jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Lederhosen

groeber_jennifer_lederhosen

Lederhosen
woodcut and collage
2012
by Jennifer Groeber

To begin, you need to know I get the chokey voice. When I first met my husband it was the chokey voice, plus I tapped my nose and I got a red splotch the shape of Ohio on my left cheek. My husband, then my boyfriend, graciously said he found it endearing. And all this, I got every time I talked about something that touched my large, New Jersey, oft-cracked-never-broken heart. I got the chokey voice.

When I was teaching it happened every time I talked about something I found meaningful in front of an audience of, oh-let’s-say, 350 adolescents. Now it happens rarely. What’s to chokey-voice over these days and who’s listening anyway?

But this week I had a show. (Did I mention I had a show of thirty-five prints hanging right here in greater South Hamilton? Also, I started a blog. Did I mention that?)

And this show is a show of woodcuts, prints of dresses mostly, and a few prints of things like my kids’ Halloween costumes, the hats my twins wore as NICU preemies and a few nautical things that make me happy. But mostly, my show is of dresses. These dresses my mother bought and washed and mended for my two sisters and me, and after Jasper was born, she tried to foist that crazy hoarder’s carload of boxes of dresses onto me.

Shamefully, I kept only one small box. And these have inspired my prints. The thought of me as a mother buying, washing and mending, just like my mother did, and the thought of me as a girl and now having my own children, well it’s gotten stuck in my craw and only can escape my inner murky muck through woodcuts.

But the real outlier in all these fairly girly prints is the trio of prints I made the summer before last when my severely retarded brother Butchie died. There is an image of his braces (Butch Braces), a hospital onesie (Failure to Thrive) and of course, Lederhosen.

J.Groeber.ButchBraces.FV.A

Butch Braces
2012
woodcut
by Jennifer Groeber

This is where the chokey voice comes in.

On Monday I gave a gallery talk to about thirty-five bright and creative adolescents about my work. I talked about the creative process, about making woodcuts specifically, about what inspired me. And then, I talked about the Lederhosen.

I told the students that their own basements were filled with boxes of evidence about their adolescence that they would currently find annoying, then someday angering, then later, poignant, and eventually, tragic (and tragically funny, if they allowed it.) I pointed at exhibit A: Lederhosen.

My father bought my brother leather Lederhosen when he traveled to Germany for business and we had no money to waste  and my brother was only 8 or 9. The teens surrounding me got the humor. My brother wasn’t toilet trained! They’re leather lederhosen! Get it?! That’s funny! Awkward maybe, but funny.

But then (and here came the chokey voice), can you imagine that? This man who knows that his son, his namesake and oldest child, may never walk, or be toilet trained, will likely never talk, and certainly will not have a family of his own, well, he bought him LEATHER LEDERHOSEN. What was he thinking? Who does that?

family photo, Cape Cod, 1976

Dad, Butchie, one of my sisters, my younger brother and me
Cape Cod, 1976

I mean, who? does? that? There’s such hope there. Or naivette. Or maybe it’s hope and naivette and longing and… and a father’s love. I can’t get over that. The humor and the foolishness and the hope and love a father has for his son no matter the circumstances.

My show was called This Woman’s Work, because it was about being a mother, about buying, washing, and mending those dresses, and because that Kate Bush song kills me every time.

Pray God you can cope.

I stand outside this woman’s work,

This woman’s world.

Ooh, it’s hard on the man,

Now his part is over.

Now starts the craft of the father.

I know you have a little life in you yet.

I know you have a lot of strength left.

I know you have a little life in you yet.

I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying but I just can’t let it show.

I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking.

But with that chokey voice talking to those adolescents, I realized my artwork is about that moment with my father and Butchie, too: the humor and hopelessness and hope of parent love, of being who we are despite, and because of, where we came from.

I should be crying but I just can’t let it show.

I should be hoping but I can’t stop thinking.

My father bought my brother leather lederhosen, even though he knew better.

May we all buy our children leather lederhosen.

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29 comments on “Lederhosen

  1. Michele
    November 8, 2013

    Brilliant! You can see so many things from one garment…. You inspire me to look at things differently… WOW! Keep blogging. Anyone that reads this will see your thoughts and try to see things in more than one dimension…. 🙂

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      Ah, thanks. You are too sweet. Imagine you knew me when I was wearing these dresses! (And you loved Butchie, too.) Being able to share this with you is actually pretty cool.

