By Sue Caulfield
I was interested in creating a piece that would appear three dimensional and seem to contain things. Note how the container of forgiveness contains other words that usually speak to each of us in one form or another. Given that what each us of holds impacts how we are in the world, a piece such as this invites the observer to address what they choose to hold onto in their life.
This piece so inspired me that I wanted to do more with the concept, so I wrote a grant proposal in March 2010 (Kalamazoo Artist Development Initiative grant). I received that grant, which led to an exhibit titled “Holding Ourselves Together.” The aim of the project was to create a series of wall hangings, where the centerpieces of each wall hanging would represent a container. The pieces would ask the observer to reflect on the extent to which the observer is holding or allowing the container’s word to be part of their daily life.
The art pieces would be exhibited at the Douglas Community Center’s Powell Library in August 2010, which led me to ponder how my art might be linked to the notion of community and how it might inspire observers to reflect on how all of us interact with and hold each other. This led to five pieces constructed of truth, courage, faith, mercy and kindness.
This series taught me several things about my art work. First, I learned how to create a series, whereas prior to this I had focused on idiosyncratic pieces of art. By working with a series, I had to challenge myself to decide how similar the pieces would be. For example, should the final pieces all be the same size or should the colors follow a particular palette?
In the end, I chose to make them all around the same size, though not exactly the same size. I also discovered that I wanted the containers to have slightly different shapes. It was not until I worked on the Faith piece that I dared to try a background color different than black and to have the container restricted in color choices.
Each of the pieces in this series contains different words that reside within the container. Each selection of words came through an organic process of looking at the piece and allowing the proper words to show up for inclusion. All of the words touch something deep within the human condition and that taught me something else about my work.
In 2011, a prospective buyer told me that she did not like that the word grief was included in the piece and asked me if I would remove it from the piece. This was my first encounter with the tension between what I create and what is desired by someone else. My first inclination was to think about how I could revise the piece so as to remove grief. Thankfully, this inclination went unexpressed and I told the person that the piece was complete as created and could not be altered. A few hours later, she returned and purchased the piece. Perhaps grief spoke to her, after all.
All of the pieces in the series have found homes, save for Faith, which remains in my studio. The Forgiveness piece, which was later part of an exhibit at the College of Health and Human Services, Western Michigan University, was subsequently purchased by the college and is on permanent display in that building. A member of the college saw the piece and commissioned one centered on hope.
The Hope piece is the first such piece I have created in almost four years. It was a delight to return to this theme, especially when requested to do so by someone who expressed the key word that was important to them. There is a noticeable change to the Hope piece. In the last year, I have left behind the use of quilted borders on my wall hangings. Not using a quilted border seemed odd for Hope, given the original pieces were all finished in that manner. In the end, however, it was nice to allow that my work has evolved and while I could return to the theme of the container, I could also complete it in a manner that more closely resonates with the present state of my work. Some of the past and some of the present, combined in beauty. I express deep gratitude to the client who requested this piece of art.