Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DECISION PORTRAITS ... A Blog that Reads Like a Book

This blog documents and explains the
by South Carolinian fiber artist Susan Lenz.

The Decision Portrait Series blog has undergone several major changes since its inception.  At first this blog served as a way to communicate with potential participants.  Later, this blog documented the work being produced and the exhibits in Salisbury, NC and Greenville and Charleston, SC.  Finally, this blog has undergone this latest major renovation. It is meant to coordinate with two exhibits.  The first show was during Quilt, Inc.'s 2012 International Quilt Festival in Houston, October 31 - November 4, 2012.  That exhibit featured a curated selection of 40 portraits.  The second show will be held at Vision Gallery, May 17th through July 26th, 2013.  That exhibit will feature almost all of the portraits.  In addition to the conceptual statement, this blog now includes a separate entry for each portrait, arranged alphabetically.  Each work is featured with "the rest of the story".  This blog can be read almost like a book ... just keep scrolling down!

The CONCEPTUAL STATEMENT and complete, alphabetical list of portraits ... CLICK HERE!  This post also includes a brief history of how this series came into existence, developed, and was shown in various exhibitions.  When actually "printing" this book, this introduction comes before the actual posts on the individual pieces.  This post also includes an index page with links to every portrait.  There is also a list on the right side of this blog that links to the individual portraits.  

To view "Personal Grounds" including the Decision Portrait Series as seen from September 10 - October 10, 2010 in Susan Lenz's solo exhibition at The City Gallery at Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina....CLICK HERE!

To view "Personal Grounds" including a curated selection of the Decision Portrait Series as seen from February 19 - May 14, 2011 in Susan Lenz's solo exhibition at Waterworks Visual Art Center in Salisbury, NC ... CLICK HERE!

To view "Decision Portraits" a curated selection from the Decision Portrait Series as seen from January 21 - February 23, 2011 in Susan Lenz's solo exhibition at Warehouse Theater in Greenville, SC ... CLICK HERE!

To view the sculpture unit of doors and tagged keys that provided the catalyst for the Decision Portrait Series and that was on view during the Charleston, SC and the Salisbury, NC exhibitions ... CLICK HERE.

To view the forty portraits selected for the Quilt's Inc. 2012 International Quilt Festival ... CLICK HERE.


Adoption.  Stitched words:  I contacted my birth parents.  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin.  Hand embroidery and beading.  Unframed, 25" x 19"; Framed, 31" x 25".  Click on image to enlarge.

Caron Mosey is talented.  She's both a quilter and the author of America's Pictorial Quilts (1985, the first book devoted to the subject) and Contemporary Quilts from Traditional Designs (1986).  She's taught quilting all over the nation, published too many articles to list, promotes quilting in her home state of Michigan, and is constantly busy creating her totally outstanding quilts.  Talent surrounds her too.  Her husband Dean is an extraordinary, fifth generation woodworker whose been in business for himself since 1974.  Please visit Caron's BLOG!  (http://blog.caronmosey.com/)

One of the most important influences in Caron’s artistic life was her mother.  Caron’s blog includes this passage:  “my mother, who from the age of 16 sewed all of her own clothes… and mine. She sewed curtains, upholstered furniture, and created just about everything she could make using fabric and thread with her Singer Featherweight. She had more talent in her little finger than I will ever have.”

Yet, this is Caron’s adopted mother.  Like many adopted children, Caron sought out her birth parents.....and found them.  This quest was undoubtedly important. 

I stitched the piece using a lovely trim bought in Austria while studying dry felting by machine with Sara Lechner.  I cut it into individual flower sections.  It just seemed to have the perfect, almost old-fashioned beauty of Caron's sepia toned child's photo.  It was also my way to creating something "contemporary" while using something "traditional". 


Advocate.  Stitched words: Letting Other Men Know They Aren't Alone; Breast Cancer Survivor. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin.  Hand embroidery and beading on tea-stained muslin. Unframed: 25" x 19"; Framed: 31" x 25".  Click on image to enlarge.

