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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Grace

Pentimento (Week 19-20)

"put your attention on suffering--which is constant and everywhere--and it is all you will see. joy will come, and laughter, but you will find it brief, possibly a distraction.

put your attention on joy, being connected and feeling whole, and you will find it everywhere. your heart will still break. you will know grief. but you will find it a reasonable cost for the random abundance of miracles, and the soft wild rhythms of love.


return to love as many times as you can."



Making


It's been a busy week in the studio. The baby quilt I've been working on is finished! I quilted that sparklebutt on my machine at home, trimmed it up nice and square, used my machine to stitch the binding onto the front of the quilt... and then, one of my favorite steps in the process,: I hand-stitched the finished edge of the binding to the back of the quilt, wrapping up all those unfinished edges inside. That final step is so satisfying and slow - it always feels, to me, like giving the project a hug, a nice warm goodbye, before sending it to its new home.






 

Finishing this quilt opened up some space to return to a project that has been gathering dust for the last couple months: a quilt for my sister that my Mom and I are making together. In addition to designing my own quilts, I like to have a project going all the time using a pattern from another designer - it's fun and helps me learn new techniques and new ways of thinking about quilt-making. This quilt is based on a pattern by Sew Kind of Wonderful; the pattern is fantastic and I'm getting some good practice stitching curves.


 

And... I have a new quilt commission I'm excited about! A dear friend is working on a household beautification project and hired me to make a quilt for her bedroom. Inspired by a Puerto Rican beach, in this quilt I'm trying out new ideas I've been pondering for awhile.


The first is to construct the quilt as a graphical representation of a scene, but abstracted. The design overall is a beach, however each of the beach elements (the sand, the surf, the sky) will be made up of semi-monochromatic traditional quilt blocks. So I'm hoping that, from far away, you'll be able to see the landscape. But from close up, it will be all sparkling sawtooth stars and pinwheels and churndashes and checkerboards of varying sizes.



The second idea I'm trying out here is inspired by pentimento, the hidden painting beneath the surface of the painting you can see. In this quilt, the imagined hidden layer is passionfruit-colored sunshine (represented by grey squares here), peeking through the quilt design, interrupting its flow. I'm hoping it will look like pieces of the quilt design, sections of the traditional blocks, have been peeled away to reveal the passionfruit yellow from behind. This is an idea I've been playing around with in my head for awhile now and I'm excited to try it out!


This will be a big and complex quilt, lots of blocks of many sizes - so expect to see lots more here as I begin working on it. The next step is to make a list of how many blocks of each size will be in each section... and then to finalize my color palette for each section. Then it will be time to start constructing some of the pieces. I'm excited!



Writing


The concept of collage keeps chasing me around, and I've been doing some writing about the experiences I've had with collage, how collage has been showing up in my life in different forms consistently since I was young. I'll share this in chapters over the next several weeks.


Collage - A Personal History

Chapter 1: Audiovisual, adolescence


Sure, as a kid I covered folders in stickers and whatnot, but the first time I remember making a collage for real I was probably 14 or 15. I don't know if this is the legit first collage I ever made or anything... but it was an early one, and I made it by myself, at home, for no other reason other than I wanted to:


I love this still. I love the way I found big swaths of color in magazines in reds, oranges and yellows to make a frame, how that image of the road lit up my imagination, that butterfly I clearly loved, how I ran the road through the window and then made some sort of a new window scene with the hand and the green twinklins. I love that weird light bulb. And I love "How wide can you open your eyes?" Bless those 90s ad execs.


I love the combination of textures - the brick, the fabric, the curved plastic, the flat color. I love the patchwork feel of it.

During this part of my life - from the age of 14-15 through my early 20s, I made collages pretty often. I don't know where the idea came from - it just occurred to me that it was something I wanted to do, and I always felt like I was pretty good at it. It felt part rational, part-intuitive - like I was thinking it through but I never planned a collage in advance, it kind of emerged through the process. I never had any fear about what I was including or what I was making, no self-consciousness that I can remember - just total confidence, total curiosity. Sometimes I would make them just to please myself, staying up late working alone in my room, but I would make them for others too. I covered cardboard boxes, I decoupaged glass or wood.


I did this enough that I had a semi-permanent collage "kit" assembled... a big shoebox I kept in my closet containing a stash of torn out pages I thought were interesting from magazines, scissors, rulers, and rubber cement (my adhesive of choice). In fact, I am pretty sure I still have a version of this in my studio now - it might be more of a folder than a box, but I still have a spot to put interesting images and torn out pages from things, anything that ignites the glimmer of interest within me, that gives me the feeling that I better save this. I might need this for something.

But my early collaging efforts weren't limited to the visual - so we've got to talk, of course, about mixtapes. I was introduced to the medium by my older and cooler sister (obviously), through the mixtapes made for her by college friends or people who were in love with her that I would "borrow" and listen to relentlessly, studying the flow, the packaging, the possibilities of what you could create within the space of a memorex tape insert - creating an extended, hand-written track list... or if you were me, collaging a cover.


