This week’s guest blogger, Bonnie J. Smith, shares how a challenging life experience inspired her creativity.
In 1999, I suffered a work-related injury. Being told that I might never be active on my feet or work the job I so enjoyed again and that I would have to use a wheelchair was a shock I didn’t handle well.
Having to sit 100% of the time in 2001, I decided to take a quilting class. I thought creating a few heirlooms for my family would be a nice gesture. Well, quilt I did—and to the frustration of my teacher, I could not stay within the pattern. My thought was, why do I want to create something that looked like everyone else’s?
Having moved to a new home with a lot of empty walls, I informed my husband that we’d purchase no new art; I would create art for our walls. Create, I did. My work has now traveled the globe, been juried into the prestigious Quilt National, and is held in private collections—and I feel like I’m just warming up.
For many years, I wondered how to translate that unrelenting horrific situation of my work injury into my artwork, but always avoided the subject in my art.
After I sat and let my body heal, the doctors said, “You can start exercising.”
“How about swimming?” I asked.
Thereafter, I swam every day.
One day, my youngest daughter Shara purchased me a pair of swim fins. Well, I had my doubts. Within about eight months, however, I witnessed a remarkable change in my feet. I then realized that those fins were probably the best physical therapy I could have had. The fins forced my feet to rebuild the muscle. I knew I was on my way.
While enjoying my swims, I would imagine what an artwork of myself swimming would look like. Could I create it? Would viewers accept my minimalist creative style or reject my work?
I rarely shy away too long from taking on a task, so I created Swimming Upstream:
I looked at the finished work for a long time. It came to me that the artwork was not just about myself; it’s about everyone trying to navigate through life. For some, it’s hard to pick up the pieces and keep swimming upstream. For others, it’s just about trying to survive life.
Ideas keep coming to me for new works. Some show how we have days when we feel strong, and then other days when we need to pull back, maybe feeling just a little too much hubris. This series has been fun to create and visualize how I feel about myself moving onward and upward. People have gravitated to this work, as swimming is an iconic image that most of us can do or try.
I tell those who want to swim but say they can’t to just float or hold onto the side of the pool. One day, you will get the courage to let go and feel your body enjoy the stability that the water—or the world—can offer, depending on how you see it. Even if you never try swimming, you can always imagine yourself swimming upstream through life. Just imagine!
Bonnie Jo Smith, textile artist, is a member of Santa Clara Branch NLAPW. She attended IUPUI, Indianapolis Campus; Indiana Central College; and has taken Master Dyeing Classes under the direction of Prof. Joan Morris of Dartmouth College. Her most recent installation, “Swimming Upstream,” provided the inspiration for her book Swimming Upstream: A Memoir. The “Swimming Upstream” installation will be exhibited at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK, during the summer of 2017. Her web site is bonniejofiberarts.com.