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Susan Shie comments:
Before Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013, I chose the tarot card for this piece, which is the 3 of Swords, or Paring Knives in my Kitchen Tarot deck. My personal interpretation of the card is: harmony in mental endeavors. I didn't know what would be the subject of the piece, so I did other things and waited a bit. When Mandela died, I got busy, knowing he was going to be the focus of what would be a tribute to his life. I expanded my interpretation of the card to mean thinking and working together with the tools of social justice: equality, kindness, forgiveness, trust, and tolerance.

I read his autobiography, Long Road to Freedom and started doing research about his life. I think the tarot card is perfect for Mandela, who took such a determined and sustained way to bringing freedom to his country, even coming out of 27 years of imprisonment with a strong attitude of forgiveness for those who had put him there, and then even pushed beyond his reconciliation for South Africa, toward doing the same all over the world. Monika Cleo Sakki associates this 3 of Swords tarot card with Saturn in Libra, which is about hard work and kindness together, very Mandelan, I think.

I drew Mandela in the center of this wide-format piece, where he will be the only figure in the future Kitchen Tarot card, when it's cropped to become a vertical-format card image. Since this card is a 3, I wanted two more major figures in it, besides Mandela. I chose Pope Frances, who's been pope for less than a year, but has already initiated standards of forgiveness and non-judgement for all of us, sharing Mandela's attitudes with the millions of Catholics around the world and with the rest of us, too. His inclusive attitude is one Mandela definitely mastered and advocated. I saw a picture of him holding up his hand, with a dove resting on it, looking at the pope's face. I put my granddaughter Eva on the other side of Mandela, to represent the future leaders of the world, our hope for their compassion and tolerance, their ability to rebalance the Earth and grow the world in compassion.

And then Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014, and I knew I didn't have room to put him into this piece in the size I'd like, but I had space in the white dove left unwritten on, so I drew him in and wrote about him where I could. Seeger was about the same age as Mandela, and he definitely lived the same kind of determined, sustained focus on peace and understanding, even environmental healing, but gave his message and example through his songs. I put Mandela and Seeger together on my "Ardis and Betty" piece in mid 2011, because they were the same age as Betty Ford, whom I was honoring in that piece, along with art advocate Ardis James. (Pete and Nelson are in the top left corner of that piece.)

On Mandela's shoulder in this piece, I made one of my Dish Soap Buddha Girls, a concept I came up with in December. I used to do pottery, but no longer own a kiln, or I might be making these peaceful sculptures for everyone I know. Imagine having a tranquil little Buddha Girl sitting beside your sink, giving off those calming vibes while you cook and do the dishes. So since I can't make them in 3-D, I will draw them where I can. Peace vibes with the purifying energy of soap. One allied with Mandela here. What a combination.

Detail of Mandela by Susan Shie

Detail of Mandela by Susan Shie

Here are some of the things I wrote on in this piece, using my airpen and black fabric paint, beginning on Jan 20, 2014, after all the airbrush painting was done:

1-20: I wrote about this harsh winter and climate change, and about how I put Eva into this piece, but had considered putting in President Obama. I guess I decided not to use him, so it wouldn't seem so political. Gave Libby a bath today, even though it's such a cold winter. We've had over a month of road work, and she's pretty in need of that bath.

1-21: I found a very long life story of Mandela, "A Long Walk to Immortality," by Anthony Sampson, who was Mandela's biographer. I found it on the web site of the British magazine The Independent, published on Dec 5, the day Mandela died. I decided to write the whole article on my painting. It's long! I hope I can do it. Over the next week, I worried that I'd run out of room to write other things on this piece, but I kept going, using needed space to tell people where to look next, to continue reading Sampson's story of Mandela. I got it done and had room to write about other things.

1-22: It was my son-in-law Michael's birthday, so I wrote about that, in with the SAmpson bio transcribing. I don't like to copy other people's writing, or even my own, but when it's important historical stuff, I do it.

