'No Place Like Om' quilted fiber art by Meryl Ann Butler (detail)
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All images shown here of Meryl Ann Butler's art are copyrighted by Meryl Ann Butler.
Home, sweet home.
Whether looking for home in Dorothy's Kansas or in the Dalai Lama's Tibet, the journey to find one's true home is a "Hero's Journey." Joseph Campbell said, "You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path... If there is a path, it is someone else's path and you are not on the adventure."
My deep interest in the displacement of the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet was enhanced during my own decade-long adventure in homelessness. The concept for this work of fiber art, "No Place Like Om" emerged during my musings during that time.
This art quilt honors the Dalai Lama's joy, wisdom, and sense of humor, as well as his playful interest in Western culture and film. And it explores the archetypes of the journey home through connections with one of the most beloved films ever made, "The Wizard of Oz."
In 2010, I attended one of His Holiness' events at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I sat front row and center, just six or seven feet from him, bathed in his aura. It was a magical experience to be enveloped in the essence of his joy. And due to attending on a press pass, I was allowed to take photos, which provided indispensable reference material for this piece of art as well as for my OpEdNews article, The Dalai Lama Speaks on Compassion, Peace, and Enlightened Thought.
One of those treasured photos shows him looking right at me. The feeling I had in that moment of being enveloped in such deep joy and warmth and kindness, is the feeling I wanted to capture in my art in order to share it with others.
I used hundreds of photos for reference, and watched the award-winning DVD, Dalai Lama Renaissance, many times, for inspiration and in order to carefully develop the likeness. My art teacher, who studied with Norman Rockwell, had always taught us, "When you draw the front, think side. When you draw the side, think front." One single flat photo can't capture the essence of a person the way that a portrait can, since a portrait artist can include characteristic subtleties from a variety of views that add up to a richer expression of the essence of the person portrayed.
The technique used in the portrait portion of this piece of art is "Textile Pointillism," a method I devised after developing an allergy to oil paint. It is based on aspects of art that I have always loved: the foundational methods of the Old Masters, including classical techniques of perspective, value and color, and the uninhibited brushwork of the French and American Impressionists. My method is executed with small, fabric "brushstrokes" which have been carefully cut and placed in order to create detail on top of large areas of color. Then a variety of different threads are stitched on top to create the illusion of blending:
1. Slightly sticky webbing is adhered to the back of each piece of fabric. This makes the fabric act like a post-it note...it will stay where you put it, but it can still be repositioned until it has been heat-fused. I drew guidelines on the piece of white backing fabric. Then I position the first piece of fabric --I usually start with one of the largest pieces first. (Note my artist's color sketch on the right side of the photo, which I use at this stage as a guide in selecting the colors of the fabrics.)
2. The lighter portion of the head is positioned. (To the left is a full-sized image of the portrait in grey values, which I use at this stage to guide the size and shapes of each piece.)
3. The shadow portion of the head is positioned
4. The background pieces are added.
5. Most of the white background cloth has been covered, and I am beginning to add medium value/tone fabrics.
6. More details are being added with smaller sized pieces of fabric.
7. Here, I am continuing to add more details. Note that the piece of printed fabric with the Oz characters is at the top of the photo. It is being kept close by as I select colors to ensure that they will coordinate. Note the tweezers on the green background fabric, at right. These are for careful placement of smaller fabric pieces.
8. At this stage, the fabric details are completed, except for the highlights.
9. Then I add stitching and highlights.
As in traditional pointillism, the colors are optically blended by the eye, rather than physically blended with a brush. This results in the colors maintaining a look of freshness and vibrancy.
The full spectrum of the colors used in the portrait pays homage to the breadth of the Dalai Lama's compassion and understanding of others. The cool blue and purple shadows contrast, yet integrate, with the warm butterscotch and apricot tones of his skin. The green background is the color of healing, and a pale green glow-in-the-dark thread is stitched at the edge of his profile so that when the lights are turned off, what remains is the glow of the Dalai Lama's aura.
When first seeing my Textile Pointillism artwork from a distance, most viewers assume that the medium is oil paint.
