Threads in a Tapestry Are We / by Hayden Michelle

"Interwoven Threads in the Tapestry of Our Nation" (10 x 24 x 20 inches)

I was thrilled to receive word last week that this sculpture was accepted into the international exhibition, MELTING POT/ MELTING POINT at the Encaustic Museum of Art in Sante Fe, New Mexico.   I responded to a call to entry from a collaboration between International Encaustic Artists (IEA) and Encaustic Art Institute (EAI), powerful national and international organizations dedicated to supporting encaustic artists through education, resources, and exhibition opportunities.  The theme this year was one which was easy to gravitate towards-- "MELTING POT/ MELTING POINT":  

The Melting Pot is a metaphorical reference to the American ideal of a society becoming more homogeneous, with different elements fusing harmoniously together, to create one common culture. The Melting Pot also represents the encaustic technique, as heating the material to the Melting Point is an essential step in creation. For this exhibition, we invite artists who work in encaustic or cold wax to interpret MELTING POT / MELTING POINT as it is reflected in their own lives, experiences, ethnicities and cultures. It will be a coming together of many points of view, with the result being a true expression of our differences, yet a celebration of living and working together.  Juror, Francisco Benitez, is a Santa Fe-based artist of Latino background who has developed a career exhibiting both in the US and Europe.

An idea sprang to my mind, as I had carefully been documenting my collection of found and gifted moth and butterfly wings with macro photography, and had a wide variety from which to choose.  Grateful for these beautiful representations, some only in tattered fragments, I set to work printing them on fabric, layering them up with many coats of wax, cutting them to shape, and carving their surface with intricate line, beginning to restore their original beauty.

 My favorite part came next-- sculpting them to form, playing joyfully with abstraction, while being mindful that the bends and curves represented the toll of hardship and sacrifice inherent in those who made the decision to leave behind all that they knew and forge unknown obstacles to come to this country.  I felt deep respect and connection to the diverse color, shape, size, and patterns expressed on these wings...


Much work was done late into the night (many), where the thirty-two winged creatures seemed to be multiplying under the light of my table lamp while live ones fluttered beyond my window by the light of the streetlamp on our country road.  I was moved by the energy of these short-lived beings metamorphosing into the immortal, and treated them as sacred.

Once they were sculpted to shape, the laborious process of coloration over the entire surface of each wing began, bringing out the vibrance and intricacy of their individual species.  I enjoyed watching the color intensify with the fusing that set the pigment deep into the wax, as if they were coming back alive...

Finally came the moment I had been waiting for (both with excitement and fear), as I had no idea if the plan to sew them all together would come to fruition, having never created a piece with this much complexity.  I realized there were no sketches to be made, and that instead, I must just begin.  I imagined the process might liken the making of a crazy quilt, attaching one chosen piece at a time.  I imagined women over the centuries doing just that while in the company of other women, enjoying the unfolding of the process.   I realized that with all art, and certainly with all major decisions in our life, we must just eventually take the leap and begin, trusting in the outcome of the process, one stitch and connection at a time...

Sewing one wing to the next was fueled by anticipation, and mostly was a delightful a process, especially in the beginning... As one built on top of the next, some tucking underneath the fold and protection of another's wings, the process got incredibly complicated and tedious, and took much diligence, deep breathing, stretch breaks, and focus.  I was again brought into awareness of how much this made me appreciate, if only metaphorically, the long and arduous process of those coming to this nation in search of a better life, not knowing what each new step would bring.

It was interesting to not have complete control of the process, as the sculpture shifted as it grew, and required many additional layers of melted wax to be applied from the underside as I delicately supported the entire thing upside down (I am certain I lost some oxygen during this stage of the process!).  I did not foresee that need coming, and was grateful for that tedious and careful execution to be over.

"Like the arduous journey of my great-grandparents and those courageous enough to cross oceans in hopes for a better life, these moth and butterfly fragments symbolize the beautiful diversity inherent in the creation of this country. The tenacity necessary for this labor-intensive sculpture made me contemplate the heroic efforts, sacrifices, and deep trust in the outcome that was surely present."

(alternate view)

"This sculpture changes dramatically with every angle viewed. Wings come together to provide shelter, integrity, and support, enabling those nearest the top, release. How we could learn from this interdependence, realizing our individual strengths become fortified and more beautiful when shared."

(alternate view)

 "Although many feelings were experienced in the creation of this piece, the one most deeply rooted, was gratitude. There are not adequate words to describe the appreciation I feel for my relatives, and all those who risked their lives in coming to America. I have a life of freedom, privilege, and opportunity because of their sacrifice. This sculpture is a tribute to all still on this journey."

(alternate view)