anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘papercut

Clara Lemlich Shavelson

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“I had fire in my mouth.”

-Clara Lemlich Shavelson (1886-1982)

Fire sparks revolution, and while the fiery anger of women is so often suppressed, scoffed at, and used against them, it is that fire that has created longlasting change. As Rebecca Traister writes in her book Good and Mad, “… in the fury of women lies the power to change the world.”

Clara Lemlich Shavelson is a prime example of that fire, a women who at the age of 23, sparked an entire labor movement. In 1909 Shavelson stood before a crowd of garment workers, announcing in Yiddish, “I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. I move that we go on a general strike!” Her call ignited the many women, who just like her, were suffering under terrible conditions; eleven-hour workdays, six days a week, for starting wages of $3 a week.

The call led to the Uprising of the 20,000, an extensive strike by mostly immigrant women garment workers which eventually led to safer workplaces, shorter workdays and higher wages. It also caused factories to recognize the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. But not everyone heeded the womens’ calls; at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory male union negotiators refused to listen to the striking women’s concerns, nor put them into practice. A year later, a fire in the factory killed 146 workers.

Of that day, Shavelson later shared this account:

We were all gathered at Cooper Union, you know there on Lafayette and 8th street. And all the workers from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Leiserson Company were there. We all listened to leading figures of the American Labor Movement and Socialist leaders of the Lower East Side speak to us. You know, they just made me so mad because they talked in such general terms about the need for solidarity and preparedness and all that. well, you know, just then I asked for the opportunity to speak and I demanded action. I remember I said that I had been listening to all the speakers, and I had no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, I said, and one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. And finally I offered a resolution that a general strike be declared. I was just saying what all the workers were thinking, but they were just too afraid to say. And so we all walked out of the factories two days later.

Born Clara Lemlich in Gorodok, Ukraine in 1886, Shavelson had come to the United States at the age of 16, her family fleeing poverty and the Russian government’s anti-Semitism. While her parents had forbidden her to speak Russian or bring Russian books into the household, the headstrong girl studied the language in secret and dove into the world of letters. By the time she landed in the U.S. she was already a committed revolutionary. Like many other immigrants, she found work in textile-manufacturing, but kept fueling her revolutionary roots: after long workdays, she would go to the local library to read Russian classics and study Marxist theory.

Her fiery spirit is documented in Triangle: The Fire That Changed America:

“A men’s-only strike was doomed to fail, she insisted. A walkout must include the female workers. “Ah—then I had fire in my mouth!” Lemlich remembered years later. She moved people by sheer passion. “What did I know about trade unionism? Audacity—that was all I had. Audacity!”

While blacklisted from garment shops after the 1909 strike, Shavelson continued her work, shifting her focus to the suffrage movement. This led to a long life of activism and organizing, eventually marrying Joe Shavelson, a printer’s union activist. The couple had three children, and Shavelson was known for bringing the children with her to Socialist  meetings.

Her work and passion for a better world continued to the end of her life. Shavelson was profiled last year in The New York Times‘ ongoing series of overlooked obituaries, and it held this anecdote, which I think sums up a lifelong fiery spirit:

Near the end of her life, she moved into the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, where she organized the nurses and orderlies, according to “Common Sense.”“How much worse could these conditions get?” Shavelson, then 83, asked hesitant staffers before they successfully unionized. “You’d be crazy not to join a union.”.”

May we all embrace our fire and channel it into good.

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.

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Lisa Congdon

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“An artist is someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.”

-Lisa Congdon

Even if you don’t know her name, it’s hard not to have come across the work of Lisa Congdon. Her illustrations have been featured in numerous books and magazines, her wisdom about working as an artist is inspiration for many seeking a creative path, and her bright, bold, thoughtful work has become a visual statement against the oppressive and divisive politics of our time, a balm for many of us.

I have followed Lisa’s work for years, and knew that I wanted to feature her in the Women’s Wisdom Project. But would she say yes to taking the time to do a Q&A?

If there is one thing that I respect about Lisa, it’s that she is very publicly open about how she manages her time, and the necessity of saying no. She recently launched a collaboration with Emily McDowell and she has a new retail space in Portland. All to say, Lisa has a lot on her plate, and I was so grateful when she responded to my email and agreed to answer a few questions.

Originally, I had thought about using either of these quotes in her papercut portrait:

“Want to get better at something? Keep doing it.”

“Every single person who chooses to embark on a creative path has to work at it… You have to stay open and constantly move outside what’s comfortable.”

All of those words have power, particularly for those of us in a creative field, whether it’s personally or professionally. But eventually I landed on something that she wrote in her answers in this Q&A. That an artist is “someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.”

Why this quote in particular?

The topic of what we call ourselves often comes up in conversation with friends and colleagues. When you are in a creative field, there is sometimes a fear or pushback to feeling like you get to define yourself with a certain term. Simran Sethi talked about this in our interview, not feeling like she could comfortably call herself a writer. I too have felt this many times, hesitating at the terms “artist” or “writer,” wondering if I have permission to employ them.

Instead of defining who we are and what we do on our own terms, we often seek external validation. In our culture, usually that’s money. The Virginia Woolf quote comes to mind: “Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”

But you are not an artist because someone pays you to make art. You are an artist simply because you are involved in the act of creating. That’s why Lisa’s quote stuck with me, a reminder to reinvest in the creative act, to continue to be intentional about creative work.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?
Lisa: Wisdom to me is perspective. Perspective on life, the flow of life, the ups and downs of life, the relative seriousness of life’s events, understanding that all things pass, even good and exciting things, especially the difficult things. It’s an ease, a loosening of the grip. The perspective that comes with wisdom grows naturally with age, and it’s very comforting.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

I haven’t seen her in years, but I had a therapist in my early/mid thirties who literally helped me change my life. Previous to working with her, I thought of myself as a victim, as someone who had no agency over her life or happiness. I was really, really depressed and suffered from extreme anxiety. And she helped me shift my perspective to see that I had the power to create the life I wanted through what I believed about myself and about life. Low and behold, I worked on changing my beliefs about life and my own worthiness, and my happiness grew. She taught me that it was my attitude about life’s events — not life’s events themselves — that would determine the quality of my life, and that I should look at even difficult experiences as opportunities to learn more about myself and to grow. Everything shifted for me as a result. I ceased being a victim and began being creative. I began making art. Everything opened up as a result.

What does the word “artist” mean to you?

Someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.

I think a lot about our cultural use of the words “productive” and “prolific.” Especially in creative fields, these are certainly viewed as positive things, often given as a compliment. And yet, I think that it distracts us from the importance of the process of creative work, because we are instead so focused on the outcome. You are a full-time artist, so how do you find that balance between producing artwork to keep yourself financially flourishing and investing in a process that fuels you?

I am one of those people who others describe as “productive” and “prolific.” People ask, “When do you sleep?” assuming that people who are prolific also do not enact self care or know how to recharge. I think one of the beautiful things about my path so far is that I have pushed the envelope so many times (working too much!) and have managed now to learn the sweet spot where the creative experience and productivity meet but don’t overwhelm me. I’ve made the mistake of taking on too much work or committing myself to too many projects in the past, and I’ve learned when I do that I basically just stressed out and I feel like crap physically and emotionally. So what’s the point? A new client on the client list? Something new to show in the portfolio? Those outcomes mean little if you are miserable in the process of achieving them. My work right now is finding just the right amount of work to pay the bills and feel creatively challenged, but also to do as much of my own personal work as possible (and I’m lucky because I can monetize my personal work), and find time to explore, try new things, and also to rest, ride my bike and enjoy my life. That work is hard because you have to be so self aware. You have to say no when something doesn’t serve that end, even when it’s a beautiful carrot. You have to be super present. It’s daily work. I’m into it, though. I want to feel happy and relaxed. Getting older makes me want to really live what I have left.

Do you experience creative blocks? If so, how do you deal with them?

I do sometimes, but not too often, because I am always actively seeking out inspiration and I also have en enormous amount of grit that helps me work through blocks. In my experience, creative blocks are either exhaustion or fear. So I try to suss out which it is in any particular situation. And then I either rest of push myself through the fear of failure or whatever I’m scared of.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

YOU ARE A SMART, CREATIVE BEING. YOU WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.

