6.13.2010

International String Figure Association


PicturePacking all your possessions into brown boxes eventually uncovers all manner of interesting things. There's the Tupperware full of miniature Star Wars figures. A one hundred page book I wrote in sixth grade called "The Three Treasures". A flash drive of Jessica's Dad's ebooks. Prayer beads. A broken accordion. Postcards from London. It's challenging to encounter these reminders and symbols of life. You have to come to grips with your own materialism.

On the brighter side I found my old acceptance letter into the National String Figure Association. Yes. No joke. Just imagine 15 year-old MR with a length of knotty yarn eagerly flipping through a highly pedantic anthropological journal. "String figure enthusiasts are everywhere, but notoriously difficult to identify -- I'm glad you found us!" Yes, Dr. Mark Sherman sure was glad of my support in September of 1999. In addition to ISFA I also remember memorizing whole sections of a C.F. Jayne's" String Figures; A Study of Cat's-Cradle in many Lands" (1906) in a corner of the Inyo County Library as well as printing off pages of the Arctic String Figure Project. Let's just say I was serious. Ah the good ol' days!
PictureThe funny thing is that the moment I found these old journals and pamphlets I scrounged around for a length of twine and plopped myself on the couch to make a Kiwi and a Boat and a Gourd (and failing miserably at the Fox and Whale). String figures are truly fascinating. I always consider the ingenuity of people who did not have television. Instead they composed visual aids to epic stories, made magic tricks, constructed devices for predicting the gender of a baby, engaged in creativity competitions, or just passed the time. I love to consider the infinite possibilities that lay latent in a ridiculously simple length of string. The dancing of the fingers call forth all manner of beautiful things from such humble beginnings. I also love that moment when a tangled knot wrapped around your fingers suddenly stretches out into a beautiful image, mathematically proportioned, fragile and sustained by the even tension of your fingers, shining for a moment before slinking back into a common loop of twine. It's like music, that structure from chaos and manifold variations.
I think I'll hold on to some of these things a little longer. Who knows when I'll find another "string figure enthusiast."

PS!
Just found two string figures collected from the Salish Native Americans who lived in the Spokane area – swe çu es nte qs çiåi! (let's string things together!). Extremely cool. Check it! One is called "Dressing a Skin" and the other "Pitching a Tent" which is identical to "A Fish-Spear" (and was called "Witch's Broom" in my little Sister's book as a toddler). 

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