Stitching with Steel: A Chat with Kristine Mays

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Episode Summary

Kristine Mays is a sculptor, artist, and visionary who tells vast and powerful stories of our ancestors. She shapes metal pieces, building permanent, touchable shadows that look like they’ve been forecasted from the past to be and resonate in our present. Her most recent installation, Rich Soil, is placed directly in an organic garden environment. Her art is powerful, beautiful, and incredibly resonant. Even though she is not a sewer or quilter, we’re incredibly lucky to have her on the Stitch Please podcast to share her story of being a self-taught artist, providing opportunities for reflection through her art, and how the medium of art can connect us to our ancestors. Tune in to this episode and listen as Kristine shares her thoughts on art as a powerful tool that honors our history, exploring the parameters around God, the importance of art and critical thinking, and crafting through the lens of Black Women’s Liberation and Black feminism.

Episode Notes

Kristine Mays website, instagram, facebook

Eldridge Cleaver, writer and political activist

”Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it.” –James Baldwin

Lisa shared her exploration of “Forecrafting:” using one’s limited resources to craft something that will save and preserve your future- whether you’re there to see it or not. inspired by Joshebed, biblical Moses’ mother, and fueled by Sally Hemmings, an enslaved Black girl (she gave birth to her first child by Thomas Jefferson at 14) and woman (half-sister to Jefferson’s wife) who “negotiated extraordinary privileges” with  Jefferson  for the eventual freedom of her children by him.

Cecile Lewis, teacher, natural dyer, quilter, and artist

Lisa mentions Kristine’s show “The Black Woman is God: Divine Revolution”

Kristine’s upcoming installation can be experienced at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, during the Orchid Daze February 12-April 10, 2022

BlackWomenStitch Instagram, homepage, Patreon

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork 0:10

Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. And as I say every single week, this is a very special episode. Because we are speaking today with Kristine Mays, a sculptor, artist, visionary - in my mind, someone who was communicating with the ancestors, and helping to narrate and tell their stories in ways that are so powerful. And so Kristine, welcome to the program. And thank you for being here.

Kristine Mays 1:13

Thank you. This is really fun. I'm excited to be here.

Lisa Woolfork 1:17

I'm just delighted. And so, you all know this is a stitching podcast, it's a sewing podcast where we center Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. Now, Christine is not a sewist or a quilter. However, she does what I consider to be stitching with steel. Because when you look - I don't know if her equipment is steel, it might not be steel.

Kristine Mays 1:40

It is.

Lisa Woolfork 1:41

Y'all know I'm not into the sciences and stuff. I'm much more of an arts person. So I don't know, it could be copper, it could be aluminum. I don't know what she uses, we're going to ask her. But the idea of her shaping these metal pieces in strands, and building what looks to me like permanent, touchable shadows that had been forecasted from the past to be and resonate in our present. And she creates these installations. And the most recent one, which will be closing in January of 2022, Rich Soil, is placed in an organic garden environment. And she has worked now at a MARTA station in Atlanta. Like, the work is so powerful and beautiful and resonant. And so, I am so glad to have you here, Kristine, and welcome.

Kristine Mays 2:32

Well, thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Lisa Woolfork 2:36

I am too. So can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started? I read that you are a self-taught artist in some of your mediums. Can you talk a bit about how you got started and how you fell in love with this type of art?

Kristine Mays 2:49

Well, I'm definitely self-taught. I have always been a kid that liked to make things and experiment and really explore anything that was creative. And so, I've worked in a variety of mediums over the years. From drawing to - as a kid, I remember I made lots of hand puppets out of old socks. I would try to figure out like which socks to take and make puppets out of them. And so anyway, at some point in time, I was busy working with beaded jewelry, and making dangly glass earrings. Like, you know, earrings with glass beads. And I really got off into that, you know, I was searching out different bead stores to find just what I wanted for it. And at that point, I found the wire. It was actually in a bead store.

Lisa Woolfork 3:45

Oh my.

Kristine Mays 3:47

Yeah, so I bought the spool of wire with the idea of incorporating beads into it, making, like, candleholders, and I found that I really liked the feel of it. I liked the idea of like, actually shaping something from nothing with my hands.