Thurston Murray is a man on a mission. I met him and his lovely wife in the fall of 2009. It was October, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. She was wearing a blue ribbon. I asked what it meant. He explained....with gusto! ....and facts, figures, statistics, and especially compassion for other men facing breast cancer.

Thurston is a breast cancer survivor for over twenty-five years. He does everything he can to spread awareness of male breast cancer, writing letters and published articles, posting on Internet message boards, and speaking to various groups. Because many men facing this disease are embarrassed by any mention of "their breasts", Thurston speaks out. He says, "If I can help one man be telling my story, I'm willing to do that. Men need to know they can get breast cancer."

Breast cancer is one hundred times more common in women than men. Yet, over two thousand cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in men each year. Thurston Murray's agreement to pose for the Decision Portrait Series is yet one more way he is advocating for male breast cancer awareness. To learn more about Thurston and breast cancer among men, please visit his page on the American Cancer Society.

Argentine Tango Dancer

Argentine Tango Dancer.  Stitched words:  I took up TANGO at age 60.  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin.  Hand embroidery and beading.  25" x 19" unframed; 31" x 25" framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

It didn't surprise me at all when my friend Melissa Bush, a professional family and marriage counselor, took up Argentine Tango dancing four years ago, in 2006.  Melissa knows exactly how to enjoy life, indulge herself while balancing a career, and dabbles in all sorts of artistic pursuits.  Melissa and I have collaborated.  I turned several of her poems into visual arts expressions.  She frequently attends art openings, makes art purchases, and supports local non-profits. 

Several weeks before creating this piece, Melissa was in my studio.  I was showing my Decision Portraits to another couple when Melissa said, "You should stitch me...for deciding to be a tango dancer!"  Of course I agreed, enthusiastically and we set the next evening for the photo shoot.  Why wait?  Well, the very next night was a "milonga" a block away at Vista Ballroom.   Melissa stopped by my studio ... dressed "to kill" ... on her way to the milonga.  We had a blast snapping sexy photos while talking about her decision.
  (From Wikipedia....  Milonga is a term for a place or an event where tango is danced.) 

Melissa took up Argentine Tango dancing BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO DANCE!  For her, it was a very, very simple decision.  But, she knows there are a lot of people in this world who would allow their age to interfere with such a choice.  She hopes that people seeing her portrait might reflect on their own decisions, excuses, and "artistic blocks" that prevent happiness and fulfillment.  My "photo session" with Melissa was very brief...after all she had on her dancing shoes and the counterclockwise motion to counterpoint 2x4 music beckoned.  Hopefully, others will follow their denied, hidden passions!

At Risk Adoption

At Risk Adoption.  Stitched words: A Family Decision. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand beaded and stitched. 31" x 41", framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

Permanently welcoming a child into a loving family changes EVERYTHING! The child will no longer face the uncertainty of life in foster care. The family grows, introducing the new child's already formed personality into the family's established mix. Very special people make this important decision. I am lucky enough to live about a block from such people.... so.... let me introduce my neighbors! In back from left to right: Zeb, Gini, Hoke; In front from left to right: Liberty and Daniel.

It isn't important which of the kids will soon be adopted. It doesn't alter the fact that this is a family. In 2009 they all actively participated in the decision to include another person in their tight unit. In fact, the decision involved extended family members too. In the "immediate" family, the eldest daughter, Jessica, is missing from this photo. She's a lovely grown woman (who is my Photoshop instructor and an artist in her own right!) This image depicts those living in the "family home"....a block away. Another family member, Grandma, also posed for the Decision Portrait Series. She's my College Student in this Decision Portrait Series. 

This decision was carefully made by everyone involved. Now, this is simply a family.... a fantastic family!


Atheist. Stitched main words: Atheist. No Creator in the Sky; No Damnation...just Evolutionary Phenomena. Smaller words: I just don't believe that there's anyone out there...no creator with a plan...No being watching, listening, guiding us through the darkness. God just isn't one of my stories. There is no God...No Meaning in the Chaos.  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. 25" x 18". Hand embroidery.  25” x 19” unframed;  31” x 25” framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

In the autumn of 2008 I spent a glorious six-week artist residency on Westport Island, Maine.  Maria Robinson was one of the other artists experiencing the generosity and time provided by the MacNamara Foundation. She is a writer. She excels in strong characters, evocative phrases, and attention to significant details. Maria is also an atheist and the perfect person to articulate this decision to me.

