"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Letting go

By on May 23, 2021 in Arts with 0 Comments
CarolAnn Seaman intends to do her research and writing close to home in this tiny log cabin, one that lived many lives before being reconstructed on her family’s hilltop property in Leavenworth. Photo by Mike Irwin

Paring down, clearing out, heading in a new direction: Local designer and crafter takes on a new art

By Susan Lagsdin

This is a coming-of-age tale. But it’s not about a pre-teen who sees the world newly after conquering a crisis.

It’s richer and rarer than that: a fully formed and informed woman of the world, an artist, who as daughter, sister, business owner, outdoorswoman, volunteer, wife and mother, finally after six decades on earth declares, “I don’t have to be anything for anyone else.” 

It’s time to be who she really wants to be, for herself. And for CarolAnn Seaman, part of that declaration of independence involves letting go of stuff.

Not just the art supplies that fill and spill from the crannies in her family’s Leavenworth home, but the imaginative swirl of unbirthed designs in her mind. 

Both are notable for the space they take up and the stress they cause: they are laden with potential, but CarolAnn is growing tired of messing around with starts and stops and unfinished projects. 

She was first motivated to manage decades of accumulated artifacts, tools, fabric, art supplies and found materials because of COVID. Last year, when daughter Claire stayed home to complete a studio art major online from Smith College and husband Shaun needed additional office space, the sheer bulk of her projects came into sharp focus. 

“We were all at home at the same time,” she said, “and I had no idea how much of our house I had gradually infiltrated with my own projects. We call them ‘resource piles.’” 

The family is unfailingly supportive of her creativity, but she joked that, “I’m a hoarder, but probably just a Level 6 – because I can tuck stuff away.”

Her resolve to clear out art materials also comes at the foreseeable retirement of her husband and the inevitable home-leaving of her daughter. She mused about a small turn-key condominium for two, with outdoor adventure travel taking the place of art. 

And the imagination? The ideas that fill her head, urge her to create, push her to invent and build? Controlling those could be very freeing. CarolAnn said, “I’m finally realizing that something might be a good idea — but I don’t have to do it.” She recognizes that with the physical purge she can cull and toss ideas, too.

CarolAnn’s friends and acquaintances understand how tough this will be. 

She’s been defined by her artistic energy since she moved to Leavenworth to open the Gingerbread Factory 33 years ago. She’d actually sold gingerbread houses on the street as a college student; they became so popular that the Seattle Frederick and Nelson’s carried them in their gift catalogue.

Personally designed and handcrafted, the bakery she’d dreamed of owning for years grew to include a café and gift shop and turned into a Leavenworth landmark. The century-old structure decorated to look like a gingerbread house gained fans worldwide. “I was exhausted,” she said simply about selling it 15 years ago.

Post Gingerbread, her daughter was young, so CarolAnn volunteered at school and started plying her creative talents around town. With a graphic arts degree (“cut ’n paste, pre-computer,” she says), she’s a multi-genre artist and designer. 

A Hobbit House.
CarolAnn’s chicken bag made from a recycled feed bag.

She volunteers her painting talents to the Empty Bowls Project, the Upper Valley’s super-fundraiser to end hunger; she started a short-lived but very fun Doll Camp with recycled materials, sewing machines, and little girls making doll clothes and doll furniture; she corralled 27 different artists to create bird art on tiles to adorn the patio walls of Mountain Meadows senior living community.

All the while CarolAnn was creating personalized gift items, some for sale, most giveaways. (“A lot of these ideas don’t go anywhere — I’m never going to make a million dollars…”) 

She built placemat-sized, cozy, moss-covered and round-doored Hobbit Houses. She upcycled feed bags, transforming them to wry and whimsical Chicken Bag totes with fabric, jewels and a lot of etcetera. (Her real cluck-cluck chickens reside in a pale blue, playhouse-sized, coyote-proof Victorian mansion.) She’s  redecorated the family’s vintage camping trailer to ultimate cuteness.

CarolAnn’s home, of course, showcases her playful art. The same tiny turquoise EasyBake oven that inspired her childhood love of baking has been wired to light up from its kitchen perch. Found feathers — turkey, hawk, bluebird and more collected on site for 30 years — make a dramatic wreath in the living room.

On the couch is a five-foot long, stuffed fabric root vegetable. Not a couch potato (too easy) but a bright orange couch carrot. And upcycled denim jeans, with their pockets, zips and seams spliced and tucked, made perfect statement seat covers for the vintage Willys Jeep in the garage.

So, what’s a creative woman to do when she’s resolved to pare down, for space and peacefulness, her lovable jumble of art projects? 

CarolAnn knows what new path she wants to take, and she’s already in full stride upon it. It’s not gear intensive, and she’s got the time and space for it and plenty of ideas.

Writing. That’s what she wants to focus on.

Her first The Good Life article (May 2021) about biking across Iowa gave her confidence to research and interview strangers, a facet of nonfiction journalism that’s fascinating to her. 

But she’s also plotting out — it’s partially outlined on butcher paper already — a historical fiction novel based on the epic travels of a family heirloom.

Getting to it, which means sitting down to write and ugh ouch rewrite, may be a problem, but it’s universal; self-imposed distractions like chores and errands that forestall actual writing are sometimes disguised as the more romantic writers’ block. “I’ve learned to ‘clear the runway’ before I can start writing,” CarolAnn said.

Luckily, she’s not flying solo.

She belongs to a local writers’ group that’s not only structured (I’m reading this week) and encouraging (I can do this) but that helps her with editing and proofreading. 

CarolAnn said her school generation was taught to “write your heart out… get it, then edit” with few formal rules. 

Her companion writers have taught her how to juxtapose ideas more skillfully, she said, “…and not to write around something to get to the point.” 

So, what’s this risky-revised version of CarolAnn going to look like? Will her household be streamlined and simplified? Can she just say no when a cool art idea springs fully formed into her head? Will recycled fabric and trinkets still dazzle her? Will her literary aspirations do battle with her hands-on visual art?

They may not have to. 

With help from her daughter, who’s adept at most things cyber, CarolAnn wants to start a website to sell existing art items she’s created and will include a written blog as a sideline. 

Gradually, she’d like to flip that model and include more of her own writing as the primary content. Her Crayolaberry domain (a childhood nickname) is chosen and fiber optics are piped into the old writers cabin she’s outfitting as an at-home writer’s retreat.

What’s left but to get on with it? 

She contemplates her transition with a question. “Do I have to finish everything I’ve started? No. I won’t live that long. So I have to consider what is important and let the rest go. That is a struggle for me, but I’m determined to be brave.”

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