Cabinet of Childhood Curiosity

I recently submitted a proposal and was accepted into a curated group exhibit for Women’s History Month at the Howland Cultural Center, here in Beacon, NY. The topic was enticing: Girlhood. Oh boy, was this ever custom-meant for me and my kind of personal art! One foot is always in my girlhood.

Girlhood overview

Looking back all these years, I assume that I asked questions from the time I learned to talk—what child is not curious? My nuclear family really was perfect, so I know when the answers stopped coming. My father simply disappeared from my life, in 1957, and my big question was Where’s Daddy? What I remember first was being in our linoleum-floored kitchen with my grandparents and asking Why is Mommy crying?  I have no memory of having his death (electrocution on the job as utility pole lineman) explained to me, or going to a funeral, or ever being comfortable asking questions or talking about any of it with my mother. Not until lately.

With the recent escalation of a nuclear pissing contest between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, I found myself having a bit of PTSD. Childhood fears are being resurrected from the Cold War. I grew up in the era of “Duck and Cover,” and here we are again. Of course, ducking and covering was a joke, but the threat itself was very real, and still is. The idea that we could simply hide under our desks to avoid the blast—who knew how ludicrous that was back then? Answer: A lot of people in high governmental positions. But that’s the propaganda pablum they fed us. And I was very frightened, especially when Nikita Krushchev thundered on our black-and-white television sets: WE WILL BURY YOU!

GH 2

Old electrical manuals and my civil defense booklets from the 1960s, a charm bracelet with the ten commandments, glitter, some toys, and my childhood art

Where did I find solace and a sense of safety? That is what makes up this installation. Sifting through a lifetime of personal archival material, as well as trinkets I’ve collected for my assemblage art (that connected me nostalgically to my childhood), I address my unanswered questions, my fears, and how I navigated my girlhood—steeped in family love, but also loss.

GH 3

More vestiges of growing up in the 1950s & 60s along with a very early book of poems

GH 4

Prayers weren’t working for me, so I switched to Mighty Mouse. “Here I come to save the day!” Gauges and gee-gaws. My childhood bank. A buddhist prayer flag with my questions.

At the center of the installation is my first assemblage art done in 1996. That was when I began to seriously address my past and how I became who I am today. No longer afraid to ask questions. Now I also write poetry to make peace with what I may never find out.

Insulating Materials

 

DEFENSIVE MEMORY

I ask now what you remember.

For me:

Air raid sirens pierce arithmetic lessons as we

practice for nuclear war.

My classmates and I scramble

under wooden desks:

girls’ plaid skirts tenting pale knees scabbed at recess and

even the boys are quiet.

Spitballs at a cease fire.

 

You say you don’t remember much.

A hint:

Did you ask me what I learned in school that day and did

I already know not to

disturb you with my fears?

I almost forgot:

Got a hundred per cent on a spelling test and

Mike Clark ate a red crayon.

And I can’t sleep at night.

 

Copyright Sharon Watts 2018

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Candy Cane Memories

Bettcandycan

credit: Me and My Green Bin

Growing up in the early 1960s, and being a kind of girly-girl, I do remember I liked my food pink. And sugary. When standing in line with my mom at Acme Supermarket, the impulse buy of choice near the cash register was those awful (to me now) pink marshmallow cookies with white coconut sprinkles. This was before red dye #2 was banned.

vintage mom & me

My mother, Shirley, and me in her state-of-the-art kitchen, 1957.

But at Christmas time, we made cookies. Mom did like to bake, if not actually cook. (Hey, it was the Atomic Age, and she had better things to do, like paint!) One of my favorites from that era was candy cane cookies. We had to divide the dough, and color one half. Then keep it moist until we twisted the braids together and curved them into the cane hook. Some baking, and voila! This was a cookie that actually tasted as good as it looked, as opposed to sand tarts. For all the glitter and sprinkles I shook onto them, they were always a letdown to me after they came off the sheet.

I no longer bake anything remotely like the candy cane cookie, since I have gotten much healthier in my eating habits. But a recent call for baking memories from one of my favorite blogs, A Hundred Years Ago, got me thinking about these cookies, and I realize that they probably still influence me today, in my art, if not my baking.

Happy Holidays to all!

Let it Snow! -card

I want to credit a fellow blogger for her contribution to the candy cane cookie. I shared her photo of the original recipe. Read her post for more on this classic!

Conscientious

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Some things have changed, some never will…I wrote this two years ago and am posting it today.  “Sharon is very conscientious, and is capable of more than she thinks.”  Thus, Mrs. Werner assessed me in 1961, writing the comments on … Continue reading

Hallmark Had Nuthin’ On Me

My grandmother or maybe father helped me choose this typical store-bought card from the late '50s

This gallery contains 18 photos.

My mother downsized last year, and “returned to sender” a pile of homemade cards I had given her over the years, starting when I was around five years old and ending before I went to art school in 1971. While … Continue reading