Archive for the ‘About me’ Category

It’s been raining for three days in Milan. As usual, everyone’s fed up…

Rainy Milan

Rainy Milan

This seems to be the “normal” response to rain everywhere — for all but farmers with parched crops.

I, on the other hand, LOVE rain. Really. I’m even sad when it ends. And one of only two defects I see when I think of  moving back to southern California is that it doesn’t rain enough there! (The other is the absence of a public health care system…)

Look out the window. If it’s raining or drizzly, notice the trees.

Greens become so much more saturated in the cloud-filtered light. The infinite shades of green are so much more clearly differentiated. Ah, and the colors of wet stones — who knew there were so many?

During a pause, when brilliant blue sky peeks through dark gray clouds with fluffy white piled above, a magical, glowing light illuminates the wet hills (or buildings in Milan’s case) in the distance… At those moments, my heart opens and aches at the beauty.

I know, I’m weird. I was virtually the only person who enjoyed the Dharamsala monsoon. As most friends escaped to drier places, I reveled in the daily rainfall, the wet stones, the luscious greens, the sky’s shades of gray, and the everchanging play of light. I even put up with the allergies I developed to mildew.

Dharamsala Market. Girls caught in monsoon rains. by Elizeu & Rommey on Picasa

Dharamsala Market. Girls caught in monsoon rains. by Elizeu & Rommey on Picasa

Rainy days are pensive. (I used to say, “melancholy,” but I think I just liked the word.) They turn us inward into the rich, damp soil of our hearts and imaginations. They’re great days for artwork, for handwork… and for sitting by a fire if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace. For now, I’ll just dream of that one.

It took me years to understand that most people don’t appreciate rain the way I do. And that some truly suffer on gray days. Once I realized, I wondered if maybe I should tone down my enjoyment — out of sympathy, compassion…

But what good would that do for anyone? My misery isn’t likely to lift their spirits. Quite the opposite!

My pleasure — if expressed sensitively — may even brighten someone else’s otherwise dreary mood. SO I’m sticking with my joy and hoping that a little bit of it rubs off on you.

Happy rainy day!

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Okay, I’m ready to try again.

My intention is to start a series of posts addressing the questions people ask me about my work.  Some of you may recall that my patience was tested the other day when I wrote my first post in this series — about patience! This time I’m writing offline and saving every few minutes. I’m determined not to repeat the experience!

When people look at my artwork, and particularly after they view the film about my process, they invariably comment on patience. Either they exclaim, “I could never do what you do! I don’t have the patience!” Or they admiringly ask, “Where do you get such amazing patience? It must be your Buddhst practice.”

I suppose it’s natural that they have this reaction, looking at the intricacy of the images which take months to complete…

Not seeing the stitches and thinking they’re smaller than they really are…

When they hear that I wrap horsehair with silk thread — by hand! — they are convinced I must have supernatural levels of tolerance.

The truth is very different.

I’ve thought about this a lot — mostly because it surprised me to be thought patient.

People who know me… well, let’s just say that they generally have a different impression. I would love to be an infinitely patient person, but I often struggle with my impatience, my resistance to how things are (almost always different from how I think they should be). I often don’t take well to being inconvenienced, I’m sorry to say. And as for my Buddhist practice… well, it’s rather undisciplined.

But with my work…  I simply enjoy my work.

Realizing this, I reflected on when patience really comes into play. It has nothing to do with small stitches or long work hours or months to completion. It has to do with resistance… or dislike.  Annoyance or intolerance. We don’t need to be patient with what we like — or with what we don’t even notice, for that matter!

I enjoy the process of creating a silk thangka. I revel in the fabrics, I care for each stitch. Sure, I get impatient when the thread tangles and frustrated when I have to re-do a piece. Just as anyone does when they break a glass or burn some toast.

But generally, I’m happy when I’m working. I like seeing the image come together, even in its slow details. I love when the thread wraps smoothly around the horsehair (more about horsehair in my next post in this series). There’s not much I’d rather be doing. So there’s really no call for patience.

What do you do that seems to require patience but is actually transparently pleasurable to you?

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I’m afraid I have to ask you to be patient… if you’re waiting for the patience post.

