Catsoul

March 29, 2012

Posted by request…there is more, but this is enough for now.

Maia (1988-2/15/03)

Maia (1988-2/15/03)

Catsoul is vast and mysterious, containing domestic cats as well as the little fierce wild ones, the great lions and panthers, and the ancient sabertooths and their ancestors.  It is the tabby kitten curled up on a pillow, the starving stray waiting on the porch, and wary eyeshine in the urban night.  It watches.  It is the pampered show cat with long glittering fur and a jeweled collar, and the breeder’s castoff with a deformed spine and useless hind legs.  It survives.  It can see in the dark, and it can leap and hunt and play and dance.  It is blind and crippled, deaf and incontinent, feeble of mind and wracked with seizures.  It loves.  It is the beloved skeleton buried in the garden, wrapped in a fraying blanket under a fragrant flowering bush that gives life to butterflies and hummingbirds.  It defines a holy place.  It is the ocelot crawling on a jungle vine, the tiger swimming in a muddy river, and the huge ancient fang shining like blue porcelain in the glacial dust.  It transforms, yet endures.

A cat is a sacred companion whose presence embodies rest and concentration, affection and obligation, self-sufficiency and mutual dependence.  Where cats have skillful, loving care, there is no need for a separate “spiritual practice” because the daily rhythm honors the Catsoul, and even scrubbing litterboxes or washing the floor is “serving in the temple.”  An ever-changing maze of interwoven pawprints and handprints records this dance.

No domestic cat, however feral, is truly “wild” or beyond hope of ever forging a connection with a human.  Even the shyest is descended from ancestors who purred at the touch of a hand.  If they could, these betrayed ones would advise us:  “In all of our souls, a place was made for You in the Long Ago, when we left our stripes in the long grass and came to live beside your First Fire.  Somewhere between fleeing and clutching, there is a place for all of us to meet.”

A cat keeps and nurtures the soul of a home, and you can follow this subtle watching, resting, and loving presence from one room to another, as the sunlight makes its daily journey across the floor.  A house that shelters many cats becomes a sanctuary for humans as well as felines, and here you feel the presence of Catsoul in all its complexity and power.  The long-time residents anchor it.  Those who will not be touched still give it raw vitality.  The kittens renew it and the old and fragile show its precious tenacity.  At its heart are the new arrivals, the ill, and those walking their final days on earth.  These are held in austere limbo between lives, perhaps even in isolation, and form the stillpoint at the center of the turning wheel.  This is a necessary transition that carries the weight of myth.  It is an ancient method of initiation, drastic adjustment, and deep healing.

Each cat makes a unique contribution to its home and caretaker.  Upon the cat’s death, this special role is lost to the household but enters the enduring secret shrine of Memory.  Here, the precious one continues to offer insight and comfort, long past the raw, empty time of grief.  Even after decades, you will still recall the way that one looked at you, the precise texture of the fur, the length of the tail, the gait that distinguished those paws from all others, the first meeting that transformed a kitty into My Cat.

Mountain Lion and Domestic Cat Skulls

Mountain Lion and Domestic Cat Skulls

Yin Yang Cats

Yin Yang Cats

Tabby’s Birthday

January 28, 2012

Tabby is our oldest cat, and the one we’ve had for the longest time.  He was a stray that we took in when we lived in Versailles, Kentucky.  I first saw him in November 1994 when he took refuge in our backyard shed.  He was very friendly and already neutered, so I assumed that this big handsome cat was someone’s pet.  He looked to be about 18 months old.  I found out that he belonged to a neighbor whose daughter adopted him as a kitten, quickly grew tired of him, and gave him to her mother.  The mother didn’t like him because he didn’t match her two gray and white cats, so she dumped him outside.  He kept visiting our apartment and the two other rentals in the house, and we all fed him.  Finally the neighbor denied ownership and we were able to bring him into our family in August 1998.  I have arbitrarily assigned his birthday to January 1993; this is a minimum age, since he was full grown when we met him.  So he’s 19 this year, in excellent health (with all his teeth!) and still the same active, friendly cat who loves everyone, although he’s got darkening “old man eyes” and I think feline dementia has begun to set in, since he consistently yowls at his water bowl for several minutes before drinking.  Here’s a photo of me holding him in January 2002. 

Me with Tabby (age 9), January 2002

Me with Tabby (age 9), January 2002

For his birthday, I decide to re-create the photo, even though he’s less cooperative about having his picture taken!

