Where Artists Get Inspiration: The Spark for The Purses Project

In my very first blog post I wrote about my wonderful grandmother and her untimely death to cancer as the inspiration for The Purses Project. Artists are inspired by so many things from the things we see to the experiences we go through or the injustice we notice. I’ve compared “inspiration” for artwork coming as a spark and (for me at least) it’s like a movie about painting starts playing in my head but with no sound only colors, forms, lines, etc. Ultimately, most artists are using color, line and form to SAY something of importance about the world they live in. Even if it’s just a quiet reminder to “notice”.

The Prince of Flowers ,Painting by Jamie Howell

The Prince of Flowers, Painting by Jamie Howell

I notice lots of things, especially the little unimportant things. I love to notice things in nature like dandelions or the metallic shell of a June bug. Not from a distance mind you, but very close up. I have always loved being in nature since my childhood in Tennessee.
detail of painting by Jamie Howell

detail of painting by Jamie Howell

A reminder to look up and “notice” people began with my graduate thesis and a field trip.
As part of our Art & Community class, our professor proposed a field trip to The Names Project in Atlanta. The Names Project is also commonly known as the Aids Memorial Quilt. I was not excited about trekking through downtown Atlanta traffic, but this field trip impacted me and was a creative spark for The Purses Project. The quilt is a monumental artwork that honors the significance of each person’s life lost to AIDS and the beautifully creative ways people heal from loss and grief. At the end of our tour, regardless of our different views or backgrounds, my classmates and I left saddened, reflective and deeply moved by this exhibit.
a quilt panel of the Aids Memorial Quilt

a quilt panel of the Aids Memorial Quilt

As we moved to the back where the squares are stored and sewn, a reverent silence fell among the staggering view of shelves. The warehouse room was lined with shelf after shelf of quilt squares and deep storage containers-everywhere. Every open space of the tall shelves held hand-crafted quilt squares tightly stacked together and quietly waiting. Each quilt square waiting for a volunteer seamstress to sew various squares together into a 3×6 ft. quilt panel–and more squares will arrive almost daily to be added to these.
the aids quilt for notice blog post
aids quilt containers for notice blog post
As I stopped in front of a shelf, I realized each brightly colored fabric represented a life, not a statistic. As a mother, I knew that each square represented a child that a mother once held in her arms or someone’s grandchild or brother and so on. Each square is as uniquely different as the life is represents and sewn by family members or loved ones in a creative outpouring of love and grief. According to the http://www.aidsquilt.org, the colorful tapestry of 48,000 quilt panels serves as “a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and to thereby help people understand the devastating impact of the disease”.
Shelf of quilt squares

Shelf of quilt squares

As I drove home, I reflected on the Aids Quilt and the loss represented. For some reason, the loss of my grandmother to cancer nearly 20 years earlier began to resurface. I re-felt that pain in ways I had forgotten and ways I hadn’t given myself previous permission or time to feel. I realized that each panel maker of the AIDS Quilt had used art-making as a way to tell the story of their loved one and the devastation of AIDS but also as a courageous act to heal from their own grief. Over the next few weeks, through many other conversations, events and research that would make this a more lengthy post; the Purses Project was born.
This quilt maker creatively used the actual clothing and hospital bracelet belonging to their loved one lost to AIDS

This quilt maker creatively used the actual clothing and hospital bracelet belonging to their loved one lost to AIDS

The focus of the project is the cancer epidemic among women. The feminine tool, the purse, is transformed into memorial art to honor individual women lost to cancer. The surface of a purse is “altered” with mixed media techniques to tell each woman’s unique story. Like the AIDS Quilt, this project is only possible through community involvement; individuals choosing to make an altered purse for their own female family member or loved one lost to cancer. As community members create purses in honor of their significant woman lost to cancer they will find empowerment and healing for their own grief. The ultimate goal for the project is a gallery exhibit of altered purses which lifts women out of the anonymity of statistics and signifies the ripple effect of each female life. Like the Aids Quilt, the true impact of cancer will be seen with the visual representation of many purses shown in mass number.

This was my most lengthy post to date and I appreciate your wading through the words and listening to my heart. If you have a lost a significant female in your life to cancer, please consider joining The Purses Project by making a purse.

Live Creatively,


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