Sunday, January 19, 2020

Enos Park Residency ... I've arrived!

(Above: The art residency duplex for the Enos Park Residency Program.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I have arrived in Springfield, Illinois for four-weeks with the Enos Park Residency program.  As promised, I will be blogging the coming experiences at least twice a week. The coming posts will include local attractions and personalities, the hosting organization, and especially the project on which I will be working.  So ... what am I doing?  My proposal called for a "creative clothesline" that would speak to the benefits of line drying, household energy conservation, and how conveniences shape our lives (but don't have to!)

(Above:  At the Heart of Georgia Quilt Guild.)

I came to Illinois via a trunk show presentation at the Heart of Georgia Quilt Guild in Macon.  Their meetings start at 10:00 AM. So, I was on the road at 6:00 PM last Thursday.  It was a great time sharing but a long drive thereafter.  I spent the night outside Paducah, Kentucky and beat Friday afternoon's freezing rain the next morning.  So ... I'm in President Lincoln's city ... at the start of what promises to be a most productive art residency!

 So ... here's a tour of the residency's spacious accommodations! I'm on the top floor of the duplex. The image above shows most of the living room ...

... but in the other direction is a nice desk, just off the staircase from the front porch.

 Here's the main bedroom ....

... which is beside the nice bathroom ...

... and down the hallway ...

... from a spare bedroom.  I have so much space that I can't even imagine using this room!

After getting the key, I parked my van near the garage and hauled my things up the back steps ...

... through the well equipped kitchen ...

... past the kitchen table ...

... and into the dining room.  This is the space where I'll be working.  It has lots of natural light and plenty of room for me to move around. 

It wasn't long before I was ready to get to work!

I didn't jump right into making the clothesline.  This will begin more organically ... as the concepts evolve in my mind and get translated into pieces needing clothespins.  To start, I wanted to work more obviously with environmental issues.  Thankfully, I had the perfect thing to use!

I found this Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top in my own closet!  It has been hanging there for years. I'd totally forgotten about it.  Even when stitching my Feminist To Do List out of two, donated Sun Flower Sue quilt tops, I didn't remember owning this blue-and-pink sashed, vintage piece.  I think it was made by my great grandmother (but I'm not precisely sure).  Perhaps a bit of serendipity was involved.  Perhaps I forgot about this quilt top until just recently, just when I needed it most!  Had I remembered, I might have stitched more feminist call-for-action phrases on it ... trying to make the blocks of this quilt top work with those now hanging at the Muscatine Art Center in Iowa.  When I happened to find this quilt top in my closet (about two months ago), I couldn't help myself.  I envisioned call-for-action phrases stitched on the block ... but this time, the issues would relate to my clothesline proposal, to the environment and to efforts an individual might do in support.

(Above:  Sun Bonnet Sue, a dismantled quilt top ready to be transformed)

It took hours with a seam ripper to carefully dismantle the very well crafted quilt top. It was entirely stitched by hand.  Every sash and block was ripped along the warp and weft, not cut with scissors.  I thought about my great grandmother and the time she must have spent on all those little stitches.  I hope she is pleased that instead of a finished quilt, ART is being made.

(My Great-Grandma, Linnie Oswald ... though everyone just called her "Mom".  She lived ninety-eight years ... didn't die until I was in college!)

Frankly, I think my great grandmother would be pleased ... because she was raised in a very large family, lived through the depression, had her own laundry business, and would never have imagined a world where people wasted food, threw away perfectly good clothing, drove when walking was an option, and didn't "reduce, reuse, recycle".  "Saving for a rainy day" was the norm. Single use plastics weren't invented until later in her life. She knew that everything didn't come with so much throw-away packaging. In my great grandmother's world, many of our modern conveniences were unimaginable luxuries.  My entire residency proposal is to make work that reminds others of things my great grandmother already knew!