Lisa Woolfork 4:06

Yes.

Kristine Mays 4:07

So I found myself daydreaming about what it would be like to freeze-frame a moment in time. So I decided to play with the wire. I mean, because at that point I had been sketching. And you know, even though I enjoyed that, and then I enjoyed, like, the aspect of making shadows on paper, it just was so flat. So I started experimenting with the wire. That was about 20 - a little over 25 years ago at this point. I found a way that's my own technique of looping and overlapping pieces of wire and connecting them together. And I do that with needle nose pliers, and I use these big five-pound spools of wire that I just pull, you know, strands of wire and cut as I need it. And so it's all very intuitive in terms of, like, what pieces, the length of the pieces, and everything like that. And it's the tension that holds it together. So I went from, you know, from experimenting what was, you know, a daydream and an experiment, has turned into what I do as my life's work now.

Lisa Woolfork 5:17

I believe that you have set us already on a great path for this conversation in just two sentences. One sentence you said was that you were interested in learning how to freeze-frame a moment in time.

Kristine Mays 5:29

Right.

Lisa Woolfork 5:30

And then you said, it is the tension that holds it together. And I feel like both of these things are both symbols, as well as a guiding principle. At least I see as a viewer, as someone who is looking at the art, someone who is appreciating the work, I'm so interested in the way that you think about the tension that holds it together. Because for me, one of the things that I see in your work is that ancestral communication, is that desire to remind people of what came before and how it got there. And this notion of the tension between the pull of the past and the present, of who gets to write history, and who gets to be erased from history; who gets to tell a particular story, and whose version of it gets to matter the most. And when we think about all these different tensions as grappling, as battles over the past or with the past, I love how you have like, stepped aside from what could be considered a historical, you know, tension among historians or whatever, to instead think about who actually matters. And who is worthy of elevation and recognition. And to me, I hear the answer to that question being the ancestors. And I spent a lot of time, just recently, I was taking Kiki Petrosino's book called White Blood where she tries to go back to the archives in Virginia and find her enslaved relatives' lot, just to learn more about their lives. But then they're not in the archives. Right? Lucille Clifton, the poet, does something very similar, right? They're not in the archives. So what do you do then? It's like you do a bit of what Saidiya Hartman does when she talks about critical fabulation, you start to kind of - you imagine, you invest, you provide opportunities for reflection. And what I sometimes see in your sculptures is what Toni Morrison describes in Beloved. She talks about remembering that the past is still there, just waiting to be uncovered. And it seems to me like your sculptures are that.

Kristine Mays 7:56

Wow.

Lisa Woolfork 7:57

That's what I see. Don't you think so?

Kristine Mays 8:00

I do. But it's, um, first of all, I just want to say thank you for your perspective on all of it. Because for me, I'm divinely led into this. And this is the first time I've actually verbalized that. But I'm divinely led into this in a way that I don't know. I'm moving with the direction that I feel like I'm told to go. But I don't see the big picture until it's out there. And someone says, Hey, did you notice that or did you notice that? So there's truth in everything you said. It's just that I haven't heard it in that nutshell. You know, even though that's a feeble way of presenting what you just said, because it's very powerful.

Lisa Woolfork 8:47

Well, your work is so powerful, it absolutely is. It is just the way that you balance using metal to create something that looks like it was made of air. When I look at the pieces, they are so light, they're so aerated, almost like you can see the different pixels or different components, that the structure - and that goes back to the tension, right, the idea of having like a five-pound, you know, spool of wire that ends up making something that's larger and more expansive, but also telling a story, you know? Inviting us to witness and to shape and to claim. It really is quite stunning. I was wondering about the line of work that you did with the crowns. Some of them were tall, some were - they were fantastic. Can you talk a bit about that as an accessory? Did the crowns come in after you were doing the beaded jewelry or thinking about the beading? Like, how did the crowns manifest for your vision?

Kristine Mays 9:51

The crowns came about a few years ago. Actually now I think it's been like 10 years ago, I made the first crowns. First of all, I just want to say the beaded jewelry? As soon as I found the wire, the beaded jewelry was gone. Like, any idea of making more jewelry was put to the side.