  2. deedeeschiano@verizon.net
    November 9, 2013

    Brought me to tears… you are such an amazingly talented and inspiring woman Jen.So sorry I didn’t make it Tuesday night.  I’d love to see pics of your dresses!!!Big hugs and love xoxoxodeedee   

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      Thank you! Will keep the images of prints coming. Hopefully clearing these out of the studio means I’ll have to make more… One can hope!

  3. RFL
    November 9, 2013

    Wow, this brought up my chokey voice too. Very moving and well written post.

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      Thank you. I’ve loved following your post, so that means a ton.

  4. Le Clown
    November 9, 2013

    Jennifer,
    Your post was suggested to Le Clown by his friend Rachelle. Wonderful, wonderful post.
    Le Clown

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      I owe Rachelle a word of thanks then as I’ve never been followed by a French-Canadian jester (I think I got that right?) who is so significantly cooler than I am. Seriously, thanks for the comment.

  5. The Bumble Files
    November 9, 2013

    Lovely. I like what you said about the basement…the stages of finding the evidence, annoying, angering, poignant, then humorous. Oh, I loved that. I have some of that experience coming across boxes of stuff over the yeas. Touching post. Whenever that chokey voice comes up, I want to shut it down.

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      My oldest son has inherited the chokey voice, too. I tell him it’s not the voice but what you do with the voice that counts. (Poor kid.) I usually laugh and choke and try to continue. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. Looking forward to checking out thebumblefiles.

      • The Bumble Files
        November 9, 2013

        Jennifer, please come on by. I look forward to your visit. – Amy

  6. Jen and Tonic
    November 9, 2013

    I loved the whole story, but I especially loved the last two lines. Really well written piece! Thanks to RFL for bringing me here.

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      Thanks so much. Looking forward to checking out your blog if I ever get my kids to nap! (You should see these lederhosen. Gives “leather pants” a whole new meaning.)

  7. dvb415
    November 9, 2013

    Groeber hits another home run. She is batting 1000, which is perfect, in case you didn’t know.

  8. dvb415
    November 9, 2013

    I look forward to every blog post with great anticipation. It is great they are coming fast and furious. I don’t advise you any more to write a book, because I am seeing one appear, one short chapter at a time. With illustrations. (Insert superlative adjective here)

    • jgroeber
      November 9, 2013

      You know, if/when I do write a book, you’ll have to go door to door selling those things. Worse than selling foil wrapping paper and cut crystal earrings for high school marching band, I hear. 😉 (Seriously though, thanks for the support!)

  9. Polysyllabic Profundities
    November 10, 2013

    What a beautiful story. I’m glad I followed Le Clown’s advice and came over for a look.

    • jgroeber
      November 11, 2013

      Thanks so much for stopping by. And now I know that all roads lead to Le Clown!

  10. talesfromthemotherland
    November 10, 2013

    Beautiful post… in every way. Indeed, may we all buy our children leather lederhosen.

    • jgroeber
      November 11, 2013

      Thank you. So glad you found me so I could find you! And yes, literally, the faith of my father was an amazing thing.

      • talesfromthemotherland
        November 11, 2013

        The faith of any parent is amazing, isn’t it! Some day, let’s hope our own kids say the same thing of us, right? It takes a leap of faith to have a child, but I have never felt so spiritual, than in my role as their mother. Such a powerful, powerful experience… and I’m using that word, in its truest sense. It was a mutually good meeting! 🙂

  11. Burns the Fire
    November 10, 2013

    Be still my heart. No, don’t. I love this post, thank you.

    • jgroeber
      November 11, 2013

      Too kind. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  12. kellyinrepeat
    November 10, 2013

    Beautiful work. Where can I see the rest of the prints? Where are you selling them?

    • jgroeber
      November 11, 2013

      Thank you for the comment! You can see them on my art website… oh, wait. I never got around to making that. Sigh. Soon though! And I sold a bunch through this show. But if you’d ever be interested in doing a trade ofa work on paper, I’d be over the moon. LOVED the work in your show. LOVED, LOVED. (And you can see a pathetic video clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6s4e_ZKUdc on youtube of a similar show from this past January. Take your Dramamine before watching.) Friend Jen Groeber on FB and we can message if you’re up for a trade…

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