You learn for yourself not for others, not to show off, not to put the other one down/ learning is your secret, it is all you have, it is the only thing you can call your own. nobody can take it away…
Life learning in combination with quilt making works most effectively when done in series. I experienced that initially with my first one-person show and I have continued the practice, making works in series with great benefits.
Multiples allow the time and space to dwell in all aspects of a concept, to process and integrate in a deep multi-layered analysis. On the physical level, series makes the best use of the gathered supplies. There is always enough for multiple quilts. On the emotional level, the lengthy process requires sitting with feelings otherwise easily pushed aside. On the spiritual level, the meditative process of stitch by stitch allows burdens and barriers to wash away leaving space for more of everything.
The series integrating Kabbalistic knowledge into my quilts began with the co-creation representing the mystic’s most significant symbol, The Tree of Life. Generally, it is a diagram of three triads. My rendition would be my own uniquely technical and spiritual creative action.
I started with a trip to the thrift story on half price day. Four values each of seven hues of men’s knit sport shirts used to represent both the worlds of emanation and the days of creation; all for under fifty dollars.
I used the image of a plant with very clear veins as the inspiration to create ten large windowpane-looking patchwork blocks. They were odd shapes and sizes, coming together randomly into a very uniquely shaped tree-like quilt. I made the transformational decision to leave it as a free-form shape without filling in the background.
After a series of varied tree-like structures, I used the remnants to experiment with several odd shaped free forms, and then, looking for a wearable, I moved onto the kimono. Trees transformed to angels; another known physical symbol that lends itself to divine concepts represented as quilts.
BubbeWisdom ties together philosophical values, physical consciousness, psychological emotions and ephemeral spirit to improve the likelihood of right action in the right way at the right time.
The first grandchild arrives along with the question of what will she call you? Wow, it is tough to determine your own name! The easiest is to stick with family tradition. My Mom used Nana, as did her Mother. I took the more challenging path, settling on the very old-world Yiddish, Bubbe, with the caveat to redefine the name to more adequately represent me as the contemporary grandmother of today.
My first assignment was caring for my son’s first born. I took over an idea from her daycare to give a daily written report to her parents. The writing became a Bubbe Blog on her very own personal website.
After that experience, I jumped at the opportunity to blog for our Jewish newspaper. This motivated the creation of a mission statement, a website, and a personal blog entitled BubbeWisdom along with my goal to continue piecing together a contemporary life of family, quilts, politics, philanthropy, and spirituality.
In 2016, I sat across from my tax person, telling her that having inherited money from the sale of family property, I planned to pay off my mortgage. She advised that it was better to form an LLC and sell the loft to that entity. I could pay back the mortgage, pay myself rent as the LLC and at the same time deduct that rent as a business expense for SIlkQuilt. These changes reduced my cost of living with an added a bonus; I could take one inspirational trip a year as a legitimate tax deduction. Thus, BubbeWisdom, LLC was born.
My first trip was to experience Lavender fields in Provence. I was haunted the entire trip, chasing its inspirational purpose. At the end of the trip, an exhibition of Paul Klee at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, gave me the answer. In his artist statement, Klee expressed how he felt unable to compete with other artists of his day. This allowed him to do simply whatever brought him pleasure, without regard to others. Relieved and satisfied, I understood that BubbeWisdom was my good fortune to use as I pleased. I was free to be and do the authentic artistic me.
Life gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.
Charlotte Joko Beck
Relationship is messy, layered, and complicated. When my youngest daughter moved back to Pittsburgh, she insisted, that for her sanity and the family’s well-being, we go into counseling. She found a practical therapist who taught me many things about the importance of self-care and the necessity of identifying emotions. I learned that the only one I truly have the power to change is me. Crafting those changes in myself might not bring everything to resolution, but I will be happier and that will have a positive effect on all who come into my contact.
A good friend was at her family’s reunion. Looking in the review mirror from her car, she saw my name in lights beside the image of her cousin. She faced a complicated set of questions: Was I ready to meet someone new after my recent loss? Was he open to meeting someone who lived 90 miles away? How to best introduce one to the other?……
It was the 4th of July, when finally, we spoke on the phone. After a long conversation, he suggested meeting at the Sheetz halfway between us. I agreed.
His first question, Do you eat meat?; the answer was no; and his last question, What happens now?; along with my answer, Come see where I live; told me it was very possible I was in the right place at the right time.
Some years into it, with five children and four grandchildren between us, we have pieced together a solid partnership. The messiness continues as we support each other’s effort to be in relationship while maintaining independence. We tread lightly, taking nothing for granted and seek out the positive, all in the name of a multi-layered patchwork life.