Lisa Woolfork 10:11

Like, "Who needs beads when you got wire! That's all I need!"

Kristine Mays 10:17

As any kind of thing, like, Oh, I'm working on jewelry - that was all put to the side. The crowns were made, it was, like, during a period of time where we were in some, you know, one of our recessions that we had as a country, and lots of the arts community, a lot of artists were freaking out. And they were like, you know, what are we going to do our sales are down, blah, blah, blah. At some point, I thought, well, this would be the time to play, because you can't really lose at this point. Because you know, even if you're making work that you would normally sell, it's not selling, so why not take this time to experiment? And so there were all these people that kept saying, like, Oh, I wish I could wear your work, I wish there was some way to put it on. And so I made a whole - I presented a show that was all, you know, around the idea of play. So I made crowns, and I made, um, there was a men's tie that people could put on. And then there were these collars that I did. And, um, and so I think there was like 12 to 15 pieces, and I just let people try them on. And it seemed like the crowns were just the most impactful out of the whole grouping of work that I showed. And I realized, like there was a transformation taking place as people tried the crowns on. I did that one time, and then I kind of just boxed them up. And then, you know, maybe five years later, I brought them back out. And I paired them with the show that was - the show in and of itself was like slices of Civil Rights history. And so it kind of ended, like, you would circle around the room, and it ended with the crowns. And there was a quote by Eldridge Cleaver that talked about like the world being in ruins, but put on your crown, and let's rebuild. And I kept thinking like, we all have, like, that ability to transform the world. It's just that most people don't step into it. And so wearing the crown was like the invitation to step into that.

Lisa Woolfork 12:36

It is the invitation that I find consistently through your work that is so bold and so powerful and restorative, at least for me, as a Black woman who was looking at and appreciating and consuming your work, as someone who was engaging with it this way. It feels like when you were talking about the crown and thinking about Eldridge Cleaver, I was thinking about James Baldwin and I believe...I know I'm going to botch it. But one of his earlier works, where he's talking about - it's fiction, one of his fiction works. And he's saying that your crown has been bought and paid for. All you need to do is pick it up and put it on.

Kristine Mays 13:19

Right.

Lisa Woolfork 13:20

And there's something about this legacy, the legacy that has come to Black folks as a result of our time in this country; result of the legacy of our ancestors who came before us to leave us in this place now, that the cumulative effect of that can be activated through your work. But what you're describing is how people, you know, this transformation, you could take the crown and put it on your head, and it does something. And it's not about reproducing imperial power, it's not about going to colonize somebody or reproducing kingdoms and queendoms. It's about, instead, honoring sacrifices and recognizing that to be your whole total complete and full Black self is also something to praise and celebrate. You know? And that's the thing that I find so different about the way that your crowns work, as opposed to some other types that kind of reproduce that same sort of royalty, et cetera, et cetera. That it becomes an individual fulfillment and connection to a legacy, rather than I'm going to be the boss and, you know, and do these harmful things that happen all the time through monarchies. Right?

Kristine Mays 14:47

Right. Or becomes like an ego thing of, like, Look at me, I'm a king or I'm a queen, you know. Whereas this is more of like, an invitation to move collectively.

Lisa Woolfork 14:59

Yes. To move collectively. And it returns again to the tension, right? The tension between individual and group, between collective responsibility and individual freedom. It's a false binary, right? That's not a real thing. No one is like: "Today, I'm an individual. And I care nothing about people." It's false. It's not even that useful. But what I do love about what you've done is, to me, the freeze-frame moment in time: that it's almost like you're watching a TV show, and you press pause, and everybody freezes. Like, that's what your pieces in Rich Soil look like, but with the deep, deep historical past. And so what I'm reminded of, at least from my own work, in my own interests, I'm working on a theory right now called "forecrafting." Like forecasting. And it involves a creative practice where one builds something to leave for someone else to find, to encounter. Right? And that I'm going to leave this for you, and when you do, it's going to open up all of these possibilities. And so my first inspiration was Moses' mother, Jochebed, in the Bible. And so she has to put - she has to kind of send him away in order to save him, right? And so she's weaving this basket, you know, reed by reed by reed, you know, praying that what she's doing and building will be sufficient to save her child, even as she is losing him. And then it works out. The baby gets picked up by Pharaoh's daughter and, you know, the rest is history. Right. The next one I was thinking about in a more recent context was Sally Hemings. And because I work at UVA, and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia - Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved girl, Sally Hemings, who was a toddler when they met. Like, I know. Disgusting. I know. I wrote a piece in The Washington Post called "Thomas Jefferson is the R. Kelly of American Enlightenment."

