Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dazzling Seminole Patchwork

The colorful and dynamic ceremonial attire of the native peoples of the Florida Everglades is instantly recognizable. The patterns are evolving into more and more complex work even while referencing antique forms based on the natural environment.

Patchwork designed skirts, “ohoone”, are the traditional attire for Seminole and Miccosukee women, to be worn for the New Year ceremony known as the Green Corn Dance. Before the arrival of Europeans, Woodlands Indians from the Northeast to the Southeast participated in this ritual.

The Green Corn Dance is held to mark the height of the new growing season. Taking place during the new moon phase of the “Everything Growing Moon”, which usually falls around the end of June or first of July. It is a time of purification and cleansing, as well as a celebration of a year of new life. The ceremony itself extends over several days and involves dancing, singing, and a ritual ballgame.

Besides the sacred nature of this ceremony of renewal, it is a social time for the local Native community to see and be seen in dazzling and colorful patchwork clothes. The women have been making skirts and jackets for themselves and their families all year long. Until fairly recently a Seminole or Miccosukee adult woman may require three or more long skirts to be properly attired during the duration of the event. This was very costly in terms of material and time required to produce such elaborate work.

Many young people today favor jeans and tee-shirts with a small amount of patchwork on a hat or jacket, although many are making simple patchwork articles to sell to tourists.

As each year’s dance ritually requires new clothing, ones from previous years serve no ceremonial purpose. More care is taken in design and execution in clothing produced for family than patchwork made for the tourists passing through the reservations.

These skirts were collected after they had been worn for the Green Corn Dances of the 1970s and 1980s. Names of the makers were recorded when that information was available but the Miccosukee are very private and sometimes reluctant to divulge that information.

The beauty and aesthetic appeal of the dazzling patterns prove them to be a collectible, traditional Native American art form. The creation of complex patchwork patterns with mosaic- like fragments of cloth is labor-intensive work that is admired and seen as expression of identity within the Miccosukee and Seminole communities. It is also highly appreciated by other Native American peoples and textile lovers around the world.

To see examples and learn more please visit my web site
Go to Textile Arts/ Americas

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September in Santa Fe

Santa Fe is special in any season but September brings forth visual delights and olfactory pleasures that note the arrival of autumn.

I was lucky enough to find myself in the high desert under the full moon at the recent equinox. Rain had at last come to the parched earth and every living thing seemed to rejoice. The sagebrush seemed luminous against the saturated lavender-grey earth and myriad indescribable shades of sea greens glowed as the heavy clouds passed over.

Huge clumps of golden-flowered chamisa were everywhere, here and there joined by purple asters. Aspen leaves had turned to yellow and the cottonwoods were following their lead. Roasting chili peppers and pinon smoke wafted through the air,the traditional incense in this ancient land.

No wonder so many artists and writers have found inspiration here.

The Museum of International Folk Art sits high up Camino Lejo on Museum Hill with three other fine museums. MOIFA houses the world’s largest collection of traditional folk art from around the globe and is a feast of color, texture, and form. They also have one of the finest collections of traditional costume from around the world in their collections.

Curator Bobbie Sumberg has put up a carefully selected exhibition called “Material World” which features stunning examples from the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Near East many from the 19th C. She has written a richly illustrated catalog of the same name to accompany it which is available in the museum bookstore.

For a sampler of the treasures to be found there visit

Filled with Southwest soul food: beef and chile tamales from Santa Domingo Pueblo,
perfectly seasoned pinto beans, butterfly shaped bread hot from earthen ovens and lemon yellow melons, I gathered up the inventory soon to be online and headed back to New England against a watermelon pink sunrise.

Arriving home I was startled to see how quickly peak foliage season is arriving in the hills. Soon the local autumn pleasures of fiery maple trees, apple cider and mountains of pumpkins will fill my senses and New Mexico will be a world away.
Until then, I will savor both.
Wishing you all the pleasures of this special season…

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Make Time for "Picasso Looks at Degas"

“Picasso Looks at Degas” is a visual picnic for a summer’s day!

This delightful exhibition at The Clark in Williamstown, MA displays many small works that are gems, such as Picasso’s powerful self-portrait as a young man in charcoal and the exquisite chalk portrait of his father. Degas is represented by dark and dreamy monotypes and charcoal sketches of bathers formed of elegant line and form. Large paintings by both artists of women at work ironing, washing their hair, or plying their trade on stage and in brothels are placed in close proximity.

Through the catalogue and signage we learn that most were Picasso’s interpretation of earlier works by Degas. It is humorous at times and awe-inspiring at others as we witness the risks and innovation both artists pursued to capture their subject. Large scale preliminary drawings by Degas in slashing gestured lines and animated ink washes held me transfixed for some time. They look vital, alive and totally contemporary where Picasso’s now “classic modern-isms” seem dated to the viewer today.