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

March 22, 2019 at 08:07

Greta Thunberg

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“You are never too small to make a difference.”

-Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is 16, and last August when it was time to go back to school in her city of Stockholm, she decided to strike instead. It had been a record hot summer, and she wanted to do something about climate change. So she sat outside of Swedish Parliament, with her now famous sign “skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate). She handed out fliers that said “you grownups don’t give a shit about my future.” After three weeks, Thunberg went back to school, but she kept striking every Friday, and others joined her.

I was in Stockholm in November, and walking on a cold Friday afternoon I saw the strike. I remember feeling inspired, but also sad, thinking of the situation that these young people currently face, and of the future yet to come. I was in my own head focused on other things, and I didn’t stop to talk to them. Now of course I wish I had.

Today, March 15, 2019 students have taken to the streets around the world for the global climate strike (also known as Youth Climate Strike, Fridays For Future). What started as one girl’s insistence that something needed, and could be, done has turned into a massive movement. Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this week. If you haven’t watched her UN Climate Change COP24 or TEDxStockholm speech please do. And if you haven’t been following the global youth movement that is growing day by day, do that as well. It feels like a flicker of hope in dark times.

“This movement had to happen, we didn’t have a choice. We knew there was a climate crisis. Not just because forests in Sweden or in the US had been on fire; because of alternating floods and drought in Germany and Australia; because of the collapse of alpine faces due to melting permafrost and other climate changes. We knew, because everything we read and watched screamed out to us that something was very wrong,” she and other young leaders wrote in a global op-ed.

Support them, raise their voices, join in. Remember that none of us are too small to make a difference.

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.

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

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“I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”
– Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman 

I am a big fan of the work of both Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. I wanted to feature both of them as part of Women’s Wisdom Project and it felt fitting to put them together, since they are a masterful duo.

Listening to them on their podcast Call Your Girlfriend feels like hanging out with friends; friends who inspire you to be better. Their show makes me want to read more, ask more questions, create more art, have more fun. I also love their Shine Theory concept which this quote comes from. (And yes, they have a shared quote because I think we all need a reminder of how much wisdom we all share with each other on a regular basis.)

A little extended excerpt from Shine Theory:

“Shine Theory is an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self—and relying on their help in return. It is a conscious decision to bring your full self to your friendships, and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them. Shine Theory is a commitment to asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?” The answer is almost always yes.”

YES. We don’t create in a vacuum and we don’t succeed in a vacuum. We have to build up a team of people who believe in us, support us, and inspire us.

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

March 1, 2019 at 09:22

Kamala Harris

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“My mother had a saying: ‘you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.'”

-Kamala Harris

I have returned to this quote so many times since making this papercut of Kamala Harris. That’s for two reasons.

First, I love asking fellow women about an important piece of wisdom they have learned in their lives. Most often, it’s something passed along to them by someone close: a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a sister, a close friend. So when I saw that Harris had shared this sentiment from her own mother, it really resonated.

We have a tendency to gravitate to the words of writers, artists and thinkers that we don’t know. There’s something about a knowledgeable person sharing a tidbit of information that feels meaningful, valuable. There is also power in the ability to condense complex emotions and concepts into words. It’s why books can resonate so much, why a good speech can bring us to tears.

But as it turns out, some of our most cherished wisdom comes from our closest connections. No matter who we are, we have so much to offer each other.

The second reason that I feel moved by this quote is what’s in Harris and her mother’s words. They remind us that our actions help to set a stage for the future.

I actually made this papercut before Harris announced her presidential campaign, but I believe that her running, as well as other female candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, does help to set that stage. Whatever we do, when we take action, we have to ensure that those actions are contributing to building a platform that supports others.

After all, we are only as powerful as the groundwork that we build for future change.

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

February 22, 2019 at 07:36

Charlotte Brontë

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“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.

Written by Anna Brones

February 15, 2019 at 10:02

Eileen Gray

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“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