PICKING UP THE PIECES
I've been fascinated with old, worn things for years, and I love the challenge to find new ways to showcase the beauty, history and mystery surrounding these precious objects. Through the process of collection, reflection, and creation, I've discovered more about myself, our society, and our planet, but I never imagined it would become so personal.
When I was 16, my father committed suicide. My family was angry, confused, and embarrassed so they
packed up everything that was a reminder of him. I harbored memories, a few treasures, and
photos, but I was left with the nagging feeling that none of us really knew him.
Imagine my shock when I was given a cardboard box of my father’s belongings 26 years after his tragic
death. I found letters, jewelry, ties, and lots of clues that revealed a very different person than who I
remembered. I began using these pieces to reconstruct his life so that I could finally make peace with
By connecting these emotionally charged objects with historical documents, I am creating a new portrait
of my father. The work, at times emotional and at times distant, picks at the scars of suicide and
examines father/daughter relationships. It also illustrates the faultiness of memory and what people
conceal in order to protect. By sharing this secret that I’ve held too long, I hope to start conversations
about mental health, memory, and identity and to help others find a way through loss and grief.
LOST & FOUND
I am a collector of old and worn, cast aside things. When I am out for a walk or a bicycle ride in the
rolling hills of Iowa, I am always on the search for an object - man made or natural - that catches my eye
and gives me pause. I scavenge trails, parking lots, thrift stores and abandoned places to save and
preserve these precious relics because they still have stories to tell. There is a thrill in the discovery, and
this process allows me to explore the world and question what gets discarded and why.
Each new thing serves as a clue that speaks of the person that left it behind, the moment it was cast
aside, or the place that protected it for so long. My job is to quietly listen and rescue them, and then I
must find ways to display them so that others may also see their value and beauty. In the end, I do for
these objects what most people want done for them: to be recognized, chosen and uplifted no matter
how used or forgotten.
WHY HOUSES MATTER
Strolling and biking through the streets of Lamoni, Iowa, I realize how quiet the houses are. Is that the point of their design and construction – to conceal the monotony of the everyday and the things and events that define us?
Houses contain multiple histories, and every mark, scratch, dent, break, tear and hole preserves our mingled histories - of past visitors and inhabitants and present ones. Worn stairs, rubbed raw banister railings, burn marks on the counter, broken windows, scratched linoleum all have a story to tell about those moments where something happened. And those moments, whether routine or life changing, are all significant. They are signs that we lived. They make no judgments but merely serve as evidence that we passed time on this earth in specific places.
Even in a house's absence, its presence and those of its former inhabitants are still visible. By salvaging pieces of abandoned homes slated for razing, I’m hoping to preserve a bit of history. The collected objects are crumbs of identities that illustrate more whole and honest lives than pictures and keepsakes would tell. As you ponder the remaining fragments and imagine who used them, also stop to consider what marks you are leaving behind.
A VISION IN WHITE
newly fallen snow covering the barrenness of winter
streams of toilet paper fluttering from old oak trees
cream and sugar stirred into a mug of steaming coffee
dried salty tears on an embroidered handkerchief
a glass of iced cold milk and warm cookies
an old worn sweater with an unraveling hem
new, patent leather, dressy shoes for Easter
a beaded satin wedding dress embellished with lace
grandmother’s spotless sofa draped in doilies
a crisp pressed shirt hot off the ironing board
shampoo soap bubbles swirling down the drain
wax dripping down the side of a candlestick
a chipped china cup and tea stained saucer
sheer curtains that blur the outside world
peeling paint on an old wooden door
an empty, salt-rimmed margarita glass
carefully concealed lacy unmentionables
clean laundry fluttering on the line in springtime
marshmallows roasting over a campfire
sea foam lapping on the beach
icing drizzled on gooey cinnamon buns
powdered sugar dusted on brownies
small button found alone on the sidewalk
sheep made of cotton balls and construction paper
fluffy animals formed by billowing clouds
toothy grin of a mischievous child
leftover crumbs from a quick sack lunch
folded paper airplanes zooming through the air
celebrations with candles, cake and ice cream
the thin shoelace on a box of animal crackers
sticky spider webs and dust covered tables
stars shining bright in a country night sky
The memory is a quirky thing, allowing you to remember bits and pieces of the past at the most unexpected time. A recent visit to Texas took us to Baskin Robbins for an evening ice cream break, and just by holding a small, pink spoon I was transported back to the days of my childhood. There I was under the large elm tree scraping at the red earth, adding water from my glass jar, mixing it all together in my shiny aluminum pie tins and making mud pie after mud pie with the help of that tiny pink spoon. At that moment in Texas I realized that those materials – the jar, the dirt, and mud pies – were elements that had just emerged in my recent artwork. This seemingly strange departure in my work wasn’t really a departure at all; it was a return to what I was familiar with and had already experienced. As my ice cream melted into a chocolate mint puddle, I reminisced about those afternoons I spent outside traipsing around my grandparents’ yard and garden, playing fruit ball, moving snow in my red wagon, making my sister eat worms, collecting acorns and magnolia blossoms, picking up pine cones, and running through the sprinkler.After that jolt at the Baskin Robbins, a bizarre chain of events quickly unfolded and each day brought alive old memories and a desire to capture them in three-dimensions. The very next morning we traveled to my sister’s house where I found her cleaning out her closet. Clothes and shoes were piled everywhere, but something red and worn caught my eye. There before me lay a 75 year-old weeding bench that my grandfather had faithfully used every day. The aged wood, cracked vinyl and crooked upholstery pins added up to more than a bench. It embodied my grandfather and spoke of his obsession with his lush, green lawn and tomato and rose gardens. His meticulous care of the grass and tomatoes stretched into other aspects of his life. Even his tool closet reflected a sense of order that seemed mysterious and unreal. Walnut shelves hung on the closet doors and glass jars full of nails and screws dangled from them like magic. The way in which he had managed to suspend those breakable jars in space had always perplexed and excited me.
But how does it all connect? I couldn’t figure it out so the long drive back to Iowa was frustrating as something in the back of my mind nagged at me. Instead of going immediately home, I drove straight to school and found my old, rusted Red Flyer wagon. It was full of junk in a studio corner so I emptied it and cleaned off the grime and spider webs. I loaded it into the minivan without knowing why or what I was going to do with it. The next day I was standing in the checkout line at Dollar General and bumped into a stack of Mason jars. I bought all they had – 40 dozen glass jars. The wagon was still in the van and since I had a lot of jars to carry home, the jars went right into the wagon.
When I picked up my 3 year-old daughter from pre-school, she thought the wagon and the boxes were for her to play with. Why not? So off we went, with Skye and me pulling the full wagon together. The clinking and rattling of the jars made our new adventure dangerous and thrilling. When we had made it only half a block, Skye pointed to a tree with seed pods hanging down from it. She asked me to pick one, and she examined it so intently. She thought it would be good to keep and give to her daddy so she asked for a jar to save it for him. Soon one seed pod became a jar full. Skye’s fascination in the world around her gave me pause to look again at what I had so easily passed by. We were surrounded by beautiful, colorful and unique objects and it suddenly became important to collect them. I wanted my daughter to appreciate and embrace where we lived so I joined in the search. Two hours later and only a hundred feet further, we turned back for home with 24 jars filled with nature items from our neighborhood.
To think, all I needed was one small pink spoon, a weeding bench, and a little girl to bring the past and present together.