The only time I met my grandmother on my dad's side was in a dream. She was a painter, at least once - my sister Sarah has the only surviving painting I know of - a beautiful sheaf of wild roses. My aunt, who was a hack painter, tried to brighten up the lovely faded colors & covered the brushwork on the blossoms - but she couldn't handle a brush skillfully enough to attempt the stems, leaves, & briars (leaves are always harder to do than flowers) - so the exquisite testimony of those is still visible. An accurate reconstruction of those wild roses is one of the little projects huddling under the umbrella of the as-yet-un-titiled opus to be.
But back to the dream; I was in my grandmother's otherworld studio. She had a couple of assistants, young, male, who were working in the background. (Here I should insert that she did not have a studio in this world - she probably painted the wild roses on the east porch.) When I realized what I was dreaming, I asked her a question - ( I learned to do this after many years of work at lucid dreaming - ask them what you want to know. ) - which was; "What is the size of the largest painting that you've done?" She indicated with her hands a rectangle about 12" x 24". (This concern with scale and dimension, determined by outer frame, is something that we have in common. ((have? does one have something in common with the dead?)) Then, as though she was aware of the ephemeral conditions of our meeting, she spoke to me. What she said, voiced in the imperative, I took as gentle council; "Keep the wild honeysuckle growing."
Cryptic, naturally, considering the source, this sentence is at the heart of my new work. It puzzled me when I heard it - a glance at this dinosaur that my nephew Olin made, standing just west of my studio, will show you the vigor of wild honeysuckle on this place. An observer with less affection for the plant might call it rampant bane. Considering the perfume, in the velvet dark of June night, I'd say you can hardly have too much of it. In any event it hardly needs encouragement, but it might need protection.
Then she showed me three vigourous sprouts of honeysuckle growing out of the dark loam held in a cylindrical planter. The plants had so much vitality that their tiny leaves were thicker than normal honeysuckle - almost as thick as those of a desert sedum. My grandmother caught ahold of one the plants and pulled it up out of the loam for me to see. The root was not what I expected. It was more like the haunch of an animal than a tuber - it was covered with coarse short fur like a deer's - and it had a pulse. Once I'd gotten a look at it, she put it back, and I woke up.
Her aesthetic sensibility is visible in this pair of hooked rugs. She must have saved up quite a bit of gray cloth to make the predominant color. The grid work, intersecting black and red lines in one rug, red lines containing black lines in the other, is a bold bit of subtilty. It is tempting to see the pair of patterns as "basic and elaborate" or "simple and complex" or "theme and variation" or "norm and deviation" or "strict and playful" or "symmetry and asymmetry"... even "Europe and Africa"... ambiguity, they say, is the soul of art.
My sister Phyllis suspects that these were made in the 1930s, when rag-rugging was a rage. I don't think Modrian's "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" has anything on this pair of rugs. And technically they've held up better. Paul Zolbrod, in the introduction to his translation and assemblage of the fabulous, sprawling and intricate Navajo creation story wrote this, concerning poetry, but it applies to art in general; "To begin with, no oral tradition should be diminished by referring to it as folk art." The term "folk" is always condescending, even when it idealizes a "golden age' and there is, in my opinion, no accurate or polite usage of it in our language. The word signals a misunderstanding, and it is high time to be rid of it.
That's all the time I have to write this morning ~ company is coming.