Making Eyes and Ears

Here is an old embroidery  ‘ Making Eyes and Ears’  or ‘Our Lady of Interiors’, which I made some 24 years ago in response to a visit to my friend, Lizzie – happily married and newly pregnant. Yesterday I was at her home again for her husband’s Big Birthday party and I met her son, the hidden inspiration for the embroidery and whom I had not seen for about 20 years. I recounted the following story to him.

I had gone to up to London to have lunch and celebrate my friend’s pregnancy, stupidly taking a bottle of wine and some chocolates; but she was not feeling well, and instead of the usual delicious lunch she informed me we were having rusks in milk, which was all that she could stomach…… But this was a first baby and we had gone through worse together. I have never wanted children, and when any of my friends had children I made a mental note not to see too much of them for a few years…about 20 usually covers it – by then the children have started to get a life of their own and ideas I can relate to. Lizzie knew this but wanted to make me realize what was happening to her and why she felt the way she did.

One my favourite paintings, Simone Martini’s Annunciation, it is in the Uffizi gallery in Florence and I first saw it when I was a student in the late 1960’s, it had a profound effect on me for its emotional quality and the sheer scale and beauty of its presence.  I used this wonderful blue, gold and red painting as the basis of the embroidery I eventually made. Actually the virgin looks not unlike Lizzie on the day of the lunch, sort of queasy.

Anyway, back to the story – no sooner had I got used to the idea of rusks and milk when I had a book thrust into my hands and was instructed to read a particular page. The book was called “Spiritual  Midwifery” by Mary Ina Gaskin (see just how useful rigorous research note taking can be) and it was a type of new- age  manual for pregnancy. I most remember the mandalas of breasts with babies’ heads at the centres. I was beginning to feel a little queasy myself.

But the memorable sentence, which has stayed with me all these years, was stated by Lizzie when she informed me that if I looked up her particular week of pregnancy in the book I would see that she was “making eyes and ears”.  At once I saw the embroidery, an annunciation but not with the usual rays of golden light emanating from a dove or a cloud to symbolise the insemination of the virgin with god’s spirit made flesh, but eyes and ears flowing from a test tube. I couldn’t wait to get home and start work.

The following drawings and samples are of  gold lurex,  hand marbled silks, vintage embroideries,  gold pigment silk screened leather all pieced together to make a sumptuous interior for a late 20th century version of the glamorous gold stamped and gilded original. Also the drawings and redrawing necessary to get the exact hand position to reveal the feelings of the mother – to be,  the hands in the pre- renaissance religious paintings are always particularly expressive.

When she heard this story last night Lizzie had completely forgotten the lunch, the book and the embroidery and so had I until I saw “the baby”.

But now I look back on this very old work, what do I see? Hands and Eyes and Hearts and even a Dream Drawing about a Pakistani or Indian woman in a launderette……which brings me right up to date with all my current work.

4 thoughts on “Making Eyes and Ears

  1. Oh my, Janet, that’s a good one. The piece and the story behind are simply great. When my daughter was a little girl I bought her a book about pregnancy. And for some time, while seing or hearing about pregnant woman, she knew if the baby is like a bean or like a pepper already and if the eyes and ears are done 🙂
    And what you and I have in common is the way of looking at the old masterpieces. It’s very often that I too see them with very contemporary context. Not a lot has changed as for the human’s nature from Medieval times. Same problems, same emotions, just in new decorations.
    P.S.How big is this piece?

    1. Hi Bozena, Thanks so much for all your ongoing comments, it really is a cheer up to know that a few people out there are following it all. I am intrigued by your blog, so much work – how big are your pieces? they seem to develop quite quickly and I LOVED your recipe on the draw and cook site – I may have a think about this for a recipe (and I have a friend who has a garden blog with her poems and recipes on it -heresmygarden. there is a link on my site – it is all of a perfect English garden ) and I like very much your apple tree and potato roots idea.

      One thing though I would like to post comments on your blog but can’t find/understand how to do this – is it possible? Yours, Janet

  2. Hi Bozena,
    well I haven’t seen this piece for a long time as I sold it soon after making it. But it was about 30×45 cms – so quite small and very precious as it was both pale and luxurious – I have shown it here without its gold frame which has a pale pink velvet ribbon inset studded with pastel coloured glass jewels…it was quite a number.

  3. Hi Janet,
    Well, I couldn’t figure out why you find commenting on my blog so difficult. Finally I guessed – it was in Polish. I switched into English so now it is same easy as everywhere 🙂
    As I told you before my pieces aren’t big. My most comfortable size is 40×60 cms, but I’m trying to work bigger. “The market” is bigger already. Salad is in a strange size (30 x 80 cms) because the Draw & Cook site needs pictures in specific size (mind this while making something for them). But it turned out that the apple tree is in a very similar size just vertical.
    And of course I visited your friend’s blog and I love it. I love gardens. (but I couldn’t find the link on your blog, do you have another site?)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.