Me with Tabby (age 19), January 2012

Me with Tabby (age 19), January 2012

Happy New Year!

January 4, 2012

New Year Black Kitten

New Year Black Kitten

This Happy New Year Kitten is another ink drawing for the new cat fabric that I’m working on.  The final B&W version will probably look like this:

Kitten in Hands

Kitten in Hands

Last night was Tucson’s annual Day of the Dead celebration.  Some of our photos (and many others) can be viewed on Flickr’s ASP group page:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/tucson_all_souls_procession/

As usual, we walked in the procession but skipped the finale.  This year’s finale was held at a new location, so the procession route was longer (2 miles one way).  We left it at Stone Ave., after it had made the high-energy traverse through the 4th Avenue underpass and had begun to unravel a bit.  This year’s crowd (walkers and spectators) was a bit more somber and most costumes and props were very traditional.  The Urn and its Guardians and other attendants are draped in different “theme” colors and costumes each year.  This year’s colors were especially beautiful appropriate – deep purple, lavender, and white.  The attendants wore angel-winged masks on top of their heads.
The Urn group is usually spectacular, with drummers, stilt-walkers, and dancers; Guardians circulate through the crowd with tiny Urns, gathering photos, notes, prayers, and other small items that will be transferred to the big Urn and burned.  This year they dispensed with most of that, leaving only the big Urn, the traditional beast-masked man who pulls it, and a small contingent of dancers riding behind it.  This left no doubt that the group who organizes the procession has decided to devote most of their attention and energy to the Finale (a performance, not a participatory event), and let the Procession take care of itsef for the most part…which it may indeed be ready to do, since creative costumes, carettas, and decorations from “ordinary people” were abundant and beautiful this year.  The ASP is an evolving event, and is so completely contrary to Tucson’s increasingly conservative, xenophobic, and confrontational culture that it’s a miracle that it happens at all.

We chose a relatively quiet place to walk, next to the big red AIDS  banner.  Curved in the shape of a memorial ribbon, it’s attached to poles and takes a large and well-coordinated group of people to carry it.  The center is an island of quiet open space, which people occasionally enter to take pictures or exchange greetings.

Since the night was chilly (an unusual early cold front brought rain the day before), I wore a heavy hemp/cotton dress and a rebozo.  The photo shows last-minute additions to the iron black cat mask:  “fangs” made from a deer antler tine and a large catfish bone; tiny pawprint milagros made from copper foil on metallic-painted stampbord, and the spangled fabric pennants that I made two years ago for the copper jaguar mask.  I carried a copper flute (a homemade hybrid instrument based on a Bb tin whistle but with two extra holes so it is tuned like a recorder) and a short walking stick made from an agave stalk, to which I attached one of my iron bells.

All Souls Procession 2011 Costume

All Souls Procession 2011 Costume

Halloween 2011

November 2, 2011

We spent Halloween in the backyard, lighting candles in memory of our two cats that died this year (and entertaining the ones who are still with us, since they were watching through the screen porch).

A couple of weeks ago we salvaged 11 sets of iron security bars from the windows of an old house in Tucson.  Since they were still on the house and we had to remove them ourselves, they were very cheap.  We bolted them on both sides of the wall around the backyard to use as trellises for various types of potted vines.  We had already done this with some of the bars from our own windows and liked the look.  So now the garden walls are pretty much covered in various styles of decorative bars.  Most of the new ones are painted white, and the ones from our windows are black.

The citrus/hummingbird garden is becoming a “cat garden” as well.  It’s walled on three sides and parallels the cat porch, with a concrete patio separating the garden from the porch.  The cats can watch the hummingbirds, butterflies, and lizards, and we can look at the colorful plants.  For Halloween, we set tealight candles on the bars to illuminate the whole garden.   The candle on the bottom right in the photo below is sitting at the center of a small labyrinth that I drew on the concrete with chalk.

Halloween Garden, west wall

Halloween Garden, west wall

Photo below shows one of the new sets of bars, temporarily hung with cat masks.  Two candles sit on decorative boulders for Midnight Louie and Lin who are buried there.  My medicinal yerba mansa patch is in the corner, below a large steel plant pot that I converted to a bell and suspended from the wall.  Obviously it’s all much more colorful in daylight, although the flowers are mostly gone and the garden has a wintry look.

