Laurie Kanyer is an artist and collector based in Yakima, Washington.
How are you doing during the crisis?
Found Peace for Now My current tone of peace has been a process that took some seven weeks.
Skills From the Past Initially back in late February, I tapped into old survival skills from earlier days in my life. While I would never want to relive those days where we had so very little, one benefit for today was the survival skills that proved to be helpful in the initial weeks of this virus. When you have lived with little your abilities to make do and be flexible are highly tuned. Additionally, having lived through the eruption of Mount St, Helen’s in 1980 and being a poor college student with empty cupboards at the time—under quarantine orders, I had some flashbacks and strong reactions. This event took me back a bit.
Initial Shock Once I could absorb the potential threat it took me two full days to insert into my world view in early March. It was a grief response of disbelief, the kind one experiences when you hear someone has passed away —you know the person has passed, that can’t be denied—you know it to be true, but now you have to insert it into how you understand the world. This takes a toll. In Doug’s family two of his grandparents immigrated to the US due the pandemic of 1918, so I recognized the world was over for some. Being connected to and in conversation with artists all over the world helped me to grasp the situation sooner than many others I interacted with. I watched myself and others go though the stages of acceptance: (a) there is no problem (b) it is not serious (c) there is no solution (d) it does not relate to me (e) there is a problem and I have to find a solution!
What About Others? Having worked for 32 years helping families I also reverted to those skills of thinking of others, our neighbor, for example, three times widowed, still grieving the loss of her 97 year old husband who recently passed away. I had to consider what is my role now in her life? And as per our mission for the Collection I was concerned about the artists world wide. Doug and I quickly moved to offer an open call so artists might express themselves, have tasks to ground their practice, have something familiar to lean on, and for some, they would receive a bit of award money too.
Found a Daily Pattern Now today we are in the swing of a daily pattern. Because I am retired I do not have to go out as I might have if I was still was working in my profession. I am not extraverted so being away from others is not a concern. Doug does have to go to work, as he is in the food service business, but he and his company have worked very hard to establish social distancing and we feel safe.
Find Peace in Predictable Rhythms Having an established pattern of daily work on the Collection and making art, as before the virus, I just continued my daily practice, one day at a time. But the subject of the art has shifted and we do miss seeing our adult children and our grandson deeply.
Telecommute or work from home? One advantage I have is I have been working from home for 20+ years and all three of my kids are grown. Since 1999 my job in the counseling, parent education and organizational consulting field I worked from home on administrative tasks and saw clients in the field. My art practice has always been at home so there was no change. The only shift is I am doing more food preparation than I have for years. The artist in me has expanded to explore varied cuisines — something many people have come to as a result of the virus. I am fooling around with sourdough starter. My heart is strained with the knowledge of those who are struggling to put food on the table and who have lost their jobs. Guilt is a frequent visitor.
Did the lock down affect your creativity? So I have two art practices that are intertwined; one of an artist and one of a collector with my husband. The pandemic has an effect on both.
Making Art Changed Being that my art practice takes place where I live, I had everything I needed to do my work. So it did not effect my ability to make my art. But I immediately recognized the art I might be making would be affected by the pandemic. I recognized the art work would be representative of me as an artist, a person, who lived during a time of a historical world crisis. So I was no longer concerned about making art that said anything more than I was alive at this time of world hardship. While I continued to make art on the series I have been working on since July 2019, “Monuments, Dogs and Women,” something else developed. My art took a different path —one that curiously has roots in certain historical forms used by women who “made do with what they have” in centuries in the past. I began to make paper quilts.
Spirits from the Past Funny, I almost felt as if I was being “taken over” by my ancestors who made quilts and crocheted afghans centuries before. As an author of a book featuring tools to help children manage grief and loss (Twenty-five Things to do When Mom and Dad Get Divorced, Grandpa Dies or the Dog Passes Away – Helping Kids with Loss and Change), it was not lost on me that the pattern of the rhythmic cutting and pasting needed to make the paper quilts was comforting during time of change. In the book I discuss the benefits of repetitive motion and the use of small muscles to help pace the grief-change energy pouring through every cell of the body.
