The project was spurred on by an invitation in the summer of 2007 from the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod to lend a piece for an art exhibition, entitled “Self Portrait Cape Cod”. The show, which opened the next winter in 2008 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, included dozens of Cape Cod artists’ self portraits in a variety of mediums.
Since I did not already have a self portrait ready to provide, I decided to dive right in and make one. I was in the middle of a very long and involved book project, illustrating a 64 page anthology of nursery rhymes and I needed a break. Later, when I finished sewing my self portrait, I resumed work on the book for another 2 years and I’m happy to say that Pocketful of Posies is in production and will be coming out in the fall of 2010.
My first thought was to construct a face with found objects and stitchery, but eventually I changed over to the idea of a time line of my life of 52 years, which was my age in 2007. My early sketches concentrated on straight lines of dolls in different configurations, but I wasn’t satisfied that this would show seamless passing of time. Once I came up with the spiral, I knew it was the way to go and I got to work. In the center is my birthdate, with the dolls circling out, one for each year.
I started making the youngest dolls first, gauging the size increase as each year passed. The baby is about 1” and the figures grow to be 3 ½” in adulthood. The dolls’ armatures are made from thread wrapped pipe cleaners, like those featured in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects. Then I dressed each figure in an outfit I would have worn that year, taken from memories, family photos or imagination. Since I’ve sewn many of my own clothes, it was easier to remember an outfit from the past. They are recreated here with smaller scale fabric and embroidered wool felt. The wooden bead faces are painted and glued onto the pipe cleaner neck. The hair is made from embroidery floss sewn to a felt “wig” that is glued to the bead head. I showed the evolution of my hair graying, with strands of white intermingling with the dark brown thread.
My husband appears the year we were married and my sons are included through the years when they were little and physically connected to me. The tatting outside of the circle was made by my grandmother about 100 years ago. The wool felt spiral is mounted on upholstery fabric, which I embellished with multicolored french knots. Making all 52 dolls and embroidering the background took about 6 weeks to complete.
I’ve found that this self-portrait has fascinated many people, male and female, young and old. But, I think that the ones to get the most kick out of it are the women who remember wearing ponchos or peasant blouses and say, “That could be me!”