Though I don't pretend to understand this decision, Maria was easily able to convey her thoughts and feeling in a way that made stitching this piece not only possible but a joy. I don't want any value judgments reflected in these works....even my own. I want each piece to be a straightforward depiction of a personal decision. I want each person presented in a flattering way, and I'm really, really pleased with how this one turned out. It was also the first time I've created a piece with the model present ... watching the work progress between lunches and dinners! This also added to the overall feeling and the excitement over each stitch. Maria's husband visited over one of the weekends during which we were in Maine. He, too, said I'd captured Maria. What a compliment!


(Above:  Aylah, Decision Portrait Series.  25" x 19".  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin with seat belt, beads and hand embroidery.  Some of the beads are very special ... ostrich eggshells ... as a symbol of life's fragile nature.  Click on image to enlarge.)

From my blog post of November 20, 2012:

Although it had been just over two years since stitching the last Decision Portrait, I fell right into a rhythm with this newest piece in the series ... which now numbers 108.  I brought the transferred image, seat belt, white acrylic felt, a stash of beads and threads, and the Thai Stucco paper background with me to Houston.  I stitched the piece during the four day run of the International Quilt Festival (IQF)... in my solo exhibition at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

(Above:  Me stitching Aylah at the International Quilt Festival in Houston.)

The plan to stitch in public went perfectly.  It allowed interested people to ask about the series concept, touch the various layers of unique material, and ask about the photo transfer process.  Everyone was deeply touched.  Many brushed away tears.

(Above:  A class of fifteen year old girls from a nearby private school ... looking at Aylah's portrait after I gave a brief tour of my work.  Click on image to enlarge.)

One of the most wonderful parts of stitching in public was the chance to talk with visiting school groups.  On the third day an all-girls school class of fifteen-year-olds came by my exhibit.  The IQF tour guide asked me to speak.  I talked about being an artist, the series, and ended with Aylah, a beautiful high school sophomore and competitive team cheerleader and member of the school's popular step team.  I talked about her unfortunate, last decision.  Aylah didn't buckle up.  She accepted a ride from a teacher who didn't buckle up.  The distracted driver ran a stop sign ... and both were killed.  One other step team member did buckle up and walked away from a horrific accident.

(Above:  Aylah, detail.  Click on image to enlarge.)

While most of the people at the IQF looked at this piece as a "daughter or granddaughter", this school group had a totally different expression.  To them, Aylah was obviously a peer ... could have been a friend, a sister, or even themselves.  They all promised to remember ... to buckle up ... every time ... and to make sure they never accept a ride from a driver who isn't also wearing a seat belt.  For all I know, Aylah saved a life that day.  I hope she did.

(Above:  Nicholl Ransom, Aylah's mother, with the finished portrait.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I finished the portrait before the end of the IQF show but didn't blog about it until now.  Why?  Well, the first person I wanted to share it with was the fantastic person who made it all possible.  That person is Nicholl Ransom, Aylah's mother and a quilter!  We met at the Threads of Time Quilt Guild.  I gave a trunk show on my Grave Rubbing Art Quilt Series.  This work truly resonated with Nicholl.  She totally understood the powerful sense of remembrance in final resting places.  On her cell phone, she had photos of Aylah's grave and we talked about the tragedy.  I asked if she'd sign a model's release for her daughter's portrait and decision to become part of the series.  Nicholl answered "yes" right away.  I had the images and paperwork within forty-eight hours. 

(Above:  Aylah's grave.  Aylah (pronouced like Kayla but without the "K") was born on July 24, 1991 at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.  Her favorite color was baby blue.  Her school colors were serendipitously black and gold ... just like the beads on her portrait. The car accident occurred on November 30th, 2006 near East Dublin, GA where Aylah attended East Laurens High School.  Aylah lost her fight for life on December 6th ... donating her organs the next day.  Aylah's Facebook page is still active ... as an important way of remembering this special girl.)