Kabbalah is not a series of books or a series of theories, but a course in experience. It actually asks us to participate in the world in a new way. It asks us to be awake, to engage, and to awaken to that engagement. When we wake to such participation, something entirely different reveals itself; a paradigm that asks us to step out of the static, snapshot quality of our usual mode of thinking, and to enter an enfolded order born not of words, but nondual experiences where God and the world are truly One.
Beyond the limitations of mainstream Judaism, its mystical form, Kabbalah, includes unconventional practices, like meditation. In the tradition, only religious married men over the age of forty study it; that is, until an alternative new-age Rabbi started a Kabbalah center in California. He exposed the secret mystical practices to several famous students, Madonna among them. Coming to his work, I accessed the beginning of my transcendent Jewish vision.
Mystical practice, by its nature, is empirical. Reading, alone, only introduces the subject. To gain experience, I entered a three-year training program in Kabbalistic Healing at A Society of Souls (ASOS). The work tied together the theistic belief in G-d with spiritual thought and practice that would support my integrated path to awakening.
According to Kabbalah, the totality of existence is five-dimensional space and time, composed of four different worlds, ten attributes, and thirty-two paths. Divine Action on earth depends on each and every individual’s moment by moment free-will choice of self-determination.
These concepts rang true to my earth-based, feminist, contemporary beliefs. Contemplative Jewish life practices, heighted my serenity, deepened my faith, and sustained my acceptance of life on life’s terms.
Pieces of Memory, a series of fiber artworks grieving the monumental loss of my parents, will be on exhibition this fall at the American Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh.
The evening of October 2nd on the Fast of Gelaliah, I will be enacting a newly created ritual, Moving Through Loss: A Wise Woman Ritual. I plan to produce a quilt that can be separated into pieces as the physical symbolic representation of impermanence and change.
Can you participate by giving me some personal cultural materials representing your experience with impermanence? I will incorporate those materials into a section of the quilt which you will come and retrieve during the ritual.
Letter from Louise Silk to 43 participants
Moving Through Loss: Wise Woman Ritual
In 1998, while my parents spent their last winter in Miami, I set about preparing and selling their condo. It was a sad, challenging time. Everything happened very quickly. They move to Assisted Living. With my mom’s deterioration, they were separated, and she transferred to an Alzheimer’s unit. My dad’s health deteriorated, and he died within the year.
In deep grief, I took all of their clothing and textiles to my studio. The gigantic pile included everything from golf pants to a tux from my dad; hankies to dress suits from my mom; plus, towels to linens from their home.
At that moment, I was presented with the opportunity to participate in a mentoring exhibit with my younger daughter. I Am My Mummy was the opening to explore the impact of being both a daughter and a mother.
We agreed upon an installation: a big and a small rocking chair, my quilt table with items on it representing my Mom, and a crate with dress up clothes. On the wall was a broken mirror and a four-panel piece constructed from my mother’s clothing representing my mother, both of my daughters, and myself. It was like cracking open an egg; the debilitating nature of Alzheimer’s, the sorrow of loss, and the interplay of mother/daughter roles, all openly exposed.
After that, a series of twenty quilts transformed every remaining fragment. A quilt, the child-like view of my family and home, was worked completely by hand. Other quilts included a poncho of their coats, a table runner backed with my dad’s prayer shawl, and a book of photo transfers of them as a couple. The final piece was a rendition of a youthful couple walking the Atlantic City boardwalk, using Chinese silks they brought me from their travels. Learn more in the book: Bubbe’s Memory Quilt.
A friend and the gallery director for the American Jewish Museum, formally the JCC gallery, suggested the work was worthy of an exhibition. To create a different ritual, I contacted a Buddhist friend. She reminded me of Tibetan monks and their sand mandalas: I should unmake a quilt. Forty-three women gave me their materials of memory and I created The Wise Woman Ritual, unmaking a quilt.
It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything – not about winning or losing – but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.
In 1986, my husband and I used our inheritance from the sale of my father’s business to start a real estate company. By 1990, we found ourselves in a critical financial crisis which included the real possibility of losing our home. During the crisis, our twenty-three-year marriage ended, and I became a single parent. It was shocking and scary, the worst thing that had ever happened to me and the lowest point in my life.
On the quest for life solutions, I saw a program for a master’s degree in leadership. In some peculiar way, the description of their potential student sounded like me. It was a low-level commitment, meeting only twice a month, buying time until I figured out what came next.