As introduction to the theme of this exhibition the curator states:
“Pablo Picasso is said to have remarked that "good artists copy; great artists steal." Throughout his long and prolific career, Picasso often made works of art in response to his predecessors, "quoting" famous compositions by Rembrandt, Delacroix, Manet, and others in his own paintings. In his youth, contemporaries also noted the influence of Edgar Degas in Picasso's paintings of cabarets and cafés, portraits, women bathing, and ballet dancers—subjects that had come to define the older French artist's work.”

“When he moved to Paris in 1904, Picasso lived in the same neighborhood as Degas, though they apparently never met. Despite striking differences in character, they shared many preoccupations. Both were artistic revolutionaries, yet much of their work was based on the human figure and informed by their knowledge of the past. They were both superb draftsmen who also experimented radically with sculpture, printmaking, and photography. Picasso's interest in Degas even inspired a series of etchings, made late in his career, in which Picasso depicted Degas himself, a final act of homage to the older man.”

If you find yourself in the Berkshires this summer put “Picasso Looks at Degas” on your must-do list. If you are too far away between now and September 12th, visit it online at for a taste.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eaarth, A Must Read this Summer

Last week a powerful combination of unseasonably high temperatures and artic air from Canada collided over our area and produced an explosive storm. Heat lightning illuminated the skies as 50-60 mph gusts swirled the trees in a circular motion,horizontal rain lashed everything. Huge trees were uprooted, power was lost for days, for those of us in the hills so was phone service and water, as most wells have electric pumps.

Having grown up in the hurricane zone in the South and losing the family home to Hugo I thought I had escaped the tropics here in the cool northern woods. After the recent microburst and the blustery days all Spring it obviously isn’t so.

As most scientific communities and environmentalists recognize things have dramatically changed and we are in essence living on a new planet. Most of us are still thinking the "global warming thing" is decades away. We flip the channel when the latest volcanic eruption, tornado, typhoon, earthquake, flooding etc. is shown in yet another part of the world. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico further depresses us… and it is depressing.

Bill McKibben, a renowned environmentalist, writer, activist rang the warning bell about global warming in 1989 in his book, The End of Nature. In his newest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet he clues us in that we “aren’t in Kansas anymore”.In a sober but not hopeless tone he urges us to look at the data from the last three years and face the facts, our climate isgoing to be totally unpredictable for the long haul.

This is the most important book for all of us to read this summer. After you swallow the bitter medicine of the current state of affairs and finally understand how interconnected it all is, you wonder what you can do.Well actually there are lots of things that are being done on local levels worldwide. 10/10/10 is a major day of action to wake up the world to new ways of living that can sustain us locally as we attempt the goal of scaling back CO2 emmissions to 350 parts per million.We are heading up past 375 now quite rapidly.

To empower us in living the new reality Bill has started an international movement called 350. You can read articles, keep abreast of the latest ideas of sustainability and make a difference by going to the website Getting back to basics, becoming more self-reliant is something urbanite and country dweller can do when creatively thought through and implemented. Let’s all take off the blinders and get to work!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Heaven Cloaked with Earth

Up early, the sun just clearing the tips of the stately hemlocks in the east,
I venture out into the crisp air, now redolent with the delicious smell of damp earth and tender grass.

As I fill the feeder for the stout-hearted little birds that are my winter companions,I see the first male goldfinches, magically transformed from their drab olive and brown into bright canary yellow plumage. They dart about the grey branches quite conspicuous in their new attire.

And then I hear it… the most melodious sound in the world to my ears, the first song of the wood thrush. It is not complete, the cascading trill that transports me to heaven has not been added. It is early yet and practice will perfect it.
How sweet is this season called Spring! For this moment in time, everything is perfect and I am stopped dead in my tracks savoring it.

I am currently reading an insightful little book called The Exquisite Risk, Daring to Live an Authentic Life. Don’t you love when somehow you find yourself in synchronistic harmony and the perfect comment, thought, or reading magically appears to confirm what you are already experiencing?!

The author of this book is poet Mark Nepo and the chapter I opened to this morning after coming in was called “Heaven on Earth”. He starts it with this quote from a letter written to a friend by Fra Giovanni Giocondo in the 16th C.

“Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then, to claim it.”

Mark Nepo adds “While happiness might be the momentary alignment of what we want with what happens, joy is the fleeting, though slower, sense of feeling our connection to everything with nothing in the way. While happiness is the bud opening on the branch, joy is feeling the entire tree… feeling the root lengthen as the bud opens. And so joy is feeling Heaven on Earth. And April is not the cruelest month but the most promising.”

