Donna Carty

"M.L.T. Crazy Quilt"

In the end, a civilization is known by the works of its artists. This is not hard to show. Think only as far back as before your own birth or as far away as where you went for your last vacation. Ask what you know of that time or place and how you know it. The further back in time and the further the distance, the more we must rely on the artist for our information.

The materials found in archaeological digs are mainly the works of men,works of stone and clay and metal. These works can give an extraordinarily detailed accounting of the influences on the culture. The beads found at an archaeological site, for instance, tell what materials the culture had access to, what technical skills they had, what other cultures they traded with, and from what other cultures they admired and borrowed ideas. But such information is incomplete.

The libraries contain the literary heritage of men, their plays, their philosophy, their novels, the records of their explorations, their journals and letters. The written experiences of women are rare, and only the last few generations of women in a few corners of the world have left any literary records at all. The stories are incomplete.

Many museums contain the artistic heritage of men. Their paintings and sculpture, their weapons and vehicles, those things that are considered important enough for preservation and conservation. This material record is incomplete.

Many of the creative works of women have been preserved differently fromthe creative works of men. Women's creativity has historically tended toward the practical. Our literature and poetry were bedtime stories and nursery

rhymes. Our philosophy was fables that taught. Our music was lullabies and teaching songs for our children. It was ballads and folk songs, music for attracting, calling back, and bewailing the loss of our men. Our science was medicine, to heal the family. Our sculpture was the making of dolls and clothing.Our two dimensional arts were the making of hangings, bedding, and rugs.

The methods for our creative works were seldom written down. Women's methods were passed on one to one, voice to voice, hand to hand. The finished works that could have been written down, seldom were. When they were, the written records were seldom chosen for preservation. The materials for our concrete arts were transient as well, specifically chosen so that, in an encounter between humans and our work, it was the work that gave way, that was worn down.

In the past, it did not matter. Our patterns were safe in the hands of our daughters. Our songs, our stories, our teachings safe in their voices. Already our grand-daughters were listening.

We are a lucky generation of women in lucky parts of the world. We have the education and the skills to produce the kinds of records that remain in archaeological digs, in libraries, and in museums. But we also carry other skills and other information that will not be kept in these places, that must be passed on one to one, voice to voice, hand to hand if it is to be passed on at all. And we carry the legacy passed on to us by those generations of women who lived before us and the responsibility to pass that legacy on as well. Part we must write, part we must conserve and preserve, and part can only be passed on one to one, voice to voice, hand to hand.

Do you know the skills of your grandmothers? Have you taught them to your daughters? Have you told your grand-daughter your mother's stories? Does your daughter know your home remedies? Do they know the importance of these things, what they represent? It is not too late. Take the time to learn tatting from your grandmother, quilting from your mother, and especially, learn the patterns that are your family heritage. There was a time that when a Norwegian fisherman drowned, he could be identified by the pattern of his sweater.

Take the time to pass your skills, your stories, and your songs to your daughters. If you have no daughters, borrow one. This is our heritage, our legacy, our art. And in the end, a civilization is known by the works of itsartists.

Having finally gathered the courage to earn her living doing what she loves where she loves to be, Donna Carty, born and bred in tradition-rich West Virginia, now LIVES in New York City, selling books, writing, and applying traditional women's skills to jewelry making.

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