Symbolism After making two large format paper quilts, over 24” x 16” it occurred to me they had a number of symbolic meanings. One, they represented how “fragile” the world is now. We can work really hard to make things right, keep the house sanitary for example, or going to the store safely wearing masks, but it can be destroyed in a minute with a microscopic germ. The paper quilts were really hard to create, like keeping a “sterile” home, and keeping social distancing, and yet someone or something, like the virus, could ball them up or light them on fire, and they would be gone. All would be lost!
Discarded – Reclaimed Another symbolic meaning was they represented the reality being experienced by so many people who have so little, all over the world —“having to do without” or use things intended for one purpose in a new way, like blankets/quilts made from scraps.
Protection and Comfort Also we see people in social media curled up in a human balls with a cozy blankets. The blanket adds comfort and protection from the chill and supports emotional wellbeing. I realized my paper quilts may be a symbol of protection, but sadly because they are fragile and made of paper, they are not enough protection. They may symbolize how for some all efforts to increase comfort and assure protection, in traditional ways, may not be enough.
Beauty in Brokenness For me they symbolize that beauty can came come from things discarded and things broken, even undone from disaster. They underscored my belief that this is true of collage the medium too. For example, with fabric quilts, beauty comes from old, torn shirts or dresses, no longer needed, sewn into exquisite, useful blankets. For paper quilts, beauty comes from thrown out, old magazines, cut and pasted into visually mesmerizing patterned paper quilts. The world as we knew it will be discarded in many ways. People will keep some aspects of their past they see as “safe “ and adapt them to form new definitions of beauty.
Piecing the World Back Together And lastly they symbolize to me, and maybe others, the work to put things back together in a new form — a new normal. For the papers in the quilt, their “new normal” goes from once being attached as a page in a magazine, and now, a new form—a paper quilt. When things eventually shift after the pandemic people will be “stitching” a new world together.
Postive moments? As an artist honestly the pressure I occasionally put on myself to make something “important” seems to be suspended now and this I think is very positive. Over and over I see opportunities for myself and others to reformat their thinking and priorities in the face of the pandemic. Maybe it is time to let go of some projects now with this “pause”, or possibly refine them. When you are in survival mode you can have a hard time thinking about making a masterpiece, for heaven sake! You think survival or at least adaptation. So with the reduction in pressure to produce, I found a new joy and I found new forms of collage — paper quilts. I will also say I used this opportunity to appreciate the concept that the work is first for the maker, and pondered that notion deeply. In our collector practice many positive moments came forth for us from the open call we offered. Since the pandemic we have issued two calls. In issuing the first call, to both analog and digital artists, we started seeing the works come and they fortified our belief in the power of art to provide key symbolic representations of experiences, positive character traits, method of managing hardship and historical documentation. Pouring over the some 1700 entires, while at the same time making “paper quilts” and continuing my series “monuments, dogs and women” was near nirvana. Really the pain of the crisis, coupled with the visual cues of the entries and the opportunity to create at the same time, suspended me to a new place of awareness. As it says in the Serenity Prayer, “Hardships can be the pathway to peace.” Doug and I decided to further this work of the Collection and issued another call in mid April choosing to announce the themes and jurors for the rest of the year. We did this so artists had things to look forward to as the year unfolded with uncertainties. The new call had many components designed to directly combat the negativity of the crisis. We wanted to continue our work to advance and promote collage. The question was how? We got inspired by an interior designer who made donations to a non-profit by asking people to make and submit artwork. We borrowed her idea. We choose the newly formed Kolaj Institute (https://kolajmagazine.com/content/news/kolaj-institute/) as the non-profit to make the donation as their aim is to advance collage. We coupled that with inviting artists to make “gift collages” to celebrate World Collage Day 2020 and to gift the collage to someone. We asked artists to write about the person they gifted their collages to so as to reinforce positive character traits. See #findingaheartofcareforothers on Instagram. We also found joy in making our first “gift grant” to an individual collage artist, Kiki Buccini (for a write up about her see https://www.kanyerartcollection.com/grants) and we have identified one other artist to receive a gift grant, to be announced soon. Tons of positives in the midst of world wide hardship!
What will we do after? For me it is all about family and art! I hope we will eat at Crafted, a restaurant in our town, with our son Wyatt and his partner and then drive to Seattle Washington to see our daughter, son-in-law and grandson, and then fly from Seattle to LA to see our other daughter. And along the way visit some galleries and museums.