Sunday, June 17, 2018

Finishing up the first week at the Rensing Center

 (Above:  The Cocoon, in progress.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

My installation, The Cocoon, is progressing very nicely here at the Rensing Center outside Pickens, SC.  During this first of five weeks as as an "artist-in-residence," I have figured out several ways to overlap the odd shaped and often damaged pieces of vintage linens.  Several poorly constructed quilt tops have been taken apart and put back together into panels for the pipe assemblage that I was able to purchase with a grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission.

With each panel, I'm learning something new. Mostly, I'm imagining the Thanksgiving dinners served on some of the stained tablecloths and the birthdays, anniversaries, and many Mother's Days that meant these linens were "gifts".  Lots of the napkins still have little paper stickers reading "Made in Japan" or "Irish linen".  Though never used, these pieces show the inevitable foxing of age and permanent discoloration on the folds.  It is wonderful to finally fashion them into "something"  ... even if it wasn't their intended use. 

In my TEDx talk, I tried so hard to impress listeners to USE THEIR PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS!  Even as I said these words, I knew that no one would really use "Grandma's doilies".  I talk about "Grandma's doilies" a lot in that talk.  (CLICK HERE to see the entire video.)  In a very real sense, this installation is meant as a personal response to my own, collected stash.  It was high time for me to USE these things.  The installation will hopefully become a physical place for the public to donate a doily, stitch on a button, and USE all these things to remember and honor the past women who embellished their homes with the handmade.

Part of my stash was already donated to me.  In fact, many people have given me their family's doilies and household linens because they don't want to use them and can't bear to sell them at a yard sale.  They tell me, "Here, Susan, you make art with them".  So, I am.

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful donation came from printmaker Steven Chapp.  He sent me his mother's 1948 wedding gown.  Now, I knew it was lovely when I opened the box, but until ironing it, I didn't truly appreciate the gorgeous, heavy white satin.  I love the back with its tiny covered buttons, bow bustle, and long train even more than the princess styled front.  I would have worn this at my wedding.  (In fact, I like it a lot more than the dress I wore!)  There's no way for me to cut it!  Yet, it occurred to me that I could just suspend it from the pipe assemblage.  Conceptually, the wedding dress puts the suggestion of a woman into the enclosure.  As it is now, it is too high ... but I'm really liking this way of incorporating such a special garment into the installation.

I am, however, incorporating other garments, especially some of the dozens of infant clothing, into some of the panels.

This is the back of the newest panel.  The entire installation is meant to be experienced both as an interior and an exterior.  Because of the flexibility of the telescoping upper pipes, I will be able to erect this enclosure in a variety of sizes.

I have used most of the linen calendar towels.  I have an entire stack left over.  They are duplicates of the same scene.  I have also started adding a few buttons and other things by hand stitching.  More detail shots are further below.  Just keep scrolling down!

 (Above:  Ellen Kochansky, noted fiber artist and Rensing Center executive director, filleting a baked red snapper.)

Of course most of my time finds me in my studio space stitching, but not all the time!  Every week there is a potluck dinner at Ellen Kochansky's on-site home.  I am a little like this red snapper, a "fish out of water".  Everyone brings some exotic, generally locally sourced or hand-picked, delicacy.  Before dining, each person gets a few moments to explain their culinary choices.  One person brought a roadkill deer tenderloin prepared according to a recipe found in The Sioux Chef cookbook. 

Ellen prepared a fresh red snapper with a salted meringue, a coating that allowed the scales to simply peel away with the meringue once baked.

The conversations are always enlightening and generally very scholarly in the area of the arts.

Anyone knowing me is aware that I pride myself on my lack of domesticity.  At home, I don't cook, grocery shop, do laundry, dust, scrub toilets, sweep, vacuum, or work in the backyard ... at all.  (Thank goodness for Steve ... and HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!)

So, what did I bring?  Deviled eggs.  The only thing I can say on my behalf is that I was creative with a serving container!  Now, scroll down for detail images of what I actually can do ... create an installation from mismatched, odd shaped, much loved and also neglected old linens!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Arrival at the Rensing Center

(Above:  Me and my very filled cargo van just before pulling out of the driveway to go to the Rensing Center.)