All twenty of the quilt blocks have been "freed" from the pink-and-blue sashing and have been ironed.  I've penciled the following call-for-action phrases on them and have begun stitching.  Below are the phrases:

Make energy efficient choices
Plant a tree
Drive less - Walk More
Champion environmental education
Avoid single use plastics
Shop with your own reusable bag
Start composting
Use mass transit
Don't buy fast fashion
Conserve water
Adopt a plant-rich diet
Reduce food water
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Cut greenhouse emissions
Vote for environmental leaders
Use clean, safe, renewable energy
Replace incandescent bulbs
Protect vulnerable ecosystems
Pick up litter
Express your concerns to others


Tuesday, January 14, 2020


(Above:  Commitment. Digital image on fabric with hand and free motion machine stitching, beading, and trapunto/stuffing. Framed: 26 1/2" x 20".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I don't know how or why it so often happens ... but it does! If I'm hand stitching on two pieces, they will be finished within twenty-four hours of one another.  If I'm hand stitching on three pieces, they will be finished within a day or two as well. 

Earlier this week, I finished CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).  This piece took just over three weeks of work.  (It would have required more time but the holidays meant I didn't have to "go to my day job".  Some days found me stitching for a minimum of eight hours.)  Well, that piece took up the entire living room.  It couldn't go with me to my weekly auctions.  It couldn't fit into the van.  So ... I started stitching on Commitment when I couldn't work on the crazy quilt. 

 (Above:  Commitment, detail.)

Commitment's last stitch was plied the day after the crazy quilt was finished.  It was created in order to turn a diptych into a triptych.  After finishing Persistence and Resilience and hanging them, I stepped back and thought, "Something is missing.  There needs to be something in the middle."  Thankfully, I had another anonymous, vintage photo that fit the bill.  I scanned it and ordered the fabric from Spoonflower

(Above:  Persistence, Commitment, and Resilience hanging at Mouse House.)

Commitment is a bit larger and I used a slightly wider linen liner.  Now, I really like how they look on the wall.  For me, diptychs are nice but triptychs are better!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

CRAZY (In the Millennial Age)

 (Above:  Detail from CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Finished!  Thousands of stitches, hundreds of anonymous photographs, dozens of old keys and clock gears, and too many buttons to count!  I truly loved each and every moment and even learned to use a thimble.  (Several of my fingers are nonetheless in rather raw shape! LOL!)  I've spent hours contemplating exactly why I love this work and how I want the title to reflect the concepts that drove me forward and kept me so totally engaged in the process.  This adventure has been remarkable, and I'm very, very pleased with the results.

(Above:  CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).  64" x 59".  Antique crazy quilt embellished with hundreds of anonymous photographs previously fused to unbleached muslin, keys, clock gears, buttons, charms and trinkets, beads, embroidery floss.  Hand stitched.)

I bought the antique crazy quilt more than two months ago but only started working on this piece approximately three weeks ago. I blogged about the first half of the process HERE. At that time, I was busy stitching around each photo that I could reach.  Only one small corner had any other embellishments ... which was my "sample" ... just to see whether or not I really wanted to add beads and buttons, keys and clock gears, etc.  (I did!)

At the time, an action plan was in place.  I would finish stitching around all the photos except those in the center (where I couldn't reach) and then I'd add all the embellishments (except in the center where I couldn't reach.)  Then ... I would take the entire crazy quilt off the stretcher bars.  So ... last weekend, I did. 

 (Above:  The living room with two pieces of thick wood atop two sets of workhorses.)

Two pieces of thick wood were placed on top of the two sets of workhorses.  One of these wood panels was the remains from Second Marriage, another contemporary expression using an antique quilt.  The other piece of wood used to be part of my twenty-five year old treadmill.  Despite an exhaustive effort with a voltmeter trying determine where the treadmill was "broke" in order to "fix" it, we ended up pronouncing the thing "dead".  Steve totally dismantled it but I saved the wood for this project!

The crazy quilt was then put on top of the two pieces of wood. Between the two, I could slide my chair toward the center and stitch that section.  It was hard but this approach did work!

