Beth Markel

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Persist. You can do it.

Posted on August 3, 2022 by Beth Markel

For many of us in the past 2+ years, it’s been a time of shut-down, illness, loss, fear, frustration, and loneliness. At the same time, for some it’s been a time of renewal, from painting rooms, home improvements and renovation, to trying new recipes, online shopping (yes, our Amazon delivery gal is VERY familiar with our address!) and even experimentation from Yoga to Peloton to scented candles. All of this is to say that while Zoom may be the permanent ‘new normal’ for many meetings, it’s also nice to be able to walk into a quilt shop, grocery store, or bank and actually see people’s faces. When I walk in one of our local parks, it is wonderful to see the kids playing and running about without masks. It’s exciting! It feels like we are coming out of our protective shells.

During the time that I was recovering from knee replacement last year, I worked on hand-stitching because I could just sit and sew. A number of neglected projects were completed when the binding went on, and a number of baby quilts have already been delivered to expectant moms. While this was productive, it wasn’t what I wanted to be working on. I really wanted to complete ‘Autumn’ which was about 90% finished, and ‘Chaos’, which I have been quilting. Persistence may be the word most often used in quilting.

It takes creativity, ideas, and courage to jump into making quilts, whether they’re art quilts, traditional quilts, recycled materials, etc. It takes failures to learn what ‘the dreaded reverse-sewing implement’ AKA seam-ripper is used for, but persistence to finish! There is a sense of accomplishment when a quilt of any size, shape or variety is completed. I’ve been to many different guilds where Show-n-Tell participants say, “It’s just a top.” I jump in, asking with a somewhat incredulous voice, “Are you kidding? You completed a TOP! Hooray! That’s a huge accomplishment!” Because. It. Is. You have created something that did not exist until YOU made it.

On that note, I’m showing ‘Chaos’ as it’s being stitched… in the ditch…which is tedious. Only the top 1/3 is completed, but slow and steady wins the race.

Persistence builds character
…a lot of character

I also just completed ‘Autumn’ and can only say, HUZZAH! It’s also stitched-in-the-Ditch (SID) except for the sky area. It is 48″ H x 72.5″ W and is so heavy I’m putting a Nancy-Crow-Special Double-walled sleeve on it. It goes to the photographer next week, and honestly, while I’m glad it is finished, I really just want it to transport viewers to a ridge or boulder outcrop that looks over the glorious fire and gold of autumn trees on a crisp, sunny day. I am in the autumn of my life, and enjoying the fruits of summer, grown children, 2 grandbabies, and lovely family and friends. This is a tapestry of my life.

This is 4 ‘blocks’ put together. It’s a start…
September, 2018
January, 2019
July, 2020
Completed, July, 2022

Create something beautiful today – even if it’s just a smile at a complete stranger!

Cheers,

Beth

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Squirrel! Shiny object! Squirrel!

Posted on June 23, 2022 by Beth Markel

It’s easy to become distracted when the weather is warm, the sky is a cloudless, summer blue, the birds are singing, and the flowers are in full bloom in Michigan. So many things to look at and do…SQUIRREL!

As a gardener from way, WAY back, helping my dad plant roses for my parent’s wedding anniversary every year, to trimming the Coral Bells and eventually harvesting tomatoes and Swiss chard, I would rather be outside than any place else this time of year. I have tomato plants, herbs, lettuce, sweet peppers, and pots and pots of annuals…but I still get up and sew every morning for at least 4-5 hours. I start the day watering and filling the Baltimore Oriol and hummingbird feeders, but immediately after coffee on the patio, I start sewing.  This “sewing first” has been my practice for many years now, but it also has to be a daily decision, especially when it’s easy to become distracted by the weeds that need attention, or the bright pink geraniums that need to be dead headed.

I have a feeling I’m not the only artist that struggles with time management and putting our art before the mundane of living and working, laundry, vacuuming, and even weeding. While all of the mundane has to be managed, I’ve become pretty good at throwing laundry in the washer, then skipping downstairs to sew. A couple of hours later when I take a break, the laundry gets tossed in the dryer. Multi-taking for everybody! I’ve discovered the great rewards of both Crock Pot and Instapot meals, which can bubble and stew all day while I’m sewing. Running the vacuum happens every Monday morning for 20 minutes before I turn my sewing machine on. What works for you?

