On any day of her life, if you asked my mother if she was a creative person, she would emphatically say no. That’s because she would be judging her self in comparison to others in her life that she thought were truly creative—her father a photographer; her husband, an architect; her daughter, a studio artist; her son, a mechanical and computer engineer, and masterful woodworker. Yet, she was a creative person. Just as millions of women of her generation, her lack of self esteem and her place in history kept her from a self-acknowledgement that her studio was her kitchen table, and her materials were fabric, thread, yarn, baking condiments, and even her words. That was just the home front! Her professional life as an accountant revealed yet another side of her creativity—if there ever was an occasion that called for record-keeping, of any kind, she could invent it. (We would often tease her that she needed a record book to record the kind and location of all her other record books!) Then, there’s that other talent she possessed: a near obsessive attention to detail. That talent (or personality trait?) would later exasperate her, as well as the rest of us, as she struggled to make sense of herself and her surroundings in old age.
If any of these traits have been transferred to me via genetic inheritance, they have added immeasurably to my success as a person, and as an artist. Her attention to detail, and her consistent efforts to create via her kitchen table and sewing machine were definite models of creativity for me. Her hand work demonstrated to me the joy that could be found when working, persistently and diligently with one’s hands—that projects often take multiple attempts, trial and error, before a finished product emerges. Her attention to detail as transferred to me, has been a gift I’ve learned to use, and also to forego if spontaneity denies it.
Here, on the first anniversary of her death, I’d like to share just a small number of my mother’s many creative products.
Though I’m sure she had been taught embroidery and the basics of hand sewing when she was a child, Mother’s first formal course was taken at Panhandle Agricultural and Mechanical College in Oklahoma. As an assignment for this course she created an elaborate notebook which detailed her projects and samples of her hand-stitching and machine-stitching techniques. The samples above, both the swatch and the blouse, were decorated by hand. The pages that follow illustrate her lessons:
Needless to say, in this photo she was just making the photo for the assignment notebook, because my mother would NEVER have worn anklets and loafers with a “little black dress” and pearls!
And, of course, there are accountings of materials used, costs, and assessments of each project’s process.
I find the pages from her tailoring notebook to be a fascinating glimpse into the development and refinement of her incredible skills.
As my brother and I came into being and began our march toward maturity, Mother made many of our clothes. Needless to say, as the examples below suggest, she spent hours and hours perfecting these outfits.
This little dress was red and white dotted swiss. The embroidered cherries were a reference to Mother’s maiden name, “Cherry.”
Oh, yes, she made my brother’s clothes, too! Often, his bowties matched my dress prints. Now about these Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann cakes… we’ll save that discussion for part 2…