Welcome to MissouriBendStudio!

This is an online journal of my artistic investigations and a way to communicate about my work, ideas, quandries and queries! I welcome comments and conversation and do hope you enjoy these musings. My artwork is available in my shop MissouriBendStudio on Etsy.com or on my website.


Monday, November 29, 2010

A Walk Through The Universe: The Fleeting Moment, The Backward Glance, Week 5

Lucky for me, this November has had five Mondays! It has given me another week to make new discoveries connected to the topic at hand, "The Fleeting Moment, The Backward Glance" in my Walk Through The Universe....that is, in our Walk Through The Universe...this is a shared journey, after all! We've been treated to such richness in the words and images of our featured artists, Kira Sheker and Bridgette Guerzon Mills, and this week brings another artist and a different look at the subject. I began look again through the shops on Etsy for artists dealing with memory in an unusual way.  It took me some time before the work of Abby Leigh Johnson came into view and I was immediately taken, not only by the beautifully layered mixed media work, but by the titles of the pieces...each a Memory with a number attached, as if these artifacts of memory had been collected and carefully cataloged.  Now, as a long-time cataloger, I found this immediately appealing and fascinating, but also so poignant....as the work of someone who must be dealing with an attempt to capture memory in a very personal and individual way.  Of course, I knew she was my much-hoped-for next featured artist and I was delighted when she agreed to share her work and her thoughts this week for A Walk Through The Universe! I'm pleased to introduce you to Abby Leigh Johnson...

I describe memory as a way that the mind stores intangible things to be recalled at a later time. Through my work I parallel the similarities of the act of memory and how it is mimicked by the compartmentalization of a curiosity cabinet. Memory is constantly evolving and immensely complicated but this act has always sparked the curiosity of man-kind. Afterall, it can be altered by the slightest variable which makes it fascinating. A great example is how one can start at a different point of a specific memory each time it is reviewed. We are always trying to capture a memory and hold on to it, but can we really do this? Since memory is an intangible act, we collect and hold on to objects as a way to try and conquer this obstacle. Typically objects are stored or collected because of emotional attachment or because of a relationship to memory. Through this act the collector can embed memory within an object. This relationship infuses objects with a type of preciousness that is independent of monetary value. The Victorian era is a prime example of the relationship between object and memory through mourning, sentimental jewelry and photography. Victorian mourning jewelry was the initial inspiration for my work that linked all of my ideas together. 

It's hard to talk about my work individually because while I was creating it, it was always about the collective work. I was constantly thinking about it as a collection where each individual piece works together as a whole which mimics how each individual moment collected together make up a memory. I created this work for my MFA thesis exhibition which opened almost a year ago, in January 2010. Now I've sold a lot of my work and am only left with a small group of individual works. These pieces have traveled with me and along the way were included in various exhibitions. I see now that each piece not only work individually but through time they have adapted and created their own new collections, just how memories are altered and adapted throughout time. Each time I hang them I notice something different and they are hung with new pieces. This reinforces the conceptual notion of the curious cycle of memory. 

Memory #26

I started my work by creating abstracted objects through free motion stitching and applique. The stitching is made up of tiny elements and shapes that are reminiscent of familiar objects. These are meant to be interpreted differently by each individual person that interacts with them to create a unique experience.

Memory #204

While creating abstracted objects through stitch I also used different dye techniques, including tea dye, and screen-printing to strengthen these objects with color. I'm using muted colors that reflect the Victorian era. Since my work is created through cloth this evokes different kinds of marks that are similar to stains on functional cloth, like stains on a table cloth. The dye also reacts differently with each type of cloth so it creates an effect of age and often has a rust quality in certain areas.

Memory #129

Eventually I decided to include metals and jewelry techniques in my work. The enameled copper represents the notion of an object that resembles something we might be familiar with just as my free motion stitching and applique does. This time when I bring in metal it represents two different types of  dichotomy; permanence vs. impermanence; and absence vs. presence. The contrast of materials, metal and cloth, show the presence of something lasting, metal, and something fleeting, cloth. The burning on the cloth from an object illustrates absence of what once was there as compared to the presence of the actual metal object. These are all qualities of memory. 

Memory #99

Finally, one sees that by combining all of these different techniques I have built up a surface and created layers similar to the different layers in an individual memory. Most of the layers that I have built are transparent. This is a reminder that memory is complex and made up of multiple layers even if you can't see them all. 

Pieces of Savannah #3

Pieces of Savannah #8

My most recent work still speaks about memory but the work is a little bit different than my previous work. It's more pictorial and is the memory of a specific place. I'll leave you to interpret these as you wish and remember memory will always have a specific relationship to photographs, trinkets and layers of documentation.