As artists, we all have to determine our priorities, but there is joy, growth, struggle, and learning when we prioritize our art. Make the daily decision to prioritize your creativity and art! You’re worth it.

Following up with that, this is a series I started last autumn called “Jazz” which I’ve broken down into Jazz 101, Jazz 102… and Jazz 202 which I just finished today. One of the things I see emerging in this series is the importance of the rich black moving from background to quite distinct shapes that become the composition. This is really surprising to me, especially as I started out using the black as a background for the bright shapes and colors. Does anybody else notice the changing strength of the background becoming the interesting shapes?

Jazz 101
Jazz 102
Jazz 103
Jazz 104
Jazz 201
Jazz 202

Make something beautiful today!

Cheers,

Beth

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What now? What next?

Posted on May 3, 2022 by Beth Markel

February 23rd I wrote a blog about not just what I was sewing, but also about how excited I was that carpet was being installed in our basement and my sewing room the very next day. After the basement flooded in August, it was a long haul to get everything fixed. Drywall was in shipping containers coming from China. Paint was in very short supply because a year ago Texas had ‘snowmageddon’ and most paint is produced using chemicals in a base that is manufactured in Texas. Because of the freezing temperatures, millions of gallons of paint were lost before it could be mixed and shipped. Who knew? Finally, I was pretty jazzed that my design walls were going back up. I was using thin, wobbly sheets of pink insulation propped up against the walls in our front entry way as a design board…not ideal. I was sewing on our dining room table and ironing in the living room. Not ideal. My Ott light and Oliso were destroyed that day in August when the ceiling came crashing down, soaked in all directions. However, after the carpet went in, things would be back to “normal” or so I thought.

With horror, over the next 24-48 hours the world watched as Putin invaded Ukraine.

It was as if the horrific black & white newsreels of WWII had come to life and were now being streamed in 24-hour news cycles.  Putin is a madman.

Within a moment, my small inconveniences of running up and down the stairs to sew and iron paled in comparison. I was embarrassed that I was happy about carpet going in when there were innocents being attacked, bombed, and, it turns out, shot in the streets.

Towns and cities were decimated, some eventually almost wiped from the map, and while historical buildings could be rebuilt from the rubble, people cannot.

Like many I have spoken to since the attack on Ukraine began, I was horrified and somehow completely indecisive about what to do, and how to help? Instead of working, sewing, or moving furniture back into my sewing room, I sat with my face glued to the news.

I wondered how ‘art’ would help? Does art matter when the world is crumbling in places like Ukraine?

I wondered how I could help? What could a single person do to make a difference?

Then Yo-Yo Ma set up his cello on the sidewalk in front of the Russian Embassy and played. He wasn’t dressed in a tuxedo, he didn’t have an audience of hundreds or thousands, and he wasn’t looking for accolades. As an artist, a musician in the highest musical echelons, recognized around the world, he simply set up his cello and began to play among homemade signs and sidewalk chalk statements protesting the Russian invasion.

Art matters, even when the world is in chaos.

Music matters, even when bombs can be heard in the near distance.

People matter, down to the last man, woman, and child.

So I stopped feeling lost and stuck, and began to do things.

I donated to Samaritan’s Purse because they were already on the ground helping the displaced refugees. Just this week (April 25, 2022) they delivered 15 metric tons of supplies to Poland where everything from hygiene kits to toilet paper will be trucked into Ukraine and the border area. They have also distributed thousands of hygiene kits (toothbrush/toothpaste, soap, washcloths, shampoo, etc.) to refugees flooding out of Ukraine. They have DART teams (Disaster Assistance Response Teams) in Moldova and Poland, in addition to Ukraine, many of whom are providing medical assistance to refugees.

I donated to UNICEF because their priority is getting clean water and medicine to people still in Ukraine, along with the refugees flooding out of Ukraine. They also focus on helping the children being displaced, along with the family unit, or whatever is left of a once-stable family unit.

