Sunday, May 23, 2010

Transformation Tapestry and Future Projects

Transformation Tapestry
2010, Shanna Wheelock, 48" x 67"
Clothing (natural fibers), alder, photographs, handmade Thai kozo paper

Transformation Book
2010, Shanna Wheelock, 4"x 126"
Paper, handmade Thai Kozo paper, linen, transfers, photographs

Pile of photos that made the second round of cuts

Tapestry in progress, adding the alder branches

At the very beginning....

Cutting the strips

Shanna weaving on the Beaver Stick Story Loom

Nana's Transformation Tapestry
2008, Shanna Wheelock, 16" x 60"
Clothing, metal, alder, handmade booklet (paper, photographs, ink)

The book in pocket with photos about Nana's life

Our lives are like artwork. We begin as a tiny dot of color. The painter's brush continues to add shapes and lines, and eventually, there is an image that tells a story. We can all recall different key moments in our own "life-painting" marked by a change in hue or direction in the brush-stroke. Every symbol that is added to the painting is essential to creating the masterpiece in its finished form. In the course of the creation, there might be times when something feels out of place or gets labeled as a mistake. But as the painting progresses, we find that some of these "mistakes" or out-of-place parts add to the character of the finished piece, might even make it better.

In a metaphysical sense, my own transformation tapestry began over forty years ago. I can recall events in my life, good and bad, that have made me who I am today. The past two years I have undergone what I consider to be monumental changes in the development of who I am as a human being: physically, spiritually, psychically, and emotionally.

In September of 2007, the two elders in our family crossed over to a new dimension in their being. Chris' Grandfather Richard Bell Jackson, and my Grandmother Glenis Delora Martin, died within five days of each other, leaving us in shock and deeply saddened.

As with many deaths, family members eventually grapple with having to sort through the deceased person's belongings. It is a difficult task and one that brings up memories as each article is passed through the hands. Every time I looked an at item of Nana's clothing, I associated it with an event or ritual. I remembered her wearing that blue-striped cotton shirt to my birthday party, or that terry cloth robe while watching TV before bedtime. It came to me that I wanted to commemorate both Nana and Richard by telling the story of them through their clothing.

About a month after Richard's passing, Chris' mom and cousin arrived to Lubec with a bag of clothing and baubles that held some sort of significance to Richard. The initial tearing of the clothes into strips was like exhaling after holding your breath underwater for hours. The grief began to disperse and memories were recalled of Richard in his purple sweatshirt or favorite pair of pants. His tapestry was colorful and outdoorsy. A carpenter's pencil was added, and other items that told the story of his love for building, art, reading, and animals. The process of this storytelling as we wove on the Earth Loom became a vehicle for healing.

Nana's clothing remained in my closet over the winter. It wasn't until springtime that I was able to open the bag and begin the sorting of articles that told her story. This time, with boxes of pictures in hand, I created a mini-scrapbook of her life. The finished piece was the essence of Nana. The colors alone reminded me of an old-handpainted photo of her, standing in a field of flowers, her hands fanning out her skirt, a kitten in each pocket. This photo always reminded me of her joyful energy. She was a survivor, a woman who was strong and independent, deeply spiritual in a quiet way, and a protectress tiger watching over her family of cubs.

Soon after the deaths of Richard and Nana, my own life offered up some unexpected twists and turns. Then began a two year transformation which became the basis for my own tapestry. For two years, I gathered clothes which sat in a bag in my closet. In January of this year, I opened the bag and began the sorting and cutting of my own life's fabric. It was a psychologically demanding task and at times stopped me in my tracks. I journaled the experience and over the course of five months, my transformation story unfolded.

The process began with me, change, and collecting. Then came the cutting, the weaving, and the sewing. I thought I would attach various objects to illustrate my journey, but instead, found the peacefulness of just a few branches to represent growth and a wooden circle to symbolize the moon and cycles to be enough. The booklet, which incorporates forty photos of me, one for each year of my life progressing from birth to present day, was an enormous task. It began with Mom pulling out boxes of thousands of photos that she and Nana had collected over the years. There's nothing like boxes of photos to tear you away from all of life and capture your attention fully for hours on end. I returned to Lubec with hundreds of pictures to choose from, at the time not sure which direction I would take.

It was over sixteen hours of sorting and scanning to narrow it down to only forty. But each one of those forty represents a vivid memory or key moment in my life.

Continuing the Transformation Tapestry Series
I hope to continue with the Transformation Tapestry series. I would like to work with clothing of people who have undergone some sort of major life change, whether it be a death, birth/maternity, your child's clothing from his/her first year of life, body transformation such as weight loss or gender re-assignment, illness, graduation from high school or college, travel, wedding. etc. Some tapestries I would incorporate as part of my profession, offering a service for people to memorialize, others I would like to keep as part of my own collection for gallery exhibits. I am not sure how to approach people for the clothing though, as I know that these life transformations are emotionally charged. But, I feel that this will fall into place as it is meant to, and will be a project that is both healing and celebratory. If you are interested in having a transformation tapestry created for yourself or a loved one, contact me via email and I will forward you the information.

My email is

Body Image Project: Seeking Women's Experiences for Art Project
While working on my own Transformation Tapestry, I read the book "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf. I have created my own "survey" of questions for women about their own experiences and beliefs around body image. I plan to collect women's responses and use them to fuel an art project. At this time, I do not know what direction the project will take, as I am working intuitively. I only know so far that I need to collect women's experiences on paper. I am seeking women who would like to be a part of this project. All responses will be kept confidential and any quotes or stories used in my future art projects will be anonymous. If you are interested in participating, email me at:

1 comment:

Kim Hambric said...

Shanna, I am so overcome about the idea of these transformation tapestries. I wish I could have tangible pieces of my grandparents to do something similar with. So often, I see a faded coral out of the corner of my eye and think of my grandmother's worn jacket. She was so beautiful in that color.

I always thought of photos as the best way to remember loved ones or even myself. But I would love to have scraps of one of my grandmothers' dresses or aprons to hold onto.

I would never have thought to do something with my own bits and pieces. I wonder if that says something about my own self-image?