When they get close enough to see that the "brushstrokes" are actually collaged pieces of fabric, it is fun to observe the surprise in their body language and the looks on their faces! I love being able to lift a viewer's spirits with a gentle reminder that we live in a world of happy discoveries and unexpected delights.
Offering an exciting visual experience to viewers is one way to direct their attention so they "hear" the artist's message. One of the artists I've been inspired by, Georgia O'Keeffe, said she purposefully "shocked" her viewers into noticing beauty by exaggerating the scale.
Pineapple Bud by Georgia O'Keeffe
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When O'Keeffe was asked by a reporter why she painted such large flowers, she responded,
" A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower - the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower -- lean forward to smell it -- maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking -- or give it to someone to please them. Still -- in a way -- nobody sees a flower -- really -- it is so small -- we haven't time -- and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. So I said to myself -- 'I'll paint what I see -- what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it -- I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.' Well -- I made you take time to look at what I saw."
Working in surprising and unexpected scale was O'Keeffe's way to put a spotlight on her message. Textile Pointillism is another way to surprise viewers. I use it as an invitation to consider the nuances of story in my art, and I reward viewers who take a closer look by gifting them with tiny details often missed by the casual observer, but which offer additional levels of meaning.
The lower portion of this artwork features a 3-dimensional flap, depicting the main characters of the Oz story. They are seen from the back, as they travel the yellow brick road on their quest to help Dorothy find her way back home.
The terra cotta pendant just above the Oz characters is imprinted with a spiral, a symbol emblematic of the journey, and the clay disc can be infused with sandalwood essential oil by the eventual owner.
Just under the characters' feet (to signify their "under-standing") is a small tassel with a framed image of the Dalai Lama made by the Tibetan Buddhist lamas of the Drepung Loseling Monastery. I purchased the tassel at their White Tara Sand Mandala event at The American Theater in Hampton, VA.
The little silver frame is two-sided, and the image on the reverse is the White Tara, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion and healing. The nuggets of turquoise stitched on at the tops of the three tassels were brought back from Tibet by my friend, Nancy.
Above the portrait, the yellow brick road continues under an arc, and leads toward the three sacred mountains of Tibet, symbolic of enlightenment.
Other sacred images from the Coat of Arms of Tibet, and seen on the semi-circular area, include the sun, the moon, and the eight-spoked Dharmachakra, which represents the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.
Coat of Arms of Tibet
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The predominant colors of the quilt are also the colors of the flag of Tibet: Red, blue, green and yellow with white.
The flag of Tibet
(Image by Flag is public domain image via wiki, artwork is c. Meryl Ann Butler, Author: Unknown author) Details Source DMCA
Dorothy and her friends must travel through the compassionate heart of the Dalai Lama to continue their journey up to the sacred mountains. And who do we see illuminating their way? A goddess figure whose essence is archetypally related to the White Tara: Glinda the Good Witch.
Glinda, the goddess-avatar, reminds Dorothy -- and us -- that the power we seek is not outside of us, for as she says, we have "had the power all along, my dear."
Just under the Dharmachakra wheel, a tiny wooden "sign" inscribed with the words, "Home, Sweet Home" is sewn to the yellow path.
It references the well known song which was President Lincoln's favorite, and was wildly popular in the US for over a century. The lyrics were written by one of my ancestors, actor and playwright John Howard Payne.
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
In the final scene of "The Wizard of Oz," the melody of "Home, Sweet Home" is heard as a subtle counterpoint to the strains of "Over the Rainbow."
Just below the little "Home Sweet Home" sign, and almost hidden in the poppy fabric, are a gold open heart charm, and crystal-studded ruby slippers, to punctuate the footsteps we take on the way home, "where the heart is." The proximity of the magic wand with the shoes reminds us that the journey of our "under-standing" can be filled with magic.
The shape of the semi-circle also recalls the shape of the rainbow. While we typically preceive the rainbow as an arc, in its full form it is a circle, like the mandala, and is symbolic of wholeness.
