To you, these merely a lovely pale yellow, a gentle powder blue, and little palm trees. And really, that’s enough. It’s enough for them to work in this piece I’m putting together. It’s exactly what a little whimsy like this needs.
To me though, these fabrics have enormous sentiment. They are: my childhood security blanket (yellow), my brother’s childhood security blanket (blue), and the last little bits of one of the shirts Mom wore so much during that time in my life (the trees). My brother, my mother and me. All in this painting.
If you watch the Reading Rainbow episode with “The Patchwork Quilt” by Valerie Flournoy, you learn about how a REAL quilt is made, with fabric from people’s lives. What always stuck with me was the ending, when a piece of the old quilt was put into the new quilt. Somehow this activates the new quilt to me — it gives it that extra spark of needed life. It gives the new quilt a soul of its own.
It reminds me of other things made up of pieces of existing things. Making new plants from a cutting, or the seeds from last year’s plants. Sourdough bread starters that are fed and kept alive rather than made from all over again. Fire lit from a burning stick pulled from someone else’s fire. Lighting a whole room by touching one candle to another’s flame. Somehow there’s comfort in that reliance on what we already have. We took care of it so well that it is still around to give to others. And the more we give it away, the more of it there is.
If I keep using these dear pieces of fabric in paintings, they aren’t going to be more, they will be less and less until they are gone. But on the other hand if I put them on canvas then they are out in the world instead of stuffed into the milk crate on the shelf, so in that way they continue living. Especially if I tell you this story. Then those colors up there are more than just a lovely pale yellow, a gentle powder blue, and little palm trees. They have weight and depth and soul all their own.
As time goes on I get more meaningful fabric (sleeves cut from a button up, those unmendable pajama pants, fabric we used to make the lunch bag), and use it alongside the older fabric. An overlap develops. The line between the fabric from before and the fabric from now blurs until everything I have to work with has value and meaning in an vibrant, pulsing way. And I pour that onto canvas and make pictures of things I love with things I love. And the feeling grows and grows and grows.