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Interdependence Day

July 3, 2013

pieceablekingdom

How can it possibly be July 3rd again, and how can our neighbors be shooting off fireworks so early in the day?  The resident crows and their babies are wheeling through the trees to avoid the barrage.  Finn, our neurologically impaired cat, is staying close.  He will soon slink under the bed when the M-80’s start.

Tomorrow will be worse.  I have memories of helping the night keeper on the 4th of July when I worked at Woodland Park Zoo.  Animals were confined in sheltered enclosures before dusk, but as the evening got louder, so did the cries of the primates and the yipping of the wolves.  A pair of draft horses broke out of their stall and led us on a wild chase until we could guide them – flying hooves and wide, terrified eyes – into a secure corral.   And I clearly remember the 5th of July from the beleaguered perspective of a shelter worker.  One year, we received a large dog who finally let someone catch him after running 75 miles from home.  The pads of his feet were a bloody mess, and he was severely dehydrated.  This is not a holiday for animals.

But I do have an all-is-well-that-ends-well story to share.  When my partner and I first moved in together, we rented a house with a large yard.  We occasionally saw a tiny black cat dart across the grass and under the fence.  If we happened to have eye contact, the dart became a mad, feral dash.  We suspected she was female, and after two summers without any sign of kittens, we assumed she had been spayed.

Beyond assumptions, one fact soon became obvious: she was hungry enough to eat birdseed.  So, we started to pay close attention to her comings and goings at the feeders.  As soon as we traced her hiding places to nearby blackberry brambles and a culvert at the lower edge of the property, we took plates of food down before dawn and after sunset every day.  From a hidden corner of the yard, we watched as she sneaked out – a shadow on legs – to eat her fill.  Over time, we gradually inched the food up the slope and into our yard, fully intending to get her more comfortable so she might eventually accept our offer of shelter.

BB_017

BB, on a much happier day

And closer she got, to us, to the house, to the possibility of trust.  We named her Blackberry, and she would pop up out of her namesake brambles when we called to her.  We had the highest hopes, and then 7 years ago, on the 4th of July, she was badly injured.  We doubt there was foul play involved.  No one but us ever saw her, and when we mentioned her to neighbors, they suggested we had an imaginary friend.  Blackberry was in the wrong place, most likely her culvert, when a firework blast changed her life.

We suspected the worst when she didn’t show up for breakfast on the 5th.  We called and called, and finally late that evening, she emerged shakily from the brambles.  One eye was closed, and her head tilted ominously.  And yet, she could still run from us.  We set a humane trap, and caught her on the morning of the 7th.

Our vet believed Blackberry had a concussion, but couldn’t give an exact diagnosis, or  prognosis for recovery.  She suggested we keep close tabs when we put her back out.  Back out?  No way!  Despite dire warnings that BB would forever remain a wild cat and be miserable indoors, we were determined to do the best we could for her.

Our little survivor lived in a big cage in our dining room for nearly two months while she recovered.  We knew she was feeling better when she hissed and swatted as we gave her food and scooped litter (yes, she started using the box immediately!).  Her eye gradually opened, but her pupils dilated unevenly.  And she was completely deaf.

By the time she was ready to come out and explore the house, she already knew our other cats, and they already knew to avoid her as she slipped from one hiding place to another.  Chance encounters, even with us, were dramatic.  She did emerge to eat with everyone else, and then disappeared in a blink.

Just as we started to note subtle changes in her behavior, mostly with toys and the beginnings of interactive play, we learned that our landlords were ready to sell the house.  The thought of moving BB to a new place was daunting.  We still could not get close, let alone get her into a carrier.  By moving day, we had a strategy involving large doses of Rescue Remedy and a sequence of cardboard boxes, and it worked.