In Leadership 101, I was introduced to self-leadership, the style of leadership where the leader instills in followers the skills to move on to lead themselves. I identified the self-leadership style in quilt-making and examined how well it functioned in the current movement. After two years of study, I understood that self-leadership was the key to my personal transformation. I created a website, a Facebook page, and a marketing campaign to become a profitable professional quilt maker.
Having met my childhood sweetheart in 9th grade and being married to him for twenty-three years meant that I had very limited experience in the romance department. Now being single, I was determined to have a date or maybe even two. Then on February 15th, standing by a Broadway stage door, I met an actor. He took my card and followed up by phone. We continued talking, communicating by email and a month later, he came to Pittsburgh to as he would say, lock eyeballs.
From then on, we were a couple, trans-versing North America as he performed. In 1999, he discovered he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. He was forced to move to Pittsburgh for his treatment and remained with me until his death in 2005.
Our relationship brought me into a new realm of being. He encouraged the artist in me. He initiated my Zen practice. I felt loved and accepted, allowing the first inkling of my true self to emerge. Learn more in the book: Threads Volume 3: The Kismet Of Happenstance.
In the fall of 2000, we saw the model apartment at Southside Lofts on a fluke. When I walked outside onto the deck and saw the Cathedral of Learning, I knew this was the view I had been longing for, not to mention the huge wide-open living space. I drove around for 6 weeks before I asked my realtor cousin to look at it. She loved it, suggested buying the model and also the additional one adjacent. I would sell and then rent back our house to access the cash I needed for the purchase. By July of 2001, I was an owner and resident of a 2700 sq. ft. loft.
When I proposed this exhibition to the JCC on September 21,1992, I had two goals. I wanted to explore the interactive quality of art quilts, my artistic medium for over 20 years. Also, I wanted to learn enough about being Jewish to portray it visually. My larger objective was to combine my vocation as a quiltmaker with my avocation as an active member of the Jewish community. Louise Silk; Artist Statement; Feb. 2, 1994
While my parents had little interest in religion, I was attracted. I enrolled in the afterschool program at the College of Jewish Studies and took a high school English elective on the Hebrew Bible as literature. My father often told me that I would make a good Rebbitzin (Rabbi’s wife). Along with the thinking of the times, the idea of a girl becoming a Rabbi was beyond our grasp.
Years later, a synchronicity of events began with the opportunity for an adult Bat Mitzvah. I joined a group of women at my childhood synagogue learning to chant torah and haftorah and stood before the congregation as a religious adult. Having no understanding of Jewish practice (like how the calendar revolved around the moon or why people stood during a service), learning as an adult allowed for critical thinking and understanding that heightened the religion’s meaning for me.
Building on my knowledge base as an adult Bat Mitzvah, taking advantage of the large window I had to prepare an exhibition, I created a curriculum of books, classes, and private study all with the goal of building a body of quilts about being Jewish.
Some pieces developed easily: Six Days We Create, a quilted microcosm of the active involvement of humans in creation, was a book where the viewer could co-create by turning the pages. With Knowledge, Comes Faith, a stamped collection of truisms was a satisfying way to catalog all of the revealed noteworthy facts that I found enlightening or stuck a cord of agreement with me.
Others were particularly challenging: For ThePrayer Project, I wanted to create an organized aesthetic experience for the viewer to participate in group prayer, as compared to the haphazard way it occurs at the Western Wall. For Bring About Olam Ha Ba–The World To Come, I wanted a view of a perfected world where each individual could agree to participate by taking a ribbon stamped: I join in our task to create WORLD PERFECTION.
On a trip to Israel, I met an orthodox rabbi who challenged me to search for the things in the religion that worked for me, rather than criticize all that I found unpalatable. In doing that, I agreed to study with him.
It was frustrating. He would explain an orthodox practice. I left uncertain and scrutinized what I had heard, uncovering some fallacy, mostly based on a negating view of women. I returned with a challenge. He would suggest additional justifications that continued to make no sense.
I became so angry with this orthodox view of women that I thought about making an artistic statement by erecting a mechitzah, the partition that separates women from men in the synagogue, in the gallery and throwing blood on it.
This action being unrealistic, I labored my way through to something positive: Men create a separation to exclude women. I will create my own separation to exclude men. Women have a spiritual nature that is legitimate and respected. I will make a space for women to explore their true spiritual nature. I will make a tent, an enclosed space for women that excludes men.
I purchased a support structure. I designed the outside with visual images of women’s souls. The inside was a serene quilted landscape, with music, pillows, and writing materials. It took the entire summer to complete the construction, all the while, releasing my anger into the foot pedal of my sewing machine.
