Tuesday, February 26, 2019

WAR: A Personal Response, Body of Work, 'Friend or Foe'

Friend or Foe
linen, cotton, wood, metal; laundering, hand stitching, painting, installation

Domestic teatowels made of linen or cotton have been surprisingly uniform in size over the last ninety plus years. Perhaps they are the width of a household table loom.

Previously they were all woven in the home now they are mostly machine woven and printed. The majority of printed teatowel themes are limited, remarkably, to four subjects: a prayer, an uplifting saying, a calendar or a momemto of place for the emigrant or tourist.
For this work, I chose two different linen tea towels featuring the same prayer - 'Bless this house Oh Lord we pray. Make it safe by night and day.' They also have calendars for different years in the 1970s. 
I added the silhouettes of two WWII planes, one the Allies' Avro Lancaster and the other the Reich's Heinkel HE 177. The bomber planes look as though they are zeroing in on the houses, highlighting the significance of the prayer.

Military | WWII | Aircraft | Friend or Foe by Silhouette: UK, US, Germany, Japan
Plane spotting was a skill of memory and fast recognition developed by psychologists during the war once they realised fast and accurate recognition of airborne planes saved lives. They found rather than doing a laborious detailed analysis other parts of the brain could be used for rapid assessment of the shape, engine sound, and markings of planes overhead. Sheets of plane silhouettes were issued to military personnel for plane spotting training and members of the public were encouraged to learn them as well.

A short video to show the distinctive sound and shape of the Lancaster. Sorry about the ad.

With three of Florence's sons in the airforce, I image it became a household game to be the first to correctly identify a plane overhead. 

I also imagine Florence outside hanging out her washing and hearing a plane. She would search the skies to identify it as a friend or foe. Was it one of her sons in-training taking the chance to fly over his home and say hi to his mother with a dip of the plane's wing or was it an enemy plane, a scout or the beginning of an enemy invasion?
The routine domestic task of hanging out laundry was yet another trauma trigger capable of switching Florence's emotions to a surge of joy stimulated by the mother-child bond and just as quickly her emotions could plunge downward in fear. She would become exhausted by the repeated involuntary acute stress response known as fight or flight.

I changed the dates to 1943 and 1944, the years Florence's oldest son flew Lancaster bombers.

This is the work's story I told in the Sidney exhibition booklet
'Plane spotting was an activity the War Office encouraged the public to practice. War psychologists knew that when the skills of memory and fast recognition developed in the civilian population it saved lives. Recognition posters were issued to aid in aircraft identification. I can imagine Florence's four sons making a game of plane spotting, and she too learned the skill. When she heard a plane while at her clothesline she would say a silent prayer asking God to protect her three sons in the airforce. Then her mind with flip with fear at the possibility of it being an enemy plane and the beginning of an invasion. It was only after researching this work that I realised the significance of my father's enjoyment in taking his family to airfields for picnics. He had continued to hone his plane spotting skills and taught his children to recognise planes by engine sound and silhouette.'

Friday, November 23, 2018

WAR: A Personal Response, Body of Work, 'Home Comfort'

Home Comfort
Wool, cotton, plastic; hand knitting.

Chrome Island as seen from Blue Shift's deck

2 years ago my husband and I took a month to sail around Vancouver Island. I took a knitting project to work on every day. I wanted to feel what it was like for the ones who stayed at home to be encouraged, implored and urged to use every spare moment to knit garments for those fighting overseas.
In preparation for the voyage, I went through my stash gathering up all yarns in 'serviceable' colours resolved to use only what I had to follow the wartime mantra of 'making do.'

Provisioning and refueling stop.

During WWII, the Royal Airforce put out a call out for more scarves for plane crews. Planes were getting larger, flying higher and for longer creating long periods of bitterly cold conditions for crew members in cramped, noisy quarters. My grandmother Florence must have been pleased to be able to make something to help her 3 boys in the airforce, something to help keep them warm and comforted knowing someone at home was thinking of them.

Another provisioning stop is a chance to lay out and see what I have knit so far.

I had in mind to make one long, long scarf to suggest the idea of 'mindless knitting.' When both hands are engaged in an activity the mind is free to wander, to get into the zone where there is a comforting flow back and forward between both sides of the brain. In this state, the emotions are calmed and one loses the ability to keep track of time. Knitting becomes a soothing, timeless activity.
Florence would have found great comfort in getting lost in such a revery where she could process her trauma, calm her grief-weary mind and take comfort in caring for her boys while publically appearing to support the war effort.