Kristine Mays 17:04

Oh, wow.

Lisa Woolfork 17:07

When she was pregnant, he was 41 and she was 14. That's his wife's half sister. So when she died, she came as a wedding present. Also, her mother was the concubine of Jefferson's wife's father. So that's why they were related. So, just horrible. It is horrible. It is horrible. One of the things about Sally Hemings that I've been thinking a lot about is the way that even as a 14-year-old, she decided to return to Virginia from Paris. She was in Paris, free, but she decided to return. But before doing so she extracted a promise from Jefferson, that he would liberate any children they had together. And he did. Of the like, eight people who ended up being freed after his death, or freed over the course of his lifetime, the kids were a bulk of that.

Kristine Mays 18:01

Wow.

Lisa Woolfork 18:02

Yeah. And the thing that I take from it is that part of her job as a seamstress, part of her job is someone who did sewing on the property, this idea of using your - whatever resources you have to craft something that is going to save and preserve your future Even if you weren't there to see it. And that's what I see when I look at your pieces. I absolutely see that materialization. The fulfillment of a promise. And a reminder, this invitation to remember, that is so, so unique, so rich, so generous, and generative. So that was again, another thing, okay. This whole interview's just me telling you how awesome you are. I hope it's not awkward, because that's all I got. [laughs]

Kristine Mays 18:55

I'm taking it all in, I feel like I'll probably have to re-listen just to gain insight on my own work. "Oh, that's true. Okay." I do find myself thinking about the materials in the sense that it's a heavy steel wire that, you know, is generally used - it's a rebar tie. So it's generally used for like, you know, they drill these pieces of wire into the - I don't know what the processes of how they do it, but it's pretty much laid into foundations. So before they pour the concrete over it, they have all these wires going through it just to secure the foundation of something. And so I'm just using it as the raw materials. The wire is also used to mend fences and, you know, used in a lot of different ways for, like, mending things. So I know that there's longevity there. Like the, you know, when I read up on the actual materials, they say it lasts, like, 75-plus years. So my thought has been - particularly as I get older, it's been that I want to create something to leave behind, like, that will last beyond my years here.

Lisa Woolfork 20:21

Yes.

Kristine Mays 20:22

So that's the hope.

Lisa Woolfork 20:22

I understand that that's the hope. And it seems to me that it is a vision that you've been able to put into action. Because if we think about it, the question of mending. It ties me back to the idea of stitching, and I was saying I wanted to share, I'm going to read a quote, y'all, from Cecile Lewis, who talks about the vitality of stitching. What she thinks about it, I'd love to hear what you think on this, Kristine. She says, "The stitch is a human invention that binds us. It is an old, expressive and universally understood language. The stitch is ubiquitous in its application. It mends tattered garments and surgical incisions. It holds together the precious elements of haute couture, as well as the blocks of a quilt that welcomes a new baby. The stitch closes the winding sheet. Humans have employed stitches throughout history. The stitch is made with a thread that encircles the globe. It travels through continents, cultures and eras." And then she says, "I am just another hand that touches this long, long thread." And even though the material you are using isn't a thread like a cotton thread, or a rayon thread, or a wool thread, it is a metal spool of wire that you are using to hold together something very much like what a stitch would do. And when you say the tension holds it together, that's what holds a stitch together as well in the sewing machine. Your bobbin loses tension, your seam is jacked up. It is not going to hold it. So can you talk a bit about your thoughts, if you have anything on this quote that I just read, about the idea of - thinking about the connections this way around the materials. That's what I felt when you were saying you were like, you know, this is rebar that they pour into the base of buildings so that the buildings don't crumble under their weight. And then for me, this might sound, I don't know, woo-woo maybe, I don't know. Well, it's not woo-woo, it's history. The blood of our ancestors is in this earth. The blood of our ancestors are in spaces all around this country. Those with historical markers and those without. If we imagine that as also something that is anchored and rooted in place, it seems like that makes your work for me that much more meaningful, that much more expansive. Because it's like, the rebar becomes an analogy for that which is essential, yet not visible.

