Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last Full Day at the MacNamara Foundation

(Click on image to enlarge.)
Kidney Donor. Xylene transfer on tea-stained muslin. Machine and hand embroidery and beading. 25" x 18". Stitch words: I Gave My Kidney. Background word: Donor (repeated).

It's hard to believe that six weeks have passed here on Westport Island, Maine at the incredible MacNamara Foundation. This artist's residency has been the most amazing experience. I've learned so much from the other professional artists. Each one works in another medium. Being around a ceramist, painter, photographer, and a writer for three meals a day and with their work so close at hand has revealed our artistic differences but also our similar thoughts, approaches, and concerns.

For example, the wood firing in the kiln was not ideal despite vigilant attention for over 36 hours. The results were heart-breaking and very revealing. I learned how fragile ceramics are and how strong ceramists must be. I couldn't handle the degree of risk. My appreciation for this medium and those working in it has grown immensely. I now have two of the "less than perfect" works (which are indescribable beautiful by my standards) to take home! They will always be a source of inspiration and a reminder of many of the lessons I've learned.

(Click on image above to enlarge. Kidney Donor, detail.)

Last night we (the five artists here in residency) gave a closing presentation. Maria Robinson's story was so beautifully written that everyone was brought to tears. Lisa Robinson's atmospheric photographs and vivid cynotypes presented a level of professionalism I can only hope to emulate. The painter's brushstrokes spoke of strength, endurance, and the the power of the world around us. The ceramics, as I mentioned above, taught more than I thought I could learn.

(Click on image above to enlarge. Double Acorn Cap Vessel II.)

Although I've created dozens of pieces, the presentations were limited to ten minutes. I presented the six Decision Portrait Series pieces I created here including Kidney Donor. The most important part of the evening, however, was offering verbal thanks for the gift of time....time in which to create work, think about concepts, interact with others, and experience the unique location here in Maine.

(Above: Double Acorn Cap Vessel II.)

During the last week I also created six additional fiber vessels but haven't yet decided whether to cover them in acorn caps or not. Why? Well, an idea just had to burst forth. The acorn caps simply "spoke" to me. Each one is unique....even ones attached in a cluster to a common stem. I had to address their individuality and present them as the "gems" I see. With scraps of cotton batting, I started beading them.

(Above: Two smaller, plate-like vessels created during the final week filled with adorned acorn caps. Click on image to enlarge.)

Also during this final week I created six or seven more grave rubbings...some with demonic looking cherub heads and dates from the late 18th century. Just as I was running out of silk, I noticed the largest acorn caps ever! Some are easily three or four times the size of the average cap I'd collected. Below is a photo of the bag of "giant" acorn caps along with both my Double Vessels. Further below are detail shots of the "gems" I'm creating....first the "small" ones....then the "large" ones. I'm totally in love with the "mighty oak" in the form of its cast off caps.

(Above: Giant acorn caps with double vessels.)

(Above: Small acorn cap gems. Below: Large acorn cap gems.)

This is also one of the things I've learned here on Westport Island: What truly interests me isn't nature or place or even artistic process or novel technique. (Of course, I love all's just not my driving force....even though I thought these were suppose to be!) I am honestly inspired by a sense of fleeting time can be, how close at hand history is, and how the future can be seen in a seed. I don't think I ever realized that my call to art was the same as my call to picture framing. I want to present the ordinary, the neglected, the overlooked, and found fragments in the light of appreciation. Bringing out the beauty in an everyday object is important. I love the texture of age and the signs of manual use. What is simple and imperfect is often most treasured. Revealing the inner spirit of things common is my goal. I use needle and thread to do this.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More Work from the MacNamara Foundation!

(Click on image to enlarge.)

My days are numbered here at the MacNamara Foundation but the work is continuing rapidly. I've fallen completely in love with the acorn caps and had to create a few more "In Box Series" variations using them. The last of my purple felt was used for the one above; the recycled white felt (a gift from Guy Jones, owner of River Runner in Columbia) was used for the other two below.

(Click on images above and below to enlarge. "In Box" series variations using real acorn caps and beads on melted white, acrylic felt.)

The white felt is now running low too. It is the middle layer of all my Decision Portrait pieces. I'm also now using it for EVERYTHING including two miniature "In Box Series" pieces, below.