The morning after the move, we woke up to find Blackberry under the covers at the bottom of the bed.  She hissed loudly when we checked on her, but something was already shifting.  Our new home is much smaller, with fewer hiding places to accommodate a scaredy cat.  Blackberry had no choice but to interact more.  We got away with petting her lightly as she ate, and one night, she accidentally jumped into my lap as I sat on the couch.  We were equally surprised, especially when she decided to stay for a few minutes.  My partner began to pick her up off the floor, a few inches more each time.  I protested, warning that someone was going to get hurt, but she persisted until Blackberry finally surrendered.  BB now loves to be held at the window where she can watch birds, purring the whole time.

Queen BB

Queen BB

Our wild cat is a love.  We tease our vet, who graciously admits that she was wrong. We all agree that Blackberry most likely was someone’s companion when she was young.  She was spayed, and probably knew the comforts of a home.  What happened after that is anyone’s guess.  All signs point to many difficult years outdoors on her own.  At one point, she sustained an injured jaw and broken rib. Nothing healed quite right, a concern for us as she ages.  Her pupils mostly dilate to the same size now, and because of her deafness, she makes the most amazing, sometimes alarming, sounds.  We check to make sure she is alright as the volume intensifies, and we find her sitting and talking, just a louder than usual feline conversation.

Thankfully, Blackberry survived the 4th of July.   We have no idea how many lives she has left, but we are  grateful to have her spend them with us.  The other cats in the household may not agree with this assessment, but BB is one of the most loving, appreciative animals ever.  At least with her humans.  After all those years of fending for herself, she has certainly earned the title of Queen, funny, deaf, bossy monarch that she is.

So, as we batten down the hatches for the noisiest day of the year, let’s remember that we’re all in this together.  It’s high time for those of  us who love animals to reclaim this holiday as Interdependence Day so we can celebrate safely with every living being in mind.

The Remedy for Love

May 14, 2013

pieceablekingdom

May 15th is a great day to make a donation to honor someone you love.  It is Give Big Day, sponsored by the Seattle Foundation, when contributions to over 1400 organizations will be “stretched” through a matching pool.  I am making a donation to Purrfect Pals in memory of a very special cat.  Please join me by giving what you can in celebration of someone who has made a difference in your life:

http://www.seattlefoundation.org/npos/Pages/PurrfectPals.aspx

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

 Along with the joy of living with animals comes the inevitable heartbreak of losing them.  Our companions never live long enough, no matter how well we care for them.  And when they leave, there is a huge hole in our lives.  Sometimes it takes a long time to heal.

 A year ago today, I said goodbye to Possum, a gray cat who had been with me through the steep ups and downs of our fifteen years together.  I have loved many cats in my life, and like a good parent, I should not admit to having a favorite.  But I did, and getting over this loss remains an unfolding process.  I still reach for him in the early morning, and remember with a sharp pang that he is no longer here.

Poss was rescued by Friends of Campus Cats near the Mary Gates building at the University of Washington when he was just a few days old.  Sharon and Diana, the stalwarts of Campus Cats, managed to trap, spay/neuter, and release hundreds of cats at the U, but Possum’s mother eluded them until shortly after he and his siblings were born.  Three of them were strong and healthy, but Poss came close to dying several times.  He could not shake a tenacious case of coccidiosis, and by the time he was 4 months old, he had spent a frightening number of nights getting fluids at an emergency clinic.

People who have worked with animals know that ones who are gravely ill often develop an ethereal sweetness, and despite their weakness, are completely present.  Possum was like that.  I fell in love with him while I was volunteering with Campus Cats.  I didn’t intend to fall for a kitten with such limited chances, but how do we choose who captures our hearts?

And how can we predict who will survive, despite the odds?  By the time he was 6 months old, Possum was stronger.  Two months later, his devoted caregivers allowed me to adopt him.  I set up a room for him, and planned a thoughtful introduction to the other resident cats, one of whom could be a terrible bully.  In the middle of our first night together, I heard Poss crying.  When I opened the door to check on him, he slipped past me, ran right to the orange menace, and immediately disarmed him with a surprise head rub.  There was never an issue between the two of them, and over time, my gray boy proved to be quite the diplomat, always befriending new cats and facilitating easy introductions.

