Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



May 2012

“…Submissions due by February 28, 2002. No grandmother poems, please.”

Editors of an Anonymous Poetry Journal




No Grandmother Poems!

Dear Reader,

When I read the above proviso emanating from a poetry journal editor, I laughed out loud. “How arrogant,” I thought! Was it a case of having received too many overly sentimental poems about these icons of unconditional love? A feeble attempt at humor by a hyper-sophisticated editor? I had already written (and had published) two grandmother poems, so I was safe from feeling discouraged.

Why pick on our need to write about grandmothers? I had a wonderful, loving, smart maternal grandmother. My sister, Jennie, is named after her. Last year, we traveled to Vallelunga Pratameno, Sicily, the town where our grandparents were born and raised. We spent time with our cousins, who are descendents of my grandmother’s brother. It was a thrilling experience that we are still processing.

What is there about the love given by a grandmother that stays with us, even after the decades divide us from the last time we felt the warmth of her touch? If you have received that gift, I do not need to describe it. If not, then you might feel like the editor quoted above.

But wait, this is not a Valentine to my grandmother! It’s about art making! Don’t stop reading yet.

In last month’s journal, I wrote about making a series of paintings for my travel journal. I ended with:
“Vallelunga Pratameno, Sicily - How could I not make this homage to my grandparents the cover image of my book? The heart of my piece is a drawing of the town where they were born.” I surrounded it with an ink drawing of thousands of grapes, drying in the sun, prickly pears and flowers. It was pure bliss (Oops! that sounded a bit sentimental. Sorry.).

But the subject was not finished with me. I needed to do another! After the transfer dried, I was ready. For what? I did not know. Which is the way I prefer to work.

One morning, I woke up remembering that I had integrated a 4” by 9” scrap of my grandmother’s cutwork into one of my assemblages. My mother had given it to me in the 80’s because the whole runner had fallen apart. This scrap was just too beautiful to discard. That day, I carefully separated it from the assemblage and got my magnifying glass. Never mind the feeling of handling something my grandmother had worked on when she was a young woman preparing her trousseau. That might seem, well, sentimental! What got me was the art I was holding in my hands. I turned the fabric over. The back was as neatly stitched as the front. I marveled at her craftsmanship!

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Closer inspection showed that each section of each leaf and each petal was filled with a different lace. I expected that a single leaf would be stitched with the same design. But no! Was my grandmother embroidering without a plan, a kind of freeform with her needle? Or was she using scraps of lace, saved from her sewing basket? With 9 sisters, probably all seamstresses, there must have been a formidable scrap pile. I will never know.

I attempted to make a transfer image of my grandmother’s embroidery cutwork. I placed it on the clay board without turpentine, which I could use to activate the glue and make it a permanent part of the piece. How great would it be if my artwork contained a piece of my grandmother’s artwork? Would that be too…sentimental?

Do you know the feeling when something just does not look right? Now what?

I would need to draw each and every flower, stem and petal, using the magnifying glass to help me see my grandmother’s embroidery, centimeter by centimeter. I pretended my pen was a needle, the ink my thread, and that I was sitting beside her doing it, hearing her correct me if I was going astray.

Of course, I could not copy her every stitch. I did the best I could, but I think she would have been pleased.

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I sealed it with polyurethane and sanded it between coats.

The only thing left to do was to bring it to Jennie. Get well, my love.

(Now that could be thought of as sentimental! No apologies here.)