The fabrics with the Wizard of Oz motifs were part of a series, and include the lower panel with the four characters, the yellow brick road and poppy fabrics, and the fabric in the four yellow corner triangles. Toto appears in one of those yellow triangles! At the apex of each of these triangles is a yellow happy face button, a nod to the Dalai Lama's sense of humor and to his many books on the topic of happiness, including, "The Essence of Happiness."
The style of the borders, which include an Asian-inspired brocade, was designed to evoke the sense of a traditional Tibetan Buddhist thangka. A thangka is sacred art, a painting on fabric used as a teaching aid. It can depict a lama, the Buddha, a mandala or another divine image or diety. Typically the central image is bordered in a brocade.
Interwoven through the three stories about the quest for home - Dorothy's, mine, and the Tibetan people's - are the stages of the Hero's Journey.
The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty "yes" to your adventure.- Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythologist Joseph Campbell notes that the hero's journey is a pilgrimage of three stages. The protagonist embarks on an adventure away from the safety of the ordinary experience. The second part of the adventure continues through challenges and crisis in the non-ordinary experience, and finally the transformed protagonist returns to the ordinary world armed with a treasure such as a secret or other knowledge, a healing of the heart, an elixer for self or others, or another sacred/divine gift.
My own heroine's adventure started with a set of catastrophic professional, financial and health circumstances in 2001. After the unexpected loss of my lease on my studio, and a sudden responsibility for the debts of an ex-husband, I left the East Coast on a hopeful business trip to California. There, a grand larceny theft of ten major pieces of my artwork destined for a gallery exhibit recalibrated the course of my life.
Some of these pieces show the beginnings of my "Textile Impressionism" technique. Four of the ten pieces in the theft are shown below.
"The Dawn of Remembrance: Egyptian Mysteries Unveiled" was inspired by the book "The Orion Mystery: Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids" by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert. The sphinx on the back of the tabard was created in a simplified version of Textile Impressionism.
"Amaterasu: Shinto Goddess of the Sun" was part of my series of art quilts depicting the divine feminine in multicultural mythology.
"Oya, Goddess of the Dance" was also part of my series of art quilts depicting the divine feminine in multicultural mythology. Note in the detail at right, the profile of Mother Africa which has been integrated into the outline of the continent.
"Gypsy Starcatcher Dancing the Dreams" wearable art ensemble featured a vest stitched from a spectrum of dupionni silks, and my silk painting of The Star on the back of the vest.
2001 was a challenging time for many people, with losses and old structures breaking down - the Los Angeles Times reporter who interviewed me about the theft had scheduled the article for publication about a week later, in early September. But the personal devastation in my life was eclipsed by 9-11, and the article was never published. Two days later, an inattentive driver ran a stop sign and hit my car, and I was then unable to drive back to the East Coast.
I was 3,000 miles from home, with injuries and no income and no place to live. Homeless. Not "cardboard-box" homeless, nor even "living-in-my-car" homeless. My decade-long adventure in homelessness was more of a "couch-surfing and assorted-housesitting-gigs" kind of homeless. While better than living out of a car, it was still challenging to try to continue my career while moving from place to place, while all my business equipment was in storage in another state.
After 9-11, the bottom fell out of real estate and suddenly empty luxury homes were available to housesit. So that was a perfect match for me while I recovered from injuries. When I wasn't housesitting, I was sofa-surfing or staying in the guest rooms of a wonderful sisterhood of supportive gal friends.
For the most part, I didn't have access to the kind of studio I needed to create the art I love to make, so I explored other experiences in order to follow the path of my joy. I took graphic arts computer classes, I wrote and edited several books (two of which have been published so far), I got involved with OpEdNews, and all the while I was creating art inside my head.
But one day, when I was feeling uncharacteristically sorry for myself, I complained on the phone to my daughter about being homeless, to which she promptly responded, "You're not homeless, mom, you're just houseless." And she was right. My home is less a physical place and more a decision about how I choose to feel. That's one of the advantages of raising a child with philosophical and spiritual insights - they'll toss a couple of them right back at you when you need to hear them. Shortly after, I even got past feeling houseless, and embraced my new role as a freedom-loving gypsy having an amazing adventure, and learned to love it enough that it was hard to give it up when the time came.
