by Careen Stoll (as printed in the Hollywood Star)
One of the intriguing aspects of the annual Portland Open Studios Tour is being able to catch a behind-the-scenes look at the everyday lives of the participating artists. Two artists in NE are dedicated creative mothers with a full family and social life who still manage to devote time to their artistic work. Dafna Margalit and Rebecca Conant are both participants on the Tour this year. Margalit is deeply devoted to her family and its extension, the human family of patients who she nurses at the cardiac ward of OHSU. Conant has enjoyed a lifetime of explorations in the folkloric dances of the Middle East, which have inspired her creative output of accessories for the expressive costumes of belly dancers.
The strongest theme running through the sculptural work of Dafna Margalit is that of family health. In one piece, as many as 20 small sewn stuffed felt “manbirds” are hanging from the ribs of a birdcage, mouths open in animated conversation, with one fallen to the floor of the cage. This is a family, perhaps her large and loving extended family, all chatting away at a gathering, and the one on the floor is the one remembered but lost to the passage of time. Margalit herself is of Middle Eastern background, and her partner is from the Philippines. Though she felt a very strong connection to her extended family in Israel during her younger years living in Eugene, the past few have been full of distraction. She is anticipating an upcoming reunion with great excitement, and it seems evident in her process.
Her parents were both artists and worked in the fields of architecture and engineering: Margalit was exposed to the arts constantly as a girl. She says that she tends to absorb the details of a whole room. Her work is similarly of multiple dimensions: the tactile but also the auditory. She might incorporate the sound of a heartbeat into a piece. As a mother, she spends a lot of time sitting with her children, so she finds a way to carefully stitch scores of die-cut felt hearts.
When you visit Margalit’s studio during the Portland Open Studios Tour, you will also see one part of her extended project to create a cross-cultural understanding of women’s experience of childbirth. Wedges of a wooden octagon are the foundation for a grid texture of the bulb syringes, which are given to every new mother at the hospital. One space is a window peep through which you can see the transcript of a new mother’s recounting of her experience. Each wedge of the octagon is devoted to a different culture.
Rebecca Conant’s attention to detail is focused on character expression in the folkloric dances of the Mediterranean Rim. A performer who is often complimented on her authentic portrayals, she captures the essence of the dance in both the soul of the movement, the costuming, and the accessories that compliment the costume. These accessories she makes for herself and for others. Bias-cut silk ribbon is folded and sewn in such a way that it captures the essence of light and movement in a flower. She delights in creating hairpieces, corsages, and fascinators that move with the person wearing them, that move as if integrated with the character and costume, not distracting from the real star of the show, which is the person.
Describing her flowers as “impressionistic”, she is most pleased when they show “aire”, translated as breath or spirit. Using terms like ‘aerodynamic’ and ‘roll’, she describes the qualities of bias-cut silk as particularly suited to the purpose, since the fabric is luminous and lightweight. That it is cut on a bias (45 degrees from the directions in which it is woven) lends it a slinky open quality. She says, “think of Jean Harlow in the 1930’s- that flow…” Her historical research into regionally accurate costuming pushes her into combining colors that she might otherwise not dare do. Now she adds details to more complicated compositions, such as beaded leaves, feathers, or a berry that only the wearer might see.
You can see Rebecca Conant, stage name Far’ha, perform at the Blue Monk once a month with the band Arabesque. You can see these two artists’ studios on the tour this weekend. Rebecca is number 60 and Dafna is 48.