A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Carol Larson’s Tall Girl series affirms therapeutic process of creating art

Carol A. Larson defines her creative work as textile art, not quilting. Instead of using her name, she titles her website live2dye. And despite some gory and tragic details, she sees her life as a story of healing, courage and acceptance.

Here’s the backstory in Carol’s own words: “When I was 17 years old and 78.5 inches long, I was surgically shortened six inches with the intention of giving me a ‘normal’ life. There were three surgeries over two summers to complete this transformation.”

In case your math is rusty, Carol went from a little more than six feet five to a thread less than six feet.

Her autobiography is complex, full of twists and turns. According to Ms. Larson, “I have often been referred to as the tall girl and always despised it,” she said. “Somewhere along this journey of coming to terms with the surgeries and their long-term effects on my life, I came to embrace the TALL GIRL moniker.”

She documents her reconciliation in an exhibition — Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work — on view at Paducah’s National Quilt Museum until January 16, 2018. She defines it as cathartic, because it emerged through, “the release of old stories, wounds, and pain” from her body.

Over time, she pondered the wisdom of her decision to have surgery. On one hand, being a bit shorter might stop the insensitive questions, things said by well-meaning folks like, “What are you standing on?” when she was at work behind the counter of her retail job in high school.

Not all remarks and reactions to her height were well-meaning. Growing up, she endured the taunts of schoolyard bullies and suffered the pain of rock-throwing boys.

“How’s the weather up there?” they wanted to know.

In the artwork entitled, “The Bullies,” an empowered female figure replies that her view is “fabulous.” While they pelt her with rocks, she is head and shoulders above the clouds, enjoying the sunshine and a butterfly.

The works in the Tall Girl series are meditative, revealing, and sometimes angry. “You Decide” features identical females standing back to back, pondering. The accompanying label, explains. “While friends were busy chatting about SAT scores, college choices, boys and prom, I was contemplating suicide.”

At 17, Carol saw the solutions to her challenge fluctuating between extremes. “Fortunately,” she reports, “I chose surgery.”

That option was not without dangers, but Carol came through it. Unfortunately, she was raped the spring semester of her freshman year of college, and never reported it. “I was obsessed with maintaining an appearance of normalcy,” she admits.

It took thirty years before she could bring herself to tell her mother about the crime.

As she finally came to terms with her life in middle age, Carol contemplated what she calls “Coulda’ Beens.” “Had I had self-esteem instead of surgery, I could’ve been many things: a professional women’s basketball player, a high fashion model or a professional volleyball player.

Creating art healed Carol A. Larson’s heart and spirit, with this body of work — Tall Girl — completing the process.

The exhibition will be on view until January 16 at the National Quilt Museum, 215 Jefferson Street, Paducah, 270-442-8856. More information about Ms. Larson is available at www.live2dye.com.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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