Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors

I’ve been working on some pages for the “Sketchbook Project 2013” that are a visual way of digesting my experience as an emigrant from Texas to Italy. Click on the links in the captions below each image to read the essay/story that goes with it and find links connecting the images with poetry.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors – (Pax Texana)
Pax Texana (detail)
Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: El Pescador / Fingerprint:Ring

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors – (Pax Texana)

Pax Texana - copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan all rights reserved

The inside cover of my Cultural Atlas is covered with Italian shelf-paper. I used it because when I tore up the front cover, I thought that the inside should be stabilized (another embellished error). This paper is still made in this country; a lovely, heavy, egg-cream ground with black, red, dark blue, or green patterns. When I had first moved to Italy, I lived in a rural valley outside Florence; I was trading work for a place to stay with an American-Italian couple. One of the first things Adele asked me to do was strip off the old paper from her kitchen shelves and re-cover them with new paper. It marked one of my first trips into the treasure-palace that is the Italian ‘whatnot’ store. While I was living there I was in the process of a separation that turned into a divorce and a cultural shift that involved re-evaluating the (then) 38 years of my life in Texas.

The poetry/story of this can be found in my Orphan Poetry series; however, later, I also made, from the empty tissue paper ‘books’ that remain after one has used up the thin sheets of gold leaf, a series of impressions of my left hand made with white marble-dust and gum arabic. In these two ‘books’ there is one page and one hand-print for each year of my life with the year written in pencil on the bottom-left and my age on the top-right. They overlap and stick, they are messy (as my life has been) and made of the dust of rocks that were once marine fossils, our common calcite frame.

PAX TEXANA - detail (copyright 2012 Bonnie McClellan, all rights reserved)

This attempt to make peace between my Texas past and my Italian present is included in the collage on the first page of the Cultural Atlas. The envelope from the gold leaf (delivered from Italy to Texas and then repatriated when I moved here) holds the book. Above the envelope is the word PAX – which speaks to the common Roman/Latin cultural roots between the two places – from the instructions for an IKEA shelving unit – representing a more recent, consumer empire that uses those common roots to try and make clients feel ‘at home’.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors (cover)

copyright Bonnie McClellan-Broussard 2012 all rights reservedI’ve started working on my ‘Sketchbook Project 2013’. I tried once in 2010 (starting late) and couldn’t finish in time. Maybe I’ll make it this year. I chose the theme ‘Atlas’ because I’ve been considering Cultural Atlas as the theme for IPM 2013.

We all come into our adulthood with a series of images, advertising jingles, cartoons, and some language appropriate icons from pre-school coloring pages that helped us learn our alphabet, equivalent to “A is for apple and B is for Ball”.

How the houses were built where we grew up, what form the windows took, the layout and width of the streets and how much of the sky’s expanse could be seen, all form part of an internal cultural atlas that we carry with us. We may remain unaware of how deeply etched these ‘maps’ are until they are challenged by living in a different cultural context.

The image above is a small panel of black steel on which I drew with white gold leaf and rust converter. The image is of the sky, something I love watching change where I live in Northern Italy and also something I miss from my birthplace, Texas. I tore the soft, cardboard cover while trying to insert the rigid panel and then glued the torn bits back together and sewed over them with turquoise thread.  Thus, the subtitle of the book, “Embellished Errors” refers both to my way of making art – often so impatient to see the results of an experiment that paper is torn, fingerprints are left where glue and ink have smeared that are then ‘fixed’ by pointing out their presence and letting it become part of the work, sometimes even the focus – and the series of, sometimes painful, decisions that have made the beautiful and densely embellished ‘stuff’ of my life so far.

I hope that my readers will enjoy the upcoming ‘visual poetry’ and that poets interested in submitting poetry for International Poetry Month next January will keep this theme in mind.

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