In the past, I asked two other mothers of deceased, beloved children who also "didn't buckle up" if they'd be willing to have me stitch such a portrait.  Both earlier times, I was turned down nicely.  Neither mother wanted their child remembered this way.  Nicholl, however, is on a mission.  She said that if only one family was spared the nightmare from which she can never wake up, she wanted me to stitch Aylah's portrait and share it.  She wants to bring more awareness and prevent future tragedies.  

(Above:  The back side of the bench at Aylah's grave.  The stop sign is important.  The teacher driving the vehicle never even paused.  A distracted driver is not a safe one.  There were many decisions going on that fateful day ... and Aylah's final resting place is a monument to remembrance with the hope that others will be spared this tragedy.  Click on image to enlarge.)
Nicholl's Facebook timeline includes an important page ... with her very important message:

Insist on seat belts.
Set a good example.  Don't drink and drive.  Obey the speed limit.
Discuss what's helpful or distracting to the driver.
Monitor your teen's travel.
Know and trust the driver. 

Bald is Beautiful

Bald is Beautiful. Stitched words: Shaved for Charity. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand stitched and beaded. 25" x 19" unframed; 31" x 25" framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

Jillian Owens created a most amazing recycled garment from ex-boyfriends' shirts for the Columbia Design League’s fundraiser, Runaway Runway in April 2010. I was impressed with the concept and the craftsmanship. We became Facebook friends right after the event.

At the time, her Facebook posts her counting the days until her head was going to be shaved for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation (www.stbaldricks.org), a group dedicated to raising funds for kids with cancer. Jillian doesn't even know one of these suffering children; she's just generous.... and BRAVE. I had to witness this decision! I had to secure it for the Decision Portrait Series. We exchanged messages. Jillian was happy to participate in my art!

On May 29, 2010 I went to a chic hair salon in Chapin, South Carolina where I finally met Jillian, her boyfriend Marty, Ivan (from the St. Baldrick's Foundation), Jon Osbourne (the "stylist"), and others willing to have their heads shaved for charity. IT WAS AMAZING!

I'm not vain about much in my life. At the time, I owned no make-up whatsoever.  I don't dye my hair and my nails are a mess.  I buy my clothes at local thrift shops.  I'm not vain .... but THERE'S NO WAY I could do this! Watching Jillian's thick black hair fall to the ground, section by section, was eye-opening...stunning. Watching the combination of emotions on Jillian's face was inspiring. What courage! What generosity! Jillian signed my "model's release". She posed for both "before" and "after" photos.... including ones in which she was holding up a blank piece of paper. Videos were shot.

I used a photo of Jillian holding the blank paper and superimposed a "before" photo during the transfer process. Jillian agreed to donate her "Ask Me Why I'm Bald" and "St. Baldrick's Foundation" pins to the portrait.  I collected Jillian's hair after the "shaving" and made unique "attachments" for the portrait using a tab of gel medium and a short length of perle cotton. The green glass, jewel-like bauble beads were ones I'd wanted to use for ages but no beading needle would slip through the impossibly small hole. In Washington, DC I found #15 beading needles .... smaller than those generally found in a 4-pack at fabric shops. These little gems must have been waiting for "something special"... for THIS PIECE. It really is unique. Jillian's decision can be seen in a video I made at http://videosbysusanlenz.blogspot.com/2010/07/bald-is-beautiful.html.

Behind on the Mortgage

Behind on the Mortgage. Stitched large words: Some how...Some way...I'm keeping my home.  Smaller words:  Just do it; $; Adult College Student; Single MOM in debt; Home Sweet Home; Whatever it takes; Grit and determination; American Dream; 4.0 GPA; Military Service; As God is my witness, I’ll never be homeless; Loans; Welcome; My house is your house; Foreclosure.  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin.  Hand stitched and beaded. 25 1/5" x 19" unframed.  Click on image to enlarge.

