Thanksgiving in Sihanoukville with Penny Sisto

Moonwalker by Penny Sisto


The original title of this post was, “Penny Sisto: My Bestest Friend”.

“God knows where that title came from, but it stuck” were the first words I wrote yesterday when I started this post. The answer came a few hours later. This is what happened:

Whenever I have a medical question I can’t find an answer to, I email my dear friend Penny Sisto and she always has an answer for me. Yesterday I had a question about a chronic ailment my wife Sopheak is suffering from. Penny replied promptly and thoroughly, as always, and also mentioned that she had completed 58 quilts last year.

I checked out her website, and was inspired to write an article about her latest collection. I promise, “My Bestest” anything is not a title I would come up with on my own; it’s just not my style. Nevertheless, I sent a reply to Penny: “Tentative title is ‘Penny Sisto: My Bestest Friend.’ Just popped into my head”, I wrote, feeling a little embarrassed about my silly sounding title.

Not long afterwards, I received another email from Penny. “It struck me as you wrote the word Bestest because today is the death anniversary of . . . my bestest woman friend in this Incarnation. . . . Anyway I called Her Bestest as a nickname, so thank you for giving me that gift on her Death anniversary.”

White Buffalo by Penny Sisto
White Buffalo

This “coincidence” defines my relationship with Penny better than any other example I could give. I’ve had the huge privilege of knowing Penny since the late sixties and although it’s been decades since I last saw her, there’s still an element of “magic” to it.

Penny deeply influenced my life in many ways. For one thing, she gave truth to the rather insipid sounding rumour that “magic happens.” More importantly, she was the first person I had ever met who was genuinely and deeply compassionate. I sometimes think if I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t really know the meaning of the word. Hers wasn’t the pseudo-compassion of the pseudo-spiritual sixties, either. She simply could not and would not say no to someone in need.

Penny makes her living and expresses herself creatively as a quilt artist. She has had her works displayed in major galleries throughout the United States and as you can see, she’s no ordinary artist. Her quilts seem to be infused with the souls of her subjects and convey all the strength of their spirits. The quilts shown here are from her latest collection, “Heartbeat 2011″, which bears the subtitle, “We live on Stolen Land.”

I will fight no more by penny sisto
I will fight no more

What would be a more appropriate subject for my Thanksgiving blog? I intended to write a rant about the hypocrisy of an American holiday that remembers the kindness of the indigenous Americans who met the first settlers and forgets the genocide that follows. Rather than burden you with words, just take a close look at these quilts and see what we have lost as a result of that genocide.

Penny hand-stitched this 58 quilt collection in a single year. That’s more than one per week. Take a close look at the detailing on ‘Shade’ (below) – the little crinkles around the sun, for instance – and then look at it from a distance. Now try and imagine doing all that, including finding just the right bits and pieces of cloth, in less than a week. Now imagine having atrocious eyesight and yet still creating a work of art with such rich detail that can be appreciated from any distance. Finally, top it off with an equally busy daily life on a rural Kentucky farm. How does she do it?

I could go on and on, but I’ll let Penny’s work speak for her. Visit her website, and treat your eyes and heart to a Thanksgiving/Christmas season treat.

Shade, by Penny Sisto