New View from the Memory Motel: 3D Memoir/Vessels

July 21, 2015 § 9 Comments

A guest post from Nina Gaby:

nina gaby art IMG_6459Cavalier, I toss around the word “hoarder,” like it’s a good thing, because it makes me do art.

“If there’s not a flattened dead rodent under that pile then it isn’t really hoarding, not like TV show hoarding” I say. “And besides, it’s all good stuff.” And then. Of course. I found the dessicated mouse under a three foot stack of old photographs, notes scribbled on envelopes, articles, letters tied with ribbon, and a yellowed folder of psychiatric evaluations from 1989, realizing I needed to either get a dumpster or get creative. And it’s not just the ‘stuff’ for us writers and artists, it’s the ideas we save, the memories we hang on to. The photos and Post-It notes and pretty rocks and pieces of costume jewelry. Broken plates and swatches of fabric, the bits of pencil and string, the colors, the smells, the scraps and the thoughts. (My old clay tools. Tiny bottles of ink. My father’s old Underwood from the 30’s. His unfinished novels. Grandma’s old sewing tins. It’s not for nothing that my therapist husband calls me the “bearer of family sorrow.”)

“But I could really do something  with all this stuff someday.” What I’m getting at is this, hands on hips approaching sixty-five years of age (with a book coming out, a new and complicated psychiatric nurse practitioner job starting up, a dying dog, like I need a new project) I decide to pull it all together and make some artist’s books. Three dimensional memoir vessels. Bring it all back home. The clay, the writing, the day job. The stuff I don’t want to waste. And be in time for submissions to some regional book-arts shows, a process only somewhat better than submitting to literary journals.

nina gaby art IMG_1288

“Mottaini,” “Imperfection,” “Guilt vs Shame,” and “500 Bowls”

For the vessels themselves, I create slab-built containers and scrolls from a translucent porcelain body called “Frost.” The slabs are paper thin and allow shadow and light to pass through. Using a variety of handmade papers, fabric, threads, amulets, charms, milagros, encaustic, ephemera, Grandma’s old buttons and garter clips, original artwork and text, I incorporate micro-essays, quotes and pieces of memoir via vintage Letra-Set, stamps, and inkjet printing. The vessel becomes the container for the visual cues, holding documents with image and dimension. To read the text one must have access from all sides. So I allow myself to become cerebral: addressing whether it is ever possible to be truly transparent–as a memoirist or within the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship–or are we sadly and protectively opaque, and how do we as artists (or anything else) negotiate this?

transparent translucent opaque transparent translucent opaque transparent is printed on vellum rolled around a page of quotes. “There are shards stuck in our unconscious we don’t even know about until they surface.” Shards of porcelain surround the grouping of scrolls and containers that make up the series New View from the Memory Motel. There really is a Memory Motel, I just found it while visiting a friend in Montauk and took some photos, and voila, a new series is born. Much of what we hold on to is bittersweet so I quote Abigail Thomas: The word memory comes from the same root as the word mourn, and that should tell you something.”

The series of four vessels, When I was Japanese includes the titles:

“500 Bowls,” “Guilt vs Shame,” “Imperfection” and “Mottaini”:


and from “500 Bowls:”

When I was Japanese I was much too young. When I returned to normal I made 500 bowls on the potters wheel with one hand, an apprentice, like a penance, and threw every one of them away.



Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner living in central Vermont. She has contributed to numerous anthologies and periodicals, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as prose poetry and articles. Her first book, “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women,” has just been published by She Writes Press. Most recently her creative nonfiction is appearing in Intima: a Journal of Narrative Medicine, and The Best of the Burlington Writer’s Workshop, upcoming in “Mothering Through Darkness” and the tentatively titled collection “Shrink/Shrunk.”She has guest blogged on a number of sites including, and infrequently on her own website at Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, as well as other collections. Gaby’s three dimensional memoir vessels explore transparency/translucency/opacity in mixed media including the written word and have been exhibited this year in several regional gallery shows, includeing the upcoming juried show “Unbound V” which is part of the Woodstock, Vermont literary festival this July.

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