It's been over a year since I dreamed up the idea of creating a spacious, soft enclosure out of my enormous stash of vintage household linens and lace.  I started calling the project The Cocoon.  I wrote a proposal, got a SC Arts Commission quarterly project grant to assist with the cost of the convention center piped booth assemblage, and secured a five-week art residency at the Rensing Center outside Pickens, South Carolina.   I've been talking about the project for months, but during the last couple of weeks, I started to get nervous!  Could I pull it off?  Could I really turn the foggy vision in my head into a reality, a safe place for future public art engagements?  A major fiber installation where people could share stories about embroidery and quilting done by past generations of women?  A location where someone could donate a doily, stitch on a button, learn to thread and needle and pull it through hanging yards of tablecloths and pillowcases?

 (Above:  "The Pottery", one of the Rensing Center's self-contained studio and living spaces ... named because it was formerly a ceramic studio.)

Thankfully, Ellen Kochansky, a noted fiber artist and Rensing Center executive director, believes in my ability to pull things off ... even giant projects that only exist on paper and haven't yet been tested!  So, last Sunday Steve and I hauled all the boxes of linen, the new pipe system, my sewing machine, and supplies for the next five weeks into the cargo van.  I drove out of our parking lot and off on this new adventure. 

 (Above:  The Pottery's kitchen.)

My home for the next five weeks is called "The Pottery".  It's down a short gravel drive off a meandering driveway.  It is a self-contained efficiency apartment and studio all rolled into one with sliding glass doors overlooking the woods.  It is secluded and beside a trail that leads to a hidden waterfall.  I have everything I need and time to work.

As soon as I arrived, I unloaded the van ...

... surveyed the space and moved all the furniture ... order to finally set up the pipe system.  I hadn't anticipated one important thing.  The ceiling isn't eight feet except on one side of the big room.  No matter!  I was able to set up enough to get started.  I will certainly be able to work, step back and review, continue, and envision the space I'll be creating.  It is actually kind of exciting to know that I will work for five weeks, seeing sections at a time, and not see the finished product.  It is exciting because this means the final "unveiling" will be at a different time, something that can be arrange, publicized, and open to the public!  All in all, this is perfect!

I couldn't wait to get started sorting all the boxes into piles.  I also hung up a special donation, a satin wedding dress donated to my cause by Steven Chapp, an extremely accomplished printmaker who only lives in nearby Easley, South Carolina.  I haven't quite decided how this vision from the past is going to figure into The Cocoon, but I know that garment automatically infer a human element ... and wedding dresses infer a special day, a beautiful ideal, and this one perfectly belongs among all the table runners and formal damask napkins and other fine occasion textiles.  I am sure the gown will let me know how to use it!

 (Above:  The sofa covered in vintage garments.)

The wedding gown isn't the only garment.  While sorting, I was amazed at just how many pairs of bloomers, sleeping dresses, and especially infant clothing I actually had!

The collection of yoyos was much larger than I thought too!

Although this looks like a lot of crocheted doilies, it isn't quite as many as I had in 2012 when I made The Canopy while on another art residency in Galesburg, Illinois.

Nor is this stash of lace trim as plentiful as I had then.

Yet, I have never had as many gloves, baby bonnets, and lace collars!  Ever!

I have already learned that I can rip the elastic out of the late 1960s gloves ... which I like better!

I made piles of pillowcases, linen dish towels sporting printed calendars, tablecloths ...

... and quilt blocks, tops, and scraps.

On Monday I started stitching.  The first panel took forever and looked dreadful.  Well, maybe not "dreadful" but certainly not promising.  I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew.  I had to stand back and think about my own concept.  I wanted LAYERS, not just a flat, pieced panel.  The plan was to EMBELLISH the larger pieces with the smaller ones.  So, I continued through Tuesday and this is how far I've gotten.  I am much happier, especially after I added some yoyos, gloves, and infants garments.  Putting doilies onto tablecloths and adding quilt tops (no matter how poorly constructed!) improved the dull, flat look for the first panel.  Color brightened the initial day!

