February 19, 2013
Last week, a friend lured me into a memory game with questions about my life at a randomly chosen age. I was assigned 29. Astrologers know this fateful passage as the first Saturn return in people’s lives. It’s a make or break year, marked by many who didn’t get to 30, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain among them. I obviously made it through to the other side, but this little game has stirred up all kinds of memories. Here goes:
- Where I lived: Seattle, Capitol Hill to be exact.
- I drove: a red Volkswagen Rabbit.
- My heart belonged to: I’m pleading the Fifth on this one, to protect the innocent, of which I wasn’t one. Adventurous, maybe, but careless is probably more accurate.
- I worked: in my studio and at Woodland Park Zoo, and how those places overlapped was the most interesting part of 29.
By then, I’d been in Seattle 3 years, and was successfully making my living as a wearable artist. I sold my work in galleries all over the country, and although I wasn’t on the road to fame and fortune, I could pay bills and buy fabric.
I also had the freedom to pursue another passion. Before I even set foot in the art museum in my new hometown, I was a regular at Woodland Park Zoo. I volunteered, undertook docent training, and then was offered a paid position. It was a magical experience. Even though I was spending less time in my studio, and often showed up for fittings wearing my zoo uniform and rubber boots, I had new energy for design.
Up until then, my work was characterized by elegant, sharp angles pieced into garments and accessories. It was, as gallery owners described it, “architectural.” But the convergence of two influences changed the way I perceived the potential of fabric. The first came out of the fashion houses in Tokyo. Generous new shapes by designers Issey Miyake and Comme des Garcons captured my imagination at the exact same time my wearable clients asked for more movement in their clothing.
And then there were all those animals I worked with at the zoo. I wanted to create fur and feathers out of fabric, and captured their texture and patterns with layers of torn edges. I draped fabric to suggest wings, or gathered it to suggest volume. One season, I was selected to show a collection of wearables inspired by big cats in a juried Designed to Wear event in Portland. The following year, my 29th, I was invited back, and this time, the theme was birds. I Magnin displayed the collection for another week, and I was thrilled to be noticed by more than one art critic.
It was the last time I participated in a big fashion show. Shortly after, everything fell to pieces. My personal life was in chaos. I moved out of my studio, gave away bags of fabric, keeping only what fit into a small storage locker. After spending Christmas day at an oil spill clinic, I realized my work with captive animals was finished. With gratitude to every being who had enriched my life, I left the zoo.
I spent the next two years working in a law office downtown. It was a sabbatical of sorts, away from everything that was important to me. Eventually, I set up a new studio, and began volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic. Without hitting the “pause button,” I probably wouldn’t have found my way to a new artistic medium, or back to animals. But still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had stayed the course.
And that is a particularly interesting question to ponder as I hurtle towards my second Saturn return. This one is about mastery and integration. At the masterful age of 29 x 2:
- I live in Shoreline, Washington.
- I drive a 20 year old Toyota pick up truck.
- My heart belongs to: Denice Taylor, and our animal family.
- I work: as Executive Director at Third Place Commons. I also have not one, but two studio spaces where I can create collages and sew. I have just launched Pieceable Kingdom, and am starting to do volunteer work with rescued cats.
After all these years, life is still a work in progress, and I am both grateful and curious. So, now it is your turn. Care to share memories of a significant year in your life?