Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The story behind the art: Virginia Spiegel

Into the Wild - The Inspiration Behind the Boundary Waters series artwork
by Virginia Spiegel

Virginia accepted my invitation to write her own story for my blog. Below she lets us see a bit of her inspiration as well as the extended bits and pieces that became a part of her Boundary Waters series. As you will see it is not just about communing with nature, but finding family, a true sisterhood. The number of art pieces influenced by these wilderness trips now number 42. (Boundary Waters No. 37 'Bird on Branch" is shown here) -- Dawn

NOTE: Boundary Waters 37 is part of six artworks in the Boundary Waters series that are slightly surrealist views of my favorite things from our trips. There’s my sister in her trusty yellow life jacket in the back of the boat and joining her is one of the many eagles that we have seen. I included this particular eagle as a remembrance from a specific incident in which we had come ashore to leave the Boundary Waters after quite a trying journey and an eagle swooped down over us three times in big lazy circles as if to bid us farewell.

In 2003, I asked my sister (Nancy J. Spiegel Rosman) if she would consider taking me to the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters is a 1.1 million acres of lakes and forests on the border between Canada and Minnesota set aside, after a very contentious battle, as a place where Mother Nature reigns supreme. Visitors must secure a permit and enter on a specific day at a specific entry point. There are no signs in the Boundary Waters. No one checks to see if you are doing OK. The only full time inhabitants are wolves, moose, bears, beavers and loons. And, of course, mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks.

After she finished laughing, she agreed.

My sister and I are five years apart in age and I regarded her as the spoiled baby of the family and she regarded me as a stuck-up intellectual. But I had changed. After walking across England (190 miles), I realized, "Hey, I'm not the physically inept person I had internalized from my very painful high school gym experiences. I could be tough and I love a challenge."

She had made two trips previously with her young sons and church groups. So, off we went in a rented canoe, with my newly purchased children's life vest and a borrowed paddle. My useless sleeping bag required me to wear all my clothes and sleep wrapped in a garbage bag to survive the nights. Our tent leaked and it rained most of the time. Lightning struck so close we smelled burned toast.

AND we had a blast.

We went out paddling our canoe and explored portages that bears evidently used, but no humans had been on for quite some time. Along the way we pulled each other out of giant swamp sink holes, survived a flipped canoe. (I did it when I didn't check to see if Nan had both feet in the boat.) And generally we laughed at adversity.

We were hooked by the serenity and the challenge of the Boundary Waters. We have returned eleven more times in the past five years, reaching 110 days total in 2008. See photo above of Nancy (left) and Virginia with canoe and equipment.

I now consider my sister my best friend as we have truly "had each other's back" in some interesting situations. And after being weathered in our tiny tent together for days on end, there is nothing we don't know about each other - good and bad.

We have experienced a moose breathing on our tent. We came upon a moose with a huge rack on a portage and baby-talked him into letting us wait safely for him to decide where to go. We heard a bear snuffle past our tent and convinced another not to take our food pack in the night. We watched our food (and toilet paper) supply diminish each day as we waited out an endless storm. Then we paddled twenty miles and made twenty portages in one day when said food and TP reached an end. And we paddled like no tomorrow when wind and waves come out of nowhere with no shore in sight.

We have seen stars too numerous to count, so close that you swear you could touch them. We spent days without seeing or hearing another human. Floating in our canoe we watched moose feed on lily pads, and beavers talking and working. There was time to write haiku, take thousands of photographs, sketch, and keep journals. Reflecting on all of them sustained us through long winters.

But mainly we listened to the quiet - a quiet that steadies our souls and hearts.

Bio: Virginia Spiegel creates textile art for the wall from her own hand-painted fabrics as well as mixed-media collages, artist books, and sculpture. She is the author of the eBook Art, Nature, Creativity, Life and for two years wrote the The Garbage Day Project blog which took a tongue-in-cheek look at garbage, art, and recycling in her neighborhood. Spiegel is the founder of Fiberart For A Cause which has raised more than $165,000 for the American Cancer Society since 2005.She holds a M.S. from Purdue University and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in non-art, and generally esoteric, subjects. She abandoned her academic career to become a full-time artist after surviving an auto accident in 1998.


Unknown said...

Hi Dawn! I tried to find a link to contact you directly, but couldn't uncover one. I just wanted to thank you for posting a picture of Joan and my "Sliced Pineapple" quilt and your nice comments. I'll be checking back to read this blog more often.

Aloha! Dianna in Maui

Linda Teddlie Minton said...

Thanks for inviting Virginia to post about her Boundary Waters history and experience. It's a little peek into her life that we don't usually get to see! And thanks, Virginia, for writing such a beautiful reminiscence. Aren't sisters wonderful? (AFTER they're all grown up, LOL!)

Anonymous said...

Virginia's descriptions of Boundary Waters is very accurate. The primitive lands stays so much the "same" compared to our urban world. I was awed when I returned to one area of the Boundary Water and could say ... the portage is right over there, without consulting any maps or guides ... after not being in that area for over 25 years! Can't say that for street corners in our urban world. Anyone who has ever experienced the Boundary Waters will relate strongly to her wonderful descriptions.
Leigh in AZ