The ArtYard Team
At the start of 2021 at ArtYard, mending emerged as an aspirational hope that we might begin to improve, strengthen, or make amends some of what was frayed by the previous year, a year of upheaval on all fronts.
In March, we wrote, “The word ‘patch’ seems so unassuming — it’s straightforward but also mighty. It doesn’t bring a ton of pressure to get it right the first time. By definition it’s a piece of cloth stitched over a tear, a covering for a wound… We aspire to larger fixes — social, political, and environmental — and the mightiness of this little word, patch, lies in the fact that the size of the repair it addresses is as irrelevant as its tangibility. It’s not meant to last forever, but rather it’s a start. This word is possibly an entrance for how to begin to mend, to arrive at a permanent repair.”
Darning a pair of socks, mending a friendship, or patching a roof will not fix what is broken in our communities or democracy, yet these are small acts of love and resilience that disrupt the cycles at broader scales that have put our relationships, civic life, and planet in peril.
In our offices, we have collected and displayed artifacts of mending as reminders. These include a salvaged cobbler’s sign, a red shoe emblazoned with the word “Repairing” that itself needed fixing, and three antique plates improved by kintsugi, an ancient way of mending pottery that treats breakage and repair as part of an object’s history, rather than something to disguise.
We loosely designed programming with mending in mind, beginning with a workshop, Means of Measure, to mend hole-y garments. Throughout the year, we reflected on acts of violence through This Place is a Message and reexamined shared histories of our country as we stood beside the large cement sculptures of Monuments. We opened new doorways to see what representational and cultural stories shape girlhood in the United States in Girl You Want. We reimagined the journey of refugees through movement in Ancestral Lights. We worked toward healing our trauma one word at a time at Writing as a Tool for Healing. We hoped for the prospect of renewal, reading lines of poetry outdoors in Remember, Green’s Your Color. You are Spring and Tearing it Down is a Love Song. We centered care and found new ways to collaborate and work together during Going to the Meadow.
As we close out the year, we asked ArtYard staff and some of the artists we collaborated with to write a short reflection on what they mended, healed, or made progress repairing.
Their responses, in alphabetical order, are below.
“This year, I mended some of my maternal grandfather’s tools and scraps of leather and used them in my bookbinding practice. In the process, I am learning the art of living within this sort of palimpsest, where I’m both continuum and renewal, and freedom and intentionality.”
—Isabel Augusto, ArtYard Exhibitions & Special Projects Manager
“This year I mended my relationship with the outside world. I had lost hope in connecting with others. Going outside and engaging with others was my least favorite thing to do for so many years. As we were all shut in due to the pandemic I felt like once things opened back up for everyone I would reappear with a fresh start. In this journey of mending, not only did I meet wonderful individuals and gain new deeply rooted friendships, but I’ve started to mend the relationship I have with myself. Less self doubt and positive endless possibilities of what this life will bring me now fills an empty void.”
—Dawn Ferguson, ArtYard Executive Assistant & Office Manager
“I have always taken to writing all kinds of things — essays, poems, and I even started a chapter for a dance memoir in quarantine — but I would not call myself a writer, nor have I ever tried to incorporate writing into my work.
“Back in January, during a very stressful period of time, I walked into my studio and something compelled me to take a marker and start writing a poem on my white board. It was short, fragmented, and raw, and it did not feel as if it would amount to anything, but I saved it. The next day, I went back, moved words around, added some, and took some away. Through the spring, I wrote more tiny fragments in the studio, while I was outside people-watching at my favorite café, and in my parked car, which is my favorite place to think.
“I ended up completing seven short texts that eventually became the backbone of the piece I showed at ArtYard in September. All the texts were personal in nature and centered around questions of how I came to be who I am, what it is that I do, and why it is that I do it. It was healing in the sense that I was able to channel many challenging pandemic-esque emotions into an outlet. The wonderful side effect of that is I found a new facet to my artistic process that has now become a vital part of my work.”
—Pam Hetherington, choreographer, Philadelphia Jazz Tap Ensemble
“Score for Mending
Hiding to show, breaking to fix, burying to rise. Indulging contradictions, embracing antithesis.
1. Encapsulate a light in shadow to keep alive the light that aspires to never see another awful light.
2. Rebuild a foundry with sound so as to never hear its works pouring forth steel again.
3. Rust steel plates to a wretched ruin in order to seal a promise to mend our world and to leave alive the aspiration of peace, a hope to be polished and kept pristine.
4. Grow the clover tall in the sun as the cicadas croon their song of love and death, while the concrete cubes keep their secrets in silence.”
