I grew up in a family of quilt makers. This experience of combining materials, saving and reusing objects and ideas, working in concert with others, remains a dominant ethos for my art and life.
My mother was a school teacher and my father worked for the railroad and organized for the union in my childhood, so I grew up with political activism. My grandparents on both sides were farmers and I early appreciated the intelligence of working with your hands.
The summer I graduated from the University of Texas with a BA in Plan II, I joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Guinea, West Africa where I lived in a town in the rain forest for two years. I made 100 ink drawings of gris gris, masks and other ritual objects for a book on Guerze art by Thanos Mengrelis, a poet in my town. When I returned to this country, I moved to New York City, and lived there for the next thirty years. I arrived at the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests and the many movements that grew out of our social conditions. I came to New York City to make art, and my art changed as my consciousness changed. I joined with a diverse group of women artists and we worked together to figure out how to change culture to reflect our multiple experiences and visual points of view. We demonstrated, organized shows and actions, and created organizations. I write about these plus twenty years of activism in my book, Openings: A Memoir from the Women’s Art Movement, New York City 1970-1992, New Village Press.
Starting in 1979, I was a member of the Heresies Collective for twelve years and worked on the editorial collectives for several issues of the magazine. I was President of NYC Women’s Caucus for Art in 1982 when we organized Views by Women Artists, twelve independently curated theme shows that featured works by over 400 women. In 1984, I created Reconstruction Project, a collective artists’ book and exhibition based on the format of one of the four surviving Maya Codices. It was part of the series of shows and performances for Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America. The Reconstructed Codex is now housed at Barnard College in the Sabra Moore NYC Women’s Art Movement Collection. During this period I co-organized Connections Project/ Conexus with Josely Carvalho, a collaborative exhibit and artists’ book between women artists in Brazil and the United States. It was exhibited in NYC and Sao Paulo and traveled to other cities. Both the codex and the artists’ book from this project were included in Committed To Print: Social & Political Themes in Recent American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, 1988. I also worked with RepoHistory, WAR (Women Artists in Revolution) and WAC (Women’s Action Coalition).
During this same period, I was making artworks about my family. I had returned to the concepts of my childhood, creating works that used the methods of quilt making- sewing, cutting out repeated shapes, adding texts- but with my materials- paint, pencil, paper, metal, wood, found objects. I made four window installations in this series and two shows. In one of the shows, Place/Displace, all of the artworks are based on the stories of kin buried in a community cemetery in Ackworth, Texas. Another show, Pearls, includes stories and texts from Pearl Street, where I was living next to the Manhattan Bridge. I often create artist’s books for these shows, some unique and most in multiple handmade editions. Many of my books are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum. In the seventies, I was a member of Atlantic Gallery, an artists-run cooperative, and I had several solo shows in that gallery. I met Roger Mignon there, a fellow artist and my life companion since 1975.
I worked In New Mexico during four artist-residencies at the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, and those experiences made me long to live in a place where nature is dominant. In 1996, my book, Petroglyphs: Ancient Language/ Sacred Art, was published by Clear Light Publishers and included 100 ink drawings I made of rock art throughout the country. That same year, Roger and I moved to Abiquiu, New Mexico, after helping to build our adobe house and straw bale studio over several summers on a mesa here. The process of building introduced me to new materials. I made a series of full size boat sculptures on various themes. I also started working with 8-foot viga poles and rusted metal roofing found in some arroyos here. In New York my work explored my own personal stories and the difficult ones of my family. In New Mexico, I have been exploring our relationship with plants and nature as well as the effects of war. My show at PureLand Gallery in Santa Fe, Migrate/ Immigrate/Translate, included boat sculptures and boat outlines. Out of the Woods: Constructed Sculpture & Painting, a solo show at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, included Palm Trees, a “forest” of six viga poles wood-burned with the palm prints of 82 friends, plus three “dressed” poles. Three Boats, art works related to the history of beaver trapping, were installed in front of the Capital Building in Santa Fe for six months. I continue to collaborate with other artists by creating shows on social issues. Recent projects include shows in Espanola at Northern New Mexico College, Word/Play, After/War, and Crossing Borders.
For twenty years, I have managed Espanola Farmers Market, creating a community space for growers, with programs in the summer for students cooking in the horno and a community field in the back for growing organic crops. We host a free Kids Book Exchange; any child or youth can select one free book each Market day. The Market also collaborates with artists. I have organized two shows where we artists collected farm stories from growers, made artworks in response, and then I created cloth banners with thirty farm stories. I have also created permanent large scale outdoor painted tile mosaic installations with students in seven public schools and community art centers over the past decade.