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If there is no spoon in the saltcellar: a subversion of Emily Post's On Entertaining

Deer Goddesses, Weirdlings, and Dreamlings: My Paper Dolls

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My 2-D stop motion film with music and effects by Jonathan Maule, and see more of our videos here

Artist Statement and Project Descriptions

            I am a mixed-media artist and writer living just outside the town of Joshua Tree where I was born. A child of two houses, each set in its own strange desert microclimate, I had to learn to appreciate how nature could (and would) all of a sudden rearrange our yards, our roads, our lives. My father’s house in Joshua Tree was nestled in a small, paved neighborhood just a stone’s throw from the west entrance of the national park. A collector of rusted desert treasures, his property was a collage of artifacts. My second home was in the neighboring town of Landers (population less than 1,000 at the time) known for the Integratron (a cell rejuvenation and alien contact dome) and a 7.6 earthquake that cast doublewides from their foundations in June of 1992.


            Halfway down a rutted dirt road called Starshine, the Lander’s house was not far from the county landfill and just two hundred yards from a neighbor who terrorized us when I was small. My stepfather made a menagerie of the house and surrounding five-acre parcel with carvings of eagles, vultures, bears, and withered faces he received as rent from a local chainsaw artist. Everything had eyes that followed. In the big earthquake, the cabinets and shelves emptied themselves of every color and texture of antique glass. Marauders, wind, floods, aftershocks, freezing temperatures, and the sun regularly defaced what we held precious. There were also plenty of days when everything was eerily still under an impossible stretch of blue sky. Naturally I became attracted to the risk, disappointment, and surprise of mixed media. I like the mess. The shards. The cracks in the molding. The faces hidden in the walls and bushes. The times, too, when a piece doesn’t move for days and I stare and stare, waiting to learn what it wants to become. 

           "If there is no spoon in the saltcellar": a subversion of Emily Post's On Entertaining began with a roiling sense of irony during March and April’s quarantine: most of us would not be entertaining anyone except ourselves and failing even at that. Despite our gadgets and 24-7 streaming, many of us would feel lonelier than we have felt before, especially those of us who live alone or are trapped in unhappy relationships. The decorum of playing host or holding functions or having to appear in public went out the finger-smudged window (why bother to clean it or anything—who is going to see?). And after a month or so even wearing pants or a bra or sitting down to eat began to feel like posturing. Lingering at my bookshelf to find what was left to read, my brain snagged on the word “entertaining” and thought that’s hilarious. 


            The book came from my paternal grandmother (born 1925) who followed many of Post’s “guidelines” on etiquette especially when it came to dining and hosting. I’ve put to use an array of tactics to upset (tousle, upend, and befuddle) the text and make it new—erasure, blackout, collage, scraping, scratching, ripping, needling, layering, transferring, defacing, etc. Many of the images come from vintage Life Magazines dating as far back as 1931.


            I find much of Post’s micromanaging (a term as foreign to my grandmother’s generation as “mansplaining” though she would know exactly what I was talking about as soon as I gave examples) to be darkly funny: “If there is no spoon in the saltcellar, use your fingers to take a pinch of the salt.” Oh, my dear! It’s a good thing Emily had advice for that precarious situation—how many people did she save from humiliation? It can be fun to poke at social practices of the past that now appear neurotic and oppressive, and I certainly am having fun doing so. But I also can’t help but see the darkness of any text that seeks to regulate and normalize behavior, especially the behavior of women—and I can’t help but acknowledge that the pandemic (and obvs the lingering sick-cloud of 45) have set feminism back to 1950’s standards in every aspect. And so viewers may find “If there is no spoon in the saltcellar” tonally complex or perhaps tonally uneven, which is unavoidable, I think, when trying to dissect and pin all parts of the organism. 

            Many of the pieces in my project use erasure to create small poems or mantras that lift female-identifying persons up out of the mire of stereotypical domestic captivity and reaffirm their individuality and potency. Others are still-life collages of a time that seems at once vintage and disquietingly present. The project is a celebration of women’s advancement and also a recognition of the progress that still needs to be made. I know that my grandmother, who was a feminist and “the hostess with the mostess” would be proud. 

             The initial catalyst for my Deer Goddess Paper Dolls is my love for Jennifer K. Sweeney's poem, "Antlers." After seeing horrifying images of deer trying to escape the towering flames of California wildfires, my desire to create work that captures the paradox of fierceness and vulnerability loomed large--I've been working steadily on creating a peaceful army of dolls ever since. These dolls, like much of my work, are ephemeral--reflective of our brief and often absurd time as living creatures. At the same time, the dolls are imbued with feminine strength and resilience, the “I have been here forever and will remain despite the thousand cuts,” gaze. You will see other types of paper dolls in the gallery, ones I'm calling Dreamlings and Weirdlings. With swirls of pearly oil pastels and images of flora and fauna, these dolls seem to float through space, dreamily, eyes closed to the busy material world. The Deer Goddesses are alert, protective, and fully awake to their surroundings (oooh, sounds like someone I know) while the Dreamlings are invested in cooling, flowing, letting go (what I need to do more of). The Weirdlings are a rag-tag bunch of micro-collage, fortuitous accidents, and hindbrain scheming. 

            And because I am the kind of artist who works in a symphony of ideas, I have a series of ongoing projects, which, for now, exist in the "uncategorized" folder. By the time my solo show at Art Queen rolls around in the fall, I'll know more about how to identify and categorize these works--fingers crossed!

           Thank you for your interest in my art and website. If you are a gallery owner or art magazine editor and would like to feature my work, please reach me through my contact page. You can also visit My Petite Boutique here

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