A Table For My Mother
On The Bias
Blacksmithing is a skill of discovery.
We all have had the experience of being asked to make something and having no idea how but answering with a definite “Yes. I can make that”. From there we figure it out. This is the connection between the contemporary and the traditional blacksmith. Blacksmiths have always figured it out. They are given a task and they solve it. They need something, they make it. New tasks lead to new solutions.
Blacksmithing is such an old craft that the desire to find new questions to answer leads us into the realm of smithing for understanding or awareness instead of for need. For a contemporary artist blacksmith the traditional processes are largely unchanged but the task is different. It is more tactile and emotional. It is more about feeling then function.But don't let your guard down on the function. For me, that is the ultimate, a piece that is tactile and emotional but that also is a functional success.
My mother asked me if I could to make her a table. I immediately said “yes”. A little twinge of fear entered my brain as I thought, “ how, will I ever capture the idea of Mother, of my mother, in a table?”
Mother is a complicated subject.
Having one, I understand the indisputable love. She is my mother. But I also realize the expectation and scrutiny with which I view her life and how it relates to mine.
Being one, I have insight to the overwhelming responsibility and liability that comes with the job.
I grew up in a large family . The times I spent alone with my mother were rare. Being the only girl in the family my earliest memories of being alone with her involved sewing. This is where I began.
“On the bias” is a sewing term for cutting on the diagonal. People see things differently. We can often arrive at the same place taking very different paths. My mother's path was not mine.It was often on a different axis to my way of thinking. Yet ultimately she provided the two things that I find most important to family, love and stability.
In hindsight it is so easy for me to see where I was going with the table. While I was in process it was not. I wanted the table to express the idea of stability from a place that does not seem stable.To be square and level and symmetrical with the appearance of contortion or meander. Visually my mother was always beautiful, her black hair, eyebrows and eyes and Sicilian nose in the time of poodle skirts. I wanted to somehow capture the connection and transition from the secure and solid base that defines motherhood to a place that is ethereal,vulnerable and sometimes unpredictable. I did a lot of mocking up because I really wasn’t sure at all if it was going to work. I was definitely paralyzed by fear a few times. When that happened I would practice angled tenons which was calming.
Daniel Miller is my friend and mentor. He has an amazing ability to relate this process of wringing purpose out of iron. I can't put my finger on it, though, how it works. I could say that you just have to believe but doubt was a huge part of this process for me.
The angles, the offset rails, the position of the legs, all of these decisions came somewhat naturally through the work process. But at some point the table began to look like and feel like my mother. How this happened I couldn't tell you. Somehow the imprint of my mother that lives in me came out through my hands and into my work. From me,it became, a more accurate description of her than if I had described her with words.