Halloween Garden, east and south wall

Halloween Garden, east and south wall

 

Iron Bars with Candle

Iron Bars with Candle

Forged Iron Cat Mask

October 19, 2011

This is the forged iron black cat mask that I made for this year’s Tucson All Souls Procession.  I won’t post a photo of me wearing it until after the procession, since I’m still deciding on the rest of my costume.  The mask is hot-forged from heavy steel sheet, and has a riveted nose and whisker spots.  The “snakeskin” pennants were stitched from an undyed Guatemalan cotton sash, ornamented with mica cutouts, copper spirals, vintage pearl buttons, snake vertebrae, and handmade yarn tassels.  This mask is sturdier than the copper masks I’ve made, but not really any heavier.  It’s six inches wide.

Forged Iron Black Cat Mask

Forged Iron Black Cat Mask

Iron Cat Mask Detail

Iron Cat Mask Detail

I also made this embroidered cotton fabric Mountain Lion Mask.  It’s quite wearable but for this event it will be pinned to my costume.  It has a black cotton backing and is stiffened with thin cotton batting (a single layer for the eye and ear portion, and several layers for the muzzle and nose).  The patterned flannel ties, the embroidered stars, and the French knots around the eyes are intended to suggest the Leonid meteor shower that occurs at the end of November.

Mountain Lion Fabric Mask

Mountain Lion Fabric Mask

These Cat Eye and Claw earrings seem appropriate for the Autumn Equinox, with their balance of brown and blue, transparency and opacity, receding earth and rising water.  I carved the “claws” some time ago and only recently made the “cat eye” cabochons to go with them.  Settings are sterling silver with fine silver bezels and frosted aquamarine beads, 2.5 inches long, not including the earwires.

LEFT:  Rose gold bead (made in my shop from recycled metals), Oregon picture jasper cabochon, Guatemalan “Olmec Blue” jade carving (jadeite; carved the same on both sides).

RIGHT:  Bronze bead (cut from a broken Tibetan singing bowl), Namibian blue tigereye cabochon (the metallic line down the center is hematite), Siberian fossil mammoth ivory (the rare blue color is from vivianite, an iron phosphate mineral).

Cat Eye and Claw Earrings

Cat Eye and Claw Earrings

Stampbord Drawings

July 29, 2011

I recently bought a package of Ampersand Stampbord tiles.  It contains about 50 assorted tiles in four sizes:  1 x 1 inch, 2 x 2 inches, 1 x 2 inches, and 1.25 x 2.5 inches.  (Stampbord is also available in a business card size, which I may try next time).  As the name suggests, stampbord is sold primarily as a surface for decorative rubber stamp projects, including mixed media collage.  The smaller sizes can even be drilled and made into jewelry.  Although not marketed as a drawing surface, stampbord is nearly identical to Ampersand’s Claybord Smooth, a multimedia artboard that I use for most of my ink drawings.  The only difference is that the stampbord surface is less consistent than claybord.  The stampbord has slight variations from piece to piece in the thickness and hardness of the white clay layer, and many pieces have tiny chips, dings, or discolorations.  None of this would matter for crafts like rubber stamping, or even for pencil drawing or painting.  It is probably only an issue for scratchboard, and even then it’s minor and easy to work around.

These tiles are perfect for tiny drawings and for experimenting with new techniques, media or subjects.  Obviously they are well adapted to any project that calls for multiple drawings.  (Creating a Tarot deck causes a permanent rewiring of the brain, causing some artists to become permanently addicted to working in a series – it’s hard for them to make just one of anything.)

Here are Midnight Louie (left) and Lin (right) as ancient Chinese tomb guardians.  The cats were drawn from photos, and you can see how different they were – ML had a big head, heavy body, and unusually short legs, while Lin was small, wiry, and muscular.  The Chinese tomb guardians, sometimes called “earth spirits”, were clay figures that were supposed to protect the soul of the deceased.  They come in pairs, and often have elaborate wings, horns, hooves, etc.  One is usually stout and seated, with a man’s face with large pointed ears and a single twisted horn, and the other is thinner and more active looking with a feline or canine face with a pair of horns.  A few months ago, I took a photo of Lin with half-closed eyes that reminded me of one of these figures, so it seemed like a natural memorial for him.  These are 2.5 x 1.25 inch tiles.

Tomb Guardians

Tomb Guardians

Here are the smaller 1 x 2 inch boards with feathers from a male Arizona quail (also called Montezuma quail), drawn life size.

Arizona Quail Feathers

Arizona Quail Feathers

Here’s the larger rectangle again, with three similar species of Usnea lichen.  All three are shrubby grayish-green species that grow on twigs and have abundant cuplike apothecia (spore-bearing structures).  These are drawn about twice life size.

