside out of wool felt. One thing led to the other, with the earth needing a felt atmosphere, which then needed to be contained with ricrac. I finished it off with lots of french knots, chain-stitched curly ques, and added a border made from a long section of antique button loops. Then I mounted the felt piece to some leopard-like spotted upholstery fabric. It ended up being a very satisfying experience, with something to show for it. Thank you, Mum.
This detailed image from Walking the Dog is part of card set in my Etsy Shop.
I recently found these childhood drawings and can see that my subjects and style haven’t changed much in almost 50 years!