The materials with which I work—fiber, paper, and ink—satisfy my tactile needs and allow an unlimited range of color and light and expression. My subjects reflect abstraction in the natural world. Living in rural environs in Maine has heightened my awareness of the cyclical gifts of nature.
My photographs observe the complexities of my surroundings. I develop photo emulsion steel intaglio plates that are coated with a UV-sensitive film, and developed with solar or an exposure unit source. Darker areas on the acetate positive block the light, and are washed out, while clear areas are exposed and harden to make the plate. The printed color image is derived from layers of different oil ink viscosities. Each layer repels the next and creates a new color.
During the summer, I work with fibers, using my Hollander beating machine. A Hollander is a trough, U-shaped beater which cuts cooked garden fibers, linters (preprocessed fibers), and/or recycled cloth. Flat blades macerate and hydrate the cellulose material. Plunging my hands into fiber-filled water is reminiscent of early childhood when art was about process and exploring and not product. Techniques I utilize vary from collaging my handmade papers onto panels, forming fiber vessels and sculptural forms, designing hanging tapestries, casting fiber, and creating pulp paintings. I have fallen in love with the textural aspects of this malleable medium. Fibers source from the earth. It is exciting to plant a seed, nurture its growth, and transform it into another presence.
The influence of the natural environment comes from the Scandinavian love of nature that I share with my father’s family. My great-grandparents, Selma Bjorklund and Alfred Soderlund, immigrated during the Russian Czar’s control of Finland, met and married in Northern Wisconsin. Many Bjorklund descendants still live in the Finnish Ostrobothnia (Swedish-speaking) region. I have been able to personally connect with them for the last 35 years. I discover more about my roots on each visit which brings back memories of childhood summers on the Wisconsin Johnson farm. Swimming in the lake, noisy thunderstorms, gathering wild strawberries to combine with pancakes and whipped cream, the smell of hay in the fastidiously clean barn, Gramma Myrt’s homemade potato rolls, the taste of the cold spring water from the faucet outdoors, and Sunday freshly-killed chicken dinners all return to me.
During the first visit to Finland, I discovered a mutual interest in archeology with Berit, our interpreter. Symbolic images created by past inhabitants have always fascinated me. Berit showed me carvings on rocks beside the school where she taught, the remains of old tar pits, and the carvings of bomarken. The latter are symbolic marks carved onto buildings, cattle, and possessions.They were used as signatures in pre-literate times to show ownership, and to bring protective luck or ward off evil. Recently, I was shown my Bjorklund family symbol, and the Soderlund bomarken on the door that protects my great-grandfather’s former home in Esse. Old grain storage buildings behind the house still have carvings left from my ancestors. I have made several stencils for my pulp painting process to incorporate these designs into other fibers. Bomarken have been found in all Scandinavian countries. Originally pre-Christian, they were later adopted by Christianity. The ones that I have seen resemble Celtic runes and are almost always an arrangement of lines. Berit showed me marks carved into rocks on the path to the school where she taught. She commented to me that she had walked that path for many years, but it wasn’t until she learned about bomarken that she finally “saw” the marks. The human need to leave a record or trace of their existence runs deep. I like to think that we all have some ancestral guidance in our creative journeys.
Image at top: Christine Higgins, Sculptural Relief #3, pigmented cotton and kozo, 24 x 36 in.