As part of my effort to make this blog as useful, informative, fun, and vibrant as possible, I’m taking a 4-week Blog Triage class with Alyson Stanfield and Cynthia Morris. (Click on their names to check out their blogs and see what good role models I’ve chosen!)

The first homework assignment is to describe my audience — who do I want to have reading my blog? In other words, who are you in my imagination and intention?

Well, maybe I have to start with who I am:

I move between being a creative artist (with my own imagery, experimentation with techniques, shows and other events, etc) and a researcher / writer / aspiring “expert” / spokesperson for an underappreciated sacred cultural tradition….

Since the cultural tradition is an expression of Buddhism, it’s also linked to spirituality, philosophy, and personal growth — subjects about which I often have thoughts and questions. And I invite others to question along with me.

And then there’s my life as an international nomad… which seems to fascinate others while exhausting me. Writing positively about this helps ground me and keeps the joy of movement awake in me.

So who are you, my readers, then?

You are:

  • textile artists and color lovers
  • Buddhist practitioners and Asian culture enthusiasts
  • travelers of Tibet and India touched by the art and devotion there

You are also:

  • collectors of Himalayan art interested in contemporary trends
  • collectors of textile art interested in traditional methods and new ways of applying them
  • art lovers ready to commission your first piece.. or your tenth
  • home dwellers who seek to surround yourselves in beauty
  • admirers of finely handcrafted work
  • academics researching Tibetan culture
  • people who enjoy questioning your assumptions, opening new possibilities, looking from new angles, and examining yourselves
  • armchair travelers or adventurers experienced in expat life
  • past and future visitors to the Rubin Museum of Art, the Newark Museum, the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, LACMA, the Pacific Asia Museum, Musée Guimet, and the Tibet House and other Himalayan art collections

You live all over the world. You are curious, inquisitive, and responsive. And you just LOVE to engage in conversation about beauty, growth, art, craft, fabrics, thangkas, colors, creativity, possibilities, practices for awakening, … and Tibetan art history. (Hint, hint. That means you make comments. See the comments link below? Yes, right there. That’s it.)

You’re creative, courageous, and interesting… and I just love talking with you!

Don’t see yourself here? Tell me then. Who are you?

Thank you for being part of my community.

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View from my window this morning

View from my window this morning... and I'm supposed to fly to California tomorrow!

At Alyson Stanfield’s suggestion, I’ve taken some time to review my accomplishments of this past year. Alyson referred to activities related to one’s art career but I’ve thrown in a few others too, just ‘cuz it makes me feel good to recognize them. Try this for yourself. If you’ve had a year of struggle, it might help you to shift your focus and realize the many ways you’ve come through.

In no particular order, here are some things I’m happy to have done in 2008:

  • I started this blog!
  • I wrote an article about the silk thangka tradition and posted it on Squidoo.
  • I made prints available on demand at Fine Art America and finally sold a few last month.
  • I joined various online arts communities.
  • I participated in local Milan activities with the Professional Women’s Association, Democrats Abroad, a reading group at Libreria Melting Pot, and the Comunita’ Dzogchen.
  • I showed a thangka and sold postcards at HH the Dalai Lama‘s teachings in Nottingham, England.
  • The Centro Mindfulness Project hosted a solo exhibition of my artwork!
  • Barbara Cornell wrote a review of my exhibition and film, and Reuters published it!
  • I took Christine Kane‘s e-seminar and signed up for her Unstoppable Power of Intention retreat!
  • I was invited to give a talk at the University of Bologna next spring.
  • I learned machine quilting and got a sewing machine!
  • I experimented with dyeing my silk… lots more work to do…
  • I took a mixed media e-course at Joggles, taught by Alma Stoller, and made this.
  • Then I started offering my own e-Lessons on making silk thangkas!
  • I took a workshop with Cherilyn Martin at Creative Days Ticino in Cadro.
  • I inquired about PhD programs and may begin an MA in the History of Asian Art next fall.
  • I took the GRE and did about as well at 48 as I did at 24.
  • I participated in group exhibitions in Italy and the US (Acqui Terme (end of 2007), Rocca Brivio, PatchMed, New Fibers).
  • Three Mongolians was juried into the New Fibers exhibition of the Fiber Arts Network in Michigan.
  • I taught English at the British Institutes in Milan and enjoyed it!
  • We elected Barack Obama as president!
  • I started learning to play golf.
  • I did two lake swims — one 1.5 kilometers and the other 1.2!
  • I got counseling.
  • I got Rolfed!
  • (Except for the last two months when things got a bit too crazy) I meditated and worked out regularly.
  • I recognized when circumstances were beyond my control.
  • I opened my heart to family and friends,
  • and I got happy again!
  • I finished two new-style artworks (Nomad Girls, which I still have to post, and Chenrezig) as well as a traditional thangka (Green Tara).
  • The documentary film, Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost was released in Wisconsin!
  • With help from Cecilia Mari and Roberto Ciscato, I subtitled the film in Italian and showed it in Milan!