Kristine Mays 23:03

Something you just said sort of touched on, like, the major idea around Rich Soil. I mean, Rich Soil is about the ancestors like rising up out of the ground, and rejoicing and dancing now that they're free. Like, that they're really free. You know? There is something about this idea of stitching. There's like an intentionality about it that you have when you're sewing something together. A few years back, there was a woman that said to me, she was looking at the work and she said, Oh, it's like you're putting people where they - cause we were talking about gentrification. And I was saying something about my sculptures, how I really wanted - at the time, I said, I really want them to be in more public places, because I feel like art is not a luxury and everyone should have access to it. And so then she said, Oh, so essentially, you're putting people where people are being pushed out of, like, you're physically putting them back into these places. And, um, I hadn't thought of it that way until she said that. And, you know, now at this point, um, the show has been in two spaces now, where, you know, in general, there's not much of a Black population. Rich Soil is in DC right now, but the location, the physical location of Hillwood Museum Estates Gardens is a place where they haven't had much of a diverse audience, you know. So even though it's in DC, a lot of Black people in DC have never been to that place.

Lisa Woolfork 24:51

Wow. So it's like what you do, it's like a degentrification action.

Kristine Mays 24:55

Yeah. Or even like, you know, someone said, like, Thanks for decolonizing this place. And I was like, oh, okay. I kind of just have to move forward with, you know, like I said earlier - I'm moving without awareness of the bigger picture.

Lisa Woolfork 25:10

Right. That's right. And I think this was something that you could move forward, I would imagine, I can't tell anyone how to feel. But I can imagine just the energy that it creates, that the energy required to produce and to create what you do and how you do just feels immense. And that, as you are moving through these pieces, of course, you don't know how it's all going to turn out at the end, because it seems like the process is the project. It's about, like, building as you're moving forward. But the thing about art is that it is capacious. There's so much room for so many interpretations. But what I find about your pieces that are always a certainty, is its investment in a certain type of love for Black people, a certain type of demand for recognition of our past as a site worthy of celebration, honor and memory. And those are the things that I really find so just inviting about your work. When you were talking about being located where the show will be until January 2022, it's like, it's a story that's happening all over America, right? Where Black neighborhoods, Black people, get replaced with Black Lives Matter signs.

Kristine Mays 26:31

Right.

Lisa Woolfork 26:32

You'll have like an all-Black neighborhood, formerly - the Black folks get driven out by, you know, subtle or overt forms of aggressive gentrification. And then it's like, Oh, but we love diversity. Here's a lawn sign. You know? That is such a dangerous practice, because it becomes naturalized as if this is how things are supposed to be, when it's not. And your work is such a great reminder, a great reminder of that.

Kristine Mays 27:04

Well, thank you. When I was putting together the show at Hillwood, we talked about it. I told them what the origins were of the concept of the show. And yet, you know, once again, we come back to tension there. There was tension around it. They were trying to diversify their audience while at the same time not alienate their present audience. I didn't know that. I just knew that they contacted me and said, Can you bring your work here? So you know, I'm like, this is about honoring the ancestors. And then they were like, Oh, our founder loved dance. She loved dance. And I'm like...Yeah, they're dancers, but they're the ancestors. So it was all of this back and forth, where it was, like, at one point, I was a little beside myself, thinking like, did I, you know, doubting and going, should I have taken this on? Because I don't know if my message will be lost in the shuffle. But then I realized, like, their manner of going about it was - some of the people knew what the real deal was. But it was just a weird thing, like, this weird matrix of communication going on where I was, like, I don't know if they get what I'm really doing here. And then, um, you know, as it turned out, they did. They did understand where we were going with it, but it was just very strange. And at some point, we had a meeting, and they said, We're doing a land acknowledgement. And so they had gone into the research to find out, you know, the native peoples who had been on that land. But then, in our followup meeting, they said, Oh, we revised the land acknowledgement. And so I was kind of like, Okay, like, where are we going with this? They had done more research, and they said, We'd also like to acknowledge the Pierce family and the Erwin family. Families who inhabited or who owned slaves. They said they wanted to acknowledge the fact that there had been, you know, enslaved people on these lands. And so, you know, I sat in the meeting, and I was basically like, trying not to cry, listening to this acknowledgement. And then when I hung up the call, I really had this response that lasted like three days of tears, because at that point, I realized just how important it was for me in a way that I had not realized before, because I was just busy trying to make work, do everything else.