Possum in the window

Possum in the window

Possum was a gentle observer, quiet, and sometimes goofy as he did mid-air back flips in pursuit of raffia.  He was also the most arboreal cat I’ve known, leaping from the floor to the tops of doors where he perched for hours watching the world below him.  I thought about writing and illustrating a picture book that would begin with the line, “My cat Possum thinks he is a lemur.”  It would portray him as the many animals he was: prairie dog, greyhound, bushtit, and in his later ground-bound life, turtle and toad.  The last illustration would explain why he was named Possum: as a puny kitten, he squeezed between his much larger siblings at the bowl, with only his long , skinny tail visible.  His rescuers thought he looked like his namesake.

 That little runt grew into a gorgeous cat, long and lithe, with a velvet coat and almost comically small ears.  A veterinarian once asked me if he knew how handsome he was.  I responded that no, he was quite unaware.  She said that he was lucky because self-conscious beauty in any being could be a burden. 

Possum and I lived through many losses together, and each of them brought me to a deeper understanding of unqualified love.  I could be a sobbing mess, and he never left my side.  He was a cheerful morning animal, and I started every day cuddling with him, rubbing his belly as he purred deeply.  I miss those moments the most.

Early last spring, something was clearly wrong.  Exams and blood work could not explain Possum’s increasing weakness and confusion.  When we realized he had suddenly gone blind, we suspected a brain tumor, but chose not to put him through extensive diagnostic testing.  It all happened so fast, and when he could no longer hold up his head, we decided it was time to schedule euthanasia.

I have said goodbye to more cats than I can count, and it is never, ever easy.  Before they die, I think of those cats who have gone before, and I ask them to help the others cross over.  Before Possum died, I could not even conjure the images of his predecessors.  Their world on the other side of mine was silent, closed.  I felt empty, and somewhat panicked.  I needed their help to ease this transition for Possum, and for myself.

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger in paper collage

The night before our scheduled appointment, I slept on the couch to be closer to Poss in his basket.  He did not even seem to know I was there.  Just before dawn, in the liminal space between dreaming and waking, I sensed a large feline presence next to me. It was a tiger, a healthy young male.  I asked him for help, and he responded that if I could hold Possum close to me while I followed him into the darkness, he would make sure my gray cat passed safely.  When I finally woke in the light of mid-May, I lifted Possum into my arms, and we began our last few hours together.  I assured him that he would be alright, and I almost believed it.

 I can’t deny that it was a rough passage.  My gentle cat, unable to move when I carried him out of our house, surged with energy and fought until his big heart was finally still.  A friend suggested to me that it was tiger energy, that he had begun his journey into the unknown with a roar.  A few months later, I began a series of portraits with the image of a Bengal tiger.  Then, I created Possum, and finally the two of them together, Poss glancing over his shoulder at me one last time.  It is the strongest artwork I have ever done.  It was the beginning of my own passage into a new chapter of life.

A year later, I have vivid images of not one, but two cats to remind me to be both gentle and strong, and to love fiercely.  And I think of my favorite Thoreau quote.  It is a homeopathic remedy: treat love lost by loving even more. 

Possum and his tiger

Possum and his tiger

Shortly after Possum died, I sent a donation to Friends of Campus Cats to thank them for bringing the best cat ever into my life.  Today, I am making a contribution to Purrfect Pals.  I am paying forward in gratitude for a cat I have not yet met who will fill my life with joy.  I will never replace Possum,  but there is too much love in this heart not to share it.

A Tale of Two Mothers

May 10, 2013

pieceablekingdom

One cat just leads to another.  ~Ernest Hemingway

Yes, it is ironic to start a Mother’s Day blog with a quote from Ernest Hemingway.  I am sure many people referred to Papa as a “mother” during his life, and he most likely deserved it.  He was a troubled, tough guy, with a big soft spot in his heart for cats.  A friend recently returned from the Florida Keys with stories about Hemingway’s house, now a museum, and home to over 40 cats, descendants of Snowball, the polydactyl kitten given to the author by a sea captain over 80 years ago.  Without me even having to ask the question, my friend explained that there was a spay/neuter program in place.  Females have one litter, are then spayed, and the original line continues.