Whew! All in all, it seems there’s quite a lot to celebrate. Let me know what you’re celebrating.

And here’s to creating a great 2009!

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Endangered Tibetan art form

blossoms in Italy

Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:42am EST


By Barbara Cornell

MILAN (Reuters Life!) – She left for Dharamsala, India, as an economic and community development volunteer and emerged nearly nine years later as master of a rare Tibetan art form, the fabric Thangka.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo painstakingly transforms horse hair, fine silk thread, colorful Indian silk fabrics and luscious brocades into traditional depictions of Tibetan Buddhas. A single work takes four months to a year-and-a-half to complete.

Four of her traditional Buddhas and two Tibetan-inspired modern textile pieces are on display in Milan until December 19 at the show “Silk Mosaics: Sacred Images and Techniques from Tibetan Tradition.” Showings can be arranged through January 4.

Rinchen-Wongmo is also the subject of “Creating Buddhas,” a documentary released this fall that will be shown January 18 at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, Calif., which hosted a large exhibition of her work in 2002.

“I never decided to do this,” she said at the Centro Mindfulness Project in Milan, where her work is on display. “When I saw it, it just took me.”

She first saw a crafts center producing fabric Thangkas while touring Dharamsala as part of an economic development team. The intricate, richly colored Buddha tapestries are used in ritual spaces like altars and temples but are so rare that even many Tibetans have never seen one.

Through persistence and luck, perhaps fate, she was allowed to train with a Tibetan master, perfecting delicate stitches amid swarming flies drawn by the raw meat juice smeared on the silk to stiffen it. She now uses a cellulose and acrylic mixture.

She spent a year just learning to embroider eyes.

Sixteen years after that first encounter, Rinchen-Wongmo, 48, is now one of a handful of women fabric Thangka masters and one of the few masters outside Asia. Married to an Italian, the California-born artist lives in Milan and Los Angeles.

She begins by making a drawing in traditional proportions to prepare a template for her bits of cloth. She gives contour to fabric shapes by appliqueing round threads made from three strands of horsehair wrapped in fine silken thread. She sews the shapes together and finishes with a brocade frame.

Rinchen-Wongmo, who uses a Tibetan name meaning “precious, empowered woman,” works on commission so rarely assembles her far-flung Thangkas into a show. Eleven appear on her website, www.silkthangka.com. For exhibition details, visit “Exhibition in Milan” on her blog: stitchingbuddha.wordpress.com.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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▸ noun:  generosity evidenced by a willingness to give freely
▸ noun:  the property of copious abundance
▸ noun:  something given generously

▸ adjective:  producing in abundance (“The bountiful earth”)
▸ adjective:  given or giving freely (“Bountiful compliments”)
▸ adjective:  ample abundant

As Forrest Gump said, Life is like a box of chocolates...

As Forrest Gump said, "Life is like a box of chocolates..."

December is word-of-the-year month on Christine Kane’s blog. Guest bloggers are writing about their experiences with their word for 2008. I thought I’d take the occasion to introduce my word for 2009: BOUNTY.

You can read about the word-of-the-year here.

It’s a kind of cleaner, deeper, intention-oriented twist on New Year’s resolutions. Setting an intention for who we want to BE during the year rather than assigning ourselves a to-do list.

This word came to mind a few months ago while I was setting my intention for Christine’s e-seminar. It felt right then and it feels right now, as the word to accompany me through the coming year. Already it’s helped me to emerge from the constricted place I’d somehow fallen into. Over the last few months, my horizons have expanded. A sense of possibility and strength has opened up in me.

