An immigrant mother shares her positive energy through embroidery
by Addie Ladner | photography by S.P. Murray
Inside an embroidery hoop, a woman shaped like a Matryoshka nesting doll is brought to life through brightly colored threads; florals and leaves that grow from minuscule beads sewn into groups; a patterned fabric serves as her stylish little top. She sits among many others, each a personality of its own, wrought in stitches and knots in a multitude of colors.
The cheerful hues belie an aura of solemnity: Elena Caron’s talent found its origin from a rough childhood in her native Ukraine, the hoop art a bridge between the past and present. She learned the craft from her grandparents, who took her in, along with her sister, when their mother left them at a young age. Her grandparents passed away soon after, leaving her impoverished father to care for the children. He was so poor that some months they would eat only apples and bread (he was often paid in produce) and she had a single pair of socks that she’d wash and dry on her grandfather’s radiator, mending them when they’d rip.
Despite the hardship, she persevered. “My grandfather was a horticulturist and taught me to work hard at what you love,” says Caron. She found respite in the natural world, on long walks with her father in the woods and flower identification lessons from her grandfather. “I like looking at different patterns of the moss, the ferns and the movement. It helps me think and process,” she says.
In her late teens, Caron served as a translator for a mission group in the Ukraine and met a woman who would become a mother figure to her. At age 21, she moved to the United States to be with her adoptive parents and attend graduate school. “To me, a family isn’t about blood or documents, it’s a commitment,” Caron says. Years later, she became a wife to husband Mark, had two daughters Emma, 9, and Vera, 7, and adopted her oldest daughter Sophie, now 21. Today, their life is centered around the seemingly ordinary family bustle she never would have believed possible: juggling work, school drop-offs, tantrums and road trips; living in a cozy home filled with with houseplants and antiques. “To me, it’s like a castle,” Caron says. “I have a rich life now.”
On her journey, Caron discovered the artist within herself as a way to generate extra income for her family, comparing herself to her favorite artist and inspiration, Frida Kahlo: “Frida Kahlo was able to create and express herself through pain and difficulty,” she says. “Embroidery was a new mountain to climb.” So now, in between balancing motherhood and other side jobs, Caron tells her story through vibrant, intricate mixed-media embroidered hoop art. She takes time to put thread to needle, needle to canvas; she can create one finished piece in under an hour. “I want this to be a happy place for me and for positive energy to go with these pieces,” Caron says.
In many ways, Caron’s life of creating art and raising a family are not at all what she expected. Caron attributes therapy and becoming a Christian for paving a new life for herself. “At one point in my life, I didn’t think I’d make it past twenty years old,” she says. And so her art has come to mirror her character: delicate, yet bold; approachable but intimate. When she sells her pieces, Caron feels she’s giving away a part of herself, a message of positivity and perseverance. “The biggest part of life is connecting to another human.”
You can find Elena Caron’s embroidery work locally at ArtSpace or online in her Etsy shop.