A very early mixtape called, appropriately, "Betsy's Mix" - circa 1996-1997, judging by the tracklist

It wasn't long before I started making my own. Sometimes for myself, but more often for others - I would use photocopiers and old magazines and sharpies for artwork. I'd plan my tracklist before I started recording.... And I had very rudimentary equipment, so always needed to listen to each song as it recorded itself onto the tape (such a novel idea given how quickly we can manipulate musical tracks now.) I often taped tracks from one mixtape to another, since the collection of tapes and CDs I owned was extremely limited at the time.


I experimented with the design of the experience of the tape - how to one up yourself after a kickass opening song, how to shift the tone to incorporate a love song, a quiet song, something acoustic. I paid attention to transitions - how the end of one song affected your experience of the beginning of the next. I brought together different kinds of artists, different forms. I thought about how the interconnectedness of the songs could be a way of communicating something to another person, how this assemblage of this music could become its own beacon, could take on its own grace.


Ha - speaking of, the song "Grace" by Jeff Buckley was a great mixtape fave of mine during this season. Fucking epic, that song.


 

To be continued, in the next chapter: Live Experiences (college). And for the curious or the nostalgic, feel free to listen to "Betsy's Mix - circa 1996-1997" here.


Watching


All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2023): Laura Poitras' (Citizenfour) poignant documentary about Nan Goldin's life, art, and activism pops with Goldin's freedom and audacity and cracks with the pain of familial rejection and grief. Woven throughout the story about her family, identity, community and artwork, particularly the snippets of "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" - is the activism of P.A.I.N., a group committed to holding the Sackler family publicly accountable for their role in pushing Oxycontin prescriptions for their financial gain, particularly through the arts institutions that include Goldin's work in their collections AND have galleries or buildings that bear the Sackler family name. The film is an interesting collision of art and activism and autobiography that feels content to hold all the complexity of its ideas in the light of a reality that is often crushingly painful and inherently unjust. And yet, there are people - like Nan Goldin - who just keep fighting back.




 

Equals (2015): A sexy, artsy dystopian A24 film about Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart experiencing their feelings for the first time and trying to hide it from the anti-emotion authoritarian state they are living in. I honestly can't tell if it's good or bad and I truly don't care because I am super into this.




 

Also on-screen at our place:





Reading


Spring - by Mary Oliver


Somewhere

a black bear

has just risen from sleep

and is staring

down the mountain.

All night

in the brisk and shallow restlessness

of early spring


I think of her,

her four black fists

flicking the gravel,

her tongue

like a red fire

touching the grass,

the cold water.

There is only one question:

how to love this world.

I think of her

rising

like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against

the silence

of the trees.

Whatever else

my life is

with its poems

and its music

and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness

coming

down the mountain,

breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her -

—her white teeth,

her wordlessness,

her perfect love.


Also


This week, as a guest lecturer in a Management class at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, I got to spend an hour talking about how liberatory organizational design works in practice with a group of 30-ish graduate students. In any conversation about self-organizing systems or innovative organizational design, I always start with this image of roots - reminding us that innovative organizational design can be used for any number of purposes.



At Wildflower, embracing decentralization and self-management is a part of our explicit focus on liberation in everything we do. As the Montessori classroom emphasizes independence and autonomy for children and yet provides a highly structured environment to make that approach to learning rigorous and safe for the whole community, Wildflower is focused on building an intentional container for us - the adults doing the work - that supports liberation for ourselves and others. Working in this way depends on us to constantly rethink the norms we've learned from the systems of domination-oriented thinking that infuse our culture. In simple terms, domination culture is the dynamic of positioning one person above and the other below - a system of thought that can so easily become the lens through which you make sense of all your relationships with others. Wildflower's ways of working are the practice we use to disrupt the assumptions of above/below thinking, and to make a new path for collaborating, making decisions, and getting work done in a way that supports freedom, growth, and connectedness.


I got to share a bit about the specifics of our operations, the opportunities and challenges we've found along the way, and examples of some of the new organizational systems we've created over time, as well as the problems of practice Wildflower is still working on. The students' rich questions, curiosity, engagement, and appreciation renewed my hope for the future, and it was so much fun to be in my self-management/org design playground for a bit.


 

In other news, my sister takes a big leap and the huntress cheers us on; the weirder my hair gets the more I like it, and I soaked in a heart-filling weekend laughing, playing games, watching trashy TV and crafting with the best women.




Holy Time - Beckoning and This Wide Road


Slides from Beckoning, last week's experience,--with words from Mary Oliver, David Whyte, and Sheenagh Pugh; video from Sara Bareilles and music from 2CELLOS--are available here.


Slides from This Wide Road, this week's experience,--with words from Ocean Vuong, adrienne maree brown, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Roger Robinson; music from Cautious Clay and Bon Iver--are available here.


Holy Time is a weekly online gathering - Thursdays, 8:45pm CT on zoom (https://zoom.us/j/94849428936).

All are welcome.

Contact me at bgmatheson@gmail.com with questions or for more information.


Soundtrack

 

What you are making and reading and writing and doing? What is inspiring you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.


Love,


Betsy

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mjoymatheson
Apr 01, 2023

these blogs fill me right up. I love them (and you) so much. And the thought of little you with your collage supply box makes my heart burst right open. I love you.

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