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  • Sara Nordling

A New Direction

This blog-post starts a new direction in my postings. I’ve had a hiatus from posting, where I have been doing other things and my focus has been elsewhere. Coming back to my posts, I find that I am going in a new direction and want to explore in more depth my art and faith connections. I hope you’ll stay with me and enjoy my postings. If not, the ones on design are still available and I may add to them as I feel the need. Meanwhile, continue reading for a sense of where I’m heading.

One of my recent weavings is, Refine—Job 23:10. The text reads, “But he knows the way I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” The weaving is a series of 6 panels (or 6 individual works) that are framed and 16 inches square. They are meant to resemble the Japanese technique of kintsugi, the repairing of ceramics with lacquer and gold. As such, the gold threads in the work are not stitched onto the surface but are created in the weaving technique. (More on that later.)

I have called these panels my response to COVID, but they are more than that. The journey to making them did begin in the midst of the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, when the world was locked down and online meetings were emerging as a “thing,” several of my friends and I decided to form an online group to meet, read relevant books, and discuss the connections between art and faith. The first book we read was Imaging the Story: Rediscovering the Visual and Poetic Contours of Salvation by Karen Case-Green and Gill C. Sakakini, Cascade Books, 2017. This book and its homework assignments, are meant to be done in-person, in a retreat setting. As that was not possible due not only to the pandemic but also to the group members living in different cities, we adapted the book to fit our needs.

Whenever we gathered we discussed a chapter of the book, shared images of what art we had made, and talked about our process and faith in connection to our works. There was a time, in the middle of the book, where I really had no new artwork, or even ideas for artwork, to share. I felt broken, helpless, and fearful. I had been about to have an interview for a job I really wanted, and that was cancelled. My current university-level, studio art classes, had all become remote and asynchronous. So many of life’s little routines had been upended. Life had changed. I was safe, but for how long. Just how long would the lockdown, the pandemic, and life’s twists and turns go on? Then, thoughts started to form.

I knew God was still, ultimately, in control despite what it looked like in the world and in some areas of my life. I trusted that God had a plan, as He always has a plan, to heal the brokenness in me and in the world. (Romans 8:18-25) I may not see it yet, but I was going to come out of this. I would come out different and changed; wounded perhaps, by the losses I had gone through, but still functional.

What does that look like in art? In particular, what would that look like for a weaver, making art, to produce? I wanted to portray not only the brokenness; I wanted to show the healing. When I looked around the concept that best portrayed this was kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending pottery with lacquer and gold. In the kintsugi process, items still portray their brokenness. They are at one time both broken and whole. They do not look the same as they once did; all the brokenness is still visible. It has been mended in a way that makes the item more than it once was. It contains a memory of past brokenness and yet is made more than it once was as well.

The technique I chose to use is double weave with pick up. In this weaving technique the cloth and the image produced are an integrated whole. Stitching the gold on the surface might look almost the same and be faster; it would not give the joining and healing aspect I was after. Each horizontal thread line across the fabric takes four individual steps to complete. Step on a treadle and pick up the image with a stick; switch treadles and pass a thread through (gold). Switch treadles again and exchange what was picked up with the stick to the opposite threads; switch treadles and pass the second thread through (charcoal). Remove the stick and beat the threads in place. Repeat and repeat and repeat. The process is very meditative, as you can well imagine. The process itself helped me work through some of the traumas and helped be to meditate on how God works in my life in many ways that appear slow to me, and where I cannot see the end result.

Since completing these works, teaching went from hybrid to fully back in person. The job interview returned, I interviewed, and came close to getting the job. Then I got a new teaching position (in fibers!) only to have that one end because the college is having financial troubles. I have also found out I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a type of slow growing cancer of the immune system. Not something anyone wants to have and certainly not something you want to find out about during a pandemic. Did making these works mean that I have sailed through all my traumas gracefully? No, indeed not!

Through all these things I have learned to trust God more. I wish I had had that sort of trust to begin with; that is not the case. I know God has good in store for me. I do not know His plans, except for the eternal one where I will be with Him in heaven. I can say that I am more content now, despite many uncertainties in my future. I had to get to the point where I knew I had no power over the situation despite my wanting to take back the reins. I am learning to change from someone who wanted to do most of life by myself, with God picking up the slack and getting me to the finish line, to someone who lives my life, doing the tasks of the day, taking opportunities as they arise, and trusting God for the rest. And I will reiterate that this is a process and I’m not fully there yet nor may I ever be.

That is the story of how Refine came into being. In future posts I plan to explore the background of some other works, why I feel art is still needed and needed by the church, and some thoughts on other artists and how their work as affected me. I may write some about the commissioning process for artwork, my process of working, and other related topics as well.

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