TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother and Child, Mirrors of Love

Today is Mother's Day here in the United States. I would like to dedicate today's post to my mother, Donna Biel, and to all mothers around the world.

My mother grew up in Western Minnesota in a tiny town called Minneota. She is a Gislason, a descendant of Icelander farmers who settled the area. Mom went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, became a nurse, met my Dad and after six months, married him. I was born a year after they married and when I was six months old, they took off to Brazil for twenty years of service as Lutheran missionaries. My brother and sister were both born there.

Mom in college in the late 1950's
When I look back on our lives, I think of my mother going off into the unknown at the young age of 24 years. This is no small undertaking coming from a small Midwestern town in the 1960's. She met her first Black person in college and had no contact with Latinos growing up. I was an adult when she told me that she had been planning on going to Appalachia as a nurse if she hadn't met my father.

We struggled with each other when I was growing up. She was practical and determined while I was impulsive and conceptual. She wondered why I couldn't be "normal". But, some of the wildness in me had to come from her. When she was a teenager, she put eggs in one of my grandfather's hats. My grandfather cursed her, "May you have yourself as a child someday!" (Me, I think...)

The 70's were unattractive for most of us...
My mother worked hard all her life. In Brazil she kept life running smoothly for all of us. We had a maid, but they cooked, cleaned, and prevented chaos, side by side. She organized the church women, was the local "shot" lady (neighbors would have her give them their shots), had cookies and kool-aid as constant supplies for the scores of kids that constantly swarmed our house, mended my Dad's socks, patched up our clothes, read to us, and was just always there and always constant. When we moved back to the United States, she worked at horse radish factory for awhile until a position opened up at a nursing home for an RN. She finally used her academic training and continued her ministry with the elderly. She retired last year and now continues to serve as a hospice volunteer.

At the age of 70, my mother has more energy than I ever have had. She bought herself some snow shoes this winter and trudged around just for fun. As I age, I see how many good things she has instilled in me and how much of her determination I also have. My mother opened the world to me and let me go forth, finding my own path. We are different from each other, but we are also of the same stock. With all my heart, I thank her for her labor, her guidance, her persistence, and her purity.

Here is a little tribute to mothers around the world. Those of us who love textiles and fiber art need to keep in mind that someone, probably a woman, most likely a mother, made these things. They represent cultures that are quickly disappearing, giving way to technology or violence. They were made for a purpose that might no longer seem relevant to most of society. In admiring their work, we should also give credit to their origin, to their integrity.

Following are photos of mothers with a child, Madonnas of the world. The photo titles are linked to their site of origin and many are available for purchase, so visit the sites for more information. When a photographer was named, I included them in the title.

Basutoland, South Africa 1947

We may seem so different from each other, yet these photos all show the love these mothers have for their children. If we can look beyond our cultural trappings, we will find common ground. I was once at a friend's house where three small girls sat at a table with my friend's daughter. They were working on an art project together. I knew all the mothers. As I watched them, I was shocked by how similar they each were to their mother. The way they spoke, their opinions, their method of reasoning, their body language- they were little xerox copies of my friends. If you are a mother, may blessings be showered on you. May your children grow healthy and strong. May they be leaders of peace and mirrors of your love.

Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, most favored of women
Credited to Leonardo da Vinci



  1. Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful posting Rachel. Your Mom must be a wonderful person because you certainly are. xxxooo


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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