Thursday, January 8, 2009

Catching up

Bisa Washington's Arlington Arts Gallery

Above left: Bisa with two of my spirit dolls and her mixed media creations; right photo: dolls on exhibit

above left: Healing dolls by me; right, various dolls on display at Holiday Party, Jersey City

Holiday Doll Party, Jersey City.

It’s a new year and quite a while since my last post. What’s happening in the world and what have I been up to?

Let’s see… many life changes and new energy. Gains and losses. People have entered and exited. I send blessings and wish them well.

Miriam Makeba – Mama Afrika, who dared to lift her voice in the face of apartheid and endured exile in its name; Odetta – the voice of the Civil Rights Movement; Eartha Kitt – who dared to speak the truth to power and was “blacklisted” for it. We mark the contributions of these pioneer women artists, and bless them on their journey. Note to file: create something to commemorate them in 2009.

November 2008: A new president – the economy is crumbling and Barack Obama promises change. Andrew Young noted that, just like with the cities, black people seem to get the big job when nobody else wants it. But I’m so proud just the same, both of Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama (accomplished professional woman in her own right), and those two beautiful little girls who will have the unprecedented experience of being the first Black first daughters. As for me, having been born on the heels of Jim Crow and the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, its hard to imagine what this will mean in the life of my child and her peers, to live in a world where such is possible. Most of all, I feel like my country finally grew up and owned up.

LaShay and I went to the Tina Turner concert Thanksgiving night. – you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced Tina Turner through the eyes of an 8 year old. Ironic that Tina had the same effect on me when I was 8. At 69 she looks and sounds better than ever. More than that, Tina represents the ability of woman to free ourselves and rise from the ashes. I’m hoping to look half that good by the time I’m 69. I still have (a little) time to get there.

Saturday after Thanksgiving: Mixed media artist Bisa Washington invited me to participate in her annual holiday doll exhibit at her Arlington Arts Gallery in Newark. Bisa is a visionary; culturally aware, insightful, ancestor inspired and an all around generous sister. (She is also creating the first urban bread and breakfast in Newark! This is a marvelous idea. Why didn’t anybody ever think of this before?) She surrounds herself with women and men, engaging and creative, that paint, sculpt, stitch, make music play drums dance and bake cakes.. So much to be learned from the company of women artists, like Bisa, Sister Adrienne, Shirley Parker-Benjamin (check out . Also got some good counsel from our sister artist emeritus, Gladys Grauer who stopped by. (Unfortunately, my camera died that day, so I don’t have many pictures of the event, but I will post what I have).

December 2008: Dolly-day party with Mindbodyandsoul Doll Club of Jersey City. Angela put on a great party, which was attended by fellow doll makers from GSDA of Neptune NJ and 3-D Doll Club of Mt. Vernon New York. Check out the show and tell table. Then, Garden State Doll Club had our holiday party where we did a doll exchange from a Judy Ward pattern. I got my wish – the doll I received was from my good friend and one of my favorite local dollmakers, Mary Louisa Klawatter (she also drew my doll!). Mary Lou designs dolls from her Scandanavian tradition. One special detail that I love, which unfortunately doesn’t translate well in photos, is that she hand embroiders the faces. More pictures on Stephanie Novatski’s blog,

Last but not least, we attended 3-D’s holiday party January 3, 2009 in Mt. Vernon. As usual, I got mad lost going there, but I was glad I went. The sisters always have a different take on dolls that I love to see and experience. We did a pin doll exchange which was lots of fun too.
Now that the holidays are over, with no new shows planned, I can just sit back and work on the pieces that interest me. I have been experimenting with polymer clay heads over cloth bodies, and like the results. Although I think I still like paper clay better, polymer clay gives similar results much faster and is less labor intensive. Also, I want to work on some African tribal dolls out of the Maasai, Woodabe, and Ndebele traditions. All of these feature very intricate beading. That work is very slow going, so fortunately there are no time constraints. I also got hooked on pin dolls while I was home over the holidays. They are a good way of making use of scraps that are too small for anything else.

More artistic new years resolutions - do more with mixed media; don't be so literal always, be more abstract, in doll construction; experiment more with staging the dolls and telling a story; try art quilts, quilt journaling, wearables, polymer jewelry, ATCs. Stretch a bit.

Next weekend is Mindbodyandsoul Doll Club. I suggested we do a round robin doll, which is an idea I got from elinor peace bailey’s Mother Plays with Dolls. elinor is a master doll maker who I love, both for her irreverent love and use of colors in dollmaking and wearable art and her philosophical outlook on women, work, and giving ourselves permission to play. As women, we tend to take everything we do so seriously, even our recreation. I refer back to elinor’s book frequently to remind myself that creativity and expression is a right, not a privilege.