Denver — September 4, 2011 One thing Denver fabric artist Laurie Gibb chose not to do when she turned 65 was kvetch. “I didn’t want to just sit there and complain about aging,” she says. “I wanted to celebrate by taking some risks and doing something really unusual.”
She kept thinking about a journey she and her husband and kids had taken around the Pacific Northwest in a VW van in the late ’60s. That, plus the dream she’d had where she was forced to leave home with only what she could fit into one suitcase. The dream, she realized, was an invitation to reflect on what was most meaningful to her in life. “I always loved creativity,” she says. “I was driven by that.”
So…art and travel. Those two elements eventually coalesced into an audacious plan to take off for a year, drive around the country, make art, visit local art museums and installations like Carhenge outside of Alliance, Nebraska, and do her best to live in, and enjoy, each moment as fully as possible. “Once I committed to the journey,” she says, “everything fell into place.”
To finance her travels, she found a tenant willing to rent her house for a year. Then she bought a new VW Eurovan to serve as both shelter and transportation. And finally, she landed three artist residencies at schools around the country: New Jersey in November, Georgia in February, and New Mexico in April — destinations and time constraints that would lend her voyage structure and purpose, while enabling her to make art in a university setting. By Mid-August of 2006, she was ready to go.
But now, with the bustle of preparation behind her, she had to overcome one last hurtle, and that was her fear of being a woman alone on the road. As an artist, she came up with a novel solution.
“I created what I like to call my ‘Man-in-a-bag,’” she says, “filled with odds and ends to make it look like I had a man travelling with me. Stuff like a Sturgis T shirt, a pair of huge flip flops, and men’s magazines that I would set out on the dashboard whenever I spent the night at a campground. As the trip progressed, I stopped doing it. I don’t think it fooled anybody.”
Man-in-a-bag or no, there was at least one genuinely scary moment at a campground in Upstate New York. Gibb was snug in her van and drifting off to sleep when she heard footsteps approaching outside. Whoever it was paused, tried the door, found it to be locked, and walked away, leaving Gibb wide awake, thumb poised over the button of the car alarm on her keys.
As the trip progressed, “Turtle,” her VW van, became the love of her life. “That van was my home, my studio, my safe haven, and my constant companion,” she says. In the twelve months they spent together, they logged 20,000 miles, covered 37 states, one Canadian province, and the District of Columbia.
Once they were safely back in Denver, Gibb spent the next two years making art quilts inspired by the journey’s special moments and places. It was while sewing these quilts that a radical concept occurred to her. Why not turn the van into a work of art by covering it with quilts? “It was a way to honor my beloved Turtle,” she says, “and also a means of exploring how the journey had changed me.” (Gibb’s quilted car won her a blue ribbon at this year’s Denver County Fair).
Gibb says the journey taught her life lessons in self- confidence, spontaneity, simplicity, and tolerance. “I learned I can take on something scary & make it work,” she says. “I don’t get bogged down in fear & anxiety. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of clutter, and these days I’m more able to live in the moment. I’ve also learned to be more accepting of other people’s limitations. In the end, I realized, everybody’s just trying to do the best they can.”
For more Info:
Laurie’s Web Site
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