Buck up already

Buck up already

I feel like I've been kicked in the abdomen by a mule. My new piece didn't get accepted for the Seattle RE Store's recycled art show. Yes, the piece that took me, believe it or not, over 100 woman-hours to complete. The piece that I created specifically for entry in this show.

However, I'm really, really glad I made this, even though it didn't get accepted. The PBS movie The Cool School was partly what inspired me. This group of Los Angeles artists from the late 1950s/early 1960s featured bohemian Venice Beach artists who couldn't afford art supplies. So they made art out of junk, and it was cool.

Right after seeing that, I took a trip to the Smithsonian, where I saw a lot more art made out of junk. That made me realize how absurd it was for me to say I couldn't do art right now because I didn't have the money for art supplies. That was just a story I was telling myself, and it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

That Smithsonian trip was also the genesis for this piece. The natural history museum houses a large selection of interesting skeletons and bones, such as the pelvis of a 100-year-old man. I was shocked to see that about half of the pelvis' bone tissue was gone, and the remaining part looked very spongy and insubstantial. I had to wonder if the man was even able to stand.

There was also the skeleton of a pioneer woman who'd died in childbirth, and that image really stuck with me. Her pelvis seemed abnormally large, and it was so sad that she'd died in childbirth. That was very common in pioneer days, apparently. Anyway, so I had a vision of a pelvis sticking out from a board, and that was the genesis for this piece. It evolved from a lamentation about women as martyrs for the species into a lamentation about how the whole human race might just foolishly wipe itself out through our decimation of our environment. Part of the "End of the Line?" title also refers to the fact that I didn't have kids. I'm OK with that, but sometimes I get to feeling like it might have been better if I had.

While in another section of the Smithsonian natural history museum, we saw some stuffed birds, and I wondered if they had a passenger pigeon. I've long been intrigued and saddened by the amazing story of how, just over 100 years ago, these beautiful birds used to fly over U.S. skies in flocks so huge it would take three days for them to pass, but by 1914 they were extinct. Anyway, right after I had that thought, wondering if the Smithsonian had any stuffed passenger pigeons, a woman ahead of us in line said, "Oh, look, there's a passenger pigeon!"

That seemed to me a clue that I had to include a passenger pigeon in this piece. So I found a picture of one on the Internet and added broken safety glass to it, along with a "stigmata" made of red nail polish on a tiny sliver of ribbon, to simulate a drip of blood. There are "stigmata hands" at the bottom, also covered with broken safety glass, to symbolize the martyrdom of women who died in childbirth and the possible foolish martyring of the human race.

Around the edges of the pigeon I wrote something from a video I'd seen about the frozen body of the last passenger pigeon, nicknamed Martha, being delivered to the Smithsonian in a 300-pound block of ice: "We killed them by the barrel. We killed them by the carload. We killed them all, and extinction is a one-way street." It seemed like a good metaphor for the human race's foolish headlong race to extinguish itself.

Reading about passenger pigeons, I discovered that Martha died in 1914. That also happens to be the year Seattle's iconic Smith Tower was built. My friend works there, and some new artist friends exhibit their art there at Collins Pub in the Smith Tower. So I decided to include a picture of the Tower, too, as part of the blue background on the piece.

The other photocopied images forming the background are mostly old family pictures I got from my dad. I asked him if there were any women in our family who'd died in childbirth that I could include, and he said my Uncle Tom's first wife Gladys had died at age 24 while having her first child. This was in the early 1900s. The baby also died. Uncle Tom, of course, was devastated. He never remarried. So I included several images of Gladys and Tom.

I also included a photo of my Uncle Walter in his coffin. He choked to death on walnuts at age 2. And I included an image of an uncle who died at age 12 in the 1919 flu epidemic, and several of my Uncle Lawrence Morrow, whose plane was shot down by the Japanese during WWII. He was only 23 years old, and the last son in that branch of the family (the boy who died in the flu epidemic was his brother). At first I tried to include only pathos-drenched images like that, but I needed to cover a lot more space - the piece is 3 feet x 4 feet - so I branched out and included lots of different types of images. Looking back, I should have picked just a few and made them much larger, although I would have had to have them printed out on a large-format printer.

I got the picket fence basket and hula girl alarm clock shown in the photo above at Goodwill. The picket fence basket includes a photocopy of an image from my childhood, of me and my sisters. We were playing house on our front porch in Boulder, Colorado, in the Summer of Love, 1967. I'm the one in the pink bathing suit, holding a blue Frisbee. Those weren't the actual colors - I colored the photocopy with colored pencils and felt-tip markers. I was going for a Matisse-like color scheme, to represent the idealism of childhood. The dead bee pinned to the image with a T-pin represents the mysterious disappearance of bees that's part of our environmental carnage.

The Seattle RE Store's call for art said they were looking for pieces that are made with at least 75% recycled or salvaged materials. This piece contains that percentage, but the other 25% includes, in addition to all the photocopies, rather esoteric things like encaustic and cyanotype – not exactly the proletarian ideal of the recycled art show. That's probably why it wasn't selected.

But you know what? The reason doesn't matter. This is just part of the process of becoming an artist, learning to take rejection and not take it personally. Like they say in The Godfather, it's business, not personal. The jurors were just looking for something else, that's all.

I knew there was a good chance it wouldn't be accepted. They were deluged with entries, which is good. The "green" movement is picking up steam.

Just for giggles, here's the list of materials I used: Plywood, hardwood flooring (for frame), photocopies, LED Christmas lights, aluminum foil, shellac, ink, cut-up milk jugs, kitty whiskers, dead bumblebee, T-pin, shoe polish, plastic dome from makeup packaging, paste, grout, kitschy alarm clock, wooden picket-fence basket, yardstick, satin ribbon, paper clips, broken safety glass, nail polish, twig, quartz cabochons, encaustic (wax/resin/pigment), tissue, cyanotype fabric, colored pencils, paint, felt-tip markers, brass toilet paper dispenser, chicken wire, screen, Carnation milk cans, rubber baby-bottle nipples, plaster-cast bandaging, wire, staples, nails, eye hooks, nuts, bolts, screws, brackets, duct tape, extension cord, cardboard toilet paper rolls, and flat marbles.

Sources for recycled/salvaged items I used included the RE Store, Goodwill, Sew Up Seattle (a group that offers free sewing classes using recycled fabric), a collision repair shop on 65th that saved broken safety glass for me, a friend who raises chickens, a friend who used to be a florist, my collection of kitty whiskers that have fallen out over the years (no cats were harmed in the collection of these whiskers), our backyard (dead bee), and our recycle bin, as well as that of our neighbors.