Feeling our connection to everything, with “nothing in the way”, is a goal worth pursuing…
Wishing you moments of glimpsing your own heaven “cloaked in earth” today…

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Early Spring Gladdens All

Here in the wooded hills of New England, signs of Spring are arriving daily.
Sunny skies have condensed the snow pack and metal sap buckets festoon the gnarled old maple trees.
New fangled plastic tubing in aqua blue and electric purple race through the gray and white woods like a Christo installation and deliver gallons of freely flowing sap into aluminum tubs. Sugar houses have had vats continuously boiling for sometime now, producing glorious amber colored syrup, the nectar of the Yankee gods…
Our dirt road is as thick and sticky as brownie batter and if you aren’t mindful you can find yourself swerving into a quagmire or losing a boot, as it is literally sucked off your foot on your way to the mailbox. Mud season is indeed upon us.
A huge V formation of jubilantly honking geese passed overhead this morning winging their way North. This is the sign I await at every winter’s end.
Yesterday in the valley it was a picture-perfect first day of Spring. Blue skies, bright sun and 71 degrees had winter weary locals stumbling outside in shorts and sunglasses in droves. The sidewalks of Northampton were packed with jubilant souls sipping coffee, listening to street-corner musicians and collectively
celebrating the return of the sun. What an amazing joie de vivre permeated the atmosphere.
Mother Nature could still throw us a curveball, as many snowstorms have manifested in late March but we all hope she retreats as a lamb. The roaring lion and sleet and wind escorted her in a most dramatic entrance.
Another change of season is at our door and the geese call us out of our dormant state to once again embrace the adventure of living…
A winter weary chorus of all living creatures answers a resounding yes…
Can you hear us?
Happy Spring to you wherever you may be!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Awakening in Narnia

It is day four of the first major blizzard to impact our area in this new decade.
Living in the hills of New England is a bit like bordering the Land of OZ.
Quite often throughout the year you awaken in your familiar bed only to arise
and realize that you have arrived “somewhere else” overnight.
This is heightened to almost surreal proportions when your home is surrounded by woodlands along a centuries old dirt road.
The dense and sticky snow manages to transform every delicate branch into feathery plumes seemingly strewn overnight by a fairy-tale snow goose.
When I opened the door this morning to greet the gathering goldfinches swarming the empty feeder, I found myself in Narnia…
The subtle but dramatic fluctuations in solar light through the opaque cloud cover are hard to describe. It creates a dramatic stage set of a white on white world.
All is still and then huge dollops of artfully stacked snow surrender to gravity and silently plop to the ground. A fiery red squirrel shoots like a flame through the lacy branches leaving curtains of snowflakes in his wake. A stately pileated woodpecker calls out from the staghorn sumac where he delicately nibbles the snow-capped velvet flowers.
My tired arms ache at the thought of clearing the path to the door again… but for now I allow myself to merge with the silence, the sublime stillness, the living poetry of Nature.
Be warm and well wherever you may be…

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Celtic Tradition Alive in New England

Here in the hills of New England it has been brilliantly cold.

Brilliant in the clarity of starlight in the ink black sky and in the reflection of
the largest full moon of the year reflecting off the snow.

We have shivered at seeing temperatures in the single digits and knowing the howling wind actually has us in the negative degrees. Into this brutal weather new lambs are being born in farms throughout our community. Water is gurgling under the ice covered brooks and the days are indeed getting longer.

During ancient times throughout the Celtic World (Ireland, Brittany, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, Moravia) the depth of winter ended not with melting snow, but with melting hearts. The community celebrated the warmth and fire of Brighid – force for life, growth and regeneration - as a way of preparing the way for warmer times, and to step out of the darkest time of the year.

This time is known as "Imbolc" (ihm-olhk, meaning "ewe's milk"), traditionally falls at the full moon near when the lambs are born. It will be celebrated in Vermont on the evening of January 30 – sundown January 31(Feb 1-2 sundown to sundown in other parts of the world).

Michael Billingsley of the Irish Spiritual Heritage Association, is a prominent researcher in ancient traditions of the Celts and leads Béltaine trips to Ireland every spring. He has been offering opportunities to participate in this seasonal ritual in the Brattleboro area for seven years. In his poetic words he elaborates on the symbolism of ewe’s milk and what it offers in this dark and frozen time.

“There is a different, more subtle kind of "ewe's milk" loose in the
world - warm and trickling - sliding between the rocks and grains of soil - enlivening the seeds that have lain dormant, and quickening the sap that has been stuck frozen near the roots of trees like maple and birch. This warm trickle that informs and connects and enlivens and holds... this small ever-present Fire of Life is the vivid flame of Brighid sparkling and brightening and inspiring the coming year of creativity, imagination, growth and evolution." We are invited to keep the warmth of Brighid's flame in our hearts to share with the world.

"She is the Life that enlivens all. She is that life that seeps up through springs bubbling from the earth, and in the gurgles of small eddies under the ice. She is that warmth within our own hearts and cells, who makes the world in us come alive... and frees us from anything stuck and cold and frozen. We are connected through this Brighid-ness and supported by her.”

For more information on the Irish Spiritual Hertitage Association visit

The old ritual involves a conscious letting go of emotional rigidness that has developed during the dark and cold that is restricting us from a sense of well being. It suggests letting go of old habits, ideas, fears to make way for new growth. Sounds very much like our more familiar New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t it, but at a deeper level.

May we all find freedom from personal fears and leap with joy like the frolicking lambs despite the darkness that still gloams…