mother is a verb

 |  September 23, 2011

Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them, You long to comfort all who are desolate.” ~Charlotte Gray

working on something new…

Mother is a verb, not a noun. ~Proverb

I recently started a new collaboration with Danish artist Hanne Matthiesen that I have been working on here and there for the past three weeks. There have been a lot of big changes in the Mills household this month and so it has been a bit tougher to get into the studio as our family adjusts to new schedules. But this photo is a sneak peak into what I have been working on. The overall theme of our two books is “Love”, which on first glance, my first reaction was: -meh-.

But then the wheels in my head started turning and what is something that is most relevant in my life right now? Being a mother, which then led to the theme and title of my book: Mother Love. The structure of the book is based on a book I saw in Making & Keeping Creative Journalswhere the entire book is made out of one sheet of paper. With various folds and cuts, a variation of an accordion book is formed, but it is even more sculptural. The paper that I chose to use is a handmade paper that is so soft, it almost feels like cloth. It is really quite lovely to hold and let the book pages fold into each other.

Now, since all the book pages have two sides to it, I seem to be having a dialogue with myself with both sides. One side is Mother Love, the other side is M(Other) Love. On the one hand- the central mother figure, all loving, all sustaining, the source of life and love. And the other, the self, the woman who needs to also see to her own needs, wants, and self-expression. The conflict between the two…or sometimes the partnership. Probably depending on the day, or the hour at times (there’s a reason there is a time of day called the witching hour)!

Women do not have to sacrifice personhood if they are mothers. They do not have to sacrifice motherhood in order to be persons. Liberation was meant to expand women’s opportunities, not to limit them. The self-esteem that has been found in new pursuits can also be found in mothering. ~Elaine Heffner

This dialogue was not something that I intended from the outset, but something that developed as I worked in my book, and actually in my head, as is often the case during my busy days. But it was actually the structure of the book that lent itself to this dialogue and I’m really happy about that. I’m still developing the pages at this point, like I said a lot of it is still in my head as I haven’t had a ton of time. And to be honest, last studio day I spent a big chunk of it staring, staring, and staring. Yep, it was one of those. Frustrating, but in the end good. I have laid down the foundations on the pages and it is coming together. There is a lot handstitching, as well as machine stitching. Transfers of photographs. Lots of layering of paint, text, images, thread, cloth.

I’m really excited to see what happens as things often change in the execution of the idea. This is a theme that I’ve been wanting to address for a long time. I remember the nights when I would be rocking my daughter in the darkness of her room in the middle of the night, just thinking and imagining 3-dimensional pieces of female forms, womb-like vessels….This book is not what I envisioned during those sleepless nights of rocking and nursing my baby girl, but it is a step towards it. In about a week I will be shipping the book to Hanne and I just know it will go through another transformation that I look forward to seeing.

The art of living is to function in society without doing violence to one’s own needs or to the needs of others. The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children ~Elaine Heffner


  1. by Lianne on September 23, 2011  3:20 am Reply

    Motherhood. It's so complex. I look at my daughter and thank her for teaching me to love unconditionally. I find myself often looking at myself and other mothers and there is a sense of knowing- kinship. But also fear. Some people can be incredibly aggressive about their mothering and even enforce their views on you. So I tend to say that every mother is an expert, but only in their own children. It saddens me when I see women bombarded with instructions and commands and 'you should' rather then suggestions, support and experience. Motherhood is a test in courage and self belief more then anything I feel. It is a mirror to our own beautiful inner strength that we often forget and for that I love it.

  2. by merci33 on September 23, 2011  8:58 am Reply

    Your opening quote "Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children." reminds me of the years and years after relinquishing my infant to the adoption system. Wherever I went, I saw each child of his age as: 'There he is, that's him.' ...and all children became my own child.

    Your book concept, born of rocking and nursing and staring, sounds rich and full of the nurturing that you bring to the world in all that you contribute.

    I look forward to seeing it unfold.

  3. by Kim Hambric on September 23, 2011  9:02 am Reply

    I'm so excited to see what comes of this project. I know that you will pull out what is in your soul and it will be beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful quotes. All so true . . .

  4. by jennifermazzucco on September 23, 2011  9:08 am Reply

    i think all women are mothers regardless of whether they have birthed children... we are all one and all responsible for one another...

  5. by bridgette on September 23, 2011  9:22 am Reply

    Thank you all for your comments and insight. Each one gives me thoughts to ponder while I work on this book.

    Lianne- I love what you wrote about it being like a mirror- of one's strength and courage...but at times also of one's fears and weaknesses. It really forces one to face themselves. And yes, there is a lot of judgement and competition. Which is a shame.

    Donna and Jennifer- I think that what you both said are differnt thoughts, but also intertwined and speak to the same thing- motherhood=sense of humanity, whether one has given birth or not, raised children or not. That's why I also really like the Proverb that I quoted here- Mother is a verb: beyond what a person is or even their gender.

    Kim- thanks so much. I'm excited to see what comes of it and a little nervous too. Working on this leads to a lot of self-reflection and how am I measuring up (and not measuring up) to my own unrealistic expectations of what "Mother" is or should be.

  6. by Jess on September 24, 2011  1:17 pm Reply

    This looks like a wonderful project. Can't wait to see it all done. I just love your thoughts as you put the piece with meaning is so much better than work for pure aesthetics. Love to hear about the story and thoughts behind this one. Thanks for sharing it in progress. xo Jess

  7. by Seth on September 24, 2011  7:20 pm Reply

    I am really fascinated by the structure of the book you are working on. Hanne's work is stunning and I can only imagine how creative this collaboration will be.

  8. by Amanda Pinkston on September 29, 2011  11:38 pm Reply

    Thank you for those beautiful and inspiring words!

  9. by rivergardenstudio on September 30, 2011  10:35 am Reply

    dear Bridgette, this will be a truly beautiful book, I am so intrigued by the process of your thoughts as you create this work filled with love.
    Though I do have more time for art now, il miss those seer mothering moments, the sounds, the smells and that purest love.
    thanks for this beautiful post.

  10. by Denise on October 1, 2011  11:50 am Reply

    How exciting! Both the collaboration with Hanne, as well as the structure and theme of the book interest me greatly.

  11. by on October 10, 2011  8:54 pm Reply

    Saw your work in Somerset's workshop and had to come and see your site - love your work and sounds like a great project coming!

  12. by Musings on Realities on October 26, 2011  9:01 pm Reply

    *love* this post and the color palette that you've used on your page.

    You're an inspiration!

    shannon ganshorn

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