1-25: Finished the Sampson bio of Mandela, which had taken up 9 pages of small type on paper, to tell his amazing life story, from rural village child to the leader of the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa. I still had more room to go, for my own stories. I wrote on the big Peace Pie, about the Geneva II conference about how to bring peace to Syria, after three years of civil war there I wrote about the Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery's story about humanity, even drew said little prince on the piece, as I bought it in 1973, to read to my daughter Gretchen, and thought it would go well on Eva's buddha girl body in this piece. The Little Prince story ran over into Mandela's right arm, since I ran out of room on Eva.

1-27: Wrote about the Polar Vortex 2, our current dip into sub-zero temperatures. Then I wrote on the Pope, putting in all the lyrics to Jackson Browne's song "The Rebel Jesus," as I think this pope would understand that song very well, maybe even sings it to himself sometimes.

1-28: Last night, Pete Seeger died in Manhattan in the hospital. He was born in Manhattan on May 3, 1919 and died at nearly 95, which is how old Mandela was when he died in December. Seeger always had this written on his banjo: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." (His friend Woody Guthrie had this written on his guitar, "This machine kills fascists." I made a lot of Pete Seeger sketches and then drew him and his banjo on the dove the pope is holding in my painting. I wished I had room to add a great big Pete Seeger to this piece, but I can make a piece about him later.

I added more writing about Mandela, in my own words. When he died, he had six children (3 of whom had died before he did), 17 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren. I found out that Mandela had secretly been a Communist, as his enemies had accused him of being. His reasons were because the Communists believed in all people having a sustainable income and rights, and because the Communists were the only white people he met early on, who treated the black South Africans as equals. When he became president of S A in 1994, he felt it was better to have his country be a democracy, as Communism was on the decline in the world.

I wrote about Mandela's life beyond 2004, which is when his biographer Anthony Sampson died. Nelson Mandela, after deciding to only run his country for one term, became an elder statesman in the world, much like Jimmy Carter has done. He was excellent friends with many heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth. He started a group of elder leaders, called The Elders, who meet to discuss world problems and their potential solutions. Mandela received about 250 awards and honors, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with F. W. De Klerk, who was his predecessor as president of S. Africa, who had been his enemy, but who freed Mandela in 1990. Because of Mandela's lack of bitterness, they were able to work together to hold the country together in peace, as it reformed into a democracy after Apartheid, which had begun in 1948.

1-29: I told about Pete Seeger's song Abiyoyo, and how Eva and I watched him tell the story and show the book pages of it, on Reading Rainbow, when I was Eva's nanny in 2005. Seeger saw the giant Abiyoyo as a representation of whatever controls us and keeps us down. The triumph over the giant was achieved by imagination, cooperation, bravery, and music. Seeger based this song on a South African story, as well as he spread the song Awimeweh, a South African song.

I wrote about Heifer International, an amazing world project to give livestock to people in developing countries and teach them good farming and sustainable methods of living. I now know that some of the men in the church I grew up in were involved in the beginning of the Heifer project.

Then I worked on making this painting into a quilt, and got back to airpen writing on it, after sewing it, as now I could write on the border.

2-8: I wrote about books I've been reading: Jeremy Wilson's "Lawrence of Arabia," and Zusak's "The Book Thief." We watched the movie "Hemingway and Gellhorn," with its many scenes of the Spanish Civil War, of which I knew little. The Russian protest band Pussy Riot's two members who'd been in prison for two years were on Stephen Colbert's show this week, and it was amazing to listen to them discuss their experiences and intentions. I sewed my Peace Cozy #60 onto the dove in my painting tonight.

2-9-14 I wrote on Mandela's hands today, using some quotes from him and writing a little of my own commentary on them. I filled in a few places on the piece that could still take some writing.

2-10-14: Sewed on the label on back, did the final heat set (after doing many throughout this project.) I already had spent late night TV time sewing on the rod pockets on back and sewing by hand around the edge of the long border. (Note 2-16-14: I just now realized I never sewed my D-rings onto the back of this piece yet. I like to have them as an alternative way to hang my work, if venues ask the artists to provide rods for hanging. So technically, it's not done yet!)

2-11: My photo shoot and start of making web entries for this piece. Technically it's done. And I should be drawing another tarot card to think about soon!

Toward Barred Island by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade (detail)

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Toward Barred Island by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade (detail)

Bottom left and right: Toward Barred Island (detail) by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade