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Susan Shie says of this portrait of Michelle Obama and the rest of the First Family: "This is the largest piece I’ve made in a long time. It took a LONG time to make, but I love its statuesque First Family."

The Kitchen Tarot by Susan Shie
The Kitchen Tarot

A 22 card deck by Susan Shie

Queen of Swords tarot card
The Queen of Swords card
from the Rider-Waite tarot deck


Susan adds: "This is my third piece in the Minor Arcana in the Kitchen Tarot. I’m selecting which minor card to work on by drawing a tarot card at random, starting with this one, after I consciously chose the first minor card quilt’s theme: The Ace of Coins, which became Salt of the Earth: The Ace of Potholders.

When I drew the Queen of Swords for this second minor card theme, right away I thought of Michelle Obama, who’d just become our First Lady the month before. The Queen of Swords is very intelligent and hard working, helping others, and has learned a lot of lessons in life, which she passes on to others, in her wisdom. Swords are the air sign, and Michelle is VERY air-like in her Gemini-like communications skills and hunger for learning, her Libran love of fairness and beauty, and her Aquarian desire to help the down-trodden. Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius are air signs.

In my Kitchen Tarot deck, swords become paring knives. Not weapons but favorite little kitchen tools that help us make our work easier and go faster. We use our kitchen knives for peace, not war.When I sketched Michelle, I knew right away that I wanted to put her in her lovely inaugural gown of white, with one shoulder strap and a very full skirt, sure to attract the admiration of my granddaughter Eva, who wants me to draw all skirts as big and “belted out” as possible. I made a long series of drawings in my sketchbook, and then on the backs of desktop calendar pad pages, and when I got to drawing #16, I decided that composition would do for a stepping-off place, so I sewed my white cotton fabric into a 92”h x 82”w panel, pressed it, and fired up my airbrush with black paint.

I pinned my last sketch near my painting and got to work, drawing Michelle holding a vase of my Peace Roses. Barack is next to her, also holding the vase, and the girls, Malia and Sasha, stand in front of Michelle. I had made Michelle’s right hand open, as I thought about putting a paring knife floating above her hand. I knew I wasn’t going to put the knife in her hand, where it could be seen as a weapon. But then I realized I could have made her flashing the shaka with that hand, and I decided to change the black paint lines to form her fingers into the shaka gesture. It’s kinda funky, but I think it works. I wrote “Mama Shaka” under her hand. And I wrote 'First Lady' on her bodice.

The next morning, after I’d painted in all the light colors of golds, greens, and pinks, Sukey Pratt commented on my photo, 'No pies?' Pies are my symbols of gifts and blessings. I realized I needed to get back to my line-drawing black paint, and add some pies. I found room for two big pies in the background, and I put smaller ones on the girls’ skirts, after putting huge hearts on them. I also wrote more on the extremely long arms of Michelle and Barack, and then I started adding in small faces in the background. They don’t have hairdos, but they are both men and women, black people who are rallying behind the Obamas, having voted for Barack and now hoping for the best for the first African-American president and his family.

I transcribed a few important items onto this piece, such as Michelle’s speech at the 2008 Dems convention, all of that speech. Barack’s letter to his daughters, that he published in Parade magazine right before his inauguration. I have a wonderful Dr, Seuss quote on Sasha’s heart.

Here are some of the topics I wrote about on this piece: 2-12: The huge opening I attended for the “President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts” exhibition at Montgomery College in DC (about 25 of the 60 artists came to our gathering); lots of adventures in DC with friends and my cousin Candy. 2-23: Tulip, our black and white cat, had to be put to; Michelle O was on the March Vogue mag cover!; Michelle wants the White House to be a classroom. 2-24: Obama gave a big speech, sounding like Roosevelt and Johnson rolled up in one, telling us about all the changes he wants; then Bobby Jindal gave the Republican rebuttal, and he did a terrible job of it; the Obama girls are the youngest kids in the WH since the Kennedys. 2-26: Jimmy took me to GEM’s for the weekend and a tArts meeting; late Feb military mutiny in Bangladesh; Comet Ludin; the racist email image of the WH lawn planted in watermelons.3-1: Mike gave us his new album for Mike St Jude and the Valentines – 'Here’s to Your Black and Blue Heart'; I got to see a class of Eva’s first ballet group; JA and I watched Barbershop;. 3-1: started my very first blog; reading “Nehru: The Invention of India”.

3-4: a health care summit opened at the WH; some guy auctioned off a bunch of Gandhi’s personal stuff, including his glasses and sandals, after a big dispute with India. Paying $1.8M, the buyer donated the cash to India. 3-6: Uncle Lester’s very sick, probably dying. We went to see him; DL Hughley’s CNN show was cancelled; Michelle O on cover of O Mag with Oprah, who’s never shared the cover before. 3-8: Daylight Time starts, ends 11-1. 3-9: Obama makes stem cell research legal again; we donated to WKSU, our NPR station; dear friend Melissa Smith is recovering from cancer; Obama focuses on rebuilding New Orleans, gets advice from Brad Pitt; Barbie turns 50.

3-13: WAGE meeting at my house; I’ve begun taking 2 one-mile walks a day, instead of just one; Uncle Lester died today, about an hour after we left his bedside, at almost age 94; Claudette Colvin was the first arrested for not giving up her seat on a Montgomery bus, on 3-2-55, before Rosa Parks; wrote the meaning of the 2 of swords card, in the heart on Michelle’s skirt. 3-15: MO visits Ft Bragg and pledges to help military families more. 3-16: AIG huge exec bonuses come out on news, and everyone’s enraged; a cure for (Eva’s) peanut allergy is being perfected in England! 3-18: Aunt Pauline Shie broke her hip; Uncle Lester’s funeral; I cleaned out his Tiger Lily bed here, to honor him and start the garden season. 3-20: Start of Spring at 7:44 AM. 3-22: would be Uncle Lester’s 94th birthday; We finished watching the movie Gandhi; Obama sends peace message to Iran, wants to start mending relations; Michelle, influenced by Eat the View, starts WH veggie garden with Bancroft School students and WH gardener; she visits girls at Anacostia HS in DC, as part of Women’s History Month. 3-26: Aunt Pauline Shie died at almost 95. 3-31: My Shie cousins came to Ohio for Aunt Pauline’s funeral, which was today. She was Mom’s cousin, and Uncle Russell was Dad’s brother. I love my Shie double cousins: Candy, Cathy, and Duane.

I took a break in my airpen journal on this piece, so I could take it along on my trip to teach in Coeur d’Alene, ID and Alberta, Canada. I knew I wouldn’t take such a large piece, if it was already quilted. I put it up on the classroom wall in each of three classes all through April. Yea!

5-11: Roxana Saberi released in Iran today, after being in prison for spying, on an 8 year sentence since January; Today is Mama Wanda and my friend Gayle Pritchard’s birthday; I’m reading “I May not Get There with You,” about MLK Jr; John Demjanjuk was extradited to Germany; Wanda Sykes great talk at the WH press dinner on Sat night; howling on Mother’s Day with Mama Wanda and my sil Karen; stories about my April teaching trip. 5-12: thoughts on MO and the Queen of England’s hugs; MO unveiled a bust of Sojourner Truth on 4-28, in the Capitol; Gretchen’s on jury duty in Cleveland; Mike had a job interview; Eva’s first ballet recital will be 5-30-09."

Toward Barred Island by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade (detail)

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Toward Barred Island by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade (detail)

Bottom left and right: Toward Barred Island (detail) by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade