Decorating As Ritual : A New Life Made Visual

Four months ago, my son and I moved to our new house and it’s begun to feel like home.

While most of the furniture here came from our earlier place, it’s now time to add something new. We honor the memory of my husband Dick, who died a little over a year ago, in all kinds of ways including living with his books, photos and toys. On a bookshelf in the living room, you’ll find one of Dick’s childhood cowboy figurines alongside a Shakespeare “action figure” (he’s holding a magical weapon, his quill pen.) I love seeing these little reminders in every room. 


But we need to make this place reflect our new reality, and I chose to start with the fireplace, the heart of our home. I wanted to hang something deeply meaningful to me over the mantel. I thought back to what had held this place of honor in our earlier house, and for more than 20 years, it was two wonderful black and white photographs that Dick’s daughter Kate took in high school. After her father’s death, she asked to have them back.

So I took my time thinking about what I wanted and about a month ago, the answer flashed into my brain. When Kaffe Fassett gave the keynote lecture at Quilters Take Manhattan in September, one of the slides he showed was of a quilt-like collage that was made from wood salvaged from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I remembered that several works by that artist had been hung a year ago at the Michener Art Museum in Pennsylvania, while a show of Kaffe’s quilts was also going on. I decided that if I could locate the artist, Laura Petrovich-Cheney, and she had any of those Hurricane Sandy collages left, it would be the perfect object to hang over my fireplace. 


Luckily, I found Laura easily online, and she had exactly the piece I wanted, called “Meadow of Delight” (below). I agreed to buy it and she brought it to my house (I had to wait for the exhibit it was currently hanging in to end). I told her, “This is the perfect metaphor for my new life: you go through the storm, and then you pick up the pieces and make the most beautiful thing you possibly can.”  I love that the distressed wood is pock-marked with nail holes and the paint is peeling. The texture is rough and the edges uneven because this isn’t about perfection: these are remnants of people’s actual lives. Laura knows some of those people and can tell their stories. These bits that survived are full of character, and all together, they make a stunning, hopeful whole. 

Meadow of Delight

Meadow of Delight

The artist said, “You were meant to have this piece.” It is based on a soulful poem that is a Celtic blessing and she sent me a link to a page where I could both read the words and hear the poet, John O’Donahue, read it. The poem made me weep and it fits the work perfectly: this art is a blessing too. 

When I get up each morning and walk toward the piece, I feel centered, ready to enter the next storm, equally ready to draw up a chair before the fireplace and contemplate my happiness in landing in a new place of beauty. 


Note: you may have seen Laura’s distinctive work in the magazine UPPERCASE (and on the cover) of Issue 30, Summer 2016. You can see more of her salvaged wood quilts on her website.   


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