This is how the back looks.  Actually, it's not really "the back"; it's the exterior!  After a day of doubt, I've returned to excitement! I can already say with confidence that this project is going to be a success ... after about a million stitches!  I can and will do it!

 Further below are plenty of detail images.  Please take a look!  Scroll down!

(Above:  A ring of old, rusty keys and two sheets of antique buttons.)

As much as I have to do ... because I have enough pipe system to create a space measuring 20' x 20' ... I will not tax myself completely!  I will have fun, walk to the waterfalls, looks at the stars, and go to the nearby Pickens County flea market on Wednesday mornings!  Today I scored a ring full of rust keys and two sheets of very nice antique buttons.

(Above:  Gallery 80808/Vista Studios last Saturday night.)

There's one more thing I'd like to share!  On Saturday evening, right before leaving for the Rensing Center, I returned to Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, my first studio ... from 2002 - 2016. I learned to "be an artist" in this studio and almost everything I ever made happened on the small patch of dark blue paint in the photo above. I moved out two years ago, just before the landlords closed off the large exhibition area that had been over the back wall of my studio.  The landlords started a gradual transition for their warehouse.  By this year, the remaining artists had to move out.  Most went to a new, more expensive complex called Stormwater.  My mentor, Stephen Chesley and Carl Larson ... who occupied my space after I left ... got permission to use the space and showcase the last piece of art they made in  together using the leftover wall and floor paint.  The permission was for one-night-only ... last Saturday.  So, I went to visit my "old haunt", my sacred space, and soak up the atmosphere.

Please note, the landlords are about the most wonderful, supportive people ever.  Gallery 80808/Vista Studios existed with low rent for nearly thirty years.  Early on, the area had been a little sketchy but more recently it turned into a bustling urban setting full of restaurants, hotels, bars, and very little parking.  It was time for the landlords to make changes and start the process of cashing in our their warehouse investment.

I didn't know what to expect after all the studio partitions were removed.  I hoped for a little mental clarity and I got it!  It was amazing to see just how tiny my little space was.  Change is necessary for growth.  I started making art in that space ... seventeen years ago.  Where will I be in seventeen years? There's no way to deny "mid-career"!

I took a photo of my own feet in the exact place I used to stand.  That was then.  Now I'm ready for the future, the next phase of my studio practice, and for working on giant sized projects that couldn't have been done in the past.  I'm on a new adventure ... onward and upward!

Now ... details of the major fiber installation on which I'm working!  Scroll down!  Check back!  I'll be blogging regularly from the Rensing Center where my new life is already underway!

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Lucy Stone, a work in progress

 (Above:  Lucy Stone, a work in progress.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Some time last fall, Sandra Sider and Pam Weeks, both very well known curators who have worked tirelessly to put quilts and art quilts into museums and in front of the public's eyes, sent me a wonderful invitation.  They asked me to create a work for their exhibition, Deeds Not Words: The Power of Persistence, Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Suffrage.

Of course I said YES, YES, YES!  The show will premiere at the National Quilt Museum during Quilt Week in 2020 and there is a publication underway.  I'm excited!  The first thing was to select one of the suffragettes.  It didn't take me long to land on Lucy Stone. 

(Above:  The Library of Congress, copyright free, image of Lucy Stone's original daguerreotype transferred to fabric and basted to recycled black packaging felt with two, distressed gold frames.)

Why Lucy Stone?  Well, I knew I wanted to create a hinged work that referenced antique daguerreotypes.  Last Christmas while visiting Santa Fe, I saw Betty Hahn's Soft Daguerreotypes from 1973.  I'd never heard of Betty Hahn at the time.  I had no idea she was a famous photographer specializing in alternative processes who often used embroidery and other fiber techniques.  I didn't know about her many solo shows and inclusion in various Smithsonian exhibits or the multiple NEA grants and fellowships.  I didn't know the Museum of Modern Art has one of her works or that feminism was a driving force.  I didn't know that Betty Hahn's work delivers " a powerful message in regards to women and embroidery," one that "pushes the audience to acknowledge the work of women not as craft or tradition, but as a meticulous, creative, and unique."

(Above:  Betty Hahn's Soft Daguerreotypes, 1973 at the Santa Fe Art Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.)

