The Odyssey, for anyone who doesn’t remember, or didn’t get around to reading it, is the story of Odysseus and his long return home after the Trojan war. Over the course of a decade Odysseus and his crew face monsters, deities and narcotics until they finally reach Ithaca, where O arrives just in time to slaughter a bunch of suitors, housemaids and goatherds, and reunite with his family.
This was the theme of the mobile my darling friend asked if I would make for her soon to be born son. It fit her requirements of educational, included her husband’s love of Greek mythology and fulfilled my deep set desire to make monsters.
I don’t usually take on the classic works of other artists. I don’t like to make master copies when I paint. When I make books, I rarely use text that isn’t mine. I have trouble following textile patterns to the letter. So, how was I going to make the characters in this story mine? And more importantly, how was I going to baby proof it?
I narrowed down the pieces to ten; one for each year O was gone. I used batik fabric as the ground and kept the shapes squishy and amorphous. I painted the figures in black- a nod to black-figure style and the developmental considerations of baby. Keeping child friendly in mind helped to direct the imagery.
In no particular order:
The ship. Odysseus’ ship has no name. Just like his horse.
Odysseus. Our hero. He’s holding a bag of winds, a gift from Aeolus to blow him home. Unfortunately his crew members open it and they are blown back to start.
The Lotus Eaters. O and his crew get blown off course and end up in a land where the inhabitants eat lotus fruits which have a pleasant, yet addictive narcotic effect (I always imagined a cross between the fruitarian Eloi in The Time Machine and the Bar-ba-loot bears in The Lorax). This is the kid’s favorite.
The Sirens. These ladies are monsters/mermaids/divas who lure men to their death through their song. In order to survive, the crew close their ears with wax and tie O to the mast because of his incurable curiosity and inability to say no to a pretty face.
Scylla. She is a six headed monster with a triple row of razor teeth and twelve legs. She accessorizes with a belt of barking dog heads. She is a voracious eater. And super hard to make child friendly. My favorite.
Charbydis. Charbydis is Scylla’s BFF and neighbor. Her head is a giant whirlpool.
Calypso. She is a sexy nymph and Odysseus spends seven years with her until he remembers he has a wife. She is often portrayed riding with dolphins. Also into weaving.
The Laestrygonians. A race of giant cannibals who in addition to eating the crew wrecked havoc on the ships. Also not easy to child proof.
You might have noticed there are only eight pieces here. Unfortunately, I never completed the last two. I had them sketched out, but couldn’t craft an image I was pleased with. Although the mobile is functioning, it’s not truly complete.
The final two:
Polyphemus. A cyclops and sheep herder who holds O and his crew captive after they steal and eat his sheep. He kills O’s men and O pokes his eye out with a sharp stick. My version is a farmer in overalls with an oversized head mostly filled by an eye. Sheep abound.
Circe. Another beautiful woman. Her hobbies are sorcery and turning men into pigs. O accepts an invitation into her bed and it takes him a year to get back out of it. I envision her as a chemist holding up a sparkling test tube with a porcine creature under her arm.
I used an embroidery hoop as the base of the mobile and sewn loops of fabric to secure the pieces to it. When I find my video of the mobile in action, I will post it.
Stay tuned for the plushies!