LEFT:  Usnea strigosa, Outer Banks, North Carolina.  Apothecia are pinkish on top and have scattered fibrils on the underside.

CENTER:  Usnea intermedia (U. arizonica), southern Arizona.  Apothecia are green on top and have rare elongate fibrils on the underside.

RIGHT:  Usnea cirrosa, southern Arizona.  Apothecia are green on top and have abundant bristly fibrils on the underside.

Usnea Lichen Apothecia

Usnea Lichen Apothecia

I’m still working with the 1 and 2 inch sqares tiles, and plan to try some mixed drawing/painting/metal projects with those.

Copper Wildcat Mask

May 30, 2011

Copper Wildcat Mask

Copper Wildcat Mask

This wearable, adult-sized copper Wildcat Mask is a bit larger than my Cat Mask and looks more like a bobcat or a very large domestic cat.  It is hand-raised from a flat sheet of copper, with decorative rivets on the whisker spots.  My post on the  Jaguar Mask  has photos and a description of the mask-forming process.  Photos of me wearing the Cat and Jaguar masks at the Tucson All Souls Procession can be viewed on Flickr here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/leonfangs/sets/72157622765310126/

The rigid metal is hotter and not quite as comfortable as a soft mask made of fabric or leather, but it is easier to wear than wood or papier-mache, and looks very dramatic and unusual.  I didn’t put ties on this mask because these will depend on the wearer’s costume and style preference.  I use long 2″ strips of black cotton fabric, tied in a tight knot at the back.  They give a secure fit and are nearly invisible at night.  For a daytime occasion, I would use more elaborate, colorful ties that functioned as part of the costume.

The metal is not coated in any way, so it can be hung anywhere, even outdoors, and will tarnish to a beautiful warm brown.  I prefer the natural tarnish colors, which change over time but are always comforting and mysterious.

Wildcat Mask, side view

Wildcat Mask, side view

Wildcat Mask - Rivets

Wildcat Mask - Rivets

More photos from last night’s procession can be seen on the Flickr group for this event:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/tucson_all_souls_procession/

This year I had neuropathy to deal with as well as the usual asthma, so I decided to carry a walking stick.  I strung my iron bells on a staff made from an agave stalk, and decorated it with devil’s claw pods and my copper cat and jaguar masks from the 2008 and 2009 processions.  It made a great clanging, tinkling sound, and was fun and energizing to carry, despite its considerable weight.  My costume was all white, which would be boring in daylight but is very effective after dark, under intermittent streetlights.  I wore my Snowball the Shelter Ghost embroidered cat mask, hemp hiking dress, a Mexican rebozo, and my bell belt (not visible in this year’s photo).

This year’s crowd was huge, especially the spectators (the local newspaper predicted 20,000 people), but the procession had fewer and less elaborate carettas than in years past.  There were several spectacular costumes, but more people with minimal or no special attire, and fewer drummers and musicians than in recent years.  Still, it was lively and had all the usual excitement, especially with the dance through the underpass.  After having been to five of these things, I have the following observations and suggestions to people who want to go:

1.  This event is what YOU make it.  Your energy and spirit – and your costume, music, dance, props, and whatever else you wish to offer – all help create the magic and meaning.  Focus.  Participate fully.  Your contribution matters.  YOU matter.  (I’m talking about the procession itself here, not the finale.  The final performance/street party is a completely different kind of event.)

2.  It needn’t cost anything, and you don’t need any special abilities.  Smile.  Dance.  Burn incense but leave your cigarettes at home.  Play a rattle or ring a bell.  Inspiration for costumes and art is all around you in the desert.  Paint your face.  Put seedpods in your hair.  Make a mask out of paper, fabric, recycled materials, or a fallen palm frond.  Carry a precious photo or memento, or a candle, or a string of lights.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, glitzy, or “professional”.  If it is from your hands and heart, it will have power.

3.  Don’t worry about the spectators.  There are thousands of them lining the procession route.  Their faces are bored, vacant, sullen, or even angry.  Scarcely one in a hundred holds a smile, an expression of wonder, or tears of sorrow – even among the children, or among those who are in costume themselves.  Never mind.  You are not walking for THEM.  You are walking for those who accompany you, moving all around you in a chaotic river of footsteps.  Most of all, you are walking for those who have gone before, unseen but remembered and loved, who ride the evening air and come very close to us all on this night of nights.

Bell Staff

My Costume: All Souls Procession 2010