Within a month of starting the Decision Portrait Series I posted a "wish list" on my main blog.  I was looking for possible subjects. Theresa Mack contacted me and volunteered for College Student. Yet, I wanted someone at least 70 years of age pursuing a college degree for this portrait. Theresa isn't close to 70.  She went back to school at nearly 50. Yet, I was intrigued enough to engage in an email correspondence where I learned about Theresa’s struggle to keep a home. Her words resonated with me. I knew Theresa was right for this portrait, Behind on the Mortgage. Theresa's story reminded me of my Dad and my grandparents.

Once upon a time (1953), my Dad and his parents came to America from a displaced persons camp in Germany. Dad wanted to go to college but Ohio State wouldn't accept his foreign high school diploma; he went to night school. My grandparents were much older and didn't speak English very well. The jobs they had, even with my Dad working, didn't bring in much money. Once, the mortgage was due in just a week.  They didn't have the sum. They held a "family meeting"....just the three of them. They DECIDED that "whatever it took, they'd keep the house". Odd jobs, scrap metal, overtime....hard physical work....the American Dream. They made a DECISION without knowing exactly how to bring about the desired result. They didn't even know if it was possible. There's grit and determination in these decisions. Theresa was telling the same story. I felt she had made the same decision. I wanted to put a face to this determination and I'm so pleased with the result.

By the way, my Dad did go on to college....all the way....PhD. He and my Mom live in a fancy log home by their own lake in Pennsylvania. My special hope is that Theresa will look back on her current struggles from such a beautiful, future vantage point.

As far as the stitching is concerned, I was influenced in a most unexpected way by the two-day class I took in Sweden under Tilleke Schwarz. My fascination with stitched text drew me to her class. I thought I'd find some sort of "mentor", someone to emulate. I hoped to learn better methods of design.

What I learned, however, was quite different. Instead, I learned that I've been on my own path using text for a long, long time. I stitch very rapidly and am highly productive. I have no problem plying my own thoughts with needle and thread. My ideas are personal and I have no problem developing them. My method of design works for me. I've been using text for years....in my own, wonderful way. I learned that I should trust my own instincts and that I don't really want to emulate anyone else. This is a good lesson!

Behind in the Mortgage has been included in the 2009 national juried “Materials Hard and Soft” exhibition in Denton, Texas where it won an award of distinction and was featured in the printed exhibition catalog. 

Blood Donor

Blood Donor. Stitched words: Saving Lives One Pint at a Time. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand stitched and beaded. 25" x 17" unframed; 31” x 25” framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

This is the first piece I worked on while at the MacNamara Foundation artist residency on Westport Island, Maine during the autumn of 2008. I'd already created the xylene transfer before leaving South Carolina but hadn't put the layers together or even thought about stitching it.  It was a smart choice to bring…. something with which I was familiar.... something perfect on which to begin working in a new setting.  Once I started, I was instantly at ease even though this was the first time I used any brilliant color on one of the portraits.  Red, however, is the obvious choice for a blood donation decision.

I'm honored to know this businessman who has donated over 75 pints of blood and often holds blood drives in the parking lot of the Biscuit House, a breakfast restaurant he owns. I shot the photo as he stood in the window for "take away" orders.

He didn’t tell his wife about participating in the series.  She learned about it on the evening of the CYBER FYBER exhibition opening at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios in January 2009 where I had it on display with several other portraits.  Her friend saw it and called her saying, “Did you know your husband’s picture is at an art gallery?”  Puzzled, she asked him and he responded, “Oh, yeah.  This artist asked me to pose.”  The next day the proud wife came to see the piece.  She was thrilled with the entire concept, the portrait of her generous husband, and told me this story!

Boomerang Child

Boomerang Child. Stitched words: Living with Dad....Again. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand embroidery and beading.  Unframed: 25" x 19"; framed 31" x 25".  Click on image to enlarge.

Nikolai Oshkolkov is a talented young visual artist and musician whose life is a mixture of interests and cultures. He's Russian; he's American. His conversations glide effortlessly between the two languages, the two artistic forms of expression, and with people of all ages and backgrounds. He's had three shows at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios.  (This is where my studio is located!) Each exhibition was a near "sell out". Each included a jam session.... banjo pickers and Nikolai on the balalaika, though he is equally competent on the piano.