Above is a photograph of a tray of embellishments.  In addition to clock gears and keys, I found sea shells, safety pins, escutcheon, costume jewelry, tiny locks, medals, minute and hour hands, Chinese coins, a pair of dull stork scissors, a mechanical compass, and several earrings that I loved but one of which I had lost.

As for the buttons ... well ... my stash is embarrassingly large.  I grabbed just a few, certainly more than enough, but I did try to place all the tiniest ones (probably for doll clothes) which I saved in a small container.  Seriously, what other project was I saving them for?

At long last, the final stitches were plied.  It was time to reattach the work to the stretcher bars ... but after covering the stretcher bars with acid-free foam centered board.  Over-sized boards are ordinarily 60" x 40" so I had to splice two together.

The face of the stretcher bar was coated in glue but I also stapled the foam-centered board to the wood.

Then, I placed the crazy quilt on top of the foam-centered board.  A few staples went in the corners until I could lift the piece vertically.  All the staples are now on the reverse side.  The side of the stretcher bar is covered by the original blanket on which the antique crazy quilt blocks were originally stitched.

Yesterday was a lovely, overcast but otherwise bright day.  I hung the piece on the garage doors and shot full and detailed images.  Below are the details.  Generally, I don't take more than one or two detail shots.  It was much too difficult to select one or two areas, so I shot lots of pictures.  They are further below.

The only things left to do were suppose to be simple.  Yet, it wasn't simple to price something like this and it also wasn't easy to decide on a title.  Many artists price by the square inch (or for some quilters, by the square foot).  There's 3,776 square inches in this piece.  With my "In Box" and "Stained Glass" pieces, I try to get approximately one dollar per square inch ... but those pieces are free-motion machined stitched, not HAND stitched.  Those pieces don't depend on years of collecting anonymous photos, old keys, assorted buttons, and clock gears.

Plus, professional artists with gallery representation really should always incorporate a 50% commission in their pricing.  It isn't professional to "raise the price" to cover commission; it isn't professional to sell directly "for less" ... that's an excellent way to permanently end a relationship with any gallery.  My pricing has always assumed that I'd be happy to pay 50% to a gallery ... and there is no way on God's green earth that I'd settle for $1888 for this piece.  Obviously, I was going to have to price this work at more than one-dollar per square inch.

So I thought about charging two-dollars per square inch ... making the total $7,652 ... but what about all the embellishments, the stretcher bars, the time spent fusing anonymous photos to unbleached muslin?  I thought about it for about an hour and decided to round up to $8000.  Now, I've never sold anything for that much money.  It seems like "a lot", but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is another way to think about pricing.

Without a doubt, this is a one-of-a-kind, "major" piece.  It took nearly a month to make.  I asked Steve what he thought a self-supporting artist ought to make per year.  (For several years I've been "making money" through my art career but I am NOT self supporting.  Steve and I still have to custom frame pictures at Mouse House to make ends meet!)  Steve's answer was $40,000.  My answer was $36,000.  That works out to $3000 to $3333 per month.  So, if a self-supporting artist had made this piece, she would have to charge over $6000 to continue living ... or $8000 in order to cover the cost of the embellishments, stretcher bars, etc.

It's not that I think anyone is actually going to buy this piece (though it would be absolutely fantastic!), but this piece deserves to be priced fairly ... for itself ... for the investment in time and because the concept is strong.

This leads me to the other "last thing" to do: Give the piece a title.

Even in the earlier blog post regarding the first part of stitching this work, I was toying with the title Crazy in the Millennial Age.   In that post I wrote:

I am also determined to transform the piece to speak to the 21st century.  I want the work to remind viewers that the original makers are as unknown as those faces from the past that I've attached.  This is about the "anonymous" nature of most household textiles and thousands of neglected family photos.  This is about the way the digital age has changed our relationship to nostalgia, snapshots, family heirlooms, and home decor.

It is also about many young people not wanting their family's heirlooms.  It is about the high likelihood that future generations are not going to remember their ancestors beyond names on an ancestry chart.  It is about the truth behind the original crazy quilt ... forgotten, neglected, unwanted, put up for auction, sold in a group of five quilts for just $20.   

