© 2013 Allida

Concentration

Started a new rug to consign at a local boutique, more about that when I put the rugs and purses in progress into the shop.

Though I love drawing and sketching, often it is not the place where I make breakthroughs. The materiality and spatial relationships of things are somehow distant when they are on paper, and I can visualize something bigger and better, so at some point I just have to “waste material” and make it three dimensionally.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that recycled materials are so fascinating for me. They are cheap, sometimes discarded, sometimes just re-claimed and re-purposed. They are usually cheaper, so if something gets screwed up there is little risk.

Last year I did a series of drawings that were colorful concentric circles, inspired by a variety of sources, not least my own childhood attempts to do Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”  This year those drawings have inspired or perhaps influenced the rag rugs I’ve begun to produce.

I’ve been reading a book put out by the Michigan State University Press about research done on a collection of Finnish American Rag Rugs. Though I never associated my hatred of waste and love of creative re-use with my Finnish Cultural Heritage, the more I read of this book, the more think that it, along with certain habits of humor and prosody, were inherited from my Finnish family.

The book contains stories about how the women, mostly from my grandmother’s generation or older, learned to weave, where they got their looms, whom they taught, and why they wove.

Although my rugs are crocheted rather than woven, it is interesting that, as a 4th generation Finnish American (mixed with other things, though also not more than 4th or 5th Generation on any side), some of the Suomilainen traits have trickled down.

I’ve written elsewhere about going to Finland while living in Spain, but I’ll briefly re-state it for you here and now:

It was half-way through my second year in Spain. Though at this point I still have an American Accent (can one ever really lose it entirely?), my Spanish is otherwise perfect. Nevertheless, every time I go someplace where they don’t already know me, people try to speak to me in absurdly broken English.

So I go to Finland, for a little more than a week, and within hours, people are speaking to me in Finnish, by default. They do not speak to the Germans in Finnish at the cyber cafe where I go for a late night cup of tea. To me, I look just as much like them as I do like a Finn.  When she goes before me in line to buy a pack of gum, they speak in English to the Chinese girl who lives in Oulu and actually DOES speak Finnish.

Finally in exasperation, I teach myself, trying to remember how my grandmother would pronounce things, how to say “I do not speak Finnish,” and “Do you speak English?” At a book store when my oil pastels set off the alarm, I try the first one, and the lady looks at me funny and switches without a beat into English. I explain I’m looking for a bilingual Kalevala. Then at a yarn shop I use the second. This time the girl looks much more confused and starts to reply in Finnish, catches herself, and asks, “But, don’t you speak Finnish?”

A year later, in Brussels, we stumbled into a Finnish Cultural Center. To my Belgian Tour Guide, they spoke in English, to me in Finnish. (It was simple, “Hei Hei” “kaksi euroa, kiitos” “takemiin”). I passed rather than point out that I wasn’t in fact a Finn. They heard me speaking to him in English spattered with French.

Ethnic Identity is funny. At some point in my life it was very important. In 5th grade I did whole projects of study on nothing but Finland and Jewish-ness. As I’ve gotten older, though I appreciate and better understand some of my roots, I also appreciate the freedom of being an American. I pick and choose. I adopt Spanish table manners, and Persian cooking; Japanese paper-folding, and French radio.

But somehow, despite all my picking and choosing, some of my heritage shows through.

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