Since that conversation, I’ve thought about how many cats a single, unspayed female produces.  A look online yielded some wild numbers, up to 400,000 if all her offpring are also reproductive.   Snopes  debunked that total, citing a feral cat colony study done by the University of Washington’s Math Department:
Cat reproduction graphic“Here are the assumptions used for the population projection: One female cat gives birth to six kittens per year. Kitten gender is 50 percent female, and only 25 percent of kittens survive to reproductive age. All surviving female kittens become adults and reproduce with the same birth and kitten mortality rates. If no adult cats ever die, how many cats/kittens would there be at the end of seven years? One female cat and her offspring could produce between 100 and 400 cats by the end of seven years.”  

Given that cats can have multiple litters in a year, the estimate seems low, but still a nightmarish statistic for those contending with overpopulation.  Cats can become pregnant at a mere 6 months, when they are still kittens themselves, which is why progressive shelters spay and neuter as early as 2 months of age.  If they are not already strays, many pregnant cats are turned out of their homes because people don’t want to deal with kittens.  Not that long ago, humans did the same thing to our own.  Every town has old buildings that were euphemistically called” homes for unwed mothers,” and in some places in the world, pregnant women still deliver their children in exile from their communities.

If a feline mother is lucky, she is taken in by concerned people who either foster or find a rescue organization to care for the cat and her kittens until they can be adopted.  In my last post, I wrote about the opportunity that Purrfect Pals and Foster Dad John Bartlett have given us through the Kitten Cam.  In the comfort of our own homes, we can watch a mother cat and her kittens, knowing that their stories will end happily when they all find their forever homes.

And now, the stories of 2 cats I want to honor this Mother’s Day.  The first is rather famous.  Named for the Sigourney Weaver character in Alien, Ripley is a slim and elegant cat.  Found as a stray and taken to a shelter, she ended up at Purrfect Pals, where she gave birth to 5 kittens.

Ripley in paper

Ripley’s portrait in paper collage

In John’s words, “Ripley doted on her kittens constantly when they were newborns, always providing them with a warm belly to feel safe with and to nurse. Her fans remember her fondly for her trademarked wide-eyed look every time she heard any kind of noise that couldn’t be 100% identified.”  Ripley won the hearts of thousands of Kitten Cam viewers, and we held our collective breath on adoption day as her kittens left one by one, and Ripley patiently waited.

The wait was worth it.  In the afternoon, John posted a message to tell us someone was on the way to save the day, and later, he shared a picture captioned “Ripley with her gentleman.”  As it turns out, Ripley has a whole family, with 2 loving people, and 2 other cats who have accepted her into the fold.

Ripley shares her quilt with cat sister Lilly

Ripley shares her quilt with cat sister Lilly

And onto the quilt I made her.  Ripley will represent the Kitten Cam mamas in the 13 Cats Project, and indeed, her story is a fairytale, from the lonely streets to a loving home.

Another mother who will be featured in the project still awaits her forever home.  Glorianne is a Himalayan, recently rescued from a breeding facility where she had been regularly bred for a decade.  That means Glori had at least 10 kittens a year, probably close to one hundred before she was finally spayed by Purrfect Pals.   She was surrendered along with 2 breeding males, Gordon and Gunther, who are about her age.  All of them spent their lives in individual cages, handled only when they were bred, but otherwise lacking any interaction with people or other cats.  Without  proper socialization, and in poor condition when they arrived at the shelter, their adoption prospects looked bleak.

