In 2001, during my hermit years, I took my first “primitive skills” course – a week-long experience of learning to find food, create shelter, chip stones, make other tools, make fire, make traps, capture lizards to cook and eat, and much more.
Later, I’d use my fire-making bow to temporarily display the purses below (more on them in a moment).
In 2002, I found two rattlesnakes killed on a road near my home, and skinned and tanned them to use in art.
The first I attempted to honor in this medicine shield, but after displaying it in galleries in Bisbee and Tucson, Arizona, from 2002-2005, I disassembled it and ritually buried most of the pieces. (I’ll post the full story about it soon.)
The second road-killed snake I honored in the special purses and medicine bags above. Thirteen large bags were created, and eight small medicine bags, each unique and made of reclaimed silk, rayon, cotton, gold glass beads, and other natural materials.
(The last two large bags are in the Southwest Fiber Arts Collective retail gallery, The Common Thread, in Silver City, New Mexico.)
In 2006, I attended my second week-long course and learned to tan a hide, make moccasins, make sandals, make a pipe, felt wool, craft a gourd bowl, carve a wooden spoon, gather the materials to prepare and spin rope, and more, some pictured here.
My first felted purse, made in 2006, was decorated with a spiral of the natural secondary colors of the wool. Over time, it became moth-eaten, so I composted it into the garden, unfortunately never photographed.
Later I made a beautiful felted wool hat, also never photographed, which was lost or stolen one night – which I mention in case someone in Silver City has found it. Off-white strands I pulled from the natural brown wool and used to create a subtle, organic spiral design on the front of a lovely-textured, perfectly-fitted, natural brown, hand-felted, hand-sewn pill-box hat – that I still mourn the loss of today.
But I’ll make another! Recently, I was gifted with two large tubs of natural wool, which I plan to turn into more hats and purses this year. And, of course, I’ll post them when I do.
Much of my work, obviously, is only semi-primitive, such as the snake skin above – cured with glycerine. The same is true of these last two items.
Back in the 1980s, I hand-crafted a (semi-) primitively-fired clay pot (fired in sawdust in an aerated steel can). It’s glazed only with its own “slip” (the lightest clay that rises to the top layer when mixed in water), then hand-rubbed before firing, and finished with mineral oil. I didn’t harvest my own clay for this, but I hope to do more of that soon.
In my 2006 week-long course, I made a pipe bowl of sacred red clay (the clay is only found on one reservation in the US, and is released under strict conditions by the medicine people of that tribe, so I was very honored to be allowed to receive this). I carved it by hand from a square chunk of the relatively-soft stone, and added a flame design all around. At home, I walked through my beloved mesquites and asked permission from one to take its branch, which I drilled (with a modern tool) and attached to the bowl with pitch glue and covered the joint with leather. It works very well and shows its use.
Finally my seven-year-old moccasins, of naturally-tanned deer hide, hand-sewn with sinew (and modern needle), and decorated with (modern) glass beads.