Wild Geese

Text by Elizabeth McKee with help from Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to hunch over

shoulders knotted, thighs flabby

eyesight dimming, hands cramping

in search of the perfect O.


You only have to let your aging body love what it loves.


Tell me about your macular degeneration, broken hip, ocular shingles


and I will tell you about my dislocated left shoulder.


Meanwhile the snow melts

Meanwhile our books, like geese, high in the clear blue air

move through our postal systems.


Whoever we are, no matter how solitary,

the world calls us to create communities,


proffers the exemplar of wild geese,

changing leadership over and over

through weather calm, harsh and exciting—


reflecting our reliance


on family and friends.






Size in inches:    H                 W                 D


Box (closed)       7.5                11           1.375

Book (closed)     6.75            10.375          .75






Box: 3mm wool felt sewn with cotton thread,

         neodymium magnets, stainless steel metal strip,



Book: Mixed media on Arches Text Wove paper

During lunch at Heather Mallett's house in Ottawa on June 22, 2011, Nancy said that she was moving away from calligraphy and into quiltmaking. That left her with a redundant collection of great paper. So I suggested that we do a collaborative book project to help use up some of Nancy's paper supply. At the time I was intrigued with the form of meander books. I had met Barb Tetenbaum at Wells Book Arts Summer Institute and she had said that meander books were so confusing that she never taught how to make them. This added more incentive to make it work. Let's make collaborative meander books! I said.

So four friends, Heather Mallett, Judy Bainbridge, Nancy Ellis and Beth McKee began a year-long collaborative artists' book project. Each one of us started a book and then sent it on to the next person on the list for an unspecified contribution. When our own books returned to us we then had to pull the contributions together and complete the books. We chronicled our progress on our blog http://meanderingbooks.blogspot.com/

A DISCUSSION ON THE PROCESS (Included in the colophon)


Beth's Book 

Beth: I started with a full sheet of Arches text wove paper that had already been marked by Joan Machinchick and Lynne Carnes and myself on a play date a couple years earlier. I really liked the page but had no idea what to do with it so this seemed a perfect opportunity to let it become a book.

Judy: This was SCARY, being the first step of the collaboration. I felt that one side was powerful and the other, lyrical, so I put straight lines on the powerful side, and curved lines on the other, with a ruling pen and gold, since I thought it needed sparkle.

Nancy: This piece seemed so Beth. Go big or go home. I compromised; went small but stayed in the game. Again, my sewing machine came to the rescue and I made some micro quilt blocks in the Wild Geese pattern and sewed them onto a few appropriate-looking places. I thought the addition of some thick texture might add interest and challenge. I was unable to commit to adding another colour and used fabrics in just the black and red.

Heather: I thought that this book looked almost "finished" before any of us worked on it. What could I do that would enrich the whole? Since Nancy had quilted on the paper, I added more stitching in black around the edges, and also wrote things about friendship along one edge. I collaged red and gold papers in geometric shapes to enhance Beth's bold and dramatic presentation.

Beth: When I said that I had no idea what to do with this piece of paper at the beginning of this project I was telling the truth. What came back to me from Heather, Judy & Nancy left me even more mystified. I folded it and refolded it trying to make some sense of the marks. The decision to use the dark side was made mainly because all but one of Nancy's quilting blocks were on that side. That meant that Heather's writing would be on the back. Judy had gold lines on both sides so that was fine. I had no idea what Heather's random geometric shapes were about AND they had added more colors that I didn't want.

I went back to the blog and found Nancy's note that the quilting pattern she used was called Wild Geese. So I looked up Mary Oliver's poem of the same name to see if it could work. I knew that I could never get copyright permission to use this so I rewrote her poem to fit our situation using the same rhythm, title and first line. I ran it past the group for input and then proceeded to finish the book by making the dark side even darker. Painting over Heather's collaged pieces with gesso left the new reds muted but the gold repelled the paint. I loved this effect and added more collaged pieces.

I also wanted to add some drawings using Bonny Lhotka's digital image transfer process that I had read about in her book Digital Alchemy. THAT was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated, probably because I was trying to transfer onto gesso rather than a nice clean sheet of paper. After that I wanted to add geese but no more drawings and found a nice goose origami pattern that worked with a few modifications. That would tie in all the bits of decorative paper floating around the pages. One of the things that I like about this book structure is that the lack of a spine means that inclusions are no problem.

Then I developed an alphabet based on a circular "o" to write the text in. I wrote it using my white Ziller ink. Writing over the uneven surface created some uneven lettering but Ziller ink is permanent so I couldn't wash it off to start over. Fixing the one incorrect word was a challenge.

I thought I would just ignore the other side but Joan Machinchick pointed out that the sewing on the back of quilting pieces looked like stamps and said that I should put stamps there. She sent me some old stamps from her collection and I found some Canadian stamps on old correspondence from Heather. I have also included Mary Oliver's version of Wild Geese on the back for reference.

Putting covers on the front and back pages meant that most of what was on them was going to be lost. I cut a hole for Nancy's quilt block but the beginning of Heather's text is gone. In order to keep it I transferred it backwards onto the last page to give the illusion of being able to read through the page.