Glori and Gunther

Glori and Gunther on their quilts

Enter Purrfect Pals, and their relentless belief in every cat in their care.  Glori, Gordon, and Gunther spent the next few months pampered by foster mother extraordinaire Connie Gabelein, Executive Director at Purrfect Pals. Connie  lured the three Gs out of hiding with countless cans of smelly food.  She slowly gained their trust, and they became more confident.   Last weekend, they were introduced to the world at the Average Joe Cat Show, and are now available for adoption at the Issaquah Petco.  All three have their quilts already, each stitched from William Morris reproduction fabrics in different color schemes.  I figured that if ever a group of cats deserved dignified quilts, it was the Gs.  As soon as they find their forever people, I will do their portraits, and finish writing their stories.

So, back to the Hemingway quote.  I admit to using it a bit out of context.  Papa didn’t intentionally refer to cat reproduction, although he was surrounded by unspayed females, one generation leading right into the next.  My interpretation of his words is this: when cat lovers invite one feline into our hearts and homes, there is inevitably room for more.  Ripley’s family found that open space.  It is my fervent hope that Glorianne, Gordon, and Gunther find their people soon.  Even more than that, I hope that everyone will realize the importance of adopting from rescue groups and shelters, and that in time, no other cats will be bred for profit.  On this Mother’s Day, let’s make a special place for all the mama cats like Glori who richly deserve a loving home.

Glori, ready for her forever home

Glori, ready for her forever home

How I learned to stop worrying and love kittens

April 19, 2013

pieceablekingdom

That’s right . . . I haven’t always loved kittens.  In fact, my time working at an animal shelter taught me to dread them.  Kitten seasons, especially the ones that started early and ended late, were bad news for us, and even worse news for the adult cats surrendered to the shelter.  Older cats, sometimes even those barely out of adolescence, just couldn’t compete.  Adopters were drawn to the cute little ones while the others, as we euphemistically said, ran out of time.

In doing humane education, I heard people ask why they couldn’t let their cat have just one litter before she was spayed.  Parents really wanted their children to experience the miracle of birth, and the fun of watching kittens grow up.  On particularly difficult days during peak kitten season, I had to stop myself from saying, “Why don’t you meet me at the shelter this evening so we can share the miracle of death.”  Instead, I explained the problems of overpopulation in the most helpful words I could find.  And I encouraged parents to turn on the Nature Channel more often.

As happens in that line of work, I relied on some interesting coping skills.  One of them was shutting kittens out altogether.  I knew they would be adopted, and that they would get plenty of attention from others at the shelter.  So, I focused on the adults, doubling my efforts to get their stories into the world.  Twice a month, I took older cats to a local TV station for a Saturday morning pet feature.  I touted the benefits of adopting “experienced” cats, ones who would not required kitten-proofing a house.  Usually, there was someone waiting to meet the new star when I returned to the shelter, but not always.  Kitten season was hell.

When a friend sent me the link to the Kitten Cam last year, I initially resisted.  And yes, I judged.  Purrfect Pals volunteer John Bartlett has fostered 37 litters of kittens, the last several of them on camera.  At the time I tuned in, the Scientist Kittens were in residence, still tiny things with their thin, patient mother, almost a kitten herself.  I watched for a few minutes, felt my blood pressure elevate, and walked away from the computer.  John seemed like a nice, sensible man, and I knew Purrfect Pals to be a solid organization, fully committed to helping cats in all circumstances.  Why then, I wondered, had they colluded to promote kittens?  How in the world could I condone this blatant irresponsibility by watching even casually?

I had a lot of thawing to do, and the last several months have brought a big and welcome melt.  I started watching the kittens in the evening after work, and before long I left the livestream running on my computer while I worked.  I got hooked, and, oh my gods, realized how much fun it is to watch kittens open their eyes, learn to walk, and tussle with each other right up to adoption day.   With my early warning system completely disabled, I suddenly understood why parents would want their kids to watch this.

And the best thing is, they can.  John and Purrfect Pals are brilliant.  People of all ages can get involved – and involvement is what happens – and it is even better than having to clean up after a litter in your own home.  Plus, it is obvious how many resources go into raising kittens.  Watch John, admittedly a model foster parent, and you’ll see how much time, energy, and money it takes to do this right.  People inclined to let their cat have that one batch of kittens should witness the entire process on the Kitten Cam.

So, learning to love kittens is changing my life.  For the first time in years, I feel energized about rescue work, and understand it can be a very different experience than what I knew in the past.  In addition to the connections many of us have made through the Kitten Cam, we regularly celebrate the creativity of people who have fallen under its spell.  These cats inspire their fans to be creative.  From making wonderful videos and needle-felting tiny kittens,  drawing pencil portraits and setting up a Café Press shop, people engage with their hearts and hands.  This is the future of rescue work.  It is truly an act of love.  And yes, it is fun!

Science Family Portrait

Science Family Portrait

Watching the Scientist family last year, I remembered how much I wanted to create a book about rescued cats.  I couldn’t even begin to do it until I let myself fall in love with kittens.  It was appropriate that my first reconnection was a paper collage portrait of Ellie Marie and her family.  I am happy to say that I am moving forward with the book project, and have just finished a portrait of sweet Penny (earlier known as Newt), one of Ripley’s kittens.  She is the first of 13 Purrfect Pals cats who will receive a quilt and have her story told in collage and words.

Here’s to kitten power.  Oh yes, keep spreading the word: don’t wait to have your cat spayed!

Quiet

March 27, 2013

pieceablekingdom

Constance Pereyni Collage Artist
Snowy Owl, paper collage, 2013

Snowy Owl, paper collage, 2013

It is time for a confession: I am a bad birder.  I don’t mean “bad” as it equals good, because I don’t even aspire to be a good birder with a life list long enough to encircle the globe.  This may come as a surprise to friends and students who know my complete devotion to our avian kin, but even Roger Tory Peterson shared my distress over the “good” birders who trample nests of common species to get a glimpse of a rare one.  I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Peterson a year before his death, and he rued the day he was first called the Father of Birding.  He told me his goal was get people to slow down and look at birds, even the most familiar, rather than frantically making checkmarks in the field guides he had written.

To me, the gift of watching birds is presence, both the ineffable, intense being of the bird itself, and what happens inside me.  I am quiet, focused, as alive as the glorious feathered creature breathing the same air.  It makes no difference if the bird is common.  One time when I was taking a bird biology class, I spent a cold afternoon hypnotized by a Black-capped Chickadee prying apart a pine cone.  Everyone else rushed to check an earlier reported sighting of a Tufted Puffin on the water, and later expressed bitter disappointment at having braved a blustery winter walk to the beach for nothing.  My experience with a common bird kept me warm the rest of the season.

But I must admit that less usual observations can be a special reward, and owls in particular have sent me searching.  In some cultures, owl sightings are considered auspicious, and in others, they foretell disaster.  Being in close proximity of efficient predators who fly silently through the liminal space between dusk and dawn, between life and death, I  understand both interpretations.  It is equally eerie and thrilling to come upon a nearly hidden owl, watching the world with eyes as large and luminous as planets.  I have felt my heart suddenly stop, and then restart with pounding recognition as I adjusted to the owl’s gaze just a few feet away.

When you share that moment with another human being, it is a powerful bonding experience.  A few years ago, my partner and I were fortunate to witness Barred Owl parents teach their young to fly.  The first night we saw them, the still night was broken only by our occasional whispers, and the owls’ highly pitched, metallic-sounding calls to each other.  A few nights later, we stood under the watchful eyes of the parents who allowed us within a few yards of their fledglings, until other people arrived with flashlights and loud voices.  The owls disappeared back into the darkness, and we were caught in a disorienting beam of light.  We wondered if the folks who spotted us recorded “2 old witch birds” on their life lists.

