Memories of maypoles

A fun thing about making is the images and memories that appear in the middle of making something else. Recently, I have been playing with weaving or hooking wool strips through architectural and other found objects. This was going to be a blown-out wooden version of a foundation fabric with wide wool strips woven through the wood lattice.

And it is that. But when I lifted it to look at it from the bottom, with the long strips of wool hanging down, I was transported to the Allentown PA fairgrounds circa August 1975. Instantly. Weirdly. Unexpectedly. To the Maypole competition that was part of the city Parks Department annual summer festival.

Every summer, every playground in the city offered kids programs from 1-4 in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. A couple of high school kids were in charge of setting up and supervising arts and crafts, exercises, free play, storytelling and other activities. We were a group of about 10 regulars whose parents gently, lovingly, but decidedly booted us outside every day. Some of the activities involved practice for the end-of-summer celebration at the city fairgrounds where we’d be given lunch and free ice cream if we showed off our talents.

The last part of that summer celebration was the maypole competition. In early August, the poor teenagers in charge of us had to recruit enough kids in the neighborhood to join in. We practiced with near-zero enthusiasm for a couple of weeks, with only our imagination to conjure the pole and streamers in our minds. We needed a kid for each of the 20 or so strips of fabric that hung from a precariously placed wooden wheel on a skinny 10 foot pole. The fabric was cotton, I think, and the streamers were the 2 colors that represented our playground. The pole and the wobbly top were white. So were our shorts, shirts, ans sneakers, our uniforms for the day.

Early August in Allentown is hot and humid. We mid-pubescent sweaty monsters moaned through practice at the playground. We moaned all the way to the fairgrounds. When we arrived, we could tell who had been practicing, and we moaned again. The object of the maypole competition was to decorate the pole in a braid-like configuration. Each kid stood about 10 feet from the pole in a giant circle. Each held one strip, with a partner holding a contrasting colored strip. We were to weave in and out of each other’s paths as we circled the pole, moving into closer circles with each rotation around the pole. the prettiest pole won. I don’t ever remember winning…


Finding inspiration. Organizing inspiration. Managing inspiration.

Easy, challenging, overwhelming, in that order.

Finding inspiration is a piece of cake. I inherited my mother’s inclination to say wow at least once every day. Except for fascination with cars and money, I can find something interesting to ask about everything and everyone I encounter. One of the benefits of being a 7th-kid is the exponential exposure to ideas, things and people that came into my life through the first 6. I am grateful for my siblings’ willingness to answer all my questions. That inspired me to keep asking.

Organizing inspiration.

Six months into MFA study, I’m bombarded with inspiration in the best possible way. Being with the other artists, being in the buildings, being asked to offer examples of artists I find…I am lucky beyond measure. I’m finding, though, that when I set out to make something new, the ideas begin competing. I’m in a room full of ideas I care about, and they all have something to say. At first they are all murmuring, ideas in small groups begin quietly chatting among themselves. Then they start clamoring for attention.

“Make another political piece about nurses getting screwed.”

“Nah, make something fun. Loads of color. We want to play.”

“Go to the books. Find someone new to investigate.”

“Make it a hooked piece.”

“Your shoulder hurts…make an embroidered piece.”

“What about tatting? You’ve been wanting to that forever.”

Managing inspiration.

I need you all to pipe down. You in the back, we’ll get to tatting later. Politics will wait until I’ve interviewed the nurses 2 years out from graduation during COVID. Today, I’m going to the books.

In her book Threading Time: A Cultural History of Threadwork in 2001, Dolores Bausum wrote about the relationship between woven cloth and stability: “…work with thread of various kinds has been a pervasive force in the psychological, emotional, and spiritual bonding of humans since earliest times.” In countless ways, I have connected psychologically, emotionally, spiritually through woven cloth as long as I can remember.

In the coming days, I’m going to hook small pieces that each represent what has been underfoot in my life. Footprints through the parks, the beach, the woods. Woven cloth and walks as foundational. Thanks, Dolores.