—Kei Ito & Andrew Paul Keiper, Baltimore-based artists; This Place is a Message
“I found a person who makes 3D-printed versions of out-of-production Cuisinart fittings. I didn’t want to throw out a perfectly good food processor. I am making pesto again and nothing ended up in a landfill! Cooking grounded me this year. I loved feeding friends and family, especially on short notice, when I had to invent something out of what was in my fridge.”
—Jill Kearney, ArtYard founder and Executive Director
“This past year I mended an old sculpture. While working with this very old piece, I realized that the materials hold their own history, the marks made are like lines of a drawing that leave small traces behind. These traces are reminders, like words or sentences that speak in non-verbal ways to tell a story and make sense of the world around me. Drawing, singing, my dog Tula and being with the children in our bi-weekly arts workshops in Langa, South Africa helped me heal. I am still working to repair my sense of wonder — walking and paying attention to the creatures in the wild birds, snakes, and moths have been my companions.”
—Ledelle Moe, sculptor; Monuments
“I repaired an old piece of furniture that someone didn’t want anymore. Carefully sanding the wood and then painting it was a therapeutic process to me. I placed an old (still working) typewriter on the top of it with a sign that says: ‘In case of emergency, type a poem.’
A good friend shared these words with me a few months ago: ‘In a fall down the rabbit hole, an individual sets off on the path with a goal, gets sidetracked by various events and changes direction several times along the way, eventually ending up somewhere unexpected.’ I feel like I’ve spent this year falling down the rabbit hole. So many unexpected things have happened, some of them challenging, some magical. My mending process began when I started to embrace the unexpected/challenging as an opportunity for connecting with others at a deeper level. I’m truly understanding that interconnectedness is crucial not only for survival but for expanding and growing stronger individually and as a group.”
—Elsa Mora, ArtYard Artistic Director & Curator
“I just finished mending my favorite ‘fat pants.’ You know, the only ones that fit after gaining a few pounds? I have sworn off buying new ones because I promised myself this is something I will come back from. At the beginning of 2021, I was determined to get back to the weight I was at the beginning of 2020. It went but it didn’t go amazingly and my favorite pants still fit. While I harrumph, I still have to admit that it went, and it went for almost a whole year.
“While it went slowly and with many fits and starts, it still happened and is still happening now. Yes, this is a vainglory metaphor of sorts but, Buckminster Fuller keeps me coming back to it. Whatever I put on in weight since the beginning of 2020 isn’t me, and what I am losing now isn’t me either but, the actions I take are an effect of me and, they are the weightless wake I leave behind as I amend the past with mending the now.”
—Brian Sanders, choreographer, JUNK founder; Ancestral Lights
“I mended my absence. Early 2021 didn’t bring out the best in me. I felt I had to remind myself constantly to be kind. Remind myself constantly to take part. Remind myself constantly to dance and smile and have fun, remind myself constantly to be present.
“It was an exhausting performance. My aim was just to get where I was going without any obstacles. Only I didn’t know where I was going or where that secret place was. So I stood still. In my head. I liked it, it was quiet and peaceful and safe. Even though I was at every party and every event and danced and chatted and laughed and had ‘fun.’ …Really, I was just standing still, in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, while everything and everybody spun around me.
“It was after one of these events that a friend called me and said, ‘When are you coming back? You’ve been gone a long time, I miss you.’ So there I was, all exposed and busted and vulnerable and so irritated by his intrusion, his violation. How dare he insinuate that I wasn’t here. How dare he see me. How dare he be concerned. It was horrible and uncomfortable and untidy and threatening.
“So in 2022, I’ll be putting the finishing touches to my comeback. I missed me too. I’m awesome.”
—Clayre Saxon, ArtYard gallery attendant
“2021 healed my stage fright — kind of. I’ve been performing pretty consistently since age 9 but with every passing year it gets harder to be that vulnerable in such a public way. By the time gears ground to a halt in 2020, I was contemplating a real retreat from the stage. Very Greta Garbo. Something shifted in the many months of lockdown, though. I desperately missed community, gatherings, nightlife, art — all the things a jaded lesbian can start to take for granted after too many decades in a thriving gay metropolis.
“In that brief window between the vaccine’s arrival and Ms. Delta Variant coming on the scene, I co-hosted a show in Brooklyn with my best friend. I dreaded the onslaught of nerves as opening night approached. But then, what I felt was just ecstatic. Ecstatic to share a room, kiss my friends, make people laugh, and clap and scream (hiss/boo/jeer/ whatever!) and to make eye contact without a digital mediator. I was so grateful to share an experience with these expectant faces gleaming up at me, to affect them in real time and space and to hear their reactions reverberate off the barroom walls. I really wasn’t worried about my appearance.