Eventually, my husband installed one design wall and I have been sewing every day, often with the news on, but more often than not, music in the background. Yo-Yo Ma and his Goat Rodeo album, along with the follow-up album, Not my First Rodeo. I listen to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Handel’s water music, Mozart, Journey, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Holly, Beethovan, just to name a few.

I may never be able to stop bombs in another part of the world, but I can pray for and support the people and organizations that have boots on the ground, helping people I cannot reach by myself.

The Ukrainian people are amazing, brave, relentlessly optimistic, and will prevail.

Once I pulled my face from the 24-hour news cycle, I also began to sew.

Paul Klee inspired 20″ x 25″
Split Rail/Rail Fence #6, 53″ square
Split Rail/Rail Fence #7, 53″ square

Make something beautiful today.

Beth

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Happy 2022!

Posted on January 21, 2022 by Beth Markel

Happy January, 2022! Apologies for not posting sooner, but C19 hit our household in December and for a number of weeks it was a slog. Very little sewing was happening, but it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, it’s new year, new day, new goals to be met, and projects to finish.

Last weekend I took a virtual Quiltfolk 2-day workshop featuring Kaffe Fassett. What an interesting designer, quilter, knitter and character! His sense of color, and his work in the fabric industry has been an integral part of the fiber movement all around the world. He has a new line of ribbons, manufactured in France, and they are gorgeous! Much of the interviewing of Kaffe and his partner was done by Jenni Smith, who has worked with Kaffe in designing quilts. Getting a peak into his house was an eye-opening experience. Color, pattern, more color, more pattern, mosaics, knitting, quilts, ceramics, paintings… you name it, it’s probably in his house somewhere in glorious and casual display. From the paintings in his living room to his antique quilts 3 stories above, there is something that grabs your eye in every square inch of space. I’m going to keep my eye open for workshops, as he’s coming to the US later this year. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying his newest book, “Kaffe Fassett In the Studio: Behind the Scenes with a Master Colorist.” It’s decadent and yummy!

As an update, I’m quilting ‘Chaos’ using stitch-in-the-ditch. After some tinkering, I decided this was the best way to highlight each individual block. It’s a little bit of a slow process, but I believe will be worth it in the end. When I get the first 2 rows done, I’ll post pictures. It’s boring from the back – maybe not boring, exactly, but really just a grid pattern that goes from side to side and top to bottom.

This morning I also finished the next small work in my Jazz series. This has been a really fun diversion from the grid mentioned above, and yes, I really do listen to jazz music when I’m sewing this series. For time management purposes (which I’m trying to work on!) I set aside 2 hours for these small quilts every morning. Yo-Yo Ma and the Goat Rodeo is one of my favorite albums to wake up to, along with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington in the Songbook series, Count Bassie, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, Jaco Pastorius, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk… and 100 others, all brilliant and inspiring in their own right. It’s been interesting to also read about ‘Kandinsky’ by Helmut Friedel (author) while improv jazz is on in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but improv jazz makes me happy and I think a little more creative when I’m working in a completely improv way.

Jazz 103 was a completed top in December, and Jazz 104 was completed this morning. The Jazz 103 uses a gorgeous orange ombre I had in my stash, but I don’t think it photographs as beautiful as it is in person. The same is true for Jazz 104, although similar, it’s a Cherrywood red, much like a ripe, red tomato ready to pick from the vine and eat while it’s still warm from the sun. It’s difficult to see the design or suade-like pattern that is unique to Cherrywood in the pictures, but it, too, is much more colorful in person than in the pics. Each is 21″ W x 30″ H

Jazz 103
Jazz 104

Health and happiness in 2022!

Cheers,

Beth

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Chaos, Cranes, and Campfires

Posted on October 26, 2021 by Beth Markel

With the temporary shift is sewing rooms, it’s been something of a challenge to get this next strip of ‘Chaos’ done. Three more strips to complete! The strip column on the far right is just pinned in 7 blocks. It was a dig-deep couple of weeks, not just with the basement drying out from the flood, but because I would be working in cleaning off all of the shelves that have to be moved and suddenly come across something else ruined by water. Cleaning is kind of a drag, but sewing is therapy!