Knitting is one of the few activities that can be picked up and worked on when it is smooth sailing and can also be thrown down without harm when there is a crisis to manage. 
I can knit when it is cold and sunny though every so often I need to hold a hot cup of tea to warm my hands.

I can knit when it is hot and sunny. 
The wool doesn't mind getting wet with rain or salt water.

The colours I work with have several layers of meaning. During WWI and WWII each military force had its own distinctive colours: airforce blue, navy blue which is almost a black, and army khaki yellow. In European cultures, black is the colour of death, grief, and mourning and blue is associated with depression. The personal levels of meaning are black for Florence's grief in losing her husband, eldest son and a brother-in-law to war, airforce blue as a reminder of her 3 sons risking their lives in the airforce, Khaki yellow of infantry man's uniform is a reminder of her fiance away fighting.


I had in mind this endless knitting would unroll throughout the room I created. But no matter how I placed the knitting it didn't work. It didn't create the mindless knitting revery feeling. I ended up stacking up folds of knitting on the ground in front of the chair. It gets the idea across but I must admit it does not have the impact I thought it would. I thought this work would be the strongest one out of the 10 items in the room. As it turns out, and to my surprise, other works have a stronger impact which I will talk about in later posts.

Here is the 'Home Comfort' story from the booklet produced for this exhibition.

The WWII War Office's request for knitted garments known a 'home comforts' provide Florence with the opportunity to publically appear to be supporting the war effort. Privately, knitting gave her time to grieve over her family's decimation - the death's of her husband and eldest son; the absence of two sons away at war. Florence worked in a conflicted state to rationalise and emotionally resolve the duality of supporting the war effort while sacrificing her sons. She had to come to terms with enabling her children to put their lives at risk while battling the strength of the mother-child bond. Florence took to knitting to physically keep her sons warm, emotionally connect with them, do her patriotic duty and provide a means of processing the traumas of war. Endless knitting became a repeated prayer, a meditative chant of 'knit one purl one,' a mantra to calm a battle-weary mind - a home comfort. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

WAR: A Personal Response, Body of Work, 'Grief Redacted'

Grief Redacted
Vintage linen tablecloth, cotton thread; hand embroidered.
For my installation in Articulation's 'WAR: A Personal Response' exhibition I have recreated my grandmother's living room to reflect her mental state during WWI, WWII and the following years. I believe she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) most of her adult life. The room I have created tells her story.
Grief Redacted is a tablecloth laid on a table set for tea. The colour of the embroidery chronicles her decline into PTSD.

Stitching on a boat.
The cloth chronicles my grandmother Florence's life so I decided to make it a part of my life. I took it with me where ever I went and worked on it whenever I could.

Stitching on the Coho ferry en route to the USA.

Stitching on a riverboat in the Malaysian Highlands.

PTSD symptoms unrecognized and untreated can be passed on to future generations. Florence's great-granddaughter Elizabeth added her stitches to the cloth. In total nine of Florence's descendants worked on the cloth to illustrate the wide-ranging and long-term effects of PTSD within a family.

The brightly coloured flowers reflect Florence's happy relationship with her high school sweetheart until he headed off to war. The flowers turn black from worry as she waited. After his joyful return, their marriage and the births of their 4 sons, the colour returned to flowers. Following the tragedy of her "shell-shocked" husband committing suicide, three sons joining the Air Force and the oldest son dying in a plane crash, she stitched only in black. Guided by her religion, bound by nationalistic cries of 'for God and country' and deep down being tormented by humanist feelings of guilt and shame, Florence suffered from PTSD as the battle raged within her home.

Links to works by other Articulation artists in the 'WAR: A Personal Response' exhibition:
Donna Clement here
Wendy Klotz here
Amanda Onchulenko here

Friday, September 28, 2018

WAR: A Personal Response Exhibition by Articulation October 16 to November 29th 2018

Articulation is very pleased to be exhibiting in the Sidney Museum, Sidney, British Columbia from October 16th to November 29th, 2018.
The exhibition coincides with the 100-year commemoration of the signing of the Armistice Treaty, the official end of World War I in Europe.
While the museum will feature displays full covering Canada's history of involvement in wars until the present day peacekeepers, Articulation will be taking a more personal look at war.

Unlike other studies where Articulation members research together, this war project research was done in their own time. It involved talking to family members to gather war stories and searching through family archives for war-related memorabilia.

I found other source material in many different places.
War displays started popping up in front to me when I wasn't expecting them such as the informative war display in the Mary Winspear foyer, in Sidney.

Around Remembrance Day there were moving displays to think about.

I studied uniforms in military museums.

I photographed war memorials whenever I saw them. This one is in Blenheim, New Zealand.

