Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Zen Garden: Working Through Grief

My mother had been sick since the beginning of the year.  In April, she took a severe turn for the worse, and on May 7, she was diagnosed with cancer on her liver.  On May 31, I was at her bedside as she left this world.  In between those 24 days, I was also dealing with a nasty sinus infection which kept me home (I did not want to transmit the infection to her, in the middle of the month we still thought chemo was a possibility), and the marriage of my oldest daughter on May 25.

When I returned home after the funeral, I spent the next two weeks just cleaning the house.  I didn't want to stop, because I didn't want to let the pain sink in.  But I also knew I needed to make something.  I just wasn't sure what.

Finally I gave myself permission to just play, to return to familiar motions, and I picked up needle and thread.

Buddha's Kiss  36"H x 27"W  hand and machine embroidery, Mom's crochet
I started with the image in the center, and it grew from there.  I had brought Mom's crochet home with me, a bedspread she had not finished, and I knew I wanted to incorporate it into my work at some point.  I just didn't realize it would be so soon.  I trimmed a strip of motifs from the unfinished spread, and put it in a dye bath, and you can see the result at the top of this piece.

Lotus Pink, 16"H x 13"W (framed)  NeoColorII crayon on paper

This is the drawing that I made the machine embroidery from on Buddha's Kiss.  I liked it enough to frame it as its own work.

Since I was already working, I looked at the requirements for an upcoming show (Women of Appalachia).  This year the request was for a body of work (6-10 pieces), with a common theme.  I decided the theme for these works would be "Zen Garden".

Sea of Tranquility, 39 1/2"H x 27"W, hand and machine embroidery, Kreinik thread, Mickey Lawler Skydyes
I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up.  And I really love the way the lotus turned out in this piece.

Jewel of the Lotus, 33"H x 22 1/2"W  applique, Mom's jacket, silk
I also brought some of Mom's clothing home to use for art.  The gold background is from one of her jackets.  It was hard to tear it down, I had to keep reminding myself that she didn't need it any more, and I have a photo of her wearing it.  I know she'd be happy with how pretty it turned out.

Inner Light, 25 1/2"H x 33 1/2"W  Hand dyed silk, Dutch wax batik, beading

After spending the better part of a month working with the subdued palette of the first works, my brain apparently had had enough and was ready for some color.  This started as another embroidery on the blue silk, but the contrast was a little too low for my liking.  I had pulled a pile of fabrics from my stash when I'd decided to make a series of work, and the orange silk was part of that pile.  I was really delighted with how it turned out when I added the reverse applique.  I also knew this piece needed some extra shine, and that's how the beading ended up on the piece.  The deep blue fabric on the border is a piece from my dear friend Diane Eyerman.

Now it is almost fall, and Mom's birthday is coming up.  I can feel the anxiety building already.  She would have been 67 this year.  Some days I just want to hide under the bed, but having this goal and deadline has helped me make it through the summer.  Friends keep telling me the pain will lessen over time, and I know life goes on.  I just want to make sure it would be one that would make Mom proud.


  1. Andrea--the work is beautiful, just like the sentiments you convey here, and of course, just like your mom. Hugs to you!

  2. Andi, simply gorgeous and so very personal. Your mom would be very proud.

  3. Beautiful art work! Sea of Tranquility....my favorite.

  4. Your art is inspiring and your story is touching. May you find peace as you work though your grieving process. Sending heartfelt goodness your way.

  5. Thank you For giving yourself permission. It helps us all self permit to creatively expressive in all times if life. Blessings