“As a kid, people would ask if I was nervous before a show. ‘No! I’m excited!’ was my standard reply. Performance is essentially an offering of energy, and there is beauty in remembering that we offer it to the world as a gift. In return, we are fed some new energy back, in ways we can’t control. 2021 revived the power of this exchange in its pure and unguarded form — eager, vulnerable, appreciative, unpredictable, messy, fun. I’m glad to be back in the mess of it.”
—Silky Shoemaker, multimedia artist; Artist Ancestors
“I mended my relationship with my mindset. I set an intention for this year to think expansively and act deliberately as a reminder to myself that big goals are achieved through tiny acts of progress. Throughout the year, I took deliberate steps to dream about what I wanted my life to look like, the people I wanted to be in community with, and the way I wanted to approach life. With help from my mentor and advisors, I did the hard work of articulating my purpose, calling in my network, and letting go of the ideas and people that were out of sync with my values. The cumulative impact of visualizing my future self and taking the steps to manifest and enact the vision has helped me heal from the stress of feeling constrained in my work and goals. The year also brought the return of travel, seeing friends in person, and the reopening of places like ArtYard where creativity became a communal experience again, which are three other ways I’ve found healing during the second year of the pandemic.”
—Meghan Van Dyk, ArtYard Communications & Marketing Manager
“This year I mended my relationship with water. I love water. It is a stabilizing, essential, generous element in my life. Full of memory and discovery. I love being close to water, looking at water, sitting on the water’s edge, walking in the rain, being on a small boat on the water, close enough to it to feel its coolness, listen to its lapping rhythm or merely absorb the energy of its magnetic presence. Swimming in it makes me feel significantly serene, baptized in something essentially generous and nourishing — but what I was not doing, nearly at all, was drinking it.
“Water is clearly important to my head and my heart, but it turns out drinking it was something I had forgotten was essential and important too. My doctor wasn’t happy and my body wasn’t either because my tests revealed that I was, for all intents and purposes, woefully dehydrated. “Not good,” the doc said. “You must do something about that. You must drink more of it. Much more.”
So, with mending in mind, I will amend my daily health practice and draw nearer to you, dear water. Very near. Thank you for all the wonderful ways you let me worship you and now I will let you, very purely, very intimately, anoint, and mend me too, this time, from the inside out.”
—Alex Vassilaros, playwright, Make Meaning Workshop founder; Writing as a Tool for Healing
“This summer I repaired a nearly 100-year-old swimming pool in the Catskills. Every summer, this pool has brought joy and relief, but also frustration as the expertise necessary — and willing to maintain it — became increasingly rare to find. Its last major repair was in the 1970’s when Elaine and Martin, its former, more diligent caretakers, had the stone, spring-fed pool renovated into a fully contained, semi-heated, circulating pool.
“I didn’t immediately think of this ‘mending’ project in terms of what I would normally mend — say a pair of jeans — as this was rather daunting and I was out of my depth, so to speak. Had I thought about it though, I would have recognized parallels characterizing the types of mends needed. Rips at the seam. Fraying along the hem and other edges. And in the open fields of the denim, such as at the knee, holes require a patch, a ‘filler’ material to be brought in.
“The pool’s needs weren’t that different, albeit at a slightly larger scale. Cracks around the skimmer and jets caused by frozen sheets of ice in the winter (seam rips). Large cracks in the pool’s top edge caused by years of foot traffic, lawn mower, and frost heaves (fraying hem). And then there were the large pits of spalling on the side walls exposing the steel reinforcing (knee holes), causing deterioration and rust stains running down the walls. Needless to say, I spent some time procrastinating.
“With helpful advice from friends, I gathered the materials and tools — hydraulic cement, mortar mix, a different cement-based waterproof coating, a power washer, scrapers, trowels, a tampico mason’s brush, and pool paint — and my crew, namely anyone who happened to be visiting, and got to work. All in all, approximately 200 hours were spent between about 10 people.
“In August, for my mother Hedi’s 84th birthday, we filled it up with water and it held. Hedi resumed her daily swim, lining up 10 little stones on one end of the pool’s edge and swimming back and forth, transporting her stones one at a time. When they’ve all arrived at the other end, her daily workout is done.”
—Ulla Warchol, architect, artist, and ArtYard board member; Going to the Meadow