A weekend conference has given me more fodder to contemplate the creative process. My partner and I attended Panoply 2015, the biennial conference of Ontario Handweavers and Spinners. Overall it was a fun and relaxing time. I dabbled in workshops, completing the Gnarled Roots cowl shown above with Cheryl Roberts from Fullin’ Woolens, visited friends and plodded through without much serious introspection until the final address, given by a fibre artist from Michigan.
After a career that touched on modern dance and science, Amy Tyler says she left academia to make hand-spun yarn, create knit designs and teach fibre arts. But the rhythm of dance and patterns of nature continue to influence her creations, as evidenced from some of the gallery images on her business website, Stone Sock Fibers.
Particularly striking are the wall-hanging, Petosegay, and afghan, Wool Into Stone. They’re inspired by Petoskey stones, a kind of fossilized coral, the best examples being found in Amy’s home state, Michigan. She fashioned large knitted disks then sewed them together to create a mesmerizing pattern.
Where I grew up on the shore of Lake Erie, we found countless fossils on the beach, though none of this particular type. The first time I encountered it was more than 20 years ago in the poetry of Luci Shaw, who had a book of poems published under the title Polishing the Petoskey Stone. She tells of picking one up, spitting on it to reveal the pattern, then carrying it with her on a trip across the continent, polishing it against her denim jeans.
The second day it starts
to shine like glycerin soap. As I buff it
smooth, the print rises to the surface—
the silk stone honeycombed with
eyes opening from a long sleep
between lashes of fine spines. Born
eons ago in a warm sea over
Michigan, buried in a long, restless
dream, now the old coral wakes
to the waves of cloth.
I met Luci at a writing conference in about 1994. I credit her with inspiring me to begin writing poetry. Her use of nature as a subject and metaphor is mirrored by writers who have become even more important sources of inspiration: Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez and Mark Doty, to name a few. Writing poetry became an important mode of expression and helped me work through a traumatic period of my life.
It was a coincidence to discover Amy, another creative person, connecting the Petoskey stone with cloth, but I also note some irony. My life and beliefs have changed radically since 1995. At the time I was trying to launch a freelance writing career, an ambition that only reached fruition recently. All the while and for the past 350 million years, Petoskey stones have been lying under the surface, waiting to catch my eye. Perhaps it’s a call to rouse from my own restless dream.
I’ll reflect in more detail on Amy’s lecture in my next post.