I retired from my full-time Creative Arts Therapy position at the VA in Livermore, California, at the end of 2004, but wasn’t able to settle into a way of working in my studio on a regular basis. In 2006, I was learning my new part-time job at the University of the Pacific (UOP), and preparing for a trip to Australia in October. Now that the trip was behind me, I was trying to decide what kind of art I wanted to do.
During the 2006 holiday break from my library job at UOP, I started planning a large collage project composed of photos of the art I had made since I was a child.
I had moved my mother to an assisted living facility near my home early that summer. Under her bed was a large box she had moved here to Stockton from Ohio in 1996. It was tied up with string and she had refused to tell me what was in it when I moved her to Lodi in May of 1998. In 2006, she told me to throw the box away because she didn’t care about it any more.
When I opened the box at my house, I discovered it was full of photographs, some many years old, of her parents, aunts, uncles, and my brother and me. Some of them I remembered, some I had never seen. Now I had duplicates of paintings I made and gifts I’d given.
I decided on a collage of photos of my art to see where I had been, hoping to find the next step. It would be fourteen sections with each one covering five years. Each block was twelve inches square and I planned to arrange them in a square with four across the top and bottom and two going up each side, with the last two in the center somehow. To keep things manageable to work on, I drew out six panels of two blocks on heavy corrugated cardboard with half inch boarders on each square.
Each section represented five years in my life. The first one is photos of me and a drawing of a horse and my baby brother. I made color copies of my early art which I still have in a scrap book. The second block has drawings of a farm, my doll, a large chicken, and a butterfly.
When I finished all the panels, I stapled them to the wall of my studio which was in a mother-in-law type unit behind my garage. I added lace between the panels. It was finished in June of 2008, and hung there for a year, until I decided to move my art studio into my house. My son Chris was going to remodel the unit for my boyfriend, who wanted to live there.
I didn’t have a wall in the house for this collage. Fortunately, because it was on cardboard and each block twelve inches square, I could reassemble it into a straight line. In the room where my looms were in the house, there is a beam going across the room coming down twenty-four inches from the ceiling where the collage fits perfectly.
After it was up, I was able to see how my work developed and changed over the years. I could see things that were good and some that were not so good.
At the end of 2013 when I began to write my memoir, I used this collage to recall what art I was making during the different seasons of my life. At one point, I concluded that possibly my best work had already been done. But I didn’t like the idea that my best creative days were behind me.
Now I’m trying to challenge that. I’m starting to play with materials I haven’t known what to do with, like things I pick up in my yard.
I’m still spending time organizing materials I haven’t used yet, so I see them more often. I’m harvesting photos out of old magazines so I can find images more quickly than leafing through a book, hoping to find the right thing.
On my drawing board table, I’m depositing whatever has caught my attention in the yard each day – so far I have two bent nails from repairing the fence on Sunday, three feathers, a label that fell off a spool of wire in the garage, something off the palm tree next door, and a photo cut from one of the magazines.
The components of the next collage are assembling themselves as I go through the week. I have a little feeling of excitement when I walk past them. For me, this is a whole new way to begin a piece of work.