Tag: life

Tatay, part two

I am sad to report that Sotero Nieves, aka Tatay, died last night at the age of 107 and 10 months. He was two years and two months shy of his goal. While I am sad, I am also happy. Happy that I knew him, happy that I learned from him and happy to be a part of his large, loud, funny, multi-generational family. I am an honorary Philippino (yes, I have actually eaten bagoong, the traditional fish paste). I will share more snippets of memories in the next post. For now, allow me to tell you a story.

(FYI, Tatay was married to Nanay for over 70 years. For a while she lived with one of their sons very close to where we lived.)

The day was a stressful one from the moment I woke up. I was super worried about a family member, had several errands to run including a dentist appointment, and then had to be in downtown Baltimore for a meeting in the afternoon. I was driving home from the dentist, and needed to stop at the food store for a couple of things. As I approached the entrance to the market, I came up behind the local county bus dropping off some passengers. I waited patiently until it was finished, then realized that two of the passengers were Tatay and Nanay. I honked my horn and waved, then prepared to continue driving to the store. The next thing I knew, Tatay was walking over to the car and getting into the front seat. I hastily moved stuff out of his way (I have a tendency to live in my car). Nanay, paused outside the car, not quite knowing what to do at this point. I turned and moved stuff off of the back seat so she could have a place to sit as well.

All this while, there was a running commentary going through my head…”Damn, I didn’t mean that I would give him a ride, I have so much to do. I can’t tell him to get out though, he’s 90 for God’s sake, how rude would that be? Will I go to hell if I just drive away really quickly before he gets into the car?”

Needless to say, I acted with grace and poise.

“Tatay, I need to stop at the store before I take you guys home.”

Yes, I was hoping he would say that he couldn’t wait…no luck…

“Oh good,” he said, “I have a prescription that I need filled.”

It seems that I had been trumped. But I tried again.

“I can’t sit around and wait for it, I don’t have time”.

Nope…that didn’t work either.

“It’s okay, you can just give it to the pharmacy, I will have my son pick it up later.”

I was truly defeated. I went into the market, leaving them in my car, then drove them to their respective homes.

I learned two things that day. One is that the culture in the Philippines is a much more welcoming one. Families are connected to each other like a spider’s web. If you aren’t related, you are friends with the relations. People give each other rides without thinking twice. Tatay had no idea that it was considered rude to just get into someone’s car without being invited, in his mind it was an unstated invitation the minute that I honked and waved.

The other thing I learned was that Tatay could be extremely manipulative to get what he needed. And what he needed most was wheels. He needed to get out of the house, to feel a part of society. All his family worked during the day and for a few years he relied on taxis, public transportation and the goodwill of friends to get him around to his various commitments. After his granddaughters got old enough to drive, they became his personal taxi to doctor’s appointments and errands. He was never shy about asking for a ride.

Epilogue to Part 2.

This story has prompted gales of laughter from his family for many years. I have told the story many times, and each time it has been as funny as the first. So, when I saw him a couple of days ago, I asked if he wanted to go for a ride to the store and, despite having one foot firmly across the threshold between life and death, he nodded. His family members who were present, erupted into laughter. It was a fitting way to say good bye to him.


Here is a picture of Tatay at my open studio in 2006, just after I finished the lion sculpture. He was 97. He was one of my biggest fans.



explain it, please

It seems that a good portion of my life has been spent trying to explain what I do. I moved from NYC to Charleston, SC in the mid 80’s. I had been dancing at the Martha Graham studio for a year. When people in SC asked me what I did I said I was a modern dancer. “Oh!” they replied, “is that what they do on Broadway?” I was left with trying to explain what modern dance is and how it is different than Broadway jazz. I have to admit that sometimes I just answered yes and left it at that.

Three years later we moved to Baltimore so that I could get my Master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy. Uh huh. Really. I got extremely good at the explanation…”it’s a psychotherapy using movement as a means of communicating feelings and healing the mind. Think how much better you feel after getting exercise and you have an idea of how it might work. Because it’s a non-verbal way of communicating it works particularly well with autistic kids and Alzheimer’s patients although it is useful with many different populations.” People often still didn’t get it, they seemed to think I taught dance classes to, well, I’m not sure who I was supposed to be teaching dance to.  So I changed the subject.

After I got my degree I started working with polymer clay. (e.g. Fimo, Sculpey, Primo) I began to make small items but soon graduated to sculptures of lizards, snakes, frogs and iguanas. Each of these was covered with a pattern made from the clay. The technique was called millefiori. Often someone would come into my booth and ask how I could paint such fine lines. “Oh, I am not painting them”, I said. “It’s called millefiori and it is an ancient glass bead technique. I make a long log or “cane” with strips of colored clay, somewhat like a sushi roll or spiral cookies, slice through it and lay the slices on the form of the animal.” “Ah”, one woman said, “and then you paint it”. I could see she just was not going to get the picture so I said to her “Yes, then I paint it.” But of course there was no paint involved. I started to bring unfinished “canes” that had been baked so that people could actually visualize what it was that I was trying to describe.

Autumn Gardening; polymer clay leaves...detail
Autumn Gardening; polymer clay leaves…detail…an example of millefiori.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well, because once again I have dived into the murky waters of a difficult concept and am trying to figure out how to explain/describe it. What exactly IS Bio art anyway???

Goooooood question…

I will try to do this as simply as possible without using all the multi-syllable words that scientists and bio artist like to use.