Further into my study, I saw an ad in our Jewish newspaper for the formation of a women’s Rosh Hodesh group. Rosh Hodesh is the celebration of the new moon, traditionally a woman’s holiday. Each month, thereafter, I joined feminist contemporaries for Hebrew celebrations of the new moon. We created rituals, studied innovative interpretations of texts, expanded holiday applications and developed Jewish meditative practices.
One of the participants was a young female Rabbi. To decide on a meaningful opening, beyond wine and cheese, I consulted with her. She listened to my process and told me it sounded like I was trying to find my voice. There was a term in Judaism, Kol Isha– women’s voice. It was mostly a negative term. Men should not hear women speak for fear it might incite them sexually.
My assignment was to make Kol Isha positive. Starting with the Hebrew Bible and going through herstory, I located statements spoken by Jewish women. I asked 36 women, the number of righteous individuals on earth at any time, to participate. Each read a different woman’s words standing in the gallery at a pre-designated place so that their bodies formed the letters representing the word VOICE. I became the dot on the I, my mid-life point. Being 43 at the time, content to live until 86, I titled it my Mid-life Ritual.
Quilt making generally regarded as an American form, most European-born women learned the skill here. Jews tended to congregate in large cities, associating almost exclusively with other Jews. For most, quiltmaking was an invisible, alien craft. How did Katie come to make quilts, when so many other Jewish grandmothers did not? Could the difference be the result of her assimilation with her “American” neighbors?
Julie Silber; A Family Story in Cloth
Pretty much from the beginning, I understood that quilters were not Jewish, and Jews did not quilt. Because it was rare to find a Jew among my quilting contemporaries, I made the faulty assumption that Jewish women by nature did not have the patience for quilting. In some crazy unknown way, I was the exception.
With this rationale, it made sense to me to keep my Jewish life as a volunteer and my work as a fiber artist, completely separate. There were many examples of this, like that I steered clear of a beautiful gallery at the Jewish Community Center as too Jewish, and assumed Jewish women enrolled in my class would not be able to master the craft.
On the odd occasion I met a Jewish woman who told me there were quilts in her family, I quickly discovered that either she was a convert with a non-Jewish mother, or her mother had grown up in a very small town, isolated from the larger urban Jewish community.
Some years later, an article by a curator explained that American Jews, like other ethnic groups, lived together in shtetl-like communities practicing the needlework popular in their countries of origin. For European Jews, it was embroidery, cross stitch, knitting, and crocheting. It is not until we get to be assimilated in American culture, that we become exposed to and then involved in the American craft form of quilting.
This new understanding of the confluence of being both Jewish and a quilter, influenced my quest to find a new and innovative quilting subject. I was the head volunteer for the local resettlement of Soviet Jews. Pittsburgh settled 540 individuals as a part of our participation with the international community. To organize this, I attended regular meetings. Driving home after a meeting, I had an ah-ha moment: the thought that infusing my quilts with some kind of Jewishness, might somehow forward my work.
The first piece was a small applique diptych about the Russians. On the left, the Russians standing in a long line wearing drab browns. On the right, they danced the hora in bright pastel colors. The second was a curtain, representing the fall of the Berlin wall, with patchwork words like freedom and perestroika.
Following those, I made a piece envisioning my authentic Jewish self. I shared the quilt with the JCC gallery director and agreed to an exhibition 2½ years ahead in February 1994. The idea was to develop my personal individual Jewish identity and practice through the process of making the quilts.
Art is an act of the soul, not the intellect. When we are dealing with people’s dreams – their visions, really – we are in the realm of the sacred. We are involved with forces and energies larger than our own. We are engaged in a sacred transaction of which we know only a little: the shadow, not the shape.
Increasing my skills was important to pay the bills but it was not enough to secure my mounting desire to be a legitimate fine artist. Having no formal art education, I invented my own rigorous contemporary arts curriculum based on studies from a high school art history class.
I began reading contemporary art magazines cover to cover. I organized visual images from them into a series of notebooks for inspiration. I sought out contemporary art collections in my travels. I explored the works from the permanent collection at the Carnegie and its International Biennials. I studied color via Joseph Albers, fiberart via Sheila Hicks, contemporary art via Frank Stella, feminist art via Barbara Kruger, self-referencing via Cindy Sherman, installations via Ann Hamilton; to name just a few of my favorites.