(Click on image above and below to enlarge. Miniature "In Box" series on soldered and melted white, acrylic felt.)

I like the white felt very much. These works were the first time I tried soldering and melting it. For some reason, it seems to disintegrate differently than the felt I've purchased in craft and fabric stores. It doesn't seem to have a darkened, burnt edge.

Since this recycled, white felt is so nice, I used it to create Westport Island Series: Birch Bark. (Above.) The bark is real. I washed and dried it several days before using it. I also coated each piece with a little matte medium. This piece and two of the others incorporate scraps of material given to me by Maureen MacNamara Barrett, the generous lady behind this artist residency program. I am deeply astounded at her kindness and quiet interest in every artist and their desires to create work.

(Click on image above to enlarge. Westport Island Series: Crabs.)

Also in the Westport Island Series, I've created three works using the embellisher. Above are the shells of five crabs I found at the nearby cove. I discovered that my "moon crater" paper can be used as a surface for embellishment if a layer of white felt is underneath. I attached the crabs with threads stitched to a roll of material which I glued (Gorilla Glue) to the underside of each shell.

(Click on image above to enlarge. Westport Island Series: Sea Gull.)

There's also been another use of "roadkill" here at the MacNamara Foundation. Lisa Robinson, the photographer, and Maria Robinson, the writer, collected a dead sea gull from the side of the road. Lisa cynotyped it with amazing success. I plucked dozens of the feathers before burying the remains in the tidal marsh on the back side of the property. I'm getting rather good at cleaning feathers, fur, and porcupine quills! Nature is wonderful! The background is more of my "moon crater" paper with embellished wool, silk, scrim, and millinery netting.

I'm calling this piece Westport Island Series: Collection as it has shells, feathers, birch bark, a barnacle, and acorn caps stitched to an embellished background of heavy yarn, millinery netting, chiffon, wool and silk fibers.

Of course, I don't actually spend every minute stitching. I have been going on a nice walk every day....collecting acorn caps, shells, roadkill, etc. I've found three little, private cemeteries within a mile or so. Using silk remnants and ordinary crayons, I've been making rubbings. Each strip has been ironed, setting the crayon. I've done another rubbing on tea-stained muslin on which I'm already stitching. My plan is to cut and applique the parts below.....a memory of Maine...for future work back in South Carolina.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another week at the MacNamara Foundation!

(Click on image above to enlarge.)

My time at the MacNamara Foundation is going by at the speed of light. I've learned many, many things about the larger world of art but also about myself. I really could stitch all day, all evening, every weekend, all the time, for the rest of my life....and never exhaust my own creativity or my passion for needle and thread. In fact, my ideas just seem to expand. Having this time is wonderful. Being around other artists is fascinating. If possible, I must find a way to incorporate more time in my "normal" life. Also, learning "art ease" or the ability to communicate effectively in a group of non-fiber artists is essential. I'm working on this....with a list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that will hopefully become part of my daily sentence construction! With practice, I'll soon sound like I belong in artistic conversations! One of my "new words" is EXECUTE....and nothing dies! This blog post concerns recent work EXECUTED at the MacNamara Foundation!

(Click on image above to enlarge.)
Westport Island Series: Acorn Cap Double Vessel. I couldn't be more pleased with this piece! In fact, I'm totally thrilled. The two vessels I made and covered with acorn caps fit together perfectly. I didn't even realize this until both were finished....a few stitches more and they became one, wonderful vessel.!

Above is the cording created by zigzagging over five strands of acrylic yarn. This cord is zigzagged into a vessel. Unfortunately, my Bernina 1630 went out of alignment right after I finished. The needle do longer enters the bobbin casing in the proper location. Steve, my wonderful husband, actually borrowed the neighbor's car (he'll only got the moped while I'm in Maine) and sent my Bernina 1008 via FedEx Ground! It arrived in two days!

(Click on image above to enlarge.)
Westport Island Series: Single Shell. Embellished ground. Wool fibers under sheer netting. Hand beaded.

