Rose Wognum Frances

The Crone

Paint on canvas and wood, incised copper, drawing of hands stitched on transparent fabric overlay, feather painted to resemble an owl feather, wrapped in silk thread. 30”H x 24”W x 3”D with doors open 1989

Throughout my life, elder women have stood at thresholds on my life’s path, ushering me through to a place of larger spirit, deeper understanding, and greater love. I created this artwork, when I was 38, in gratitude to my mentors and as a gift of respect to all old women, who are often disempowered and disrespected in this place and time. I built the triptych of wood, and painted the doors with the image of the waning crescent moon, symbol of the later stages of life. My brush strokes on the doors revealed a windy night, clouds moving rapidly across the star-filled sky, alternately obscuring and revealing the sickle moon. I painted the owl, companion to the crone, in the arch above the waiting blank central space. The white gessoed surface challenged and terrified me—a void yawning before me. I felt utterly incapable of capturing the wisdom given to me so generously by my elder counselors. I was using no photographs. I wished to paint a face with characteristics of all of my beloved women, imbued with the compassion they all shared. It was getting very late; I had been working for many hours.  I thought to myself, “I will do an underpainting with the paint left on my palette, and I’ll paint the face tomorrow morning, after I have rested”. This was the last ordinary thought I had before entering a blissful state. In the darkest hour of that night, I stood back to behold the face of The Crone gazing back at me. Of course she came to me then. She is not one to wait until morning; her wisdom comes form the place of the most profound and shining darkness. I incised serpents on the outside of the doors of the triptych. The Crone stands in the place of balanced wisdom. She knows the mysteries of the Snake, the immanent power at the roots of the world tree, the great unknown realm of the underworld. This is wisdom often gained through suffering and loss. She is also familiar with the transcendent spirit flight of the owl, ecstatic in the boundless sky. In her hands, she cradles a fallen owl feather, in her great compassion for even the smallest part of creation.

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