Somehow, I decided that to be considered a serious artist, I would have to have a one-person exhibition. There were very few places in Pittsburgh to accomplish this, but one possibility was the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) gallery, then at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA). I set in motion a plan to jury into AAP and apply for a gallery show. I successfully accepted into the organization and was granted the one-person gallery exhibition in 2 ½ years, for July,1987.
To create a related body of work, I settled on what seemed like a liberating idea: to break out of the basic quilter’s block. I started with an odd sized rectangle 6” X 36” and with each additional artwork, moved beyond it. I varied the block’s size; I gave the block three dimensions; I made multiple varied blocks in one piece; I took away the background; I changed the point of view; I turned the blocks into buildings; I added trees; I made ceiling and floor quilts; and finally three-dimensional objects.
The third in the series was a king-size bed quilt of three-dimensional shapes and the shadows reflected from them. The preeminent international quilt competition of the day was Quilt National (QN) in Athens, Ohio. This quilt seemed complex enough to be QN worthy. It’s time-frame conflict with my exhibition, but I decided I would forego including it, if it was accepted to QN. It was.
I had accomplished every one of my goals for this monumental first exhibit, including being accepted into Quilt National, but sadly, instead of feeling satisfied with the accomplishment, I was depressed and disappointed. I felt inadequate and frustrated. It simply wasn’t good enough to have a single one-person exhibition. In the end it was only a tiny step along the path of being a successful artist and I felt like I had a long way to go.
By definition, a quilt has three layers of material joined together by hand and/or machine stitching. The top layer is an intricate composition of different multiple threads, fibers, and knots. On the back, a gathering of hundreds upon hundreds of stitch indentations display a proud testament to the work of the quilter.
In 1978, my husband and I moved back to Pittsburgh with a one-year-old in tow. It happened through a series of events: we lost our apartment, he had trouble finding a job, raising children seemed easier to do with family support. While we were winding our way back to our hometown by traversing the United States, my mom found us a house: a two-story red brick on a cul-de-sac. It’s a good solid house, she said. Make it yours.
Once we were home, locals suggested two activities for me: Mother’s Day Out and The Embroiderer’s Guild. I joined both. At Mother’s Day Out, children are cared for separately while mothers attend classes and talks. I taught a class following my Chicago experience using the Our Bodies Our Selves curriculum. Pittsburgh moms, although they were good sports about it, were not quite ready to examine their own cervixes.
I switched to teaching a quilting class, where I struck gold. That class extended into a weekly quilting circle and in time my role morphed from teacher into purveyor of quilting supplies. Eventually, that transformed into a retail storefront selling all things related to quilting.
At the time, there were no quilt shops. Chain fabric shops sold mostly dress making fabric and absolutely none of the 100% cotton required for serious quiltmakers. There was no on-line shopping. Mail order was a complicated process, sending for swatches and hoarding purchases to get ahead of sellouts.
One of the members of our circle was contacted by a quilting group in Greensburg struggling to find a local retailer. It was easy to be convinced, with the additional incentive of building our own stashes, we could be that supplier.
We pulled together eight hundred dollars and bought twenty-yard bolts of 100% cotton fabric, along with all the basic quilting supplies. We set up a makeshift shop in my basement and sold materials to the Mother’s Day Out students, members of the Greensburg Quilting Guild and the local Embroiderer’s Guild. Things developed. We reinvested all revenue to buy more bolts of 100% cotton fabric, plus innovations like the rotary cutter, the pvc quilting hoop and an ever-increasing selection of quilt publications. We became the Pittsburgh connection to a national quilt revival movement.
Finally, with an over-run basement of supplies and the investment of a third quilt-circle member, we opened our first retail establishment. Over the next four years, we grew and moved from one location to another, eventually ending at the local mall. At each juncture we added products, classes, and events that placed us, squarely, at the cutting edge of an exciting quilt movement. Unfortunately, we were never able to become profitable and closed the latest retail storefront in 1989.
Motivated by a bank debt of thousands of dollars, I employed my knowledge and skills to explore the business of quilt marketing and production. I created products for wholesale, solicited commissions, and committed to teaching opportunities that paid down the debt and added to my status as a professional craftsperson.
The other significant influence on my quilting life was the Embroiderers Guild. I juried in as an active member with an original needlepoint and a graphic log cabin quilted hanging. During my tenure, I held many postions in the guild and was instrumental in the name change to Fiberarts. I learned innovative needlework techniques and met many national recognized fiber artists. I learned the business of entering shows, documenting and photographing finished work, and building a resume.
I was empowered with knowledge and skills as the result of both experiences and that translated into highly innovative quality work. Within my quilting circle, I felt the continuation of value and success that began in Chicago.