Monday, November 2, 2009

Gretchen Marie: Her Girlhood - My First Cloth Paintings Book

I've decided to make an entry entirely about my daughter, as pictured in my recently finished first cloth book, Gretchen Marie: Her Girlhood, which I started on August 12, 2009, in a class I taught at Valley Ridge Art Studio in Wisconsin, and finished on October 13, 2009, in my home studio. The book is 12"h x 11"w, with all original artwork done as first and final drafts right on the white cotton pages. I used markers to sketch, then fabric paint to brush on for coloring, and airpen and fabric paint to do the writing. I added paint markers to make some outlines heavier. All pages are double sided, have borders of cotton print fabric, and are quilted with Nature-fil, the bamboo and organic cotton batting from Fairfield Processing.

Here's the front cover of the book, which is the story of my only child Gretchen's life til she was 15 years old. This image, like all of the paintings in the book, is from my memories of Gretchen, as she was growing up. I didn't have access to my photos at home, while I was drawing, and I wanted to set a good example to my students, of trusting what comes out of your creative instincts, as you work. I wanted the drawings to really look like Gretchen, but I also wanted to feel the trust that I keep telling my students to have. It was a good expernience for me, to make this book to give to Gretchen, and to know that I would just do my best, without having reference images to study first.

In this detail, you can see the airpen writing and drawing better, as well as the machine random-grid quilting and the hand stitching that holds the binding onto the book. The image here is of Gretchen, on her tenth birthday, when Jimmy and I gave her this vintage cookie jar, of the Hey, Diddle, Diddle nursery rhyme, only we filled it with her favorite cookies: Nabisco Mystic Mints. She loved Dr. Denton's footie sleepers and wore them at least til she was ten, so here she is, snuggly in her sleeper.  I gave her a pink rose, which I think fits her well.  Ah, I can remember that day, in our little kitchen on Washington Street in Wooster, so well!  Lucy, our first black lab, and our cats Ernesto Juarez and Maggie would have been there with us, as we had the birthday cake I'd made and decorated wildly. Probably Gretchen's friend Heather was there with us, and Jimmy would have gone out to his back porch incarnation of his Barnfire Leather shop, after the little party.

I made the binding from hand dyed cloth from Lunn Fabrics over the edges of the pages I'd hand sewn together, after I'd quilted each double-sided page separately. I added batting to the binding fabric, to give it more body, so that it would have the same feel as the quilted pages themselves.

This is the inside cover and the title page. I drew my own publishing company logo for The Edible Press, which I've used on my own greeting cards and little xeroxed paper books for as long as I can remember. The logo says: "People should eat art" above the Edible Press lips, with "Wooster, Ohio" written underneath. I drew some of my Peace Roses for my girl on these pages and on the front cover.

The stories I'm going to write here are not from a transcript of what I put into this book. I don't make transcripts, and I write on the work right off the top of my head. So I'm just looking at the pictures now and putting down new thoughts to go with the paintings here. This is a separate narrative about Gretchen's life, from the one hand written in the book. But this blog entry and the book tell the same stories, just in different ways.

On the left side here is my impression of me, being pregnant in 1970. I wanted a baby, but especially I wanted a little girl, and would spend time reminding God of my very serious preference! My first husband and I were at Kent State, visiting my brother, when the riots broke out. We had to walk around, escorted by National Guard soldiers with bayonets, and there was a light cloud of tear gas hovering in the air. Having just found out recently that I was pregnant, I just wanted to get out of Kent, as I was so worried that I might lose my baby. We got out safely on Saturday, May 2, but we all know what happened two days later. It made me glad that I had dropped out of Kent when I did, at the end of my first quarter there, as an art student in 1968, as I had joined SDS and was active in antiwar protests back then. I think I woulda been in that crowd up on the Commons, when the killings happened at Kent State on May 4, 1970, had I not dropped out to get married.

I had a good pregnancy, except for some serious back pain in the sixth or seventh month. I took the first Lamaze class at The College of Wooster, given by Pris Gates and Martie Taggart, who also educated us about breast feeding via the La Leche League. This was radical stuff in 1970, and I had the first Lamaze delivery at Dunlap hospital in Orrville, OH. Gretchen was born on December 19, 1970, ten days after my due date, in a drug-free delivery, which was my goal, and I worked very hard to make that happen. We young hippie rebel moms were few back then in Ohio, but thanks to my classes, I was able to do it!

On the right side page above, you see Gretchen and her first toy, Kitty Owl. When Gretchen was born, she was exactly the same length as Kitty Owl, the toy I'd knitted for her, during my pregnancy. We still have Kitty Owl, who's made of two shades of purple yarn, with orange felt accents and some yarn embroidery, and is stuffed with stockings. I merrily made many of Gretchen's baby and girl clothes, including many little hippie girl dresses (that's what she calls them now) and sweaters, etc. I would take her downtown in her stroller, and we'd sit together, looking at patterns and then select our fabrics for outfits. Then we'd often walk to the library for Story Hour or other delights there. Life was good!

When Gretchen was little, one of her best friends was Philip, who lived across the street from our house on N. Walnut Street in Wooster. The two of them would play and play, and his mom Jenny and I taught at Panda Playschool for a while, so the kids could attend it. Phil gave Gretchen the purple plastic clogs he'd outgrown, and she gave him Moby Grape, the purple man doll I'd made for her. They both thought they got the better end of the deal. :)

Another friend of Gretchen's, Nicki, lived beside us, and her mom got Gretchen to join Nicki in ballet classes at Batine Winch's Dance Studio in Wooster. Later Gretchen danced at the new Wooster Art Center, which started at the college, and she'd walk from her school to my college studio, to get ready to go to class with Teresa Perrot. It was magical to watch my sweet little girl dancing! For years Gretchen was my Tiny Dancer, and a lot of my art at The College of Wooster over the years, was about her. My advisor George Olson paid Gretchen a few times to pose in her ballet outfit for his drawing classes, probably on days off from her own school.

Here's a detail of the righthand page above, where Gretchen is playing Candyland with my mother, whom Gretchen called Panny. (Yes, it's an inherited title that Eva now calls me.) My mom and dad lived out at Smithville, about a ten minute drive from our place in Wooster, and they'd babysit Gretchen when I had to go somewhere, when she was too little to stay alone, or before that, when she couldn't stay with her girlfriends or our commune housemates. I remember Mom making animal-shaped pancakes especially for Gretchen, and brewing Grandma's Tummy Mint Tea for both of them. Mom sewed, wove rugs, gardened organically, and read lots of really thoughtful books. She went back to her RN job when Gretchen was a year old, and yet, she always had time for her grandchildren.

In 1976, my first marriage ended, and my brother Jimmy Shie and I started a little commune in Wooster, which we named The Needle's Eye, after a coffee house he had helped run in Kent. (That was the place we had gone up to visit, the weekend of the Kent protests and killings.) We'd begun the Needle's Eye in Wooster with the intention of having the music only, but soon people wanted to rent rooms in our large old house at 568 E North St. So we rented to friends who were interested in folk music, and the lively old house became a little commune.

On the left above is Gretchen, who was almost 6 when we started the Needle's Eye, happily surrounded by nine cats. That's the most cats we got up to, as many of the people who moved in had their own cats.
My OTHER Jimmy, Jimmy Acord, and I met in Sept, 1976 and he wuold come to the folk music jam sessions each Friday night, along with many other people. He moved in with me in January, 1977, and we shared a lovely little attic bedroom. Ah, the romance of those times! Gretchen was in first grade, and she had a best friend Alissa, who lived two doors over from us.

We had the Eye from mid 1976 to early 1979. After that, Jimmy Acord, Gretchen, and I moved to a house on Washington St, where Gretchen had a best friend across the street, Heather. On the right above, I painted Gretchen and Heather, giving one of their wonky and wild puppet shows in Gretchen's bedroom. The closet door was a curtain, and they figured out it could be a neat puppet theater. They made themselves weird and wonderful hats to wear during performances.

In June, 1980, Gretchen and I took a Greyhound bus ride to Eugene, Oregon, so I could take summer school classes at the University of Oregon, where my College of Wooster friend Kathy Ruth had moved to, after her graduation. I'd been told it would take three days on the bus, but the station manager was wrong: it was four days. And I was crazy enough to drag my guitar along! Ugh! Gretchen and I made the best of the trip, but the worst thing was that rumors were flying, that Mt St. Helens was going to errupt again, and that it could trigger 23 other volcanic mountains in the area going off, and that could cause the West Coast to fall into the ocean. We got to Eugene; I freaked out on bringing my nine year old girl into harm's way, and two weeks later we went back on the bus - four days again, of course - to Wooster. That was the only year I didn't do summer school in college, in my nontraditional student panic to catch up! Gretchen and I have never made another trip alone together, before or since. But it had its good points, and I hope someday we can do it again. Not on the bus!! Maybe we can take Eva and visit Robin in New York in a few years! THAT would be really nice!

On the right side of the double page above, I told about Gretchen breaking her left wrist. It was in April, 1981, when she was ten. She was roller skating, which she was really good at, and another girl chased her on a Big Wheel and basically ran her off the sidewalk. Gretchen's skate caught in the little ditch where the sidewalk was weeded, and she fell, breaking her fall by putting her arm out. They had to put her under to set the wrist bones, and she was in a cast for six weeks. We'd never had any broken bones in my family, so this was all new to us! Yikes! I just remember hating it, when she got out of the cast and put her skates back on in Kent. I just couldn't look! But she never fell again.

This is a detail of the left side of that double page above, of the bus trip, with the ballet doll I'd made for Gretchen, whom she named Teresa, after her beloved ballet teacher.

In June, 1981, I graduated with a BA in Painting from The College of Wooster. I had ribbons on my robe for graduating with honors and for being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. It was a very hot day to be wearing wool robes, but there we were, out in the Oak Grove on campus, with the kilt-wearing Wooster Scots band playing for us. Many people in my family came to my graduation, which made me really happy.  When the ceremonies were over, I playfully switched hats with Gretchen, who was wearing a girl's ball cap. So she had on my mortarboard, which I thought was great, since we'd been through a LOT together, in order for me to graduate that day! She had come to MY classes on days when her school was closed, and everyone knew my Gretchen well in several disciplines! A woman scolded Gretchen for wearing my graduation cap, but WE knew she had every right to put it on proudly! How could that crabby woman know how much Gretchen had actually participated in my college days?

I think this is a good place to add that my daughter Gretchen is really brilliant. Where I had to study like crazy in school to get my As, Gretchen had such a good memory, she could study less and still get super grades.  I know this great mind of hers came in super handy later, when she went on to college and grad school. And I should add that at age 15, Gretchen decided that she wanted to become an art historian and work in an art museum.  And that's what she did. See, the  College of Wooster graduation cap fit her just fine, even when she was only 10!

On the right side in the image above is a painting of Gretchen tearing around Kent with her girlfriends. Moving to Kent, we found ourselves in the midst of a bunch of women going to college late, who had kids around Gretchen's age. Whereas my College of Wooster girlfriends loved Gretchen, because she reminded them of little sisters back at their homes, now my Kent friends girls were Gretchen's own pals. We lived in the Allerton Apartments, which belonged to the university, and were where students who were married and/or had children lived. A long ways away from where the regular students lived!

Allerton was really safe and a good place for kids to have some freedom and at the same time, have lots of mothers keeping an eye on them. And the wonderful Kent State buses came right out to our building! We also had the gift of cultural diversity at Allerton, which was also the home for many foreign students who were married. It was a really good time for us.  My best friend in Kent, Skaidrite, who was a doctoral candidate in English, lived two doors over from Gretchen and me, and Skai's daughter Salome was Gretchen's best friend. The other friends in this painting are Judy and Angela.

After living in Kent from June, 1981 to August, 1983, we moved home to Wooster and Jimmy. Gretchen wanted to go to Wooster's junior high school, and I needed to be home with Jimmy again. I gave up my 3 year graduate assistantship (teaching Drawing I and II) before the final year, and had to finish my 3 year MFA program later, in 1985-6, by commuting from Wooster to Kent. When Gretchen was 13, we moved into the third floor apartment of the Wooster Food Co-op, to Gretchen's great displeasure. I was on the Co-op Council, andI worked at the co-op as the manager part of the time we lived there, but Gretchen never got adjusted to it. In the painting above on the left, she cuddled up to her cat Vikki in her bedroom, where I'd made sure she had her own TV and stereo, to help soften the blow of living in yet another hippie situation.

In the written page on the right above, I tell a very abbreviated version of the rest of Gretchen's life to date. We moved to a big Wooster house in 1986, when I got my MFA from Kent State. Three years later Gretchen herself went to Kent State in 1989, after she graduated from Wooster High School, and she worked in the School of Art Gallery for five years, earning a BA in Art History in 1994. Then the University of Cincinnati drew her to live there to study for her MA in Art History, which she got in 1996.. When Gretchen moved to Cinci, my now son-in-law Mike moved there, too, because of Gretchen, and he got his BA in English at UC. They stayed in Cincinnati until 2002, with Gretchen working at the Cincinnati Art Museum for over five years, while Mike worked for Strength Magazine.

Jimmy and I finally got married in 1990, after 14 years. Gretchen and Mike got married in 2000, after six years. They moved to Cleveland when Gretchen found a good job at the Cleveland Museum of Art in early 2002, and Mike went to work for ProQuest. In October, 2004, Eva was born, and I kept a little granny pad two blocks from their Lakewood home, so I could be Eva's main nanny, helped by Mike's mom Eileen. When Eva was a year and a half old, we quit that and Eva went to Holy Family Preschool fulltime. She's currently in her last year there, before kindergarten next year.

Gretchen is the Registrar for Loans (of the permanent collection's artwork) at the museum, and works very hard and does her job well. Sometimes she has to travel for her work, though I know she wants to stay home with Eva as much as she can. Mike's had a band called Mike St Jude and the Valentines for five years or so, and he writes the songs and is the lead singer in the band. Eva, who just turned five, is a vivacious mixture of her talented parents, who keeps us all mezmerized with her charms. Like Gretchen, she's studying ballet now, and she's into music and art. I'm very proud of my kids. I hope to do another book, this time about Gretchen and Mike and Eva together, sometime! Maybe when I teach the book class at Valley Ridge Art Studio next October!

