The Rooster

On Friday I finished a quilt top, with which I’m really pleased. When I started it, I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t have a plan. Though I drew some (many!) illustrations in my design software, fabric doesn’t look the same as pixels, so the quilt kept evolving as I got more done. Almost every part of it changed while in process.

I like most of my quilts, really, almost all of them. Some delight me in ways I couldn’t expect. This is one. When I feel that way, it’s because the quilt is something I could not have made before this moment. All the things I’ve learned, all that I know, had to get to this moment, so I could make this particular quilt. When you see this quilt (not now, perhaps in a few weeks,) you might not guess that about it. But I will know. I’ll remember. This quilt is special, because I couldn’t have done it before.

~ *** ~

There was a Japanese emperor who hired an artist to paint a rooster for him. The emperor was a patient man, so when the painting was not immediately forthcoming, he was not very concerned. Even so, years went by. How difficult was it to paint a rooster? The artist was benefitting from the patronage of the emperor, living in the palace grounds, eating the food provided, yet he had not produced the painting. After twenty years the emperor’s patience was spent. He went himself to the artist’s rooms to inquire about his painting.

The artist was startled to be visited by the emperor, but he bowed deeply and invited the other man to have a seat. “Please wait here, and I will get your painting.” The artist retreated into his studio. The emperor could hear him, singing softly to himself, puttering around.

After many minutes the emperor could take it no more. He leapt to his feet, as well as a now aging man could, and filled the doorway of the studio with his presence. “Twenty years I’ve waited and still you make me wait! Why should I not execute you now?”

The artist did not react to the threat, but stepped from his easel and said, “I am almost done now. Do you like it?”

The emperor’s temper calmed as he saw before him the perfect rooster. In simple lines it showed the rooster turned to look over its shoulder at him, just as he’d hoped. But then the man noticed dozens, no hundreds of other paintings almost the same, lining every surface of the room. To his eye, they all looked perfect, too.

“Did you just paint the rooster on the easel?” the emperor asked.

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“If you have painted all these other roosters, why do I not have one yet? Why have I waited twenty years for something you could do long ago, something you could do in just a few minutes?”

“Oh, your Majesty, I could not,” said the artist. “It has taken me this long to learn how to paint the perfect rooster. None of those before were good enough to give you.”

[Written from my memory of an old folk tale.]


12 thoughts on “The Rooster

  1. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    This post has made me think back to all the quilts I’ve made. Each one has been a different challenge for me. I’ve learned new skills with each quilt. Each quilt has told the story or represented an event in the life of the recepient of the quilt.
    Thanks for sharing the tale.
    I can’t wait to see the quilt.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks much. The quilt will be a surprise gift, so I’m keeping it under wraps for now. And yes, each quilt should teach us something new, or tell us new stories. Some are just more … informative than others! 🙂

  2. snarkyquilter

    Melanie you’re such a tease. You talk about this wonderful new quilt and then you don’t show it. Seriously, I think we don’t realize how much we’ve learned until we look back at past work and see how much we’ve grown and learned. Not only that, without all that earlier work we possibly couldn’t have even conceived of our new work. It’s partly technical expertise, but also artistic expertise.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh dear, I don’t know how wonderful it is, though I like it very much. I just know, as I look at it, that there are things I’ve learned in the not-too-distant past, that helped me make it. When you see it, YOU might not know that. You might not see it as any “breakthrough” or anything. (Not sure that is the right word.) But I know it shows how my work is changing through time. 🙂


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