Indeed, not all who wander are lost.
Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. "- Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work
Toward the latter part of that decade of free-spirited adventures, I housesat a gorgeous place in greater Los Angeles for a couple of years. It had three huge art studios, so even without my own studio equipment, I still managed to create some art. And an added bonus was the friendship I developed with the owner, who I saw occasionally, and who was also a wonderful artist! But mostly it was a sacred, cloistered time to spend focused on my inner journey. After having raised a daughter and seven stepchildren, I appreciated the opportunity for quiet time to go within.
And it was in that gorgeous place, with breathtaking views of the San Fernando valley below, and the occasional visiting deer and rainbow, where I ruminated on the meanings of the essence of home.
That's when I was first inspired to create a piece of art about the interconnections of the themes of home, the Tibetans in exile, and the Wizard of Oz. It took five years to develop ideas and collect the materials. This kind of complex fiber art requires assembling a wide variety of fabric, notions, and doodads. Laying out a palette of several hundred different fabrics requires a huge amount of space, so I while I worked with concepts and sketches during the planning stages, I wasn't able to start on the actual artwork until I had a stable studio of my own.
I was housesitting in that triple-art-studio-house when I first saw the Dalai Lama in person. I had always wanted to attend one of his events, and the date of his event in Long Beach, CA, happened to be the anniversary of my husband's death over 25 years earlier. Attending a spiritual function seemed like an appropriate way to honor the event that had redirected so much of my life. I remembered to bring my camera, but discovered that I wasn't allowed to take it inside, so I did a sketch to capture the essence of my experience.
Not long after, I returned to the East Coast.
When I signed a lease and finally had a home and studio of my own again, the assortment of fabrics and embellishments that I had collected was excavated, and in 2012 I slowly started developing the art quilt in my new studio. It was completed in Feb. 2014, moments before being delivered to its first exhibition, where it received a blue ribbon. Later, I discovered that 2014 was also the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie, The Wizard of Oz.
"No Place Like Om" is designed to inspire a viewer's adventure with her own inner questions, such as:
What is home? What does the concept mean to me?
Is it an inalienable right to have a house? To have a home?
Does being in a stable living situation do more to help or prevent us from really knowing what home is?
Which is more important -- safety? Or freedom and adventure? And how do they relate to "home"?
How do I best connect with my joy?
While the Tibetans have lost their outer home, perhaps their situation invites us all to ponder what the deeper journey home really is. No matter how disconnected we may become to an outer, worldly home, when we follow the journey of love and joy, we can always find the home and the Om within.
"No Place Like Om" will be on exhibit at the Sacred Threads 2015 exhibition, from July 10 - 26, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm. (Sunday 1:00 - 4:00 pm.) Meet the Artists Reception: July 11, 1:00 - 4:00 pm. Location: Floris United Methodist Church, 13600 Frying Pan Road; Herndon, VA 20171.
July 6, 2015, is the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday! Happy Birthday to His Holiness! He'll be celebrating in Southern CA. click here
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.- Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work
REFERENCES and RESOURCES
Sacred Threads 2015 is a national juried exhibition of art quilts exploring themes of joy, peace & brotherhood, inspiration, grief, healing, and spirituality. From its beginning in 1995 this biennial exhibit has provided a respectful, dignified venue for the artwork of quilters of all faiths who use their work as a connection to deep life experiences or as an expression of their spiritual journey. These powerful stories-in-fabric from all over the country offer an inspiring source of encouragement, healing, strength and connection to show visitors.
For more info on Meryl Ann's stolen artwork click here. These thefts are listed in the Los Angeles Police Department Art Theft Detail, DR# 01-0928304, case 8-3/01. If you have information on any of these you can contact the LAPD at 213-485-2524.
What is a Thangka?
(from the wiki)
A thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton , or silk applique , usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala . Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings , with a further silk cover on the front. So treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk. Most thankas are relatively small, comparable in size to a Western half-length portrait, but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension; these were designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals. Most thankas were intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central "deity" is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition. Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear.
Thangka serve as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas.
The three traditional thangka shown in this article are public domain images: