She calls them her “Garden Ladies.”
Artist Colleen Sorenson (67) has been making such bright, beautiful, whimsical three-dimensional ceramic tile wall hangings featuring women’s faces accompanied by apt quotations since the Women’s March that was held in San Miguel de Allende on January 21, 2017.
The Women’s March here was a momentous occasion, one of hundreds of “sister” marches around the world in support of women’s rights. An estimated three thousand people – mostly women of all ages, but also many men and children, expats as well as Mexicans – participated in that event in San Miguel, filling this old city’s beautiful Parque Juarez with hope and joy on that balloon-festooned sunny Saturday afternoon.
Colleen, for one, came away from it inspired to give voice to women in her art, and since that day she’s made dozens of her “Garden Ladies,” each one as unique as is each of us women.
Even before the Women’s March, Colleen had been collecting quotes — from Facebook posts, for example — that represented to her “the kind of women who are here in San Miguel,” she told me when I visited her home-gallery in my new neighborhood, Colonia Guadalupe, recently. She writes these quote in Spanish on the faces of the Ladies’ wall hangings, then gives the English translation on the back.
Just a few of these pithy sayings are: “And so, she decided to start living the life she imagined,” “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds,” and “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Although she’d had a strong arts background, having studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in her early years, and having worked with ceramics for the past thirty-plus years, since her daughter was a baby, making such stylized faces was new for Colleen. “I’d never even drawn a face before,” she admitted.
“I’d started out making vases, then I made decorative dishes, then ceramic tile table tops, then mosaic tile graffiti art in ‘wild style,’” she told me. In recent years, in addition to her Garden Ladies — which can be hung either indoors or outdoors – Colleen has been making ceramic tile wall hangings of large cats, dogs, and birds.
“I was getting ready to do a show when the coronavirus hit and shut everything down,” she said, sadly.
Having never made nor worked with ceramic tiles, I was curious to see how it’s done, so Colleen walked me through the steps in making her Garden Ladies: First, she rolls the clay (like pastry dough!) to about 1/8-inch thickness, then she draws on it the faces, features, words, and so on, to be used for each woman. After the clay has dried, she fires it in her kiln, then she paints the pieces with several coats of glaze and fires them again. Clearly, it’s a slow, careful, painstaking process.
In an ongoing effort to make my new apartment happier and homier, I bought one of Colleen’s Garden Ladies and hung her in my bathroom. I named her Aminata, after my dear young next-door neighbor in Segou, Mali, about whom I wrote at length in my Mali memoir, How to Make an African Quilt. The quote on this wall hanging, which brings me so much joy, is: “Mas Paz y Amor Por Favor” (More Peace and Love, Please).
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To learn more about Colleen Sorenson’s artwork, you can find her on Facebook, or e-mail her directly at email@example.com . If you’re in San Miguel, you could visit her home-gallery on Calle Maria Felix #4, Colonia Guadalupe. “Just come on by and knock on my door,” she says. “But be sure to wear your face mask. I’ll provide the hand gel.”