If you were to visit the Qian Liu shrine along the beautiful West Lake of Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China, you might stand at the foot of the monumental statue of Qian Liu, “King of Wuyue”, who lived from 852 until 932. Inside the pavilion you might read about his successors and descendants and all the good things he did to benefit Hangzhou and the surrounding region. And you might see that the written history tells us his issue consisted of thirty-eight sons. Period. And then you might wonder. I certainly wondered. I discovered somewhat late in life that my mother, Qian Xianna, descended from this man thirty-seven generations later. And I saw that, if you went by official records, we daughters could be obliterated as fast as we come and go. And yet to be a girl recorded under China’s One Child Policy might mean being sold by the side of the road for twelve dollars, or worse, given to the river.
Conceived in Switzerland, I was carried in utero as my mother journeyed by ship to Camden, New Jersey, so that I would be a citizen of the United States. I was the third child to my mother and father – Qian (Chien) Xianna, of Hankou, and Hsu Shao Ti of Ningbo – who were married in 1945 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My birth was preceded by those of my two brothers, both born in Boston. Those were the early years of my parents’ lives as new immigrant students with new American names – Charlotte and Ted. From their migration, ambition, survival, loss, and adjustment I inherited a psychic trail. And from my brief beginnings in Camden, by way of Dayton, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; Blacksburg, Virginia; and Long Island, New York, I eventually came to Boston as well.
Any material can serve a creative life – timbers and mud into a home, people and knowledge into a school, language into stories, wax into sculpture, a child into a responsive human, earth and rock into landscape, food into a cuisine. They all tell a story.
In the search for a medium, I have selected materials for their inherent qualities and cultural associations. String, because it has served as a utilitarian connector throughout civilization and because it is both linear and spatial. Charcoal, because of its rich blackness, its smudge, and its origins in fire and the forest. Paper, because it holds potential for stories and can be skin-like or structural, fragile or strong.
When I met Ellen Raja, who tends sheep and chickens and flowers, who delivers my eggs, who makes the simplest soap, who spins the fleece of her lambs into yarn, who knits that yarn into garments, who takes the vertebrae of road kill or unlucky prey and fashions a necklace, I decided to use her soap and wool as sculptural material. Soap implies water. Water implies life and birth and weeping and washing. Washing is elemental and rhythmic. Wool speaks of our connection to animals and can be shaped into something protective or suffocating, delicate or massive.
When I saw all the doors of my house taken out, I used doors, because they open into and shut out and are of dimensions suggesting humans.
There came a day when the material I needed was words.
In every miracle of birth or the bloom of a flower, there is the potential for its loss. For every brilliance of life, an awareness of death. For every act of kindness, an act of destruction or violence. Necessary despair and sadness prompts an attempt to make meaning out of connection, love, discovery, and respect.
Photo Credits: David Caras, Will Howcroft, Adriel Hsu-Flanders, Dana Salvo, Betsy Warrior
Website design: Wilcox Design