(Click on image to enlarge.)
Westport Island Series: Beaver. Embellished fibers, fabrics, yarns and real beaver fur. The fur was clipped from one of the roadkill discoveries. I'd never been so close to a beaver before. They are awesome animals. Silently, I told the poor corpse that he'd not died in vain because I'd use the fur to create something lasting!

(Click on image above to enlarge.)
Westport Island Series: Chipmunk. This is another example of roadkill art. Oh, yes, I'm not the only artist here being influenced by roadkill! The photographer, Lisa Robinson, is creating amazing cynotypes. This chipmunk was used for several of these images. Lisa and I buried the little body on a bed of leaves and with a nice acorn. I clipped some of the tail fur which is embellished into the background. The silhouette was based on one of Lisa's cynotypes.

(Click on image above to enlarge.)
Westport Island Series: Birch Trees. This piece started as a piece of embellishment. I liked both sides equally well so cut it into strips. I reversed every other strip and embellished them back together on while felt. Finally, I stitched a piece of real birch bark onto it with a bead.

(Click on image above to enlarge.)
This postcard and ATC were made to replace a CYBER FYBER trade that unfortunately never arrived in New Michelle Goldsmith. I hope she likes them!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Teenage Mother: I Kept My Baby

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Teenage Mother. Decision Portrait Series. Xylene transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand embroidery and beading, artificial flowers, ribbon and trim, chiffon. Stitched words: In LOVE at 15 but didn't THINK. Sorrow. Grief. Joy. Happiness. Many tears. Much love. With help from Mom and Dad. I Kept My Baby. My baby is now the mother of my grandsons. 25" x 18" Unframed.

This portrait was such a joy to stitch but it was so much more than pulling a needle and thread. It was an entire experience. From the moment I received Emmy Schoonbeek's first email volunteering for this project, I knew this would be special. Our email correspondence confirmed this. The photo simply couldn't be more perfect. This is Emmy at nineteen, on her wedding day, with her three year old daughter. I pulled phrases from her messages and asked her permission to use them. Emmy received an email attachment of the finished work yesterday and approved my use of her name and blog link.

I am honored to have stitched this work. I am grateful for Emmy's willingness to share and trust me with her image and story. I am especially happy that Emmy likes the work...especially since Emmy is such an amazing embroiderer! Thank you, Emmy....from the bottom of my heart.

All the other artists here at the MacNamara Foundation watched the piece as it took shape. Everyone was touched by it because it resonates with truth and love. Emmy acknowledges the hardships but celebrates the miracle, the gift, the love and happiness. I celebrate with her. (Details below can be enlarged.)

Monday, October 13, 2008


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Atheist. Stitched words: Atheist. No Creator in the Sky; No Damnation...just Evolutionary Phenomena. Xylene transfer on tea-stained muslin. 25" x 18". Hand embroidery. Smaller words: I just don't believe that there's anyone out creator with a plan...No being watching, listening, guiding us through the darkness. God just isn't one of my stories. There is no God...No Meaning in the Chaos.

Maria Robinson is one of the other artists experiencing the generosity and time provided by the MacNamara Foundation here on Westport Island, Maine. She is a writer. She excels in strong characters, evocative phrases, and attention to significant details. She went with me to see the Come Springs Quilt show in Union, Maine which made the day trip so much fun. I got the chance to see the work through her eyes, explain construction methods, and simply to talk during the drive. Maria's an atheist and the perfect person to articulate this decision to me.

Though I don't pretend to understand this decision, Maria was easily able to convey her thoughts and feeling in a way that made stitching this piece not only possible but a joy. I don't want any value judgments reflected in these works....even my own. I want each piece to be a straight forward depiction of a personal decision. I want each person presented in a flattering way, and I'm really, really pleased with how this one turned out. It was also the first time I've created a piece with the model present! This also added to the overall feeling and the excitement over each stitch. Maria's husband visited over the weekend. He, too, said I'd captured Maria. What a compliment!