Partly, I just like the sound of this word, BOUNTY, and the fact that it’s not a commonly used word. First, the adjective, “bountiful,” came to me. But I find the noun more powerful as an intention. It serves as a beacon, a guiding light, rather than any kind of admonition or a quality that I’m supposed to develop or adhere to.

“Abundance,” a more common word, doesn’t feel as rich and full to me.

For me, BOUNTY takes abundance in every direction — to having, enjoying, receiving, producing, providing…

There’s the bounty the world provides me and the bounty I offer to others. And there’s simply the bountiful nature of life and being.

Taking this word as my companion for 2009, I intend to expand my appreciation for the riches my life presents every day AND to expand my capacity to give abundantly, with no sense of scarcity or risk of running out. Recognizing the bounty of my life inspires gratitude for everything that has been “given” to me so generously. Making choices from a place of bounty rather than scarcity may bring a new freedom.

I could easily have chosen “clarity” as my word for 2009, because a lack of clarity has characterized my last few years. I’ve faced and am still facing big unanswered questions like “where will I live (and even on which continent)?”, “what will I do (with my life)?” “where is my relationship going?” It seems like every aspect of my life has been called into question and there’s no stable base anywhere on which to prop the other pieces. I’m yearning for clarity.

Still, as I sit with all this uncertainty and indecision, it seems that underlying the whole mess has been a tendency toward black-and-white thinking — this or that, here or there, time running out, time wasted, wrong choices made, doors closed…

I’ve had trouble making decisions. I’ve felt stuck, tentative, like I couldn’t move until some choice was made. There was only one right way and my job was to find or identify it. But I didn’t feel capable.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I’d created a false problem. Who said I had to choose a or b, to do this or that, to live here or there, to get what I want or feel miserable? BOUNTY helps me to break out of these illusory walls. I have so many riches, so much joy, plenty of possibility. And no matter what choices I make, that abundance remains. I can’t screw it up. I don’t have to be afraid. If one person won’t accept my kindness, there are millions of others to give it to. If one decision leads to trouble, I’ll make another.

In 2008, I began to expand again, to allow, to open up to the possibility of things looking completely different from how I’d planned. And it’s bought me to the place of intending BOUNTY in every sphere for 2009. In the space of abundance, in the space of all that IS rather than the space of either/or, “clarity” as I’ve imagined it may become irrelevant. We’ll see… I look forward to the great bounty of 2009 with my arms and eyes wide open.

Have a bountiful day!

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I’ve always lived somehow in two worlds, with one foot in each. In college, I did a double major (women’s studies and environmental design). In grad school, I pursued concurrent degrees, in management and in urban planning. I lived for years in India but always kept a presence in my native California as well. And now I divide my time between the same California and Milan, Italy where my husband, two cats, and two stepchildren live.

I’m a textile artist… or am I a craftsperson? I never know whether to call myself Freilich, my legal surname, or Rinchen-Wongmo, my Tibetan and “artistic” name.

I’m a contemporary western fiber artist trained in an ancient and sacred Asian tradition. This blog will explore Tibetan (or Buddhist) Art and Textile (or Fiber) Art. (See, even in identifying each of my two parts, I need two labels… Am I a bridge or am I just indecisive?)

Maybe I just need a warp and a weft to make sense of things. I’m not a weaver, though. Not yet, at least. I just work with woven materials. Silks, mostly. Brocades and satins. And I stitch pieces together, by hand, to form images — sacred buddhist images and, more recently, images of real people in the Buddhist sphere of influence.

This blog is about these two: Tibetan/Buddhist Art and Textile/Fiber Art.

The truth is I know very little about either, but I am intimately involved in one particular intersection between the two: pieced silk thangkas, as I like to call them, or appliqué thangkas, as they’re more widely known.

Having completed a four-year apprenticeship with Tibetan artists in India and having made these thangkas my life’s work for the last 15 years, I’m one of very few people in the world familiar with this particular intersection.

Since I also happen to be relatively computer literate, I’ve decided to try my hand at blogging. I’ll endeavor to shine some light on my little street corner, my intersection between textile and Tibetan art, and to take you along with me as I venture sometimes down one road (exploring the origins, significance, and forms of Tibetan art and stitchery) and sometimes down the other (experimenting with new ways to express my vision in cloth).

And where better to start than on an airplane, flying between my two homes? We’re somewhere over Greenland now, flying west from Italy to California…

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