This piece is my way of honoring all the memories held in the fabric, in the eyes of the people added, and the stories old keys and clock gears could tell if they could speak.  This is a piece about yesteryear and today, the past and the present, but also about the future when this crazy quilt might become as lost as all its parts had been before I stitched them together.

I feel compelled to write this because of one negative comment received on Facebook.

On Facebook, I posted some of the photos taken for my earlier blog entry.  Almost everyone LOVED the piece.  More than two-hundred people clicked the "like" button. Nearly fifty comments were written and twenty-five people shared the images. Literally thousands were exposed on various "groups" ... but despite the overwhelming positive response ... I focused on the one negative comment.

I do not remember who wrote it.  I deleted the comment from my page quickly because I didn't want to defend my work or myself.  I didn't want to remember someone who said that my actions were negligent.  The writer likened my work to the ways contemporary interior designers are bleaching finely knotted Persian rugs and how books are being destroyed by those altering them.  The writer's final assessment of my crazy quilt was that it was typical in the millennial age, an era of total DISRESPECT.

I thought long and hard about this viewpoint.  There is validity in it but there was absolutely no disrespect in my work.  I know that all the precious possessions in a family really can't survive.  It is all too much.  We can't all become hoarders.  There are often good reasons why pictures aren't saved and why crazy quilts don't get handed down.  As an artist, I rescue some of these former keepsakes and make artwork.  I give these objects a second chance.  I am using them to communicate truths:  Things get forgotten; People get forgotten; Nothing is Forever.

As a result over many mental conversations with myself, I've decided to stick to my "working title" but to put part of it in parenthesis.  Why?  Well ... no matter what I thought about, no matter how I loved stitching all these anonymous people together, and no matter how much I'd like to think that my finished work will "last" ... this piece might not make it into the next millennium.  That's just CRAZY ... and a perfect title regardless of the era.  So, this is now CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).

This might not make much sense, but it doesn't have to make sense.  It is CRAZY after all!

Below are more of the detail images.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

In Progress: The Transformation of an Antique Crazy Quilt

 (Above:  Stitching in the living room.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

About a month ago, I purchased a stack of five vintage and antique quilts at Bill Mishoe's auction.  The lot set me back $20 plus 10% buyer's premium.  Two of the quilts were consigned back to the auction house along with a bunch of other "junk".  They recouped only about five dollars after the commission.  I didn't care.  Two of the other quilts have joined my enormous stash of used household textiles, but one of the quilts ... well ... I would have happily paid much more to own it.  I adore antique crazy quilts!  Who doesn't? !!!

 (Above:  The antique crazy quilt unfolded on my frame shop's dry mount machine.)

I'm no expert at dating vintage and antique quilts but I'm fairly sure this piece isn't a late 19th century work.  It probably was made in the 20s or 30s.  The construction is four blocks by four-and-a-half blocks.  Every block includes an embroidered name or initials.  The blocks were carefully attached onto a two-layered, bound blanket.

 (Detail of the crazy quilt.)

Most of the fabrics were in rather good condition.  All the elaborate stitching is in fine shape.

 (Detail of the crazy quilt.)

Like many antique crazy quilts, the silk fabric was frayed or completely gone, but I never saw this as any problem at all.  From the moment I spotted this crazy quilt at the auction house, I knew what I wanted to do.  I just wasn't sure which approach would work.  I considered using fabric stiffener to on the entire surface and collaging with acrylic medium, but ideally, I didn't want to change the original quilt that much.  Ideally, I wanted to hand stitch a new transformation.  There was only one way to see if that approach would work. 

 (Above:  The crazy quilt stretched and stapled to a heavy-duty stretcher bar.)

I pulled in every direction, measured several places, and finally settled on an outer dimension for a stretcher bar.  My husband Steve built it.  I took a deep breathe and started stapling.  Within a half hour, it was PERFECT, so perfect that it seemed like destiny or a Christmas miracle.

 (Above:  Anonymous photos.)

