anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Archive for the ‘Women’s Wisdom Project’ Category

Charlotte Brontë

leave a comment »


“Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us.”

-Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

This quote is from Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley, her second novel published after Jane Eyre, originally published under Brontë’s male pseudonym, Currer Bell.

Brontë, as well as her sisters, are often seen as feminist icons, revolutionaries who questioned the social norms of their time. “…in 1847, Brontë was a gateway to the future (as the fact that we are reading her today so neatly proves). She lived in a sophisticated and complicated world, one whose codes and unwritten rules, whose morality and intellectual structure, would baffle even the most learned among us,” writes Sam Jordison in the Guardian.

Constance Grady, in an article for Vox, puts it this way: “What animates the Brontë sisters’ work is a specifically feminine anger in response to their patriarchal society, a feeling of being hunted and trapped and confined and degraded that is peculiar to women of great intelligence and few opportunities and resources.”

It’s an interesting thing to take quotes out of context, which is basically what we do every time we write down a quote, share a quote, illustrate a quote, say a quote out loud. By identifying just a few sentences, we focus deeply on the meaning of the chosen words, not necessarily the entirety of where they came from. We take the words and give them our own meaning. I think about this every time I work upon a Women’s Wisdom Project piece, conscious of my own role in perpetuating this obsession with simplifying complex ideas, thoughts and identities into just a few sentences.

I think I happened upon this quote of Brontë’s at the library when I had briefly picked up one of those books about positive thinking and cultivating a more balanced life to flip through briefly. The book did not speak to me but the quote did, and I noted it down for later, perhaps because the reminder of the necessity to cultivate inner contentment is always needed.

But of course, I have no knowledge of what the line would have meant to a reader in Brontë’s time, or even what her intention was in writing it. After all, Shirley is a social chronicle, focused on life in industrial England. This was not the day and age of Marie Kondo, mindfulness or minimalism, it was a time of survival.

And yet, I believe that these words of Brontë’s hold true for a variety of contexts. If we define ourselves simply by the situation around us, we might never question that situation, or work to change it. An external situation may fuel our rage, but it is how we deal with that situation that matters.

In that sense, for me the wisdom in Brontë’s words is this: to come to terms with our inner selves is not only our source of cheerfulness, it is our source of power.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Advertisements

Written by Anna Brones

February 15, 2019 at 10:02

Eileen Gray

with one comment

“To create, one must first question everything.”

-Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

I didn’t know of designer and architect Eileen Gray until I saw a retrospective of her work at Centre Pompidou in Paris a few years ago, and I fell in love with her pieces and was inspired by her story.

Born in Ireland, Gray moved to Paris in 1902. There, she studied lacquerwork, designed furniture (her designs are still produced today) and became a major figure of the French Art Deco movement. “She dared to do things that no one did at that time,” Cloé Pitiot, curator of of the exhibition told the Wall Street Journal

It’s interesting to look at her work with that perspective, understanding that her furniture and designs were revolutionary at the time that she made them. And while such designs feel very modern today, think of how bold it was to create them in her day.

In 1929 when she was 51, Gray completed her first architectural work, the E.1027 house. The house is now considered a masterwork of modernist architecture, her furniture designs within it carrying equal importance.

The organisation of the house as a whole is then based on her studies of wind and sun, and on its position on a steep slope descending to the sea. The building is mostly white outside, its interior modulated with planes of slight pink or eau-de-nil, or a nocturnal blue or black. These colours are maritime, but subtly so, such as you might see in deep water, inside a seashell or after sunset. There is an acute awareness of surfaces, both inside and out, and their degrees of shine or roughness. On the back wall of the main living space, playfulness being part of her armoury, she placed a large nautical chart. This, she said, “evokes distant voyages and gives rise to reverie”. The Guardian

Of course, I was horrified when I learned how renowned architect Le Corbusier had defaced the interior of the house with erotic murals, stark contradictions to Gray’s subtle style. The reason for such destruction? Le Corbusier was reportedly shocked that such a beautiful building could have been designed by a woman, saying, “I admit the mural is not to enhance the wall, but on the contrary, a means to violently destroy [it].”

