Red Hook at Bedford Terrace, a true story from Sheila Pepe

Sheila Pepe and her fiber work have inspired much thinking within Studio Red. The connections children have been making to Sheila Pepe and Hot Mess Formalism extend well beyond our own fiber installation that now hangs above our heads. We hear children exclaim, "Just like Sheila Pepe!" when manipulating fiber or observing closely the woven-like patterns of an object found outside. As we read a story of an owl building his house of colorful twisting sticks we hear, "It looks like a Sheila Pepe house!" A child remarks, "I'm wearing my knitted sweater for Sheila Pepe! My granny made it."

This week, we invited children to practice a new way of connecting to Sheila Pepe's work. While during our first visits we wondered about the materials and how they were attached, we now invited the children to engage with her work learning details of her personal story. To echo our studio storytelling practice, Lauri sat facing the group in a circle and told a true story of Sheila's piece entitled, Red Hook at Bedford Terrace. She connected Sheila's artistic choices to her family story.

Sheila lives near a river. At night she can hear the horns of large ships from her apartment in Brooklyn, New York.  The big blue rope is a towline used to hook ships to the dock.

Family tradition is very important to Sheila. 

Her grandfather was a cobbler.  He and his brothers-in-law owned a shop where they made and repaired shoes.  Shoelaces were a part of his work.

 Her mother, Josephine, learned to crochet just by watching Sheila’s grandmother crochet.  Josephine later taught Sheila to crochet by telling and showing her how.  The three of them would sit together and crochet.

Then just as we do in our studio, we invited the children to respond with questions, connections, and thoughts for Sheila Pepe. We told them she was planning to come to the deCordova for an evening event and that we would pass along their words to her.

How did you make the orange ball? Sofia

How did you put together the big blue braid? Callen

My long line has a hook. You can use a hook with it if you want with it. Ruby

Why did you call the blue stuff ocean for the ships?  I’m not sure if it’s water.  Avia

The orange might be seaweed.  Eleanor

I’ve done twists with pipe cleaners at home.  Sophie

You could have named it Blue Orange White Green and Black.  Marky

What do you think that is?  Eleanor

Where’s the end?  Parker

What is the black on the blue rope?  Helen

I think you had to use tools because it wasn’t that easy. Avia

Maybe other people helped with the knots.  Helen

What is the red thing around the blue thing?  Nico

How long is the blue rope? Sofia

Are you ever gonna let us touch it?  Are you going to bring the installation in our classroom?  Charlotte

Sometimes I think about how did Sheila Pepe do that?  Sophie

And then, a surprise! Sheila Pepe came to Studio Red. She responded to our questions and ideas. . .

. . .and then she asked some questions and shared ideas of her own!

As children mess about and create in our studio they are constantly telling stories of self.  They easily connect their efforts to their own life experience, for these experiences often inspire their creations.  Recently, Avery shared her watercolor painting of a sunrise to the whole group, explaining how she sees a sunrise every morning because she wakes up early.  We wanted to draw the children’s attention to Sheila’s stories and how she, too, weaves them into her work.  

Throughout the creative process we embed our stories, our questions, and our understandings into our work.  In sharing, we invite others to connect and then we too feel connected.