It’s early morning and I’m in front of the mirror, looking at the face looking back at me. I barely recognise her now that I have new lenses in my eyes. It’s like I’m seeing her for the first time. I pull back my hair and notice a few silver streaks nestling amongst the blonde. As I gently rub cream on my cheeks, I feel their gratitude for the moisture. For a fleeting moment, I go misty eyed as I recall the bloom of my youth and then smile back at myself, realising it’s a thing of the past. I have resolved to be kind, to embrace this season of life, for those eyes looking back at me, though tired, still have their twinkle and are deep and knowing and wise.
It’s been five months since I started work on my Earth Project skirts and today I am to begin work on the final one. As I cross my garden to the studio, I notice a chill in the air. The leaves from my oak tree are falling and collecting at my door. The time feels right to begin the final skirt, for she is The Gatherer, the one who brings all things together.
This skirt represents the wise old Goddess, who has lived her cycle and knows what is really important. Her once vibrant colour has softened, fading through orange and yellow to brown. She is becoming delicate and frail, with a quiet sense of Self, that comes from having seen it all. She’s weathered the storms, experienced much and has the marks and scars to prove it. She is with us for this final season, pausing to impart her wisdom before returning to her Source. She is Autumn, a time when the leaves transform and loosen their hold on life.
This is the season where, in the human context, there is a loosening of ties to the material world and more interest in the spiritual. Time spent with family and friends, becomes more important than what one owns. I have illustrated this by attaching a small beaded pouch to the waistband of the apron, which symbolically holds only the bare essentials, our most precious possessions or memories.
Detail of the beaded pouch, the container of precious memories
This is also the season for remembering, for tracing back over paths taken and a life well lived. It is a time of community and the sharing of wisdom, gathering around the fire with loved ones to tell stories that the next generation can learn from. In San cosmology, it is believed that these stories, told around the campfires remain forever in the landscape.
“John Parkington, in his essay on the perceptions of the /Xam hunter-gatherers in “Sound from the Thinking Strings” recalls that //Kabbo’s reason for wanting to return home was that he missed hearing the stories that floated across the landscape from campfire to campfire.” (An extract from Michael Godby’s essay in the exhibition catalogue of the Wake of the White Wagons, by Pippa Skotnes.)
This idea of our paths through life leaving an energetic imprint upon the landscape, reminds me of the Australian Aboriginal concept of the Dreamtime. They believe that humankind has a special responsibility to maintain the harmonies within the Universe and each season selected members of the group travel along the old tracks (previously traveled by totemic animals eg.snakes and kangaroos,) that lace the desert together. They stop at sacred sites to perform the appropriate rituals and sing a line of songs that hold the stories of the people who have traversed the land before them, telling of local episodes in the history of creation. It is thought that these songs help to stimulate the flow of spirit energy that resides within rocks, bringing nourishing rain to plants and animals. It is believed that these song lines will take the travellers safely to a destination they have never been to before.
A time of gratitude and remembrance. The lines of stitching represent pathways taken
Once again the body of the skirt represents the rock face, the sacred place where for centuries, stories have been recounted and recorded. The overflowing scraps of chamois leather create shadows reminiscent of the rock overhang, adding shelter and protection to the figures gathered in celebration below. The figures in the centre of the skirt were inspired by a rock painting in the Southern Cape.
The stitched leather in the waistband is a technique I used in The Dry Season, a work I made in 1996. The effect is intended to be symbolic of a long life journey, stitched roughly together through memory recall. The image in the centre is symbolic of home, the place of security, intimacy and community. In many indigenous traditions, the fire is central to community life, so the bundles of sticks attached to the waistband reference not only the gathering up of memories, but the women who gather wood for the fire that physically and spiritually brings and holds the community together.
Bundles of wood and a symbol of ‘home’
The inspiration for this skirt came largely from the San, who have lived for centuries in harmony with their environment. It speaks of paths taken, tracks in the sand and footprints all made lightly. It speaks of community, of love, support and ceremony and a respect for the spiritual world which is intimately interwoven into the physical. The skirt reflects a season of peace, imbued with gratitude and a new respect for the Earth, our Mother and Friend, that has given us life and refuge.
As I watch the news on television, reeling from one disaster to the next, I am aware that my generation is in the throes of passing on the baton to the next. Only the baton we are passing comes in the form of Mother Earth, and it is my fervent hope that the handover will be smooth and that the young ones will have learned from our mistakes, for our Earth is in a precarious state and it should be the focus of all their attention. I am reminded of a quote I recently read and hope that the dance will continue.
“We and our planet are reaching maturity together. Opening up our collective senses to the Universe; watching and waiting for the chord that signals the start of a new and even more fulfilling dance. We are ready to respond to the music of the spheres.” Lyall Watson
In August 2018, I finally stepped back from my pinboard and surveyed the fruits of my labours… five earth dance skirts, affectionately known as ‘The Girls’. They were complete, and in the warmth of the spotlight that chilly winter afternoon, they glowed with self-assured energy.
The Earth Project skirts on the wall of my studio 2018
My energy, on the other hand, was almost spent, but there was no time to rest, for this was not the end, but the beginning of what was to come. The skirts needed to be framed and my client had requested that I hand carve the frames that were to hold them.
In my next post, I will bring you that process and reveal some of the angels who helped me.
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