…one of his destructive paintings is applied directly to the hallway screen in E.1027. By his symbolic removal of Gray’s obstructions he rendered her complex house transparent, and with the erotic scenes he painted, he supplied the imagined objects of his desire.

Le Corbusier’s fascination did not stop here: he also built a little shack, his ‘cabanon’, perched like a voyeur’s eyrie above the villa. He spent the rest of his summers here, swimming every day below the cliffs, and that is where he died in 1965, overlooked by the house that had so obsessed him. Architectural Review

Le Corbusier of course remains in the architectural vernacular, known to even those outside his domain.

But Gray, like so many other women artists, slid into the shadows. Self-taught and working in a male dominated field didn’t make it easy within her profession; she existed in a domain where success meant being a chest-beating male. Gray herself admitted to the drawbacks of her own quiet nature: “I was not a pusher and maybe that’s the reason I did not get to the place I should have had.”

Fortunately, with the restoration of E.1027, and a renewed interest in her story, her work and spirit will not be lost. As Cathy Giangrande, development lead for Cap Moderne, the nonprofit association behind the restored E.1027, told Dezeen, “Certainly she deserves to be celebrated as one of the great pioneers of her time…”

To follow Gray’s line of thinking, to create we must question everything. We must question our own perceptions, our own assumptions. We must question the world as we know it, the status quo.

And when we question, we become empowered to challenge. After all, isn’t that what creating is all about?

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

January 11, 2019 at 05:00

Lucy Stone

leave a comment »

“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power.”

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

The first Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree (from Oberlin College), Lucy Stone is famously known for being the first American woman to keep her last name when she married. It was 1855 and she was a woman ahead of her time; at her wedding ceremony, she read a “marriage protest,” a statement that she and her partner Henry Browne Blackwell had written together, denouncing the legal portions of a marriage in which a woman became subservient to and property of her husband.

But her actions were not just in the private sphere.

Stone was a fighter for both women’s rights and an abolitionist, believing that equality could not be won at the cost of inequality of another. In 1848, a year after her graduation from Oberlin, she began working as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and quickly became known for her voice and strong views. She soon began speaking up for women’s rights too, and became one of the preeminent leaders of the movement. She organized the 1850 Worcester First National Woman’s Rights Convention and was the publisher of the women’s rights periodical Woman’s Journal.

“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power,” Stone said at a May 12, 1869 anniversary celebration of the Equal Rights Association, as quoted in the book History of Woman Suffrage. But while she stood for women’s rights, she was also an abolitionist and in support of the 15th amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote. Her views led to breaking with suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others.

When members of the Equal Rights Association refused to consider an amendment to give women voting rights, Stanton and Anthony left to create the National Woman Suffrage Association. Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. The schism in the women’s movement highlights the complex interplay between racism and sexism of that era, an interplay that still continues today.

Stone eventually saw the reunification of the two organizations in 1890, coming together as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. While she had seen the abolition of slavery in her lifetime, her death in 1893 came before the ratification of the 19th amendment , and she never saw women granted the right to vote. But her tireless efforts had laid the groundwork for a different future for her daughter, who also went on to work as a feminist and abolitionist. As Stone lay dying, she said, “I am glad I was born, and that at a time when the world needed the service I could give.”

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 12, 2018 at 08:15

Gertrude Ederle

leave a comment »

“I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.”

Gertrude Ederle (1905 – 2003)

“I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it,” Ederle told the New York Times in an article published after her incredible feat: becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

Born in New York City in 1906 to German immigrants, Ederle spent time in the water from a young age and was a champion swimmer by the time she was a teenager. She won a gold medal and two bronze medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.

After Paris, she set her sights on long distance swimming, training for the Channel. Closer to home, in June 1925, Ederle became the first woman to swim the length of New York Bay, covering 16 miles from the New York Battery to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. She made an unsuccessful attempt at the English Channel that same summer, but returned the following year

Only five men had successfully made the 22.5 mile crossing, the fastest in 16 hours 23 minutes. Ederle vowed to do better. On the morning of August 6, 1926, Ederle, covered in lanolin, petroleum jelly and lard to keep her warm while in the water and wearing enormous wrap around glasses, took to the water at Cape Gris-Nez, France. The waters were rough that day, and twice her coach T.W. Burgess – the second man to successfully swam across the Channel – urged her to come out of the water. Ederle’s father and sister who were in the boat with Burgess insisted that she stay her course; her father had promised Ederle a roadster is she made her goal.