Lisa Woolfork 29:47

That's required to make great art. Do you attribute any part of your response to the revised land acknowledgments, also acknowledge the enslaved ancestors on that property - do you attribute any of that response to the way you feel divinely led to do your work? Like, what was the connection that made that response so overwhelming for you?

Kristine Mays 30:12

I do think so. In general, I've always been like someone that has rooted for the underdog. And it's been interesting watching - there's a couple of different things that have been going on. And if any artist ever said, like, their art is not connected to their life, they're just not aware, or that's a lie. So a few years ago, I had some really difficult health issues. I had like a hernia that ruptured, and I went in the hospital for it. And basically it just kicked off, you know, what should have been like a normal procedure went astray. And there was like, numerous complications and I almost died during that time. Like, I spent 21 days in the ICU. This is strange to even say, I didn't imagine speaking about this in a public setting. But I did have a moment where things were like very touch and go, and they were like, We don't know if she's going to live, you know, past, like, the next 12 to 24 hours. But during those few days, like the days leading up to that point, in the days after, there were like, lots of very supernatural things going on. Like, I felt like the veil was very thin. And at one point, my mom and my sister were there, but there was a third woman there in the room. And I kept trying to figure out like, Who is this? Like, who was sitting at the bed next to me? And later on, I talked to my mom about, like - I didn't say anything at the time. But later on I asked her about it. Because the same woman came back, like, that night. She tried to like comfort me and like, tried to climb in the bed. And I was like, No, you can't get in here, you know. And I was like...

Lisa Woolfork 32:16

"This is a single bed! It's a single bed!"

Kristine Mays 32:19

Yeah, and I was like, you can't fit in here, like, no. And it was very real, like the conversation felt very real. I found out it was my mom's grandmother. You know, I just described the woman to her. I said, like, What did your grandma look like? Because I never met her. And she died when my mother was like, 12, or, you know, something like that. You know, I feel like at that point, things really shifted for my work. I mean, I had been moving into speaking to bigger issues about Black people. But prior to that, I did a lot of sort of couture-looking dresses. And it was more about like, just making beautiful pieces. And the fact that I could fashion, you know, wire into these, you know, elaborate dresses was more like my little thrill of like, Oh, I could do this. And then after all this happened, I kind of was like, something snapped in me like, whoa, you know, this could be gone in a minute. Like, there was a feeling of like, I really need to get to do what I'm going to do, like, get on it. Because life is short. But at the same time, I’m also not afraid of death at this point. And I also know that there's this continuum that happens. You know what you said at the beginning of this conversation about viewing the past and the present? I know that it's a continuum, because it was so fluid at that moment.

Lisa Woolfork 33:53

Yes. Yes. What I love about this story is that it just reminds us, at least reminds me, that ancestors are everywhere. And that, like they say, "every shut eye ain't asleep." And, you know, "every goodbye ain't gone." And there's a reason that it becomes important to speak the names of your ancestors, to acknowledge and to recognize them and to see them. Of course, giving them their flowers when they are here among us, but also to remember to uplift them. Because that's how we got here. And so that connection, like, it's kind of like, well, may the circle be unbroken type stories. In that your work - like in Rich Soil and elsewhere - is inviting us to do that. And it just feels like, I don't know, it just was a perfect illustration of bringing together the public and the private in terms of art and fine art, right? Or bringing together the way that one does history. Like, it seems to me like looking at your work, it looks like what I would imagine an archive should look like. Something that is comprehensive. Something that is beautiful and generous. But there's also things that you can create that don't exist in archives. And that is that spirit of joy, the spirit of play, and the way to affirm Black aliveness. Beyond our trauma, beyond all the anti-Blackness that seeks to shut us down, right? That we are more than that. We do more than survive, right? More than survive. Survive is, you know, survive, we do. That's just basic. What we do more is we live, we thrive, we flourish. And I see that so beautifully in your work. It's such a, like, powerful reminder. And that's something I deeply, deeply appreciate. Can I ask you a little bit about the exhibition that you worked with, with Black Woman Is God? That's some of my favorite things I think I've ever seen with my eyes. So can you talk a bit about that, and what some of your thoughts were through that work?

Kristine Mays 36:09

I'm still wrestling with the idea of Black Woman Is God, if I'm gonna be completely real about it. I've never really put any kind of parameters around God, you know. I mean, some people strictly have that vision of like the white man with the long hair as God, you know. I've never really had that. So, first I was like, I don't know if a Black woman specifically is God. But I don't negate it either. So I wrestled with being in the show, mostly because there were so many various viewpoints going on that I was kind of like, Can we just make our stuff and like, it just come together? But in general, you know, for that many Black women to come together to put on an exhibit with so many mediums, and so many ways of expressing themselves, that was amazing to me. And the other thing that really struck me about it is that the night of the actual opening, there was like a processional, and there was dancing and there was like performances and all of that. The feel of it, to actually experience that, and be in this crowd of people - I can still feel that, that feeling of fullness around it. That was very joyful.

Lisa Woolfork 37:33

Yes, yes. And I think that's the joy, the joy is what I find so beautiful about the work, the way that you're able to take metal, something that is like rebar and meant to fortify buildings and to be really strong and durable. But also the work looks so light, and airy and ephemeral. Almost like, it's the shadow of an angel. It's really - again, the shadow of the ancestors. It's such a beautiful illustration. Let's talk a little bit as we wrap up, what are you imagining for yourself or envisioning for yourself for 2022? Do you have any thoughts, or big plans, or any practices you want to kind of pursue or investigate a bit more?

Kristine Mays 38:19

Actually, Rich Soil is moving on. It's being packed up in January, and sent to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Lisa Woolfork 38:31

Hey, so you're going to be in the ATL; oh, that's wonderful. And so, what do you enjoy about having your work in an organic or natural or plant life setting?

Kristine Mays 38:45

This show was the first time I've shown work outdoors. I like that it gives a whole different feel to it. Before, you know, I would say, like, Oh, come to the gallery and see the work. And it just comes alive in a way that's very different when it's outdoors in a natural setting. I really feel like I'm offering an experience. So that's really where, you know, I'm like, Did you get to experience it at such and such? With each garden it completely changes, like the feel of it and everything is very different. And so it'll be at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens from February through April. And it'll be a part of the Orchid Daze that they have there. Like, I guess, every year they have a big orchid show in their greenhouse. And so yeah, I mean, it's it'll be like a whole different, you know, new experience.

Lisa Woolfork 39:43

Yes, yes. It's like you're getting a whole new show, completely different, because of the new context and the new setting. That is wonderful. I will make sure to have a note of that and a link to that coming up in the show notes. But I want to thank you, Kristine Mays, so much for this wonderful conversation. And I do hope that we'll be able to find time to carve out another conversation, because I feel like I only asked you about one quarter of the questions that I have. She's like, Oh, Lord, again?

Kristine Mays 40:15

No, I was thinking like, we should probably, you know, even if it's not on your podcast, plan some conversation or something.

Lisa Woolfork 40:22

Yes, absolutely. Because I would love to give you some more info about some other ideas that I'm working on, just in terms of my own, like, critical - I've been really invested in critical craft practice. Like, thinking about scholarly approaches to craft through the lens of Black women's liberation, and Black feminist theory and practice. So that's why I just feel like your work is, like, the text for that question. So thank you. Thank you for being with me.

Kristine Mays 40:54

Well, thank you. This has been amazing. And your way of thinking and your questions were just so beautiful and insightful.

Lisa Woolfork 41:04

Oh, thank you.

You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at blackwomenstitch@gmail.com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, and you can find Black Women Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month, you can help support the project with things like editing transcripts and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews., but for those who do, for those that have like a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us and the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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