From October 30th to November 9th, I got to be a resident artist at The Future Minneapolis, where a series of Hex Signs (similar to barn quilts in function) were produced. Eight in all, one for each of the year’s quarter and cross-quarter days – the Solstices, Equinoxes and the midpoints in between. Hex signs are a folk art form from the American East coast, brought here by Germanic immigrants. Traditionally, they were used to decorate outbuildings, but their designs have roots in folk magic. They have been used to sustain good health, attract prosperity or stave off fire and storms. More recently, they have become a kind of Neo-pagan meditative art practice, focusing the mind on a given set of intentions.
The depiction of the Wheel of the Year is also a synopsis of the cycle of life as a whole. We start with Death, signified by Samhain (Oct 31st) and the Ouroboros, then transition into Yule (Winter Solstice), a crystallization of the soul, refracted into a rainbow of renewal while finding our way back to incarnation. Close physical proximity brought on by icy cold, the flesh longs to warm itself against another, bringing the ‘Return of the Milk’ in Imbolc (Feb 2nd). By the time Ostara (Spring Equinox) has come around, the seeds that were sown have begun waking to the returning Light. Eggs, a symbol for the universe, are incubating the potential of new life.
At Beltane (Apr 30th), the Tree of Life spreads its boughs, swelling with water melted by the Sun. This image is inspired by our own Minneapolitan celebration of May Day , fairly a religious holiday in Powderhorn Park where I live. Litha (Summer Solstice) is the height of the solar year. A scalloped edge brings easy sailing, the central axis represents the four seasons, the centrality of the sun in our lives and a circle of community. Perhaps one can even see a firework sharing another meaning other than its usual context. Aug 1st is when Lammas falls, the first of several harvest festivals, and an auspicious time to gather the abundance of High Summer – herbs, fruits, grains and game – giving gratitude in return for what we use. Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) brings the cycle to a close as the light balances again with the dark and decay overtakes growth once again.
The snake bites its tail in a never ending continuum of death giving birth to life, light ceding to darkness, and the web of vibration that connects all energy into one ephemeral pattern. Always shifting, holographic in nature, this is the backdrop to our lives. Wherever you’re from, there are depictions of these kinds of seasonal observances to be found. Stories of each place’s position on the Earth, with its attendant vegetation and animal life adapted perfectly to environment. There are a multitude of ornamental devices used in historic textiles, ceramics, decorative painting on furniture or the interior of homes. Cast in metal or carved in bone, pattern and color were a widely understood language of peoples everywhere.
Post-industrial, post-war, post-modern internetting culture makes all imagery ubiquitous. When we have every visual in the world at our disposal, each individual unit of language loses value, as information fatigue sets in. We are no longer grounded in place but adrift without an anchoring force to rein in hyper-individualistic wishes for omnipotence. Its clear that we’ve reached the tipping point, but it would take an act of ‘biblical’ proportions to reverse course now. Therefore, it feels like what we’re looking at here is really a spiritual crisis and that the material effluent is just a by-product of cultural rot.
I’m an optimist, but also a realist, and I still believe there’s good causes for celebration and hopefulness, but the situation is dire to be sure. This project ended up being a lot more intense that I had originally thought it would be, keeping up the pace of one 2′ diameter mandala painting per day over the course of a 10 day span was taxing, and has thrown me into another research phase when I should be in production mode for a number of looming deadlines. I’ve found that when the questions come fast and hard though, its best to let them lead. My inquiry is sending me down the bunny hole of traditional decorative folk arts and their intersection with storytelling and magic.
Now knee deep in books on loan from Hennepin County Library, I’m holing up for the Winter immersed in how human adaptation to place has shaped handmade material culture, where specific traditions of pattern-making act as charms for protection and good fortune, and where these things might be employed at preset to sculpt stories of this place where I stand. I’m picking brains and taking names if you’ve got any suggested resources. Next stop cultural centers and museum collections (we’ll talk about issues around repatriation in another post). Wish me luck, this intuitive study has me a little manic and the cold season is still young!