This is the back cover of my cloth book about Gretchen. This image must be really strong in my head, because of a photo we have here at home. She was six, and she was standing outside of The Needle's Eye, beside our orange and white VW microbus, wearing the jeans jacket I'd embroidered, copying her drawing of herself and Jimmy's cat Ernesto Juarez, under a rainbow. I also put on a sleeve her Creep Mousy, a character our friend Laurie Schoepe had invented for Gretchen and which Gretchen called Laurie. Gretchen is holding her koala bear Brisbane. I can see us standing out in the yard, ready to get into our VW bus, with the paisley curtains I'd made for all its windows and the fun bed in the back. I wish we coulda kept that bus longer, but some guy hit it and totalled it, soon after we'd gotten it all fixed up. As for Gretchen's jacket, it's in our hall closet, and Eva's almost big enough to wear it, if she wants to.

Here you can see the back side of the orange hand dyed binding on my book, with the Edible Press logo and some stats about the piece. More airpen writing is on the front of the binding, too.

I hope Gretchen likes her book. I'm sure if she would write its narrative, it'd be pretty different from my take on her childhood, which is usually true of a mother and daughter's versions of their lives together. But I hope she can forgive me for anything I did then, that she didn't like (like living above the co-op, for instance.) I hope that Eva gets enjoyment out of seeing her mommy as a little girl, much like herself. I really loved making Gretchen Marie and look forward to more epic art projects of this nature. As you know, I love to tell stories.

 Here's a picture from two nights ago, at GEM's house. (GEM is Gretchen, Eva, and Mike) in Lakewood, OH. It was after all the Halloween parties were overwith, and the trick or treating was done, too. It was a cold and windy evening, and little Evabell (Eva as Tinkerbell) was enjoying snuggling up to her mommy, Gretchen. How I love my girlies!

Thanks a lot, if you've actually stuck it out to get to the end of this story!

Peace, love, and healing to you all, Lucky


  1. Love the store book. I really enjoy your openness and sharing nature. I loved your class here in Edmonton last spring and have started another painting this fall. I have set a side a spot to paint and hope to do more this winter.

  2. Hi Cathy. Thanks! I'm so glad you're painting! It's important to have a spot where you can jump in and paint, when you want to! So many people don't have that! Cherish it!

  3. Oh dear Susie your gift is priceless and our daughters always have a different view of what went on LOL....Gretchen is so blessed to have received so much love from so many diverse people. The last photo is precious and we are so blessed to have had our daughters ride along on our happy trail of life. Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  4. I couldn't stop reading if a bomb had gone off! How fantastic! The beautiful imagery and the way to designed the pages and it is flawless! You have such an eye and skills galore! Your honesty and simplicity and depth and well, you should know that I love you and your work! And if anyone should write a memoir it should be YOU!!!

    What a beautiful family you have.

    Dawn Goldsmith

  5. So... the attic above the co-op is available now?
    Thanks for a great story, certainly the book will be cherished for generations.
    My daughter is constantly raising her eyebrows, "this is another story from my childhood I haven't heart before..." But really, how could she not remember these things, she lived them. But of course, they remember so little before the age of seven or eight. Except the love, they always remember the love.

  6. Totally wonderful Susie-a testament to different times and yet...

  7. Well, this beats all! Love the book, and it is way more interesting than any genealogy books I've ever put together. What a treasure :))

  8. Dear Susan,
    I've always loved your stories in your quilts. So much courage! This is really really wonderful. Are you going to print it as a book? It should be.

  9. Thanks you guys! Ellen, I did make scans of all the pages, before I sewed them together, so when I get rich, I can do that! :) Meanwhile, I'm all itchy to make another of my much faster-going xerox books! I haven't done one of them in years. Now I'm writing an article for Quilting Arts Studio Magazine, about this book. Their idea, not mine. I'd rather be painting! My toughest thing is editing down! blah! Oh, and Dear Yamgoddess, they tore the co-op down and put up a fancy justice center. We moved the co-op to the main street again, and it has no apartments above it now. Now it's called Wooster Natural Foods.

  10. Thank you for the delightful story and book. I am wondering if I might include an image of it in a book that I am writing (not on fabric) entitled Peace Fibres: Stitching a Soulful World? In it, I enlist fibre work as metaphor and manifestation for harmonious relationship to self, others, and the larger world. I would include the photo in a chapter dealing with women and children's issues.
    May I use the image? If so, please advise regarding any fees involved. I would, of course, cite your website and you as artist.
    Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to your response.
    Karen Lohn

  11. Hi Karen. That would be lovely! What I'd like in return is a copy of your book. You can email me at for more discussion on this. Thanks, Susan