(Click on detail to enlarge.)
Now to change the subject entirely! My cell phone plan now includes the ability to call England! This means I finally got a chance to talk to Mathias in Birmingham....and scold him for not sending me any recent photos with his brand new iPhone. He laughed. He's busy. The season has opened but he found time to click a few buttons for me to receive the image below: Laura-Jane and Mathias ready to dance in Concerto!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Design Board: New Ways to Look at Art and the World

(Click on image to enlarge. My studio space at the MacNamara Foundation.)
When first arriving at the MacNamara Foundation, each artist was assisted in setting up his or her "studio" space. Every need was met....even ones not yet anticipated! It was amazing. I felt unworthy and nervous with a staff just vying to bring electrical needs, lighting equipment, and just about any supply on hand. It seemed "too much". It was too much, overwhelming. I was asked if I "needed" a design board.

Needed? As a parent, I spent too many days explaining the difference between a "need" and a "want". There was nothing I needed! I'd been granted six weeks in which to create a paradise location. How could I need anything else? Well, the photographer and painter got these boards....and lights for them...and have been pinning up their work ever since...sharing their creations...standing back to consider changes. I've been shoving my work into the large (extremely nice!) drawer.

Well, today I got two large panels....a design wall! I pinned up everything except Crazy Blues. I've never worked in this manner. I've never had the luxury. Of course, now all my embroidery looks rather poor in comparison to the surroundings. This feeling has haunted me often. My work seems unsophisticated and lacking. Maybe it is. Generally, time goes by and I look again and think, "It's not that bad!"

Well, just as an experiment. I'm going to force myself to LOOK at my work...every day...until the end of the month when this paradise comes to an end. Maybe I'll improve? Maybe I'll learn to be satisfied? I really don't know. I'd love to hear from those who use design boards. How has it affected your work?

It has been very interesting being around the other artists here. The photographer, Lisa Robinson, is quite accomplished and working with large format images, digital scans of the big negatives, and creating a series of cynotypes from many of the natural wonders here on Westport Island (like a dead bird, a dead snake, the bones of a mouse, all sorts of feathers, a dead frog, various plant pods, grasses, the skeletal autumn leaves...we've all been collecting things for her!). Lisa has just had a book published called Snowbound. It is glorious, a new way of looking at the world.

Well educated and quite fluent in what I'll call "art ease", Lisa can describe her work, her thoughts, and her vision in most amazingly brilliant ways. She's currently working to capture the etheral essence of fog. Through her eyes I've been made aware of climate, atmosphere and the need to express not only physical artwork but the proper words to describe it. I have so much to learn. Fortunately, there's lots of "teachers" here in the form of professional, working artists. With my new design board, they'll likely be more, interesting conversations.

Above and below are two images I took as a result of Lisa Robinson's inspiration. The fog truly is mysterious and beautiful. Ordinarily, these days were ones in which I'd have left the camera at home!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More Work from Westport Island, Maine!

The days are flying here on Westport Island and the work is coming along stitch by stitch. To be honest, I was both excited and nervous about the prospects of having so much time for art. It is a dream come true....but I really didn't know how I'd be able to handle it, emotionally, physically, mentally. problems! Having so much time really is my heart's desire!

With that, here's the next batch of work that's been recently completed!

(Click on image above to enlarge. Miniature In Box....the title is a "work in progress" as I haven't decided whether to just continue the numbers in the series or not. Approximately 12" x 9".

Next, the second miniature "In Box". Above is the full view. Below is the detail. Both images can be clicked upon for closer inspection. Also, approximately 12" x 9".

I've also completed two pieces in the new "Westport Island Series". Below are three images of Moss. I spent quite a bit of time investigating the moss in the area. I wish I knew more botany, but I don't. There seems to be "lichen" looking moss, a type that looks star shaped on the end, and lots of moss that resembles miniature ferns. I've used tyvek, hand stitching, and free motion machine embroidery on chiffon to mimic these kinds of moss.

Above: Westport Island Series: Moss. Approximately 12" x 9". Below, detail. Further below: angle shot taken to show the texture.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Nearby to the MacNamara Foundation "barn" is a lovely cove. I've visited it on several afternoons to see the tide changing and to collect seashells. Of course, I only pick up the ones that already have holes. Above is Westport Island Series: Seashells. The background is an embellished fabric made of wool rovings, scrim, silk fibers, and chiffon. I also attached a layer of acrylic felt to the reverse for support. The seashells were stitched into place and the beads were added later. Below is a detail.

