Cecilia Christensen's Brocade Narratives
As to inspiration, no chicken-or-egg dilemma encumbers Cecilia
Christensen. It was a fowl at play that gave her a focus for
|Lost Her Bearings, 1996; 20.5 by 25 inches. Both
this piece and the one below are woven from cotton, linen,
rayon, and silk. Christensen uses hand-dyed supplementary
wefts with painted and ikat-dyed warp and weft.
Ten years ago, a midlife recognition came to her: life was
not full enough. Her response was a return to weaving, which
she had last practiced 11 years before. The catalyst: a Handweavers
Guild of America conference workshop -- "The Woven Image,"
taught by Morgan Clifford, on the techniques of woven brocade
-- whose course flyer asked participants to be prepared to
tell a story. "I tried to figure out how to tell a story about
the mundane circumstances of my domestic life," Christensen
Having raised chickens for 16 years in Palo Alto, California,
she focused on the most errant of her current flock, a recalcitrant
old hen who frequently escaped. Cecilia's yearnings for this
wayward hen became her metaphor: "I really wanted to fly the
coop myself," she said. Since then, she has created 35 weavings,
half with the chicken theme.
Christensen's images are suggested by some outside stimulus
-- a magazine or newspaper picture or story -- that fits into
her inside world. This course is not intellectual, more what
she calls "a working reverie ... my mind floating over certain
issues." These vague images then provoke a title -- a specific
phrase that gives the image a working identity and from which
the whole narration grows.
Though the pictorial impetus is usually something from her
life -- hanging laundry, feeding chickens, playing in the
landscape -- her work is not entirely autobiographical. Her
stories occasionally receive the embellishment of readings:
recently, the Inanna myth (from around 2000 B.C.), an allegory
of descent, disclosure, and revelation.
Primary to most of Christensen's weavings is the element of
Woman. Her views on Woman, and the images she creates to represent
them, come from her mother and grandmother's lives. "I see [through
them] the independence of the female spirit fighting against
constraints, though not with the courage to overthrow them."
Though she holds an empathy for feminism, its influence missed
her by a decade. "I come out of a little older order," she said.
"I'm more cautious."
|Of Moles & Muses, 2000; 32 by 19.5 inches. Photos:
Christensen weaves her adventures and those of a domestic
chicken, her mother, and grandmother and hopes we see Woman
confronting obligations. Her work until now has been a layering
of metaphors that suggest a message. Of late, abstraction
informs her work in weavings "more happenstance than planned."
But as abstraction enters and the message tempts the esoteric,
the story begins to fade, and the universal connections become
at risk. "At this moment, that's a risk I have to take," she
The stories have not stopped, but they are slowing down.
Unlike ten years ago, she feels her life is very full right
now. "I don't have the working reverie I had for a while,"
she said. "You have to allow a certain kind of spaciousness
in your experiences for the stories to well up."
-- Sandy Thompson
Sandy Thompson is a freelance writer who focuses on the
arts of Northern California.