What Sensory Memories Inspire You?

There are times that I’m amazed at how my memories are impacted by my senses, especially my sense of smell. There’s the smell of Choward’s Violet Mints (Don’t let the name fool you, they’re not minty at all). I can remember being a kid and munching on these sweet purple sugar tablets. Oh yes and the taste. Nothing else like it. I have a pack on my desk right now, just for memory sake.

oil cansIn high school, I remember getting up early and standing on the Cicero exit off-ramp of the Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway in Chicago collecting money for a variety of different charities. It was part of what we did for marching band. As odd as it sounds, the smell of catalytic converters working in cold weather is strongly associated with these charitable teenage excursions. I can’t think of one without thinking of the other.

Another smell memory I have is of petroleum in my dad’s work space in the garage. In particular, I remember the smell of the oil in his rusty old oil cans. I’ve found that people under thirty don’t have connections with these oddly shaped lubrication devices. Back in the day when machine gears were made from metal, not plastic, everyone had oil cans in their homes. Are you old enough to remember?

I have strong memories of Dad’s popper cans greasy with oil.  The sweet smell of petroleum. And the sound and feel of the can, reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man; th-thunk, th-thunk. I remember going into the garage and popping the cans, just to hear the sound and feel the gentle pop. Strong memories.

Oilcans2A few years ago, I went to a thresher’s reunion and found a tray of oil cans at the flea market there. I was flooded with memories and I’ve been fascinated with these cans ever since. I rendered the oil can photo into a prismacolor drawing and then into fiber art. There has been 3 different versions of this quilt, but the one pictured here is my favorite. The border fabric (Grunge, designed by Basic Grey for Moda Fabrics) reminds me of an oily rag, (another necessity in the garage).

I guess being an artist lets me look at the world a little different. I draw on my memories  to bring emotion into my work and I rely on photographs to capture the inspirations that guide me to create. What sensory memories inspire you?


It is a great pleasure to have “Oil Cans” be part of the PAQA-South 2014 Member’s Exhibit ARTQUILTSfreezeframe, a photo-inspired art quilt exhibit that allows the viewer to compare the inspiration photos and resulting art quilts side-by-side.

September 26, 2013 – Exhibit opens
September 27, 2013 6-8pm – Artist Reception
October 20, 2013 – Exhibit closes
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, NC 27513


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