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09/05/2010


Inner Place & Outer Beauty • by Joanna Figueroa


Art has been a part of my life in one way or another for as far back as I can remember. I can close my eyes and see myself at 8 years old in my favorite bright yellow sundress with a rainbow across the bottom. It was the dress I dreamt about wearing every day and it was the dress that I loved to paint in whenever my parents would allow it, or more likely than not, when they weren’t aware that I was doing it! As I grew up, I experimented with as many different types of art as I could. I took graphic design classes, painted and doodled every chance I got, worked on illustrations and layout for our high school yearbook, fell in love with pottery, and tried to study life drawing. In college I was introduced to papermaking and printmaking. I became obsessed with the process of creating thick beautifully colored paper with bits of all kinds of wonderful things inside. I would get lost in the process as I worked. It was a place where the world didn’t exist.

Something Missing
But my parents didn’t think art was something that you could support yourself with. They didn’t think it was the thing to go to school for. “It was fine as a hobby,” they said. So I slowly put art on the back burner and tried to follow some kind of proper career. I majored in political science, became passionate about justice issues, and was working toward a teacher credential. I loved what I was doing but I certainly wasn’t in love anymore. My parents were satisfied and I thought I was too. I was working at something that gave me meaning and defined me but my inspiration was sitting somewhere dormant, waiting I guess. After several years of working with troubled youth, living in the inner city, working in a church-based redevelopment agency and then a youth volunteer corp, I felt like something was missing. I didn’t know what it was. I was a bit burned out to be honest. Ironically, it was during this time during my life that I felt like I was giving myself the most to other people and that my life was contributing something really significant. It was easy to feel that way given the work I was doing. But something was missing. I had no idea what it was. I was newly married with a fulfilling job, a new apartment, and a great group of close friends. I had everything I had ever thought I might want in my young life.

Art & Love
I had always loved going to flea markets and garage sales, scouring for that perfect vintage find, looking for the perfect treasure. I had grown up doing that with my mom and it had continued easily into adulthood as I taught my new husband how much fun it was to go exploring. One day a few months after we had gotten married, I walked into a local estate sale and spied a small bubblegum pink wishbone [a traditional quilt block] baby quilt. I knew it was worth something, given its age and fabrics, but I feigned indifference as I asked the lady what it cost. “Seven dollars is what I think I would like to get for it,” she said. I said that would be fine, grabbed it up as fast as I could and left before she could change her mind. I was in love. I had never thought about quilting. I had never thought I could get so much joy from looking and touching and petting this tiny vintage quilt. A week later I signed myself up for a quilt drop in class at the local fabric store. Within a few weeks of starting my first quilt, I knew that I had found something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. For me there was something indescribable about being able to blend color and pattern and creating something that someone could be loved with! Art and love together. Well, it was more than I had ever thought I could combine in an art form. It was perfect for me, my personality, my desires in life. Over the next few years, I fell I love with piecing, fabric, quilting, patternmaking, fabric design, and the world of textiles. As corny as it might sound when I say it out loud, I had come home and I knew it. This is what I was meant to be doing.

It still took me years to consider myself a real artist. And several more years after that until I could say it out loud without feeling like a fraud. These days, I feel completely content to call myself an artist and enjoy the process of watching other women recognize the artistic parts of their lives. I’m not sure that any of us can be completely whole without art. I am so grateful that art found me. And although given what I think about life and faith, I can’t say that art saved me all by itself, but it has certainly been one of the main ways that I have experienced life. It has been a saving grace for me. A purpose. A joy. A process. An inner place. An outer beauty. Art certainly does save.

To learn more about Joanna Figueroa, visit figtreequilts.typepad.com.

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