I was curious to know more about the Curiosity Cabinet and its relatioship to collecting and to memory, so I asked Abby to elaborate a little.  After such a full experience up until now...here's a bit more to chew on...with more to investigate!

Here are some of my thoughts on curiosity cabinets. I parallel curiosity cabinets with victorian mourning jewelry as well as memory because in my mind they all have some of the same properties...

I started researching curiosity cabinets after I made the unique connection between objects and memory. I find it to be extremely interesting to see what other people collect and how they organize their collections similar to a modern curio cabinet. Jewelry boxes are an example of a modern curio cabinet. Each person organizes their jewelry box in a unique fashion, and typically stores other meaningful objects with their jewelry. I know I have keepsakes from my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and father in my jewelry box. Most of these keepsakes are worthless but for me they are instilled with memory and meaning in a way that makes them more valuable to me than any piece of jewelry that I own. In bottom drawer of my jewelry box, in the very back I have another box. In the smaller box I have created smaller compartments to keep objects. I have a red cross pin from my great-grandmother, a tiny rubber ball that my dad gave me when I was a kid, a necklace that my great-grandmother made out of seed pods, turquoise jewelry from my dad, a tiny heart from my mom, my baby ring, a glass sea horse, a pin from my grandmother, shells from hawaii, a seed that I've had since I was in grade school and my dad's class ring. This is where my collecting started because all of this stuff is from when I was growing up. Now my collecting has overflowed into my studio and influenced my artwork. 

"The purpose of a curiosity cabinet was a venue for collectors to display both the treasures of art and wonders of nature." [Patrick Maurices, Cabinets of Curiosity (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.), 23.] The intention of a curio cabinet is dual in nature and parallels the revealing and concealing properties of Victorian sentimental jewelry. Mourning jewelry is an exhibited secret that is revealed during the mourning process but because of the highly personal nature is private and has a hidden story. Eventually it is stored similar to how curiosities are collected and put away in cabinets. Exactly like how I talked about jewelry boxes and how they are modern curio cabinets. These objects are only revealed to certain people usually while sharing a common interest or talking about a memory. "Curiosity cabinets were venues for collectors; intended to define, help to discover and posses' unique items as well as to inscribe them within a special setting that would install layers of meaning in each object." [Patrick Maurices, Cabinets of Curiosity (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002.), 25.] The comparison to curiosity cabinets is where the concept of memory becomes important because the mind stores in a revealing and concealing manner just like a curio cabinet. The evolving nature of memories makes us want to capture them so we will not forget. We sometimes use devices or objects to execute this idea but memories are also abstractly stored in our minds this same way. This is the very reason of the chosen formats and titles for my works as well as how I hang my works together. They are cataloged memories stored in the way that our mind compartmentalizes memory and the moments that make them up.

So much to follow up on this post for me...I'm fascinated by Abby's work and want to find out more about curiosity cabinets and Victorian mourning jewelry. I'll see all of you fine folks out there somewhere in cyberspace, I'm sure...or maybe right here, as we share comments!  

Abby's website can be found here and her etsy shop can be found here. Hope you've enjoyed this post as much as I have! Oh...let's see...where in the universe are we headed next? I think this path forks slightly off into the notion of collecting...and holding...and containing...the container and the contained...are we talking about "the vessel" perhaps? 


  1. Gosh these are so fascinating, I would love to have one in my hands so to intricately inspect. Wonderful! Thank you for alerting us to yet another very talented Etsian!

  2. I discovered your blog recently and am appreciating it. I've had a long
    love affair with handmade paper, watercolor, stitching and collage.
    You and Abby and I share a similar aesthetic. On the subject of memory, I recommend Anthony Doerr's new book of short stories,
    "Memory Wall". Thank you for sharing your creative process.

  3. Hi Louise...yes, these are fascinating and so tactile, as well! So glad you enjoyed this post...thanks so much for your comment!

  4. Edith...so nice to hear from you and to know of another lover of paper, stiching and layering. Thanks so much for the book recommendation...always love to read about these ideas! Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment...much appreciated!

  5. fascinating work and a very interesting take on memory. I'm going to have to come back and read this again when I have a bit more time.
    Thank you for introducing her work to all of us!

  6. I'm still digesting and rereading myself....there is a lot here to think about! Thanks for stopping by...see you back here again!

  7. Wonderful post and work. These are lovely.

  8. Aria....thanks for you comment! So glad you like these works!


I'm happy to hear from you...comments and questions are welcome!