Artist, Grandmother, Inspiration
My grandmother opened the door to her studio and my eyes widened. The room was filled with bolts of fabric, ribbons, and boxes of buttons, spools of thread, a sewing machine, and countless tools. There were large boards with woven art pieces, works in progress, waiting for her return. It was a kaleidoscope of colors and textures to my ten-year old eyes, like walking into an enchanted room. She showed me what she was working on, a textile piece made from strips of fabric that she had patterned with stitching and then woven together. We spent the day together in her studio. She taught me how to dye and hand paint silk, we both had a new scarf by the end of the afternoon. I was so happy to be there with her, and to be learning from her. I was in awe of her abilities and knowledge, and she was a natural teacher. She was excited about her art, she was kind and patient and she encouraged my experimentation, already trusting in my abilities.
My paternal grandmother’s name is Pat Wood. She has worked with her hands to create art for many years. She used fabric to create weavings and quilts, and her color sense was always pitch perfect. She took quilting to a level that I have rarely seen. She would create scenes with a mosaic of fabric pieces, perfectly sewn together, every stitch even. Fields of flowers to abstract patterns, you name it, she could do it. I have memories of her handwork in my life from my earliest childhood. Here is just a brief list of pieces that she made for me, or gave to me:
- Baby clothes-I was her first grandchild, and she showered me with handmade outfits. Not your usual clothes, stylish ensembles complete with matching hats.
- A large stuffed Noah’s Ark boat with pairs of cloth stuffed animals from zebras to cheetahs.
- A quilt made of black and white Vogue illustrations from the 1920s with woven maroon cord trim.
- A quilt that was made by my great grandmother and given to my grandmother when she left home for college. It is entirely hand-stitched. When I look at it I feel a connection to the line of women in my family. The stitches make me wonder about their lives, and what they felt and talked about while quilting together. It is obvious the great skill their hands had, and the care that they put into these pieces.
- A quilt made by my grandmother for me on my 16th birthday. It features 12 girls in kimonos, and each kimono is made with different fabrics. She stitched in a note to me on the back along with the date.
- A quilted wall hanging, many bits of patterned fabric form a flower garden in deep perspective with a sky above.
- A woven kimono piece in pastel blues and purples. She sewed a pattern on each strip of fabric, then added bits of fabric in other colors to it, then she wove the strips together. This piece hangs by my art table, I like having my grandma’s work right there with me while I paint.
Pat has been prolific in her work, and she has been successful, too. She got large commissions, exhibited, and received accolades. However, it never was about the money or being famous for my grandmother. It was her love of her craft, her love of creating things, her energy for life. She taught others, too. She led art and craft days at her retirement home for many years. She has stayed in the creative mind-set and shared her passion with others. My grandmother is 98 years old now, and she is still making quilts and using her hands to create beauty. I cannot praise her enough. She is a loving human being who brings joy into life. She is an inspiration to me, both in art and in life. We have always shared this interest in art, it has been a thread woven through our time together.
One last story:
The extended Wood family is split between southern and northern California. We all met up for a family reunion in Pacific Grove, California some years ago. The Centrella Inn, an historic property built in 1889, is where we all stayed. In the lobby there was a quilt in progress. Guests were invited to do some stitching on the quilt. My grandmother was so delighted when she saw this! During our visit we made sure to get together around this quilt. I sat next to my grandmother, mother, and aunt and we all did some stitching. It was an opportunity for just a few minutes to step back in time, to sit with the women of my family and do some handwork together.
Thank you grandma, for all that you have given me.