Committed to finishing, Ederle pushed through stormy waters, tides and swells, reaching shore after 14 hours and 31 minutes, a time that gave her the title of the first woman to swim across the English Channel, but also the world’s fastest person to do so. The accomplishment earned her the title of ”America’s best girl” by President Calvin Coolidge, and inspired tens of thousands of American women to take up swimming.

By the 1930s, her fame had evaporated. A hearing problem that she had when younger, and made worse by her Channel crossing, eventually caught up with her, and a nasty fall in her apartment led to a back injury. Doctors said she would never walk or swim again, but Ederle prevailed and appeared in a water show at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Conscious of her own hearing impairment, she went on to teach swimming at a deaf school in New York. Eventually Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, a little over 50 years after her amazing accomplishment.

Gertrude Eberle is one of three women from the Women’s Wisdom Project series to be featured in the AGE issue of Taproot Magazine. I am honored to have contributed to this issue, and encourage you to check out this great publication that’s indepedent and ad-free. You can order a copy of the AGE issue here.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 2, 2018 at 09:50

Jeannette Rankin

leave a comment »

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

– Jeannette Rankin

The first woman to ever be elected to the United States Congress? Jeannette Rankin.

Rankin was born in 1880 on a ranch outside of Missoula, Montana. After studying biology at the University of Montana, she traveled both on both the east and west coasts, eventually deciding to attend the New York School of Philanthropy for a degree in social work. She soon became an activist in the women’s suffrage movement, first in Washington State and then returning to her home state of Montana, where she was the first woman to speak before the all-male Montana legislature. She helped to secure the women’s right to vote in Montana in 1914.

Her status in women’s history was secured in 1916 when she became the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She went on to be the only member of Congress to oppose entrance into both World War I and II.

How much has changed for women in politics since Rankin first ran? Even though Rankin was first elected a little over 100 years ago, you can draw plenty of similarities between her career struggles and that of women politicians today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

September 11, 2018 at 12:31

Rebecca Burgess

leave a comment »

“You have to look back to know how to move forward.”

-Rebecca Burgess

Back in 2010, Rebecca Burgess set out with an ambitious goal: to see if she could create a wardrobe that was grown, processed and made within 150 miles of her home in northern California. Along with a team of other women, she crowdfunded the project. But what grew out of this endeavor was in fact much more than a wardrobe; Burgess launched a movement.

The project evolved into what is now Fibershed, an organization devoted to developing regional and regenerative fiber systems. Based in California, Fibershed has affiliate groups around the world, all working on reviving and growing local fiber systems, communities and economies.

Burgess is also a climate activist, and an advocate of carbon farming, a holistic method of farming that sequesters carbon. Fibershed has an entire program devoted to climate beneficial wool which not only supporters producers who are sustainably managing their land and animals, but also works with brands and designers to turn that fiber into products and bring them to market. Last year Fibershed teamed up with The North Face to launch the Cali Beanie, made with climate beneficial wool sourced in California, and the organization also hosted a climate beneficial fashion gala.

The organization also has a program focused on the development of a regional indigo industry, and another one on hemp. Their work has help to kickstart a new generation of U.S. fiber and textile systems, helping people to start to think about what they wear like they think about what they eat. After all, without agriculture, we don’t have food or fiber, and investing in sustainable agriculture systems is the only way that we can move forward.

Her tireless work makes her a force for change, but I think what makes Burgess such a symbol of wisdom is that she is approaching that change in a slow and intentional way. When we connected over phone, she had just returned from a trip to Europe, investigating local textile and agricultural systems in places like Norway and Sweden. In our conversation we talked about everything from an appreciation of landscape, to slowing down, to how to manage our anxiety in an increasingly complex world.

Grab a mug of tea and settle in.

Anna Brones: What does wisdom mean to you?