I'm happy to report that I'm now working on three pieces all at the same time! A digital file, model's release, and a few emails of correspondence has allowed me to begin on I Kept My Baby from the Decision Portrait Series. I also got confirmation and an image for Atheist! Both are now transferred. I also took ordinary crayons and a piece of tea-stained muslin to two of the local, family cemeteries in the area and did rubbings. After ironing the fabric, the coloring is heat set and a new art quilt is taking place. Words include: Lost at sea; Died; Patience (actually the deceased's first name), drowned, There is rest in Heaven, and Memory. This could be the start of "something" as I'm truly fascinated with how well kept and isolated these burial plots are. There's a sense of history, family, and eternal grace.

Also, I did the Bonnet Stitch for TAST (Take a Stitch Tuesday). I didn't read all the messages closely. There is a chance this was a "bonus" stitch. Whatever! It's done. At hated it at first but finally grew to enjoy its possibilities.

Not everything has been "work, work work" or "stitch, stitch, stitch". Last Saturday I drove with on of the other artists to Union, Maine for the Come Springs quilt show. It was very interesting viewing the quilts with someone who, as a writer, was curious about everything. On the return trip, we stopped at Beth's Farm Market. My friend shot this photo of me with the longest ear of Indian corn in the place!

I've also taken scores of photographs. I won't try posting them all but directly below is the tidal marsh that backs the MacNamara Foundation property. It is peaceful and full of autumn colors.

The coastline is also amazing. I'm particularly inspired by the seaweed that flows like luxurious fibers adrift in the tidal current. The photo below really does seem to capture the world both above and below sealevel.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Westport Island Series and TAST

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Above: Westport Island Series: Sky Meets Sea. Approx. 12" x 9". Polyester velvet shapes on acrylic felt with free motion machine and hand embroidery. Melting.

I've started a series of studies based on my impressions of nature here on Westport Island, Maine. There's so much to see, feel, and absorb; and I'm constantly remembering the changing seasons from my youth. In South Carolina there really aren't four distinct times of the year. Autumn doesn't last very long and doesn't have the same shifting temperatures, decay, hibernation, and overall sensations as it does here in the northern part of the United States. The night sky is a Milky Way of stars....seldom seen outside my downtown home. Also, I've never had the time to simply enjoy a fall landscape or fog gathering in the early morning.

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Above: Westport Island Series: Maple. Approximately 12" x 9". Polyester velvet on acrylic felt with hand and free motion embroidery. Melting.

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Above: Westport Island Series: Seaweed. Approximately 12" x 9". Decorative "moon crater" paper on acrylic felt with painted tyvek, assorted hand stitching, background machine embroidery, and real seaweed. Detail below.

Thus, each new piece reflects on the texture, color, and unique features of the environment around the MacNamara Foundation. I've adopted my "In Box" techniques for some of the pieces but have expanded the approaches as needed. I've already finished Seashells (on an embellished ground of wool, chiffon, millnery netting, and silk fibers) and have started Milky Way.

(Click on image to enlarge.)
Above: Detail from the first piece in this series. I posted a full view earlier. This is Westport Island Series: Acorn Caps. Polyester velvet on acrylic felt with free motion machine embroidery and hand stitching, acorn caps, and beads. Melting.

I've got plans for several other works....including something for the porcupine quills. There might be a beaver in my future too as there's more roadkill just begging for art options. One of the artists here has already clipped some fur for experimental paint brushes. I've been thinking all day about how beaver fur might embellish....but I've never actually seen a beaver (dead or alive) up close and personal!

Below: Westport Island Series: Autumn Elm. Approximately 12" x 9". Polyester velvet on acrylic felt. Free motion machine embroidery and hand stitching. Melting.

Okay, I'm behind on my TAST (Take a Stitch Tuesday) Challenge but I'm trying to catch up. Here's my examples of COUCHING and the KNOTTED CRETAN STITCH. Please notice that there are a few porcupine quills on the couching example. Anyone who's slightly familiar with my work knows I LOVE COUCHING. The knotted cretan stitch does not engender such enthusiasm but it is completed!

(Above: Couching...including a turkey feather from my parents' home outside Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania and eight porcupine quills from here in Maine. Click on images to enlarge. Below: Knotted Cretan Stitch.)