‘Chaos’ 10/25/21

As I began to look over the whole of what is complete so far, I wondered if I was still using a wide enough variety of my scraps. I have used a lot of smaller pieces that were socked away in bins, but I think there’s more variety when I first started than now. Here is the comparison to one year ago when this first seemed like a good idea.

Where this project started last year… 10/22/2020

It’s been just over 2 months since the basement and my studio flooded, but it feels like a long process before it will be back to “normal” at my house – sometime after Christmas. While I like sewing on the dining room table, I’m easily distracted by what is outside. We live a stone’s throw from a huge metro park, and every year we have Sandhill cranes that nest in our neighborhood. They wandered into our yard one day this past week, likely getting ready to migrate south. If you have never heard them talking to each other…they sound what Pterodactyls must have sounded like. It’s also a little hard to tell, but they are huge birds, standing about 4′ – 5′ tall.

Looking for an afternoon snack!

After taking Rosalie Dace’s last workshop, I have started a series of small quilts. The impetus was partly as a reprieve from making 3/4″ finished blocks, but also looking at utilizing some of the many leftovers from other projects. I cranked some Myles Davis, Dave Koz, Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, and just put blocks together. No plan whatsoever, just working improv with my new earbuds cranked.

And to the campfire…first one tonight if it doesn’t rain!

Make something beautiful today, whether it’s a quilt or a pumpkin cheesecake…

Cheers,

Beth

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Sometimes in quilting, you take an unexpected left turn and end up in a swamp

Posted on September 15, 2021 by Beth Markel

I haven’t posted much recently, mostly because we had a hell-of-a-month I’m going to call August. Like many other parts of the country, most of southern Michigan has had lots and LOTS of storms this year. Wallopers! So it stormed here and we were without power for 5 days. Five. Days. Unless you have hand-work or slow-stitching ready at a moment’s notice, not much actual sewing happens.

Fortunately, I always do my binding by hand and was working on 2 small crib quilts. I worked on that during the day… when there was light. Sometimes you take the small things for granted – like walking into the kitchen and turning the light on. Again and again. It was probably 3 days before I remembered that no matter how many times I flipped the switch, no power was forthcoming.

So the following Monday morning I went down to my studio, about 5:45 a.m., not just because I like to get an early start, but because the Baltimore Oriole feeder was empty, and the jelly jar had been emptied the day before. The grape jelly is in the pantry on the left directly behind my sewing machine. I stopped on the bottom step for a moment wondering what was happening with the ceiling, but I’m grateful I could flip a switch and lights came on:

What IS happening to my studio ceiling?!

Now bear in mind, it’s not even 6:00 a.m., no coffee on-board, and I’m a huge SciFi fan. Star Trek (Chris Pine, hello?!), Star Wars, yep, all of them; Stargate (movie and 215 episodes on SyFy network)…you name it. Don’t judge. I’m also a huge fan of J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein, Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, and yes, even War & Peace, although that was a slog since none of the French was translated in the text, but located at the bottom of the page. But I digress. This was like a scene out of a SciFi movie. It took me a moment to orient that parts of the studio ceiling seemed to be peeling off. Like a brain surgeon, I said out loud, and to myself, “Huh. That’s weird.”

Then I stepped off the last step to walk over to see what the deal was when the carpet beneath my feet went SQUISH, SQUISH, SQUISH.

I immediately ran upstairs to grab my DH, who is happily sound asleep on his first day of a vacation, and inform him that there’s water pouring into my studio, and all hell broke lose. Apparently the water line from the kitchen sink to the ice-maker in the refrigerator split and water had been dripping, pouring, running all night long, over my sewing table and iron boards, gel pro mat for standing, the Ott light, pretty much everywhere.

Water running down the interior wall AND coming from the ceiling
Wet insulation, water everywhere, and naked thread. Dang it!
Floor is dry. No ceiling. I feel overwhelmed.

