There is this idea of high art and low art. High Art is art seen in Museums like be a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. Low Art would be graffiti art, which may or may not have it’s status changed if hung in a museum. There is functional art made legitimate by the Bauhaus movement. And there’s Fiber Art, which is any of the fiber arts as long as it’s not functional. Then there is craft, which I’m not sure, but I imagine has it’s own highs an lows.
I don’t know where my work fits into any of this, if at all. But in the work I’ve done in the past five years I’ve elevated the potholder to my own particular art form. It makes sense when I look back at the trajectory of my work since I started making art. My work has always been very personal and even before I had words for it, I’ve been drawn to the idea of women’s work. That is, the traditional work of women, which includes the mundane chores of homemaking and arts such as weaving, sewing, knitting, embroidery and quilting among others. My interest always lay in sacredness of the creativity and the meditative quality of repetition that these tasks demand.
So when I started making potholders, it seemed to fit right into the line of work I had been doing since the beginning. And like the women who were making quilts and canning vegetables out of necessity, my potholders came from my desire to support myself with my work. But I had no idea at that time that they would evolve into one of my main forms of self expression. Which, I realized this past week, is just what they have become.
I became aware of it when I was thinking of the potholder I made of Flo waiting for Minnie to come home. In trying to deal with all that was happening and all that I was feeling, I didn’t think to write about it or make a sketch of it on paper, or a wall hanging, or even talk about it. What I instinctively did was see in my mind the visual of the back of a cat with the sad leaves falling and the words “waiting for Minnie to come home” in red. And I saw it all stitched out on a potholder. That’s when I knew how important the potholder form had become to me. And that’s when I knew that I had elevated this lowly, but necessary kitchen tool to art.
I think in potholders. They express my deepest feelings as a woman with my Everyday Goddesses. I use them to speak the mantras that have helped me change my life and the affirmations that keep me on track. They tell the stories of my world, from the interiors of the spaces I inhabit, to my life on the farm. And still, sometimes without words, but just with different types and colors of fabric, they reflect my moods and speak of love as with my His and Her and His and His and my Her and Her potholders. And doing this, being honest and authentic in a way that people can understand is what makes the potholders work. It’s what allows me to touch something in someone I’ve never met. And really, the form of the potholder is perfect for this. The most unpretentious of art forms. Something that is so familiar, even taken for granted (until we burn out hand on a hot pot or pan). Something we can see everyday, something we pick up and actually hold in our hand. An intimate art form that works on more levels than one. My messages to the world. Probably not something that will ever hang in a museum, but something that can be found in our own home, when we really need it.