Merry Vediner used to create patterns for tapestry weaving and sold hundreds of thousands of them around the world, when she and her husband lived in Alaska. They moved to Ashland 31 years ago. She came back to tapestry recently and used it for a very different purpose.
Vediner now uses her 2-foot square needlework palettes as a tool to plumb the deepest psychological and spiritual meanings of her life — especially the cancer that struck her late in 2014.
Her tapestries, which will be hung Saturday in Ashland for a one-day show, evolved into being when she faced stage-one ovarian cancer. What did she do? She got out her needle, her tangled basket of thread and her matrix to weave on — and it began speaking to her as she loaded it with her own colors and patterns.
This is no tapestry weaving of nice landscapes and milkmaids. This is a whole new tool that lets you see and understand what’s going on with you, the weaver — whether in your marriage, your own journey, your ailment. Whatever.
“What it is, is my fiber journal. Each piece is inspired by something I’m curious about, a person, something I’m working on … If it’s a person,” she said. “I think of the person and their core values. If it’s an experience, such as ovarian cancer, I can work and give it a structure, a grid (in the tapestry), do research and reason out the steps.
“Then the tapestry can go off in its own crazy directions, as illnesses will do, then the circle starts to come back together and I can see how much is the cancer and how much is me.”
Her tapestries will be on display at a free, public one-day show called "In Stitches" from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Modern Fan Gallery, 705 Washington St., near Exit 14. Showing along with her will be the “History of Shakespeare” in comical paintings by Dan DeRoux, an Alaskan whom she met in the decade she and husband, Mike, lived there.
“The tapestries are like a travelogue of her mind and life, our life,” said Mike. “It’s as much a journal as anything. I see the art in it. She has a wonderful sense of art and the story is right behind it, as a bonus. There’s a lot of power there, a poetic sense to them.”
None of these tapestries is hung in their house above Walker Street. They are not hung art. They are personal, a record of all she’s dealt with in life, not just the disease (under control now), but also her relationship with her husband, about the joy of her granddaughter, her journey into and out of depression, her tapestry work — almost anything.
As a person with cancer, she says an opening to understanding “happens in a moment and, OK, I’m going that way back into my life. I get another diagnosis and realize I have three more months. It helps me figure out what I have in my life. I will weave these circles and know I am rising with them. I’m not buried in it (cancer). The triangles (in the tapestry) may say how quickly I can jump back into life.”
Threatened with cancer, Merry devised an internet program, www.symptomcalendar.com, to help other women quickly sort through and track the spectrum of symptoms they may have in their pelvic area — most importantly identifying ovarian cancer, but also a raft of other possible afflictions with the goal: “getting peace of mind.”
Merry gives her art very simple titles, “Cancer,” “Couldn’t & Shouldn’t” (about her relationship with her husband), “My Stitching Story" (about her tapestries) and two entitled “Depression” and “Spring,” the latter about when she came out of depression for good.
“The tapestry showed all the negative tapes playing in my head, the loops going up and down and how to unplug the negative tapes,” she says. “Having depression doesn’t mean you are all gloomy. I’m optimistic by nature. It was about separating me from the depression.”
Merry was a partner in Fun Again Games. Michael, a biologist and geologist, taught high school in Medford. They met in Death Valley where he was working and, on an impulse of youth, they fled to Alaska. They didn’t want their children to grow up there, “not knowing how to cross a street,” so they began driving a spiral around the U.S., coming through Ashland on July 3 and deciding they loved it, without knowing anything about Shakespeare, the park or the college, then, the next day, being blown away by the Fourth of July parade.
“That was it,” she says. “We knew this was the place. You have to open yourself up to those changes and they happen.”
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.