Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sister Mississippi Project

Confession time.  Sometimes I need a kick in the pants to get restarted with art making once I've closed up shop for the season.  It usually comes in the form of a call for art.  Until I started Three Sisters, I hadn't been in my studio for much else excepting the laundry since last October!  Then several things happened at once (later posts will address the other happenings).

First, into my newsfeed at Facebook dropped a Call for Art for the Sister Mississippi Project.  Actually created independently by artist/art teacher Heather Harper of Mexico City, the project meshed perfectly with the ongoing trek of a group of Indigenous women from Minnesota who are walking the length of the Mississippi River as a physical and spiritual prayer for the river.  They began the journey on March 1 and as I write this they are in New Orleans on their way to the Gulf of Mexico--carrying with them a beautiful copper bucket that holds the sparkling clean water from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. 

Two friends and I met Sharon Day and the other Mississippi River Water Walkers on Sunday April 7 at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site which is the location of an ancient mound builder society in Southern Illinois not far from where I live.  We climbed Monks Mound for a beautiful water ceremony and then joined the walkers in Granite City where the group had left off the evening before.  I walked one 15 minute leg of the journey and my lungs were beginning to burn.  This is no leisurely stroll.  The walkers cover 30+ miles a day on average and the pace is brisk.  You can track and read about their progress here at the Facebook page of the Mississippi River Water Walkers.  

The Walkers are praying and singing as they go, while the Sister Mississippi Project is a prayer manifested in the making of the art, felting or stitching, weaving or dyeing, piecing or quilting.  As many as 300 people have contributed to the project sending pieces from all over the world.  The goal is to stitch together the art pieces into one long Mississippi River.  I documented the making of Three Sisters for this post.

Here I am with Elizabeth Adams Marks just south of the I-270 overpass on Rt. 3.  Elizabeth had the stamina to make it to Pontoon Road.  My apologies to anyone who has spotted that I'm not carrying the staff upright here.  Elizabeth's friend Nancy Hansel was following in her car. 

The photo above was shot by April Rhodes of St. Louis and that is Brooks Johnson also of St. Louis behind us. 

It seemed to make perfect sense to create the piece as a map where the Illinois and Missouri join the Mississippi above St. Louis.  The three rivers make such a beautiful design and there were three of us that day joining the journey.  The hard part was making the map work when I cut it apart to lay on the fabric.  Expanding the width of the river meant adjusting the map as I was going along.
I checked the Google map continously while working to keep some semblance of accuracy.  I could stare at Google satellite images for hours.  They are endlessly fascinating to me.   The dark fabric was chosen to represent the populated city areas and industry that contribute to the pollution and the blue/green for the river--both fabrics were rust printed, the brown fabric was composted years ago and stands in for farmland.  I pieced one section at a time onto felt, adjusting the map as I went.  

Once the piecing was done I didn't like my original Horseshoe lake (seen above), so redesigned that section and did some fancy super secret fusible webbing magic.  With all the subsequent quilting, stitching, tree planting and interstate and secondary road building you can't see where the patch is.  

The deadline to have the piece in Minnesota was April 23 and I worked a couple of all nighters getting it all done in time and shipped via UPS.

The finished piece Three Sisters and a detail below. The red line tracks the path of the walkers who came down on the east side of the Illinois river after passing through Quincy, Illinois to avoid the loopy bend in the Mississippi and the red hearts represent we three who participated.  The Walkers crossed over at McKinley Bridge to continue south.  I'm not sure of the exact mileage for the walkers, but I believe it is around 1700 miles.  Oh my aching feet! 

It is my fervent wish, after creating this piece, that the Mississippi River Water Walkers are successful in raising awareness about the pollution in this life giving and incredibly important river.  Quoting the text from the River Walkers FB page:  The Mississippi River is the second most polluted river in the United States. Toxic chemicals from municipalities, farms and corporations are taking their toll on the river. By the time a drop of water reaches the “dead zones” near the mouth of the river, the water is nearly depleted of oxygen. We can stop this and the walkers intend to educate people along the way as to what they can do.
“We want the walk to be a prayer,” Day says. “Every step we take we will be praying for and thinking of the water. The water has given us life and now, we will support the water.”
To learn more or participate: Join the Mississippi River Water Walk 2013 Facebook Group.

Donations to support the walk can be sent to Indigenous Peoples Task Force: Water Walk. 1335 E. 23rd St., Minneapolis, MN 55404

Or please go to Indigenous Peoples Task Force web-page and GiveMNorg bottom.

And I hope one day to see the entire stitched Mississippi!

Amendment--May 3.
I can only identify the five core Water Walkers from the Ojibwe Nation in this photo I took on April 7 on top of Monks Mound after the water ceremony.  They are Beth Brent (on left bending over the white bag), Sharon Day, Barb Baker-larush, Deon Kirby and Ira Johnson,  all standing just beyond the blanket which is spread with bundles of sage, offerings of food and other gifts received along the way, and the copper bucket of water being carried by the women.  Most of the other people who attended the ceremony came from the St. Louis, southern Illinois region and have been following online the progress of the Walkers.  Today, May 3, another water ceremony will take place at Fort Jackson, Louisiana, the end of the journey,

At the Elder's Lodge in St. Paul, MN, the assembly and stitching of Sister Mississippi has begun.  Thank you to Deborah Ramos for the use of her photo. 
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