Secretary of the Interior

Fiona Jigsawing

In house model Fiona with one of her favorite pastimes.

In house model Fiona with one of her favorite pastimes.

I was a newlywed when my husband and I watched the twin towers collapse in real-time from our loft building a mile north of the attack. We knew then that the world would never be the same and that our lives would be neatly demarcated into “before 9.11” and “after 9.11.” Nearly twenty years later, we have deja vu. Covid 19 has delivered a reckoning beyond our imagination. The natural world is catching a break, but few others will benefit from this scourge except for profiteers, a handful of U.S. senators and all of the industries that will help maintain social distancing. We have isolated ourselves like so many households. Here is a quick index of our new normal:

  1. We have fewer spam calls.
  2. Our dogs are delighted with all of the long walks and are looking sleek. I look less sleek since I’ve been stress-eating.
  3. I am catching up with old friends.
  4. I have indulged in quite a bit of anxiety, none of it remotely productive.
  5. I’m sleeping more.
  6. My hoop house is greening up despite the snow outside.
  7. I’m an Anthony Fauci groupie and still cannot believe he is 79.
  8. I am reading more.
  9. I’m back on Facebook.
  10. I am proud of our kids. This social distancing is hard on teenagers but they are adapting to the new temporary normal with poise.
  11. I am remembering to groom for Zoom meetings.
  12. Weekends really aren’t a thing now are they?
  13. I am trying to remember that communication, reverence, compassion, and gratitude are a good strategic defense in any onslaught.

This crisis has put a great deal into perspective. The personal dramas and petty concerns that captured me two weeks ago seem distant and blurred, like the view on the wrong end of a telescope. We fell in step with the dire news and statistics, adjusted our personal budget and set aside as much as we could for relief efforts. And I reassessed my fledgling design business. Thanks to a small loan that I put in place from the get-go, I can still stay in business and maintain a sole employee for the short term. I am extremely grateful that I have a reprieve, albeit a temporary one, but I have been struggling with some broader questions. What is important now? Why create art? Why continue to design? Is this where I should be putting time and energy?

It took years to embrace my right-brained self and to understand that making art is as valid as any other sanctioned profession. Art and design connect people and brighten lives. That is where I want to be. All artists are storytellers in a multitude of ways: from the artists who ask us to question societal norms, or who use choreography to pull us into another dimension, or to those who design our spaces, or those who bind us with music and entertainment, to those who use design as an invitation for awe, or to the writers who lay it out in black and white.

There is a great deal at stake right now: lives, livelihoods, and our collective sanity. But I'm looking for the light under the door. I hope this pause allows us to be a little more creative. I hope this pause makes the arts community more accessible by pulling it online. I hope this pause frees us from judging art strictly through the lens of commerce, trends, or critical approbation. With all of this in mind, I am shaking off my temporary paralysis and am getting back to work. I plan to keep designing, to return to my blog, to my regular column, to community advocacy and always, always to the garden. Creating is moving.

dog luna and you belong welcome mat
Isa Catto Studio threshold. Luna is looking forward to your visit. Someday.

My mission remains the same: to create a sustainable line of products that give back with every purchase. Before the pandemic hit, the studio was launching a partnership with Conservation International to plant a mangrove with every purchase. Mangroves are among our front lines of defense in fighting climate change and have been decimated by real estate development and shrimp farming. Planting mangroves is still in the works--we can worry about two things at once after all--but I am now also assessing how to give to pandemic relief as well. Now, more than ever, I see the importance of making original products, in small editions, with a smaller footprint. Now more than ever, businesses need to close the loop --- to create and to simultaneously give back. We need to consume less, and we need to consume more thoughtfully.

The whole planet is now gathering online, and the studio will follow suit. We already have an online platform, but we can go further. In lieu of our open studios and small workshops, we are planning a series of online classes on color, painting, and possibly, bookbinding. So look for the next newsletter or follow us on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to get updates.

Most of all, I would like to hear from you. What are you doing, how are you faring, what are you thinking? How has your world changed? Let me know. I’m here and no need to keep your distance.

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