Sophie Cowman is easy-going and honest. She has a fantastic sense of humor and earthy sensibility. Every chat enlightens the mind and lightens the heart.
I first got to know her with a Humanitou conversation that I published late last year. Since then, I occasionally pop in to say hello.
My sons adore Sophie. She once snipped colorful pieces of string from her stock for them, a prize for their day and a lasting memory they hold.
When my wife, Becca, and I recently had a rare day just for the two of us, and we were walking through town, we stopped in to see Sophie. We stayed for 25 minutes.
Sophie was sitting in the window-lit corner of her studio, carving the figure of a person from wood. She continues to carve while we talk. We share some laughs. Easy.
She shares what worries her and what she’s doing about it. She tells of her start in Manitou Springs nearly 50 years ago and her current standing with the city’s code enforcement officer.
Humanitou: Our 5-year-old son wants to pop in and see you whenever we walk by your studio. He sees the quilted sign outside and takes that to mean you’re here.
Sophie: It’s an illegal sign. But he’s human; he’s a very nice code enforcement officer. So I look forward to getting busted. (laughs) It will happen.
Becca: What’s illegal about it?
Sophie: It hangs off a tree limb. It swings in the wind. It didn’t get permission.
I didn’t mean to break all the laws, it’s just convenient.
Humanitou: Well, I see your business license sitting right here. You’re legit. That sign outside is just fabric on a branch.
“The brain is a peculiar instrument. … If you can’t cure it, make art out of it.”
Sophie: I’ve been here. I started in 1972. So I always get a little annoyed when people say, “What? You have a business license?” Well, I’ve been a business. (laughs) They wouldn’t let me go without a business license.
I got into town and I saw that this was a place I could do a little shop and wood carving. I couldn’t open a shop right away, because you need the license. So they said, if you go get four councilmen to sign it ahead of the city thing, you can open right away. So I did.
And one of the councilmen said, “You’ll never last.” He signed it for me.
“Because you’re female, unmarried and have the wrong kind of pants.”
And I went, “Wow. Those are three good reasons not to last.”
Hippies and blue jeans were just showing up, and it was a bad thing. We were the invasion. I didn’t know we were.
But I’m still here! I’m still unmarried. Always female. And still have the wrong kind of pants.
He passed on to the other side long, long ago. Age and time, and I’m going to follow him. But I’ve been here this long.
… (Sophie carves. We take a breath. Then … ) …
Sophie: Too bad I didn’t bring the brain quilt over and work on it here. I’m doing a quilt that’s a patchwork of thoughts. OK, I’m telling you, stop in later. It’s all laid out and I’m starting to stitch the thoughts in now. It’s a humdinger of a quilt.
The brain is a peculiar instrument. Then, you have to sort yourself out from the instrument. That’s what this quilt is, is an attempt to show myself, to teach myself the difference between my thoughts and the real me, the real one.
Sophie: It is in concept, and I may be able to pull it off in fact, because it’s laid out right.
Becca: I want to show you something, because that idea is speaking to me.
I’ve been mapping out what inspires me and what that means. It’s a mind map, which sounds like what you’re doing in the quilt.
(Becca shows Sophie the Coggle app on her smartphone.)
I’ve done this with software, but I’ve mapped out words and things that inspire me.
Sophie: And their relationship. They connect and build, and then suddenly a whole thing can form from the pieces. That’s fun.
Becca: Our brains are like quilts, really.
Sophie: I think the different compartments of them, and the personalities we adopt, that we become from residing in those different compartments, the moody one or whatever.
And you can change. I feel more in control now, of not getting lost in any one of them, like I always used to do.
So come by and see it. It’ll be laid out here. I started it about a year or so ago, but it’s kind of complex and intimidating, and I was not feeling together. My brain pieces were separating, so I let it go for a while.
Now I’m excited again. The whole key is caring about it. The whole thing, of if you can do it or not do it, is if it matters.
Becca: You’re pulling on my heartstrings. I do want to come back and see the brain quilt.
Sophie: I’ll start bringing it every day, once I get it a little more together. You can give me suggestions on it, too.
Sometimes these strong connections come apart. That’s what I’m worrying about, my connections separating. Some of them have. (laughs)
Oh, well. If you can’t cure it, make art out of it.