A Visit To MASS MoCA, Looking At Art: All You Need Is Curiosity and An Open Mind and Heart

Marc Swanson’s Pieta at MASS MoCA

Jon sat on the bench in the Marc Swanson installation  A Memorial to Ice At The Dead Deer Discoat MASS MoCA.  I walked around looking closely at each sculpture.  They pulled at me.  Not all equally,  but all together they created a power and emotion that made me want to look at them.  Made me want to be near them.

Jon and I were each experiencing the installation in our own way.

As we left, Jon said he liked to watch me look at art because he could see how much I enjoyed it.  Then he said he didn’t understand or experience it the same way I did.  That sometimes he didn’t know what to make of what he was seeing. Jon said he used to feel that art was for snobs, like it was made for only certain people.

I know what Jon means. I’ve been visiting museums and galleries for a long time. The way I enjoy museums now is very different than when I first started going to them.

I was in High school the first time I went to The Guggenheim Museum in NYC.  I was thrilled just to see the paintings and sculptures that I’d so often seen reproduced in books.

When I was in my twenties in art school I learned that I could walk into any gallery in Soho (that’s when galleries were in New York City then) and spend as much time as I wanted looking at the art without anyone expecting me to buy it.

It was during that time that I felt like I had to know every artist and be able to talk intelligently about their work.  That took away the wonder for me.

A few years after I got out of art school, I started to relax and enjoy art in a way I hadn’t before.

Now when I go to a museum, I walk slowly through the galleries.   I look at what is in front of me and if there is something there that makes me want to look at it longer whether it’s a color, texture, image, sound or feeling.  Then I spend as much time with it as I want.  Sometimes I’ll look at the title or read what the artist or curator has written about it.

If a piece of art doesn’t have something about it that grabs me, I’ll walk by it, moving on to the next piece.

When I saw Marc Swanson’s Pieta,  I was struck by the drama of it.  It’s steeped in art history from the imagery of Mary holding the dead Christ, to the plaster-soaked cheesecloth.

But it was another sculpture in the installation that touched me more personally.   It was a kind of shelf made of 2x4s crudely screwed together and painted white.   Pieces of cut glass hung from the shelves.  On the shelves were an egret and a snake.  The snake was made of the same material as the deer in the pieta.  I’m not sure what the egret was made from.

This piece didn’t reference anything art historical that I’m aware of.  It was rough and oddly beautiful. I have no idea intellectually what it was about, although it fit in with the rest of the installation as a part of the story of things that are or have vanished.

It felt strangely personal and sentimental but not in a sappy way. Looking at it brought up a particular and meaningful time in my life. Like a memory from a dream.  One that I am not able to articulate.

I didn’t take a picture of it because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to capture what I was feeling in a photo.

This is why I love to go to museums and look at art.

Because it takes me to places I can’t get to in any other way. It makes me think and feel things I wouldn’t otherwise.  And it’s a connection to another human being that I will never know except through their art.

I bring my years of making art and my knowledge of art history to museums and galleries.   But neither of them is necessary to look at, enjoy and get something meaningful from art.

Really all a person has to bring to a museum or gallery is curiosity, an open mind, and an open heart.

It’s the same thing I bring into the woods when I go for a walk. That sense of wonder and acceptance that what I’m seeing was meant to be as it is.

Still from Armando Guadalupe Cortes video’s  El Descanso En aAl Gloria

I was taken with this video by Armando Guadalupe Cortes.  Click here to see it.

I had my own interpretation of it that made sense to me. In it, I saw the destruction of a culture.   But when I read about it, I found the video was inspired by a story the artist’s mother passed down to him about endurance and the ritual of the mundane.

Learning that only gave the video more meaning for me.

My Heron Is Sold, But I’ll Be Making Prints and Postcards Of Her

My unfinished Heron

I have gotten so many people asking about buying my Heron fabric painting. I appreciate them all and the stories that go along with them.  I can see how much herons touch people’s lives, as they have touched mine.

My Heron is sold.

I  want you to know how I go about selling my work.   I don’t ask people to commit to a piece of art that I’m working on until it’s finished.  The first person who asked about it gets first choice.  If there is more than one person who is interested, as with my Heron, I keep a list according to the order in which people contact me.

So if the first person doesn’t want it for some reason, I move down the list.

Since my Heron is so popular, when It’s finished I will be making prints which I will sign and postcards of her.

This way my Heron, in a different form, will be available to anyone who wants her.

Bud Say’s “More Dog Potholders” Where’s The Boston Terrier?

My Dog Potholders, for sale here.

I know Bud is more interested in the squirrel who lives in the tree than my Dog Potholders hanging from itThat’s probably because there are no Boston Terriers in the batch.

But there are other kinds of Terriers.  There are some Cairn Terriers,  A Wire-Haired Fox Terrier (Thanks to Holly for letting me know the correct name for this breed), and a few Jack Russell Terriers.

One of my Cairn Terrier Potholders

As you can see from the photo, Fate wasn’t interested either.  Again, I don’t have any Border Collie Potholders.  Not sure how it happened that I have a piece of fabric and none of the three dogs I live with are featured on it.

But it is a nice mix of dogs in these Potholders.  Even if they are specific to certain breeds.

I suppose that makes people want to only buy the breed of dog they’ve had or have.  But I tried to design these potholders to stand on their own.  After all, it was that collage fabric that inspired them.

Maybe you can see the individual Potholders and the dogs better in the photo below, where Bud is yawing with boredom and Fate is hoping the sheep will appear on the other side of the fence in the pasture.  (They each got a treat for helping me out with these pictures)

If not, you can see them all in my Etsy Shop.  Just click here.

As usual, my Dog Potholders are $20 each + $5 shipping for one or more.

A friend of mine who is a baker and is having a hard time with the increase in the cost of things like flour and eggs, helped me to appreciate that the supplies I buy to make my potholders are minimal (cotton and insulated batting and thread) since most of my fabrics come from all of you (thank you).

This is one of the perks of using repurposed fabric, besides keeping it out of the landfill. (Another one is that having a stash of fabric that I didn’t choose forces me to be creative and do things in ways I might not otherwise).

Now Bud is curled up on the couch next to me and Fate is sleeping in the dog bed close by.  They both seem to have forgotten all about my potholders.  Although Bud’s ear is twitching which makes me think he’s dreaming.

Who knows, maybe he’s dreaming about all those dogs on the tree where his squirrel lives.

First Fall Potholder

I also have a few Scrap Bin Potholders that are sans dogs in my my Etsy Shop.  

Back Stitching My Heron

After finishing up my Dog Potholders, I stitched around the body of my heron with blue embroidery floss using a back stitch.  I like how the blue line appears different depending on the fabric it’s next to.

Next, I’ll work on that line where the old quilt backing and the blue sky/water fabric come together. (where the red basting stitch is in the photo below) I’m still not sure how I’ll sew that down.  I don’t have any idea yet, but I know it will come to me.

My Heron Gets Feet

I sewed my Heron’s feet today.  (Photo by Jon Katz)

It took me a couple of tries to get the first one right, but then I was ready for the second.  I knew just what to do.

I wound the embroidery floss around the tips of the toes to make the claws.  They looked just as I imaged they would.  That doesn’t always happen.  And sometimes it happens, but doesn’t look as good in the physical world as it did in my mind.

This time it was as I’d hoped it would be.

After the feet were done, I looked up some embroidery stitches and decided to do a backstitch with embroidery floss around the whole Heron.  I started on the bottom with the blue. I didn’t get too far, but I do like the way it looks.

I felt a transition was needed between the birds body and the background.

The small stitched outline was just what just right.  I’ll work on it more tomorrow.

How my Heron looked when I left my studio this evening.

Leaving Space For The Unknown

I found this drawing I did during the shutdown.  I was sitting outside the CO-OP counting how many people went into the store. I only let five people in at a time.

I tore it out of my sketch pad because something about it caught my eye. It feels mystical to me like it’s telling a story I only know a small part of.

I also like that it has an unfinished and spontaneous feeling to it.

Or maybe unfinished isn’t the right word.  It’s more like it has space for something else to happen.

I thought I might use the drawing in some way.  Or maybe I’ll use it for inspiration and a reminder to be more spontaneous and leave space for the unknown.

Making My Heron’s Legs

The two legs with the different colored embroidery floss.

I saw the Heron legs so clearly in my head.  I knew just what they’d look like and how I’d sew them.

Although I pretended to look at other fabrics, I knew I would use this orange piece that came off the end of some Sari material that I bought on my trip to India (so long ago now).  And I distinctly saw the thread I’d stitch it with as being darker than the fabric.

So that’s what I did this morning.

I started working on the first leg of the Heron using a deep purple embroidery floss.  I kept taking a step back to look at it as I worked on it, just to make sure it looked right.  The further along I got the more I was troubled by it.

It looked like I had pictured it in my head, but it didn’t look right on the actual piece.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on it.  It was, after all, what I had pictured. So I left it and sewed the other leg down using a soft orange embroidery floss.  This way I could compare them.

Once I saw them together I had no more doubts.


The orange floss created the texture I wanted.  Suddenly the dark purple lines just looked decorative and out of place.


I tied knots for the knees (which makes me very happy for some reason, maybe because it’s a simple solution that really works).

To make the feet I’ll cut the fabric that’s hanging into three or four pieces (one toe may be hidden behind the sphere) and sew them down the same way I did the legs.

Heron Gets A Face And Body

I had a good day in my studio working on my Heron fabric painting.  Once I started working on the eye and beak, I was into it.  I stitched the eye, beak and top of the heron’s head using my free motion sewing machine.


Then I started adding the fabric.  The first pieces I sewed to incorporate with the stitching.

Then I added the rest of the fabric using matte medium. Those scrap pieces that Karen sent me were just the right shape and size.  I only had do so a small amount of trimming.

I had the fabric laid out on my work table and just chose the colors that looked right as I went along.  I knew I wanted darker blue on the bottom and more of the greens for the wing.

I love working with the matte medium.  In the past I would have hand-stitched the fabric on to the backing.  I was always trying to hide the stitches.  I didn’t like the lines they made on the fabric. I wanted the pieces of fabric to be more integrated with each other.

I started using the matte medium when I made some collages inspired by my friend Emily during the pandemic lockdown.

Tomorrow I’ll start working on the legs and feet. I already know which fabric I want to use and that   I’ll be hand sewing the legs.

Full Moon Fiber Art