Rebecca Burgess: Very general, broad brushstrokes that you’re pulling from a collective, more timeless source of information and synthesizing that in some way that works for the context of now. I think wisdom is tethered to time. It doesn’t mean you have to be old to have it, it just means you have to look back to know how to move forward.

Wisdom to me is about knowing how things have come to be and understanding the cycles. Everything comes back around, it just might sound, feel, taste, look a little different. But all these human things that we’ve been dealing with – our own anger, frustration and aggression, joy, bliss, happiness – all these human emotions have been guiding civilization, for better or worse, for as long as we’ve been here on planet earth. I think wisdom is about understanding the drivers for how civilizations have come and gone and understanding how to work collaboratively with our planet and each other. And I think that to do that, you need this thing called wisdom, which is tethered to time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

September 6, 2018 at 08:34

Cheryl Strayed

leave a comment »

“We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.”

-Cheryl Strayed

At the end of May, I was lucky enough to sit down with Cheryl Strayed and interview her for the Women’s Wisdom Project. Cheryl and I had met a few times over the years while attending Mountainfilm, and I was honored that she graciously offered to spend an hour with me talking about all things related to wisdom.

Of course, I knew that this conversation would need to go a little above and beyond just a papercut portrait, or even a Q&A. So I asked my friend Gale Straub at She Explores if she would be interested in having me record the interview and we could turn it into a podcast. I got another yes, and soon found myself nervously preparing to record an interview with a new recording device that I had never used.

I say this because I think that context is everything. There’s always a back story, and in this case, the back story was that I wanted to doing something that I really didn’t know how to do (audio recording), and doubt and fear immediately kicked in at the back of my mind (“what if you ruin this audio entirely?”).

I dove in anyway.

Cheryl and I had a wonderful conversation. It’s a conversation that I have thought about so many times since. As for the audio? Well, it wasn’t perfect. But Gale (with a lot of work, that I am very grateful for) managed to turn it into a podcast episode, which you can listen to here.

It was a reminder that you have to push past fear. That things won’t always be perfect, but you’ll learn along the way. That’s a lot of what Cheryl and I talked about in our conversation. I replayed this part of our interview a few times as I was working on putting this piece together:

“One of my quotes in Tiny, Beautiful Things and in Brave Enough is that you give fear a seat at the table. You say, ‘welcome fear, your presence is an indication to me that I’m doing the work I’m meant to be doing.’ Because fear is part of our best work.”

Fear is part of our best work. Remember that.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but I wanted to capture some of my favorite parts of the interview here so that you could read them as well (including a couple of things that didn’t make it into the podcast).

I listened to this interview several times, wondering what bit of wisdom I would pull from Cheryl to use as the quote in her papercut. That’s the thing about quotes; they are always snippets, and this conversation was so rich, there was no way to boil it down to one sentence.

But there was one that stood out: “We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.” Even Cheryl will admit that this bit of wisdom isn’t hers. It’s her mother’s. I chose it, because I think that it embodies the fact that wisdom is all around us, that it’s never just “ours.” Wisdom is passed down, it evolves, we offer it to others, and they pass it along to someone else.

We have so much to share with each other, and most often, the most meaningful wisdom and advice that guides is doesn’t come from a notable public figure, but in fact, from the people closest to us.

Anna: You are a prime person to talk to about wisdom, because I think a lot of people seek wisdom from you. 

Cheryl: It’s always strange for me to hear that I’m some sort of fount of wisdom and that’s always been the funny, an uneasy position that I’ve been in, not just as an advice giver as Dear Sugar, but even my other books Wild and, and my novel Torch. My books have always been read in this way that people take from them advice. So much of what I’ve been interested in as a writer is our emotional lives, our relationships, the ways that we love and lose and suffer and recover and grapple with how to be in the world.

What ends up happening is because I have spent so many years really examining that and thinking about that and writing about that, I ended up seeming like this figure, this wise woman. And I have to say, it makes me laugh because because I’ve got so much to learn. I think maybe part of the thing I feel grateful about when it comes to wisdom, it does come from that place of having a lot to learn and it comes from that place of being somebody who has had to do a lot of living and a lot of experiencing and a lot of loving and losing and making mistakes and making amends and trying to figure out the better way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

August 8, 2018 at 10:56