Fiber Art by Anita Wolfenden



You look out and see the trees through the studio window. Green leaves, the sunlight making them yellowish with darker green shadows. Warm tan-brown tree trunks, deep green foliage further away, a cascade of green in different shades. You assume that everyone looking out on these leaves sees them the same way that you do.

But then one day you look out and your right eye sees the same as it did, but your left sees it all through a veil of grey, or rather, the image is sharper but the colors are different. There is still a lot of green out there but it is more grey-green or blue- green -grey. The tree trunks have a touch of lavender. Like the sun went out.

So many people get cataracts as they age. At age sixty 60% of the population has some degree of cataracts. The operation to replace the lens with a clear plastic lens is the most commonly performed surgery in the US. Usually it is very successful with the patientís vision being improved almost immediately.

The human eye is truly an evolutionary triumph. Into a tiny space it packs in the most refined tools for perception, it can change and adjust to dark and light. It can see in focus both near and far. But you get older and the lens is getting cloudy and the eye muscles less elastic. Still, with glasses most people manage very well.

I always wondered if everybody sees colors the same way. I knew there is a lot of individual preference when it comes to colors. I always loved blue, the whole range of blues separately and together and when I started to weave I lived in blue for several years. Colors have an emotional load for most of us. I donít know why, but I imagine that the range of colors you like and feel comfortable with have to do with your earliest environment. For years I knitted scarves and hats and sold at fairs and at the OCAG Studio Tour. The ones that sold first were always they colorful ones: reds, blues, lavender, both stripes and solids. The ones left to last were the natural colors, the off -white or brown or grey wools. In my native Sweden it would have been the natural subtle colors that sold first, as it seems you feel like wearing what you see around you, which are all those bare trees and stones and snow in all colors and dry grasses, for months and months. Quiet colors are peaceful, and although a bright accent can look cheerful in all the grey, it can also feel very disturbing. But here there are always colors and people are very comfortable with strong colors, any time of year.

I feel more adventurous when it comes to colors now, but I still donít feel the need for lots of them at the same time. I am not sure why that is. I see other artists use every color there is and I might like to do that too, but I gravitate towards the subtle, the simple, the pared - down interactions of line and color in perfect balance.

When I took off the shield in front of my left eye several hours after the surgery I couldnít see anything. There was a grey mist in front of my eye. I could just barely see the hand in front of my face and a faint glimmer of my wedding band, but everything five feet away disappeared in a grey fog. The next morning I felt distinctly one - eyed. Over the course of the day that fog lifted however and I could see very clearly with this new eye. I wasnít even supposed to see clearly with it, not for distance vision. The lens was for seeing close-up, for reading. It was very interesting to study the world in this new way. Since I was 14 and got my first pair of glasses I have not been able to read subtitles in movie theaters, but now I could, an amazing sensation. Although not wearing glasses at all confuses my right eye and I canít skip them for very long. Wearing them though confuses my new left eye, a problem until I can be fitted with new glasses in a couple of weeks.

The different colors I see now with my left eye are another matter. The grey veil is now transparent but it is still there. Trying to find some information about that on the web has been frustrating and as far as I can determine the brain and the lens might have different ideas about what you see. My plastic lens is designed for severe astigmatism and has a certain refractive index. But the brain makes the eye do unexpected things. Nobody seems to understand quite how this works, although the operation is so common. I hope I will be able to read without glasses again and I wonder about my color vision; will it self-correct or not?

I remember reading in one of Oliver Sachsí books about a man who could not see colors and after surgery had his color vision restored. He was completely overwhelmed and could not go out at all during the day. He became a recluse who would only go out after dark into the black and white world he was used to. I thought of how odd it was, that someone would prefer not to see colors. But we know the impact of black and white movies, how without colors the scene is more abstract, more intense in a certain way, the light more subtle, the mood entirely different.

I asked the surgeon about my strange new color vision and I was told that the colors I see now with my left eye, the cool cast of grey-blue-green over everything is the TRUE color. My cataracts have gradually gotten me used to a world with a warm tint over everything. The leaves outside are not really that yellow- green and there is not so much blue in the shadows. The tree trunks are not tan but more grey-lavender. What I have considered true colors are not at all, and it makes me utterly confused. It makes me wonder how we know what we are looking at. Is this shirt a warm rust brown-red color or is it a grayish purple? Heaven knows what I have been wearing and what dreadful combinations I might have shown up in! And I look at my latest collages and I find them dull and cool, and I wonder how in the world I could have sold a single one of those dreary pieces!

I have been told you adjust and I think it is true you can get used to almost anything. It is hard to be told you can trust your eyes though. You look and you see and you are sure this is the way something is and you become very fond of the world such as it looks to you.

The color vision remained a mystery however. I found a pair of startlingly purple socks in my drawer that I couldnít remember ever having bought, nor worn. But these were the socks as seen with my left eye. With my right eye the socks were just sort of general sock color, gray-blue-brown. It is like I have been using my very own color scheme, as if I operate in a whole other universe when it comes to color.

Yet, I discuss paintings and color all the time with friends and family and we seem to see the same way. Or maybe we mostly say we like this rather than that, we talk about composition and structure and weight and the rich or subtle color without describing what we see. We can agree that a tomato red is a wonderful red and we know what we mean but we donít know if we all mean the same thing.

There was a blue bird on the bird feeder a couple of weeks ago and the sunlight hit it just so and the iridescence was something I have never seen in my entire life. I could also compare what my two eyes saw and my old lens of my right eye only saw a grey blue bird, a beautiful color but not the chock of the iridescence I saw with my new lens. This visual spectacle more than made up for all the pain and trauma of course, but now I have a new question:

Why have I not been able to see the iridescence of the blue bird before when I have been able to see the iridescence of the ruby throated humming bird?



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Home About Anita Wolfenden Collections and Shows Gallery