One of my fondest memories of an owl sighting is from childhood.  My mother, terrified of birds since her own childhood, woke me late one winter night to look outside.  The nearly full moon lit the back fence where a Snowy Owl perched.  For once, she was unafraid, and the wordless hour we spent together was one of the best we ever shared.  The bird returned the following night, and it was my turn to wake my mother to come watch again.  Shortly before her death, we spoke of the experience as clearly as we had years before.

During the last 2 winters, there have been irruptions of Snowy Owls who venture into Seattle to find food.  My feelings about this remain divided.  It is a rare treat to know that they are close to us, but many of them are young birds who arrive in poor shape and face the real possibility of starving during their first winter.  Their visitation is poignant.

Late last year, I received a commission to do a collage of a Snowy Owl.  My hope was to see one before I started to layer bits of paper into distinctive feather patterns.    All season, I dutifully checked every time I heard our resident crows join in mobs, but the disturbance always involved other birds of prey, and a raven or two, an equally unlikely sighting in our suburban city.   And while I kept vigil, I looked at pictures of a Snowy standing on a nearby beach, and yet another perched on the roof of a neighborhood less than 6 miles away. Even a trip to the Skagit Valley, where a friend reported seeing 2 owls just a few days before, yielded countless swans and geese, harriers and eagles, but no Snowies.

When the time came, I retreated into my imagination to start the collage.  Somehow, in the hustle of the last month, I found a quiet and necessary place in my studio for the owl to roost.  It was a young owl, with lots of barring, and in good health.  This bird stood still and posed in my mind’s eye so I could capture the gaze that makes hearts stop, and then race.  I needed an avian sense of suspended time – of presence – even more than I realized.  I finished the collage on a rare day off, and was thrilled to see a vibrant young Snowy Owl look back at me from the drafting table.  At that moment, I thanked my mother for waking me on a frosty night long ago.  I may not be a good birder, but I do know how to be present to life around me.

 

 

 

Kickstarter!

March 1, 2013

pieceablekingdom

Constance Pereyni Collage Artist

March 1: a little spring in the air, and some extra kick in my step.  I’ve been thinking for months about embarking on a Kickstarter Campaign.  I’ve been thinking for nearly two decades about the 13 Cats Project.  What better year to bring this project to life than in 2013?

In this auspicious year, I will create artwork for a book featuring 13 lucky felines, all rescued by Purrfect Pals, who find new, loving homes.  I will sew a quilt for each cat, create a portrait in paper collage, and compile the stories of 13 cats whose lives are changed by the care and generosity of people who open their hearts to them.

My devotion to fabric started long before I got a degree in art,  and although I made quilts for shows, I didn’t make one for a cat until much later.  The first recipient was a wildman manx named Bono, pictured in paper collage above.  He loved to nest in boxes of fabric, and was the ultimate sewing machine supervisor.  Once, when he was feeling poorly, I decided to make him a special quilt.  He immediately took to it, started feeling better, and soon after, all my cats got their own quilts.  Interestingly, they all knew which one was theirs, and rarely transgressed onto other quilted territory.

By the time I started working at a companion animal shelter, I’d made piles of quilts for felines of friends, family, and paying clients.  And then I started making them for special cats adopted from the shelter, too.  Almost two decades after leaving that job, I can’t remember how many dozens  I made in reality, and how many I created in my mind.  Often, the only way I could deal with euthanasia was to imagine wrapping each cat in a quilt before she passed.  Needless to say, I dried many of my own tears on the corners of those imaginary quilts.

I imagined a book about rescued cats and quilts not long after leaving my shelter job.  But, there were still some tears to cry and to healing to be done before I could envision the artwork.  I also had a lot to learn about making cats out of paper.  I’d already published 2 books for young readers, each filled with illustrations of wild animals.  My first cat illustrations were for small books published by the Wright Group.  They were a start, but I still had a long way to go.

In the last few years, I’ve finally gotten there.  I can make paper cats!  I still make quilts, and last fall, I realized it was time to think about the book again.  It was also time to connect with Purrfect Pals and have a different kind of experience with a shelter.  I see this book as a collaboration, and every person who supports the project is part of it.  This is an exciting step, and I will be honored to have friends, family, and other cat lovers take it together.