Nikolai is also very young and trying to "make it" as a professional artist. His work is excellent; sales at his annual exhibit are excellent. Yet, like most young, struggling artists, the financial demands of the world are more overwhelming than the successes can fulfill. As a result, Nikolai is back at home.... his father's home.

I learned this during Nikolai's last exhibition. We had a chance to talk while he was hanging his artwork. I asked him to consider participating in my series ... and he said "yes" even before I got a chance to explain my ideas for the piece. I don't think Nikolai had ever heard the term "boomerang child". He just laughed, signed the model's release, and posed for the photos. Nikolai knows how hard it is to struggle for independence as an artist. He is always willing to help someone else pursuing this elusive dream. Thanks, Nikolai, for helping with my quest!

Britta, Twins at 42

Britta, Twins at 42. Stitched words:  Twins at age 42.   Xylene transfer on tea-stained muslin with hand embroidery.  25” x 19” unframed; 31” x 25” framed. Click on image to enlarge.

Having a baby after one is forty is often impossible. As far as I'm concerned, having twins at age 42 is totally unthinkable...but it was exactly the decision made by my friend Britta, another talented fiber artist who also paints and creates incredible porcelain figures. Britta kindly sent a great photo for this portrait.  She lives in Richmond now and puts her fluent English, Spanish, and native German to use to communicate with people facing the tragedy of loss and the option to donate vital organs.  Britta secured the models’ releases and photo for Gift of Hope in this series.

Broken Nest

Broken Nest, Decision Portrait Series. Stitched words: Threw an unruly child OUT. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand stitched and beaded.  25" x 19" unframed; 31" x 25" framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

Some decisions are particularly difficult. When facing them, none of the options are really desirable. Years later, the decision still is unsettling.... but had to be made. These are the bittersweet choices that life seems to dole out.... often to the nicest, most understanding, and compassionate people. This is one of those decisions.

As an artist, I've been looking for people to share these sorts of painful decisions. It took several email messages and some gentle urging to stitch this portrait. I stressed how it would touch many people. It would let other mother's with difficult kids know they're not alone. We corresponded about the title and the words because, as harsh as the truth is, the portrait needs to carry a message of hope, love, and a sense of the complexities involved. I think the results do just that.

The wonderful lady who reluctantly shared this decision and I have several things in common. She threw an unruly child out of her house. She had to do it. She didn't want to do it. The memory of it haunts her. Loving such a child is very, very difficult. I know. I, too, am the mother of a difficult child. It's been over four years since my younger son defiantly left home. He's an uninsured, unemployed high school drop out. I don't know where he lives but, shortly before I stitched this portrait, he got my business logo tattooed on his leg. (Just imagine ... the business logo for Mouse House ... a "mouse" depicted inside the outline of a "house"!)  Both this depicted mother and I have suffered the inevitable "Was I the worst Mom on earth?" sort of mental questioning. Both of us are familiar with the concept of a "broken nest". She gives me hope though. There's been a reconciliation in her family.... but things will never be the same.

We have something else in common. We both are firm believers in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. We believe that serendipity actively plays a role in our lives. It played a role in this portrait too. When corresponding about the title and words for this portrait, my parents visited … and brought the dove feathers they'd found in the woods around their home. Perfect details at the perfect time! The day I finished the portrait, my artistic mentor (whose studio is just around the hall from mine) insisted I come outside to see the baby birds that were under the nearby scrubs ... three doves! I always share the finished portraits with each participant via email. This is what she wrote back: "I do so believe in the serendipity of life. Doves have been frequenting my house this summer in large numbers!"  I'm considering these signs of peace to come.


Buddhist.  Stitched words:  Seeking Enlightenment…repeated.  Xylene photo transfer on tea stained muslin.  Hand beaded and stitched.  25” x 19 unframed; 31” x 25” framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

This is Jan Hodgman, (http://www.zenjan.com/) a wonderful fiber artist from Washington State.  Her website includes the perfect introduction:

Hi! I'm Jan Hodgman. My "official" qualifications include ordination as a Soto Zen priest, an undergraduate degree in Psychology, a Master's in East Asian Studies, with studies in Zen Buddhism to augment my eight monastic years in Japan, certification as a Focusing Trainer by Reva Bernstein, and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, serving as a hospital chaplain. More importantly, though, I really love being a part of a person's journey toward self-awareness and a full life.