My next step was to select hundreds and hundreds of anonymous photos.  These images came from neglected family photo albums bought at auction or picked up in antique shops or thrift stores.  I've been collecting and using these pictures for years.  I can't help myself.  It feels like a rescue mission to save them for artwork.  Yet, it is difficult to stitch old photos.  They are, basically, paper. 

(Above:  Anonymous photos being tacked to Fusion 4000 and unbleached muslin in order to be fused together in a dry mount machine.)

Thankfully, I own a frame shop and know exactly how to fuse photos to fabric.  I've done this plenty of time before, especially when constructing my Grid of Photos.  Fusion 4000 is a custom picture framer's method of attaching fabric to a substrata ... like foam-centered board.  This is often done in order to stitch a christening gown to a background for a shadowbox presentation.  It works, however, between fabric (as in the unbleached muslin) and any paper (like the backside of any photograph).  After five minutes in my dry mount press (at 185 degrees and exactly 28 pounds-per-square-inch pressure), the photos are rather permanently attached to fabric.  After about a day of "fusing", I started to cut the photos to usable sizes.  This meant eliminating most of every picture, saving just the "person" or part of a group. 

 (Above:  Composing the anonymous images onto the crazy quilt.)

I used a tiny dab of hot glue to attach the images to the crazy quilt.  The images are not in a single orientation.  Like most crazy quilts, there isn't necessarily a "top" or a "bottom".  The signatures and initials on this crazy quilt went in every direction ... and thus, so did the pictures I added.

 (Above:  Working on the crazy quilt.)

By Christmas, the crazy quilt was installed in the living room.  It is held in place by four workhorses and rotated as I finish an area.  Due to the size, I cannot reach the center.  I knew this even before I stretched the piece but I also knew that stitching flat and stretched was the best approach with the least amount of handling to the surface.  My stitching is naturally rather tight.  Even quarter sized pictures have about twenty+ stitches.  It just looks right to me.  As a result, I had to learn rather quickly how to stitch with a thimble.  I generally don't like thimbles, but there's a constant pressure to pierce the photo, the muslin, and the layers of the crazy quilt.  It's also rather difficult to stitch the photos at the very edge.  They are directly above the stretcher bars ... but I am determined and the process is going very, very well.  Frankly, I'm madly in love with this piece already.    

 (Above:  Detail of the upper left corner.)

Although the images have no fixed orientation, I decided which corner will include my signature.  It will be in the traditional, lower right corner.  The final piece will be hung as a vertical, and the row of  "half blocks" will be at the top.  After I finish stitching around all the photos I can reach, I will add buttons, charms, clock gears, keys, and other relatively flat embellishments.  In order to cement this plan (because I wasn't totally sure whether "more" would be better), I added some of these things to the upper left corner.  I like it.  For me, "more is always more" ... which probably accounts for my admiration for minimalism!  I also like what I can't do!  So ... more will be added after the photos. 

(Above:  Detail of stitching.)

When everything except the center is complete, I will remove the piece from the stretcher bars and support the surface on two, large tables.  The tables will be carefully pulled apart enough for me to "get to the center".  I will stitch the center (which is less than a full block in width ... I have long arms!)  Then, I will mount acid free boards to the face of the stretcher bars and re-staple the quilt.  Finally, I'll stitch along the perimeter of the block ... straight through the quilt and the acid free boards.  This will prevent the top of the quilt from having to support all of the weight.

I've got a long way to go but am loving every minute of this adventure.  While stitching, I am trying to decide a title for this transformed crazy quilt.  Conceptually, I am determined to allow the antique piece to still exist ... so far, so good.  I am also determined to transform the piece to speak to the 21st century.  I want the work to remind viewers that the original makers are as unknown as those faces from the past that I've attached.  This is about the "anonymous" nature of most household textiles and thousands of neglected family photos.  This is about the way the digital age has changed our relationship to nostalgia, snapshots, family heirlooms, and home decor.  So far, I've been wrestling with word and potential titles.  The best to date is Crazy in the Millennial Age.  I'd love to hear other ideas!