The Kickstarter Campaign goes through the month.  Please take a look here.  Thanks for embarking on this adventure with me!

Ellie Marie, rescued by Purrfect Pals, resting on her quilt in her new home

Ellie Marie, rescued by Purrfect Pals, at home on her quilt.

 

 

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ANATOLE FRANCE

29

February 19, 2013

pieceablekingdom

Panthera tigris (Tiger), pieced handkerchief linen,cotton

Panthera tigris (Tiger), pieced handkerchief linen,cotton

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.

Redwing Blackbird, satin and silk

Redwing Blackbird, satin and silk

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?

Corvids of a Feather

February 7, 2013

pieceablekingdom

Chicken, Esther Woolfson's Rook

Chicken, Esther Woolfson’s Rook

When my partner and I moved into our house in the dead of winter six years ago, we quickly became aware of two sad crows in our back yard.  The male’s vision was occluded with a film over one of his eyes, and he struggled to navigate and feed himself.  His mate had a deep cut across her throat, most likely from eating out of a sharp-edged can.   We concluded that these pathetic birds were old and in their final season of life.  With pity, we fed them cat food and peanuts, expecting each supper to be their last.

By spring, they looked better.  As the male’s eye improved and he started to caw with more energy, we named him Roarke.  The female’s neck healed, and with better nutrition, she transformed into the sleek beauty we call Giselle.  They thrived during the summer, and by the time we celebrated our first anniversary in the house, our resident crows were healthy and content.  The next spring, they produced offspring, as they have every year since. Roarke and Giselle are part of our extended family, and I can say they have taught me more about birds than any class I’ve ever taken.

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Welcome to Pieceable Kingdom!

February 2, 2013

pieceablekingdom

Ellie Marie & Her Quilt

Ellie Marie & Her Quilt

Welcome to the Pieceable Kingdom!  Today marks the launch of my new website, timed to coincide with Imbolc, or Candlemas.  In Celtic tradition, early February heralds the beginning of spring.  As darkness begins to give way to longer days, the first lambs are born, and snowdrops break through the frozen soil, intrepid and delicate symbols of renewed life.

This is a season of initiation, and for me, one of gratitude. Every new project deserves a caring midwife, and no one could have brought Pieceable Kingdom into the world with more creativity and patience than Christine Stoll.  Christine and I have been friends for more than a decade, and have supported each other through countless changes in our lives.  What joy it has been to watch my friend embrace her creativity.  What luck to have her design my website!

The last year has been one of reconnection for me, and I am grateful to Purrfect Pals for inspiring me to bring all I can to work on behalf of cats once again.  This wonderful organization is doing rescue work the right way, and I look forward to many collaborative projects.  I am especially appreciative of John Bartlett, foster dad to more than thirty litters of kittens, the most recent ones on the screen of computers around the world.  John’s generosity reminded me that every act of interspecies kindness ripples out in all directions.

And finally, I would like to thank a special cat.  When I first stumbled into the Critter Room last year, John was fostering the Scientist Family.  Every one of them captured my imagination, but none more than mother Marie (Curie).  Still very much a kitten herself, she was rescued from the street by a concerned couple, had 4 kittens, and raised them on camera until they were old enough to be put up for adoption.

Before it was her turn to be adopted, Marie went back to Purrfect Pals for some much-needed rest and recuperation.  As a way to wish her well, I made a quilt, which accompanied her a few months later into her forever home.  And what a perfect home she found.  Ellie Marie, as she is now known, has brought great happiness into the life of her new person, a lovely woman whose husband of 57 years had recently passed away.  This is what she says about Ellie Marie: “She is such a cuddle bug. She jumps up on my lap and rubs her face on mine and hums me all the secret cat songs she knows, and she knows a lot.

And this, my friends, is just the beginning of secret cat songs in the Pieceable Kingdom.  Thank you for listening to them with me.