Slouching Towards Bethlehem
I made scores of nativity scenes like these between 1993 and 1998. During this period I participated in several craft shows, not the usual kind that you used to see that were all dried-flowers-and-Amish-bonnet shit.
People would say, what kind of art do you do? Or what medium do you work in? You can hardly blame them, it's a polite way to respond to the provocation "I'm an artist." I'd say, "Um, er, I don't really have a medium... I do sort of postmodern crafts. It's not like the craft stuff you're used to. You'd probably like the stuff I make but you might not consider it art, which is fine with me. Instead of making one object for $1000 I do like 40 for $25. And my subject matters is usually religious or political stuff, often I make things that are funny or erotic. Yeah, not really fine art either."
I always mingled sacred with profane. Yes, it's a sardine can. And the matchbook has a Christmas tree on the other side. Undigging, moving, this is the first time I've had to photograph them, and these are leftovers, not my best samples. I'm also responsible for the Virgin of Guacamole and the Socks of Turin.
I gave up on any hope of making stuff for a living probably around the same time the real postmodern craft movement, the Crafty Bastards and Subversive Cross-stitchers, the stuffed tampon and artisanal teddy bear makers, was brewing. As breadwinner I needed to make real money.
So it was, maybe, a coulda, woulda, shoulda.
All my art was consumer-oriented (like the above) and a great deal of it had a sacred sort of theme, even though it was often sacrilegious. So I decided to go to business school. I could, at the least, design products to be made in India and China.
Did I mention coulda, woulda, shoulda?
It is peculiar subject matter for me, with my (lack of) religious background. I really wanted a child. Gavin and I struggled through infertility for nearly eight years. Maybe making dozens of little babies in straw, obsessing over sequined stars and miraculous conceptions while blasting the Roches "We Three Kings" in my garret was my way to cope with that emptiness. Planning to conceive governed all the decisions I made in my 30s, the big ones.
I finished b-school, got pregnant at last, delivered my daughter, and received my husband's terminal diagnosis in less than two years. At 39, I was a widow using my degree to keep my remaining tiny family out of financial catastrophe.
You can see in the artwork that I'm into the "reveal," the surprise, holding out. Peeling back the sky. I try to tell my stories this way, too.
"BASTA!," I cry, an Italian grandmother over a hot pot of caldo verde, underway for Christmas dinner. "ENOUGH!"
I think I've connected the dots, some of which only started to show as I got involved in my Unitarian Universalist church after Gavin's death. After I listened.
I think I'm meant to be a UU minister. I had a "call" last May and have been pondering it, trying not to write about it till I'm sure, thinking, dreaming. I'm considering divinity school nearby, which would allow me to keep writing part-time.
It's really weird to (1) have a direction, (2) find something like this that fits an agnostic New York punk rocker, (3) think about myself as a spiritual person and someone capable of caring for a community. It's strange to me to think of some of my "skills" as just that, when I've spent so much energy in my life trying to change. This choice wouldn't be possible, either, if I hadn't transformed myself a bit.
It had to happen this way, slowly, with detours. In some ways ministry doesn't fit at all, in other ways, it's perfect harmony that was waiting for me to find it.
I'm not sure. I'm never sure.
But sometimes great things grow from unexpected seeds. (Insert a better metaphor here.) (PLEASE.)
* I know, it's Portuguese soup. So sue me. I've seen too many Fellini movies. My vegetarian mother is here and I don't feel like cooking, this is something that can stay on all day while I hide in the bedroom.
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