A journey of a thousand buttons begins with a single button . . . but it’s still 320 buttons. (Eight terrain squares x 40 buttons per square [20 front; 20 back] = 320 buttons).
I have all the tools. “Cheater” needles (self-threading) and Thread Heaven thread lubricant and “finger cots” and a thimble and locking-pliers for when the fabric is painted or heavily stitched and it’s nearly impossible to pull the needle through. I sew five times through the holes, then make a knot, then wrap the thread five times, then make another knot, then knot again.
Current score: 25 buttons done; 295 to go.
I think of MIchael Hannon’s poem, “Ordinary Messengers”:
Between heaven and earth I write one line.
Sometimes another line follows:
ambitious legions singing their way nowhere,
or ordinary messengers carried deeper into human life
by the music and its woman stepping out of her clothes,
to the heartbeat of what comes next, what goes on for its own sake.
The page after the last page, on which we do not appear.
And that is part of the solace of repetitive labor—I sit still but my memory ranges.
Between panic and peace, I sew one button . . . . Sometimes another button follows.
We must use what we have to invent what we desire. —Adrienne Rich
alchemy: a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination
Prairie Skin, a work in progress, is a life-size, reversible, pieced and quilted construction which is large enough to wrap a body.
Part of my Mapping Nebraska project, this piece is informed by my travels across the state and my memory of its prairies and grasslands.
I remember my first art teacher’s teacher telling me about a nomadic tribe whose cradles (carried on their backs) functioned also as “portable shrouds” because so many infants died. I want this Prairie Skin to also be portable and to have multiple functions: shelter and shroud, commentary and covering, record and map.
The traveler who has lost his way doesn’t want to know where he is. What he wants to know is “where are the others?”
— Alfred North Whitehead
I’m mapping Nebraska: making a stitched, drawn and digitally imaged cartography of the state where I live. Locating myself. And the viewer. Trying to understand the place where I am.
Locator Map. 15′ x 5′. Graphite on Tyvek.
I began by drawing all of Nebraska—95 squares stitched together to form a 15-foot Locator Map. My map records physical features—lakes and rivers creeks—and geographical features —railroads, parks and towns—and all are to scale (1″ = 2.75 miles) and in their correct relative position. It’s as accurate as I can make it.
I created this map of Nebraska for some of the same reasons we’ve long used maps—to see where I am relative to the other places, to get a sense of my surroundings and to try to comprehend a whole I can not see. The Locator Map tells me about borders and boundaries—county lines and standard parallels and the extent of the Nebraska National Forest and how far, in relative terms, Antioch is from Ellsworth. It gives me a geographical overview. It lets me know, if I’m drawing the area around Gaunt Lake, that I’m north of Oskosh and East of Alliance, in Sheridan county.
Detail of Locator Map, Sections 38-34A and 39-42A