I caught this one in passing on a rainy day.

                           I began to recognise their familiar shape and looked out for them in every small town we passed through.

I was particularly interested in the airforce because my uncles enlisted.
Google is a treasure trove of early war photographs that say so much.

I visited war museums in England, New Zealand and Canada because they all played a part in my family's war stories.

I was particularly interested in learning about the Lancaster Bomber because my uncle flew one. I visited the Bomber Command Museum of Canada link in Nanton, Alberta. They have one of the last Lancaster Bombers and allow the public to climb up inside the plane. I was able to sit where my uncle would have sat. 

I began to focus on the textiles of war. It was something I could relate to.

I found the uniforms most interesting.

I studied the materials, the construction and how items were attached.

I read a number of books and watched many documentaries on war.
It became overwhelming. I let ideas percolate and captured them in a large notebook. In time a theme emerged. 
I began developing my ideas while collecting materials. I asked people to help me collect specific items. Carol bought me auction lots of military buttons and uniforms. Barbara gave me her husband's airforce uniform to work with. Friends gave me their husband's and father's worn and stained handkerchieves. I live in a very supportive community for which I am so grateful.

I do hope you can make it to the exhibition in the Sidney Museum where you will be able to see how all 6 Articulation members went through a similar process before they were able to begin to tell their personal war stories.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nana Knitting: New Body of Work Begins with an Announcement

The first project for my Nana Knitting body of work began after a thrilling announcement.

Daughter Katherine made a surprise visit for my birthday. I opened her gift which included a card with the note - "I need this by July 2018." Inside were 2 skeins of yarn. Distracted by the prospect of a new knitting project I think I was the last family member to 'get it.' Katherine was pregnant and due in July. Our first grandchild, how exciting. 

And so my 'Nana Knitting' body of work began. 
I made the rabbit hat using the Rowan Kidsilk Haze yarn in my gift box but combined with an ancient skein of Lavenda 3 ply crisp crepe wool from my sock yarn stash.

I used the Ancient Arts Hat Trick Semi-solid, Ride the Pine skein in my gift box to make a jacket. 
Here it is washed and blocked.

I made up the checkered pattern to give it texture. The pattern is designed with ties at the back. Even though I made thin ties I still don't think it would be comfortable for a young baby to lie on the open back. I suggested to the mother it may be more comfortable worn with the opening in the front.

With the leftover yarn I made a pair of booties with rabbit fur lining the insides of the soles and a pompom for the toes.

Katherine loves rabbits and has had a number of them while growing up. Recently Katherine and Sebastion had a much-loved rabbit called Mango, hence all of the rabbit references.
With outfit #1 made there is no stopping me now. I feel as though the start flag has been lowered in front of me and I am off. There is a lot more Nana Knitting to come off my needles.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Garden Report: Spring Growth while I wasn't looking

While I have been away the garden has been at work doing what it does best - growing.
I have officially declared the Gravel Bed Garden test a success. Plants are growing and flowering profusely, much to the insects' delight. I will continue planting according to the plan.

I have left several parsley plants to go to seed.  I am hoping to transplant lots of parsley seedlings next spring.

The Globe Artichoke plant has come back again this year, evidence our winters aren't too cold for a lot of hardy plants. I have planted 2 more mainly because they provide a mulch cover for soil I haven't planted yet and supply a lot of biomass when they die back. I'll leave this top bud to flower because it will look magnificent standing tall in the bed and the insects will enjoy visiting it. We hope to catch the other buds before they open and enjoy eating them. Everyone will be happy. 

Wikipedia says, 'The jostaberry is a complex-cross fruit bush in the Ribes genus, involving three original species, the black currant R. nigrum, the North American coastal black gooseberry R. divaricatum, and the European gooseberry R. uva-crispa.'
I have planted 2 shrubs and they are doing well. I am looking forward to tasting jostaberries for the 1st time.

The potato patch is telling us it is ready to harvest. This is a self-sown patch grown from potatoes I inadvertently left in the ground after the last harvest.

I bought a number of Borage (Borago Officinalis) plants as annuals. Here in our garden they are happy and acting more like perennials by growing back each year. The insects visit the flowers constantly. With the last of the flowers, I am now cutting these large plants back and placing them on the soil as a mulch layer. They will start to grow back again in a few weeks.

Swiss Chard/Silver Beet is another plant I am experimenting with leaving to go to seed. The plant is over 6 feet tall and I'm not sure it has stopped growing yet. I am waiting for its seeds to mature before harvesting them.
There was lots of action in the garden beds while I was away. It is time to give the plants some attention which I am very happy to do.