Good news: Bernina wasn’t damaged, although other smaller items were. Yellow Oliso iron I call “Ollie” hit the floor, ironing board won’t stand up, etc. Just discovered about an hour ago that most if not all of my Aurifil thread not still in it’s plastic is covered with ceiling debris. I thought I covered it pretty early on in the process of stopping the damage, but pictures look like it was much later than I remembered. Panic will do that to you I guess.

Bad news: Studio won’t be completed (or even have a ceiling) until after Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong, with the pictures I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks from the hurricanes, I know damage in those bigger storms makes my studio disaster just a hic-up, but there have been a lot of tears nonetheless.

In related news: 5 days after the studio flood I started a zoom workshop through the Schweinfurth Museum with the talented Rosalie Dace. So grabbing what I determined were a box of leftovers from Human Form #15, I’m working off the dining room table, mostly using paper but sewing some too, unrelated to the workshop itself. It’s all about design principles, and it’s fabulous to be able to interact with her half-way around the world. She’s a delight.

I would say I’m going to work on ‘Chaos’ now…but then I’ll cry again!

All the best,

Beth

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I need to enjoy the journey

Posted on July 19, 2021 by Beth Markel

I’ve been working on this ‘Chaos’ piece since back in October, 2020, since that’s what I was feeling. Every day, there was election chaos, Covid chaos, people on fb saying things they would never dream of saying to somebody’s face, so social media chaos… I needed to express that I was feeling overwhelmed no matter where I looked.

Now, what seems like a l-o-n-g time ago from my starting point, I’m making the push to finish this work. In the past month I’ve made more than 780 blocks that will be 3/4″ finished.

Stacks of 10 tiny blocks, 130 per row x 6 rows
What made me want to count these?
30 strips of 4 blocks, 24 strips of 6 blocks, 52 pairs of 2

So counting and sorting gives me a pretty good idea of how many blocks of 12 x 12 I am able to make, as well as getting my cutting table cleaned up and less chaotic. As I was counting the smallest units and putting them in piles of 10, I realized that I was focusing much more on the goal of finishing this top, and much less on the journey of making it. I had turned a corner somewhere in my thinking and approach to this piece of work.

Textiles, quilts, baby quilts, art quilts, knitting, weaving, needlepoint, woodworking, even gardening and photography – whenever I work with my hands I love the tactile nature of it. Working with your hands is honest, even when we use tools from a needle to a spade to a camera. Until I slowed down and counted what I had made, I was focused on the goal of finishing.

With all of the work of making these small blocks, and the (seemingly) million decisions that have gone into it so far, I’m now slowing down to enjoy the making of it without feeling overwhelmed. I actually stepped away from my studio to go to a quilt shop. A real-life, full of people and glorious fabrics, bundles, patterns, books, machines, thread, and ideas – Decorative Stitch in Shelby Township, Michigan. It was awesome – this is one of my favorite shops, as their fabric selections are vast, and right up my alley, including an entire wall of solids. Lovely shop, lovely staff, lovely experience every time I go in!

Refreshed and with a better attitude, I’m off to the studio now to sew a lot of small blocks together. I’m once again going to enjoy the journey of making.

Cheers,

Beth

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Designing Chaos

Posted on June 18, 2021 by Beth Markel

I clearly have a love of this crazy, tedious, colorful piece I’m working on, but I also have a love of design. The question, daily, is how to design and construct a work that must appear completely random?

So far, I believe it means making 1,001 design decisions a day.

Principles of Design are pattern, rhythm, proportion, balance, unity. You can expand the number of principles to include color, line, shape, negative space, etc. depending on what medium you are talking about, but these 5 basic principles are pretty universal. Even though I have chosen the size of each block, and decided early on that each tiny block would have 3 different fabrics, I did not decide, and do not decide, how to sew them together until I see how they all begin to play together.

Currently the 2 most critical principles for me in this work are proportion and balance. There is sort of an ebb and flow between principles when you’re working in what I’m going to call ‘structured improv’ but the bottom line is simple: make each & every decision like it’s the most critical decision of the day. Even though they are a mere 3/4″ finished, each individual block should be beautiful, dynamic, and vibrant! Proportions must change from block to block.