Basically, in my mind, bio art is an umbrella term for an art made from biological forms. These forms can be real, manufactured or symbolically similar which then get manipulated to create art. One could argue, using this definition, that landscapers, gardeners, dog breeders and chefs (especially microbiological chefs) are bio-artists. Indeed they are. When I weed something out of my garden I am declaring “This is a weed, this is not pretty to me, I want it gone.” And I manipulate the earth to look the way I want it to. And rose gardeners have been practicing bio art for centuries as they manipulate roses to create different colors, sizes and smells.

There are artists, though, who have stretched across the bio-art sphere to use biological matter, computer programs and algorithms, and microscopy to create art that either tells a story or begs to begin a dialogue about what the biological sciences are doing in today’s world. Artists like Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Alice Micelli are doing projects that couldn’t have been conceived of twenty years ago. Dewey-Hagborg took DNA from cigarette butts and chewing gum found in NYC, added it to a computer program that came up with an algorithm of what the individual people might have looked like and then created life-masks from the information. Micelle spent several years traveling to Chernobyl with X-ray paper, seeing if she could take x-rays of the country simply by leaving the paper there for a few months. (she did.) The first of these projects, while not your typical “pretty” art, begs the viewer to start thinking about the role of DNA in our daily lives. Do we really want to give up control of who we are to a bunch of strangers? Micelli’s work shows just how much man has created “dead zones” on this earth. Places where no one can live, ever again…or at least not for several more generations. You can see some videos of her work here.

Oh my, this has been a chatty post hasn’t it? There is absolutely no way to do this subject any justice in a blog, but I hope you have a little bit more of an idea of what my residency at SVA was like. Needless to say, some of the lectures where a bit off the charts for me. I am, after all a simple soul, and old-fashioned to boot. But I’m guessing some of the lectures have already creeped into my psyche and may show up in some way in the next few years.


Question of the day:

If you are a cat, where is the best place to observe the silly human who is digging in the dirt and planting stuff?

You get one guess…

whatcha doin'?
whatcha doin’?
I think I'll stay out of the way.
I think I’ll stay out of the way.

night and day

The moon

carves out shadows

in the snow

then replaces them

so the sun

can do the same thing.


The other night I was standing in the window looking out onto the newly fallen snow in the moonlight. I thought I would try to take a picture of it which didn’t work out so great but at least you get the idea. The next morning, a beautiful sunny morning, I stood at the same window when the sun was in a similar position. Sometimes life just seems too cool not to notice it and take pictures of it.


It’s Monday and it’s raining and it’s cold and the heat is out in my studio and my plant manager couldn’t fix it (yes, help is on the way) and did I mention that it’s raining (although Ginger doesn’t seem to be bothered by that she’s lying in a pile of wet leaves and I am going to have to dry her off when she comes inside) and I am very stressed about a bunch of somewhat inconsequential first-world problems that currently seem ENORMOUS and yup, it’s still raining and cold and I am still waiting for the heating guy to come cause I have to leave soon but of course there is no telling when a service dude will arrive even though he called and said he was on his way 15 minutes ago but we don’t know where he’s coming from so we don’t know what “on my way” means and Ginger is just too cute when all I can see is her head peeking up over the top of the hill and wow the service dude just showed up and he looks about thirteen but is calmly confident so I suppose I will just have to trust him and this is way too stressful for such a delicate soul such as myself and I think perhaps a bath, a cup of tea and a good book are on the agenda for this evening. Oh wait, the Steelers are playing, cool, now there’s one more stressful thing to add to the mix…

Whaddaya mean it's raining?
Whaddaya mean it’s raining?

Keep your fingers crossed that the heat gets fixed, I so very much want to continue working on the kangaroooooooooo. I went to the Museum of Natural History on Saturday and have all sorts of new information to look at when I work on the armature…

roo armature
roo armature


Not even 


and stones

can shore up a hillside



and water

conspire against them.


the hillside crumbles around us
the hillside crumbles around us

As some of you know, I have been primary medical and personal liaison for my almost 93 year old father since my mother’s death three and a half years ago. During this time, my siblings and I came to the realization that he has a form of dementia and last year we put him into a nursing home where he would get really good care. He continued to be as independent as possible, going out to lunch and dinner, going out to concerts and staying as active as he possibly could. Recently, a combination of physical and mental changes has caused his caregivers to limit the way he lives his life, purely for safety reasons. He has balked, he has cursed, he has threatened to sue and he has very clearly told me to get out of his life. Life has never been easy with this man but I finally hit the wall, so to speak, and am, for the moment, relinquishing my role in his life to one of my sisters. My hope is that my own life will stop being pulled down the hill by the force of his gravity and my tears. 

For some reason this picture spoke to me tonight. Being a caregiver, even one that is not on the front line, is so very tough, it takes a very large toll on one’s well-being. I am hoping to patch up the hillside of my life and strengthen it so that it can withstand further assaults. We’ll see if I am successful.


I contemplate a life

well lived,

a life full of

little things

stored on a shelf.

A life of creation,

a life of death,

a life that is no longer,

except in my head.

full view
full view
rear view
rear view

This sculpture was the result of my two week class at Penland School of Craft called Sculptural Weaving, taught by Nathalie Miebach. It was an amazing class. I finally learned some traditional basketry techniques but was encouraged to work them into a sculpture instead of making a vessel. If you want to see more pix, visit the Contemplation of a Life page on my website.

Contemplation of a Life is in response to cleaning out my parents’ house last year with my siblings. I found myself creating a somewhat loose replication of the clutter we had to deal with. My mother had difficulty throwing things out (“you might be able to use them someday”) and therefore, two years after her death, we had to be fierce and fill two dumpsters with stuff including furniture that had disintegrated. It was not a pleasant job physically, mental and emotionally. I have dedicated this piece to anyone who has had to go through this ordeal.