It just doesn’t feel like an office to Margaret Roach unless people are excitedly showing her things they just made by hand, and she is in turn showing those to an audience. The former editorial director of Martha Stewart Living left last year to pursue her own forms of creative self-expression from her Hudson Valley garden. Margaret quickly surrounded herself with artisans again by inventing The Sister Project, a network of blogs (sister blogs, if you will) that explores the many meanings of sisterhood, from genetic to soul to feminist (with the occasional geisha or nun).
Margaret’s radar is set to handmade, thanks to a crafty grandmother, whose mending basket and button box yielded snippets for Margaret’s couture dolls’ clothes, and who was a mad gardener, a madder collector (and a master of meringue, Margaret’s first cooking lesson, at age 9).
No wonder Martha made Margaret Living’s first garden editor, and later overseer of her internet site, magazines and books — and how familiar it was for Margaret to be where the power of the handmade article — sewn, grown, or cooked up — reigns. She has recreated that feeling by blogging from her 1870s Swedish kitchen table, especially in The Sister Project Galleries, a place she showcases exceptional talents to a growing sisterhood of visitors.
Her filter is always about the “S” word…and Etsy looks like one giant sisterhood to her:
When we started The Sister Project, my colleague “Sister” Paige (we TSP bloggers call one another sister) suggested the first gallery show be Elsa Mora. It was elsita’s older sister we had sensed in certain images, a sibling still living but lost in the tangle of schizophrenia. “She was my mentor,” says Elsita, but, “we had to deal with the possibility of her going away forever all the time.”
At TSP we always ask one fill-in-the-blank question: You know you’re a sister when…? “When you can’t discern if a memory happened to you or your sister,” replied painter Amanda Blake, a.k.a. thisisalliknow. “The entire idea of a sister — of someone you have a shared past with — speaks to my use of symbolism and superstition and the idea that everyone on the planet has a shared deeper past.”
In Julianna Bright’s folkloric, fairy tale realm, images of sisterhood and kinship abound — though the ethereal women she paints are as likely to be paired up with a giant bird or a princely frog as another human. “The pictures I make have became a way to circle back to that wonder I felt as a child,” says Julianna, “that time before I was even able to read when I could fashion a whole universe in my mind around an illustration.” (Does her painting, “Le Mermaid,” evoke an undersea sisterhood perhaps?)
Lindsey Carr, the Scotland-based Etsy seller LittleRobot, readily admits her sibling-hood of six came with responsibilities and heartache. “I think that the misfortunes are the things which bind you,” she says, but with this brighter punchline: “A story is nothing without someone to share it with.”
Shelley Kommers (Etsy’s Oiseaux and OiseauxNoir) and her younger sister, Carrie, moved a lot as kids, and the stabilizing force of their connection seeps forth from her art. “What I remember most is the magic of our playtime and the inventiveness of the fantasy worlds we’d create,” she says. “A lot of that ‘make-believe’ quality shapes my artwork.”
Our TSP definition of sisterhood even reaches across the species. Being a nature girl, I was riveted by Esty seller dailymammal, who aims to draw the Earth’s 5,000 mammals (at one per day, that’s 14 years!). Jennifer and her baby sister (like me and mine) have had some tough, silent times. “She’s still my sister, and that’s everything,” says Jennifer. “Same nature, same nurture, same nose.”
No Martha colleague showed me more delightful things than Laura Normandin, a.k.a wrenhandmade (well, maybe that’s not true… Marcie McGoldrick, a gifted ceramist and former Storque contributor, was also on my team). Back then, I felt more motherly toward them; these days it’s a peer, or sisterly, connection. Laura matches Grandma’s stitchery talent; her handmade doll would do Grandma proud, as would Laura’s gray felt doll coat (my doll’s was pink, with pearl buttons and a fox collar).
You can check out these Etsy artists’ full sister stories in The Sister Project Galleries. My own genetic sister, Marion, is a writer and longtime teacher of memoir writing, and part of The Sister Project as well.
Do you have sisters who influence your craft? Share in the comments below!