Jan and I worked via emails to achieve this portrait. The small image is her ordination day. I knew I wanted to use it...but didn't know how to best tie the two images together. I thought about enclosing the small picture in a heart shaped form. I wrote to Jan. Wisely, Jan suggested an Ensō circle. As soon as I understood the significance and saw the circle, I knew this was the solution. The Ens
ō circle is one of the most common symbols in Japanese calligraphy. It is associated with enlightenment, elegance, strength, the universe, and the "void". Sometimes it is a full circle; sometimes there is a slight opening. It is a sacred in Zen Buddhism. But, it is generally created in ink....something painted, fluid, wet.

I mixed Golden acrylics micaceous iron oxide with clear tar gel. A ceramic bowl was placed upside down on a sheet of silicone-coated paper (baking parchment would do!). I poured the solution down and round the sides of the bowl...allowing it to ooze onto the paper...and then pulled the bowl away. This left a circle of paint. It dried. The next day I peeled the "skin" away from the paper.  Because of the mica in the paint, it reflects light...retaining a "wet" look. I made two, using the more successful one. 

Now...to attach the "skin" of acrylic paint! I traced the "skin" onto heavy watercolor paper and cut it INSIDE THE LINES....smaller than the edge of the "skin". This resulting sliver of paper was stitched onto the portrait.  The last thing I did was to carefully apply heavy gel medium to the watercolor paper sliver and position the "skin" on it. The heavy gel medium adhered the acrylic to the watercolor paper when it dried. Ta-da! An Ensō circle....looking like a brush stroke of wet paint on top of the fabric! After all is said and done, I, too, feel at least a little ENLIGHTENED!


Cheater. Stitched word: Unfaithful. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stain muslin. Hand beaded and stitched. 25" x 19" unframed; 31" x 25" framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

Some pieces in the Decision Portrait Series have long, involved, complex stories that unfold in these written words that accompany them. This isn't one of those pieces.

Most pieces in the Decision Portrait Series are straightforward depictions of a decision made by the person in the artwork...a real likeness of a real individual, generally named, honestly stating his or her decision as fact. This isn't one of those pieces.

Several pieces in the Decision Portrait Series deal with bittersweet options.... a person faced with more than one choice, neither particularly great choices, and the decision made under these circumstances. This isn't one of those pieces either.

This is a deeply personal, highly secretive, honestly shared decision. I am in total awe of the brave individual who volunteered to share it with me and allowed me to stitch the work of art. It was truly my honor to stitch this portrait.

Several months ago, I would not have known that I would hold in such very high esteem a person who had engaged in an extra martial affair. See.... I’ve been married over thirty years to the one and only love of my life. Coming from my background, people who "cheat" are "bad". I learned that this isn't the case...far from it! Life is full of twists and turns. I shouldn't judge. I didn't judge here...I learned!

It took bravery to admit the affair. It took courage to write to me. It took an act of nearly unbelievable faith to trust me to stitch this portrait with love, compassion, and a non-judgmental mind. The "model" and I have never met. Ours is a totally Internet relationship. She trusted me with her history.

We corresponded about the image. She suggested the wedding gown and bridal veil. It is PERFECT. It symbolically brings the vows she took into focus. She approved the single stitched word: Unfaithful. The wedding attire and single word drive the decision home. It is obvious.... though she is mysteriously veiled.... alluring.... a temptress.... a goddess of desire. The work will confront exhibition viewers with several questions: Have I ever thought about or been unfaithful? How would I react if my partner was unfaithful? How would I react to someone I know admitting such an indiscretion? These are exactly the questions I hoped such a portrait would generate. I am so totally grateful and most appreciative to someone brave enough to let me make this statement by using her image in this stitched series. THANK YOU!