Monday, June 8, 2009

Matthew and Naomi's Wedding Chuppah

First, the Disclaimer: the color in this picture seems, at least on my monitor, a little off - the border, for instance, looks turquoise on my screen, but it's not, it's more a deep medium blue. Other colors are similarly skewed in the direction of too much yellow. I don't know how to correct it, or I would.

It's been a long time in the making, but Matthew & Naomi's chuppah is finally ready! (Good thing, too, since the wedding is next Sunday, June 14!) As I look at this simple photo of it, it really doesn't look like that big a deal, but what this chuppah really is is a physical repository of all the love and dearly-felt good wishes I hold for Matthew and his bride: it holds the slightly bewildered amazement of a mother that her firstborn child, that glowing round-cheeked baby boy, has grown into this lean, sensitive, funny, creative, brilliant man who has the wisdom to choose for his wife a woman that seems like his perfect counterpart. It is made "with love in every stitch", as we always say in my family, with deep, dear love in every stitch and brushstroke and bead and dye-swath, and with hope and joy, and even with some stabs of pain at other loves that didn't turn out the way I'd planned. This childish assemblage of silk and paint and thread and beads holds it all, as well as my hopes for a future as filled with joy and abiding love as any soul dares to aspire to. No limits: no limits on my love for my son as he has been since the moment I was gifted with him, and no limits on my wishes that he and his beautiful Naomi will make a strong and happy future together. Past, present, future - it's all in there.

OK, enough sap - now for the details. Including the border (which is cropped in this photo), the finished size is around 58" x 76", more or less. The fabric is silk on the face you see here, and cotton on the back. The background (earth, water, sky, and golden sun) is hand-painted with (mostly) Setacolor transparent fabric paint, with occasional touches of shimmer (all right, it's glitter, but don't tell the bride & groom that!). The entire process of painting on silk was new to me, and I spent a lot of time practicing and testing and generally fiddling around, with the result that now I have a big pile of painted silk to cut up and play with in the future and a whole lot of new methods in my arsenal. The scribbly, sketchy grasses along the water and at the base of the tree were added with permanent fabric markers and I think there's a bit of Shiva paintstick in there too. It's hard to see in this picture, but the water has waves done with paintsicks and rubbing plates. And, trust me on this, the whole thing is much more beautiful in person - I'm not just saying that because I made it, but because the luster and play of light on the silk just doesn't carry through very well in pictures. The border is hand-dyed as well, of the same silk/cottonj fabric. I haven't yet attached the beautiful "tzitsit", the fringes that observant Jews have on the corners of their prayer shawls (tallit); they are made, in this case of a very soft ribbon-type yarn, by tying and winding the yarns prescribed number of times in a specific sequence. Often the groom's or an honored relative's tallit has been used as the chuppah or wedding canopy, and my addition of the tzitsit is to honor that tradition.

Inside the "circle of the sun" (a reference, by the way, to a song that my folk-singing friends and I have been trotting out at every birthday and wedding and change of season and any other occasion, momentous or not, for most of my children's lives -Matthew "gets it") stands a Tree of Life, laden with shimmering leaves and fruits. 18 fruits, to be exact (well, if you count each bunch of cherries as 1 fruit), because 18 is an important and lucky number to most Jewish people, including the bride. The leaves & fruits are cut from all different bits of silk & cotton, many of them my own handpainted & printed & stamped fabrics; they are fused with MistyFuse (as is the tree itself), and then hand-embroidered and embellished in whatever ways the spirit moved me or necessity dictated. I tried not to get too carried away in my addition of small beads - as much because I figured the chuppah didn't need any extra weight pulling it earthwards as for artistic reasons.

The Tree has 6 strong roots, as Matthew & Naomi have 6 strong and loving parents (Matthew has 2 "bonus parents", that lucky boy!) Just like life, just like their marriage will, the Tree bears many and varied wonderful fruits - their future children, the work they produce together, their many creative endeavours, the joy they generate, the offspring of their minds and spirits and bodies, are there in those crazy-looking fruits. Along the water's edge on the left-hand side is some Hebrew script, a quote from Proverbs3:18; it says "It shall be a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all who uphold it are happy".

About that Hebrew script: I don't know Hebrew. Hell, I'm not even Jewish! Naomi chose the verse, which is lovely. After a whole lot of internet navigation, I managed to find & order a set of Hebrew alphabet rubber stamps. Just the letters, not a stamp with the words all put together. Got a copy of the Hebrew text (actually, many variations & varieties of the Hebrew text...) Spent many long hours making sure that I selected the right character for each letter, hoping that the final outcome would not end up saying something like "It shall be a pillow of bacon that blows a blue balloon to the jug of vinegar" or anything nonsensical like that - I really hope I did get it right! Check in with me next week to see if I managed to offend anybody! I had great help with this over the phone from my friend Debra, who is Jewish & has recently had 2 kids in Hebrew school; we went over it letter by letter, so I'm fairly confident, but I'd be lying if I said I was 100% sure about it!

To support the canopy, the couple will be using strong wooden poles and weighted bases made by Naomi's grandfather. Both her grandfather and her father enjoyed working with wood, and so the Tree of Life motif seems to suit this wedding well. I feel very proud that my son has chosen so wisely. I am a realist in the sometimes-grubby world of marriage and relationships, but I feel that these two have a far better chance than average of making a long & happy life together - I certainly wish it for them with all my heart, and there's not much more I can do for them than that. And if all else fails, I'm pretty confident that I've managed to impart to my son a sense of the great adventure that life is, with whatever it brings us. Above all, I hope he and my daughters will always know that they have always been and will always be loved beyond all my powers of expression, that their presence in my life has been a gift of pure, undeserved radiance to me; I hope they know that. Beyond that, their lives are their own - they are grown now, and it's up to them to trample out their own pathways!