An Artful Life

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In the early 1970s, the Academy-award winning costume designer Edith Head toured the country giving talks on her career and the nature of fashion. One cold winter evening in Marion Ohio, she gave a lecture to a women's group. Looking around the room, she commented that, even though it was winter, there was no reason to dress in winter colors. She asked the audience to see what everyone was wearing, pointing out all of the dark blues, blacks and grays. Then she stopped at one young woman. She said "Except you" and asked her to stand up. The woman was gorgeous, she had waist-length auburn red hair, sky-blue eyes, alabaster skin, and a bright, colorful outfit that she had designed and sewn herself. Ms. Head nodded approvingly. "You. You look great."

The young woman's name was Carol Newland. An artist by education, she expanded her craft into the weaving arts, spinning and dying her own wool and showing her work around the country. The pinnacle of this era of her career was a hooded coat sewn of hand-dyed and spun emerald and blue wool, into which she wove the entirety of a peacock's plumage. She opened her own successful French reweaving business and for decades she repaired many historic costumes and uniforms, sometimes dying and spinning wool to match fabrics no longer available.

When arthritis made this work difficult, she retired, and gave herself over to pastel painting, as the pastel crayons could fit comfortably in her hands. These years were prolific, her work showed around northern California, winning several awards. When pulmonary fibrosis took away her ability to draw, she read. When she was too tired to read, she held her granddaughters in her arms. When she became too tired for that, she held their hands. When, finally, even that was too much, she slipped away, with her family around her. She was my mother, and she was 73 when she passed in May. She leaves a family grieving her loss but always marveling at her life, a wondrous, ferociously creative work of art.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Mike Newland is director of cultural resources for an environmental science and planning firm in Petaluma.