It’s easier to see changes in proportions using a B/W filter, as well as to gage whether or not you’re using values in different proportions. This art would be very dull indeed if all the proportions were the same:

Proportions within each block should be dynamic & diverse

The colors and size of the blocks will convey the idea of ‘Chaos’ as your eye zips over the top with no place to rest. Balance comes primarily in color for this buzzy, busy top. Color and value (light to dark), repeated again and again in similar sizes of the same block creates both balance and pattern/rhythm.

Ready to be sewn into larger “blocks” of 6 strips x 6 blocks per strip
Strip sets of 4, ready for last pair on each strip
New pairs completed 6/12/21 and ready for their haircuts

Yes, I’ve been busy sewing, and will post an update of the quilt itself in the next blog. I’m digging it!

Cheers, Beth

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One piece at a time

Posted on June 4, 2021 by Beth Markel

Sometimes the hardest thing about making art is literally taking it one step at a time. For Jackson Pollock it was one layer at a time, one paint at a time, step back, evaluate, then the next big splash. Evaluate again. Splash. I love his work!

If you have ever admired an Old Master painter from centuries ago, you’ll know that many had apprentices who would lay the groundwork for the canvas, working at the initial layers of paint for backgrounds, figures, or scenery. When I first learned this I thought, “That’s cheating!” but then I realized it was also the only way some of the Masters were as prolific as they were, and it was excellent training for the apprentices.

In my case, the CHAOS piece I’m working on currently is a challenge in that each “block” is so small when sewn together (3/4″ x 3/4″) that it has to be absolutely precise. It’s like the large Lone Star quilts which have possibly 64+ seams across the top, and if each seam is “just 1/64” off, you know your quilt will have waves.

So my challenge is 3-fold: first, that the blocks I’m making today look enough like the blocks I began making last October & November that the quilt will be cohesive, even though it’s visual texture and chaotic.

Creative Chaos Day 1, 10_21_2020
June 1, 2021 ~ The Chaos continues. Is there continuity?

Second, because the blocks are often bias on at least 3 sides, they must be both precisely cut and precisely trimmed so the fabric bias won’t affect how they lay in the end.

Tedious trimming because of bias cuts

Third, I have to knuckle down when the blocks become tedious and just keep going. This is hard for me, as I like NEW challenges, and NEW projects, and NEW ideas. Squirrel! At this point my Grandpa Day’s voice rings in my head… “Suck it up, Buttercup, get it done.” He was usually referring to some menial task that to this day, I don’t love (like mopping!) but it’s also a foundational life lesson. Nobody became an Old Master in a day. It was years and years of work as an apprentice, sometimes perhaps tedious. No beautiful work of architecture was erected in a day. The garden at Versailles didn’t bloom in one day.

Each endeavour worth our time is also worth our best effort.

June 3, 2021

Make something beautiful – every day!

Cheers,

Beth

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Chaos continues…

Posted on April 13, 2021 by Beth Markel

Over the weekend I was pondering the meaning of art. My MIL used to say, “I don’t really understand your quilts, dear, but they are very pretty.” I was never really quite sure how to take that!

She was an excellent quilter and made many beautiful quilts over the years, most of which she hand-quilted, but she always followed a pattern. Meticulously! I have copies of patterns that we worked on together, and her notes were really a wonder to behold. Looking back at 2020, I wonder if she would perhaps now see a bit of what’s in my head and what I’m expressing in my art? Alas, she has passed on, but I often think of her when I’m sewing, especially since I often make decisions in a completely intuitive manner.

Last week was very productive, and I’m forging ahead with what I think, hope, and pray will be a pretty cool statement of “CHAOS” without using any words to describe what it feels like…

Strips in the making…
Almost blocks of 6 x 6
These are little works of art on their own!

First 2 rows sewn together

I’m getting a pretty good sense of what the final work will look like – and there are those who will love it, and those who will hate it! Isn’t getting pushed out of our comfort zones what art should instigate?

Cheers!

Beth

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