It is almost embarrassing to admit this but my first thought was, "I can do better than this!"  Maybe I thought this simply because I was already envisioning my piece for Deeds Not Words as a giant daguerreotype, one that really is hinged.  After all, I'm also a picture framer and an installation artist.  Presentation figures prominently in even my initial approach to art-making.

 (Daguerreotype of woman and child in folding, hinged case.)

So ... what's a daguerreotype?  This early photographic process employed an iodine-sensitized silver plate and mercury vapor to create a very fragile, mirror-like surface with extremely accurate and sharp details. Because the plates were so vulnerable to damage, most were presented in special folding cases, often with velvet liners and ornate clasps.  The process was named for its inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre.  The daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process and pretty much the only one used for personal portraiture from 1840 - 1860.  The Library of Congress owns seven featuring Lucy Stone.  These images are high resolution and copyright free.  I selected the one I liked best.  After careful sizing, I ordered my image from Spoonflower.  The size was determined by the fact that the finished piece is required to measure no more than 22" in width when closed.  That's the constraints of the exhibition's shipping containers. 

I basted the fabric image to my normal batting ... recycled black packaging felt.  Simple free-motion stitching outlined much of the figure.  Then the real work began.  Using a metallic pewter/silver sewing thread, I seed stitched the entire oval background.  To me, this reflective thread mimics the look of early photographic processes. It took days to get the surface so densely stitched.

 I knew that stitching the background so densely would slightly shrink that area ... making the un-stitched areas slightly bulged.  That area was Lucy Stone's face ... but I had a plan from the start!

I opened a hole through the felt and stuffed the inside of Lucy's head with three ovals of felt, each one cut slightly smaller than the one on which it sat.  This is a technique known as trapunto.  The word comes from the Italian language and means "to quilt".  Trapunto is a traditional stuffing technique and quite effective.

Lucy Stone's face just slightly projects away from the densely stitched surface.  I like that!

Because the Library of Congress scan from the original daguerreotype didn't give me a strong oval line, I cut a mat on my oval cutter and drew a pencil line.

Next, I fished out all sorts of beads from vintage and costume jewelry I've collected from auctions.  The beads are almost all exactly the same size but they vary slightly in shades of off-white.  I like this because they don't look perfect and new.  I strung them on button hole thread and carefully couched them onto the pencil line.  I also stitched through each one individually.  These beads are very firmly in place!

Another purchase from Bill Mishoe's auction was a vast collection of buttons.  Some were still in boxes by the gross.  At the time I bought them, I almost got rid of the gold buttons.  I couldn't imagine having a use for them.  Thank goodness I kept them!

The buttons became the spandrels surrounding the oval image.

Some buttons were stitched on top of others.  There are LOTS of buttons on this piece!  That's just my style!

Yesterday I was able to position the portrait into one of the two frames.  It looks wonderful!

Yet, I know that the weight of the buttons could easily pull the fabric out of shape.  It could sag over time.  To prevent this, I stitched through the acid-free foam-centered board and piece ... a lot!  No area will now be carrying too much weight.  I'm already working on the rest of the piece but will have to delay finishing it.  Why?  Well, I'm going to the Rensing Center outside of Pickens, South Carolina tomorrow.  I'll be there for a five-week art residency during which time I'll be working on a major installation.  I'll be blogging from there too.

Before I sign off with this post, however, I'd like to clarify one important thing!  I did NOT select Lucy Stone just because I found a high resolution, copyright free image of an original daguerreotype.  All the early suffragettes had such images made and most are available through the Library of Congress.  I did not select her because she was the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree (though I very much like that fact!)  I selected Lucy Stone because she refused to give up her surname upon marriage and because she and her husband Henry wrote their own, egalitarian wedding vows and penned a famous protest against patriarchal laws and customs governing marriage.  Lucy Stone stood against all inequalities.  She was an abolitionist, a great public orator, and was part of the 19th-century "triumvirate" of women's suffrage and feminism along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The more I read about Lucy Stone, the more I knew I wanted to stitch her portrait more than any other suffragist's picture!

I'll blog about this piece again in July when I've returned from Pickens and can turn my attention to finishing it!  Can't wait!