Thursday, June 14, 2012

Skirt! is a Rebel

(Above: Skirt! is a Rebel, an art quilt. Photo transfer on tea-stained muslin, two skirts, hand embroidery. Click on image to enlarge.)

I met Karen Musgrave during my artist residency at the MacNamara Foundation in the autumn of 2008. I was at the beginning of my Decision Portrait Series, stitching on Teenage Mother, Atheist, Blood Donor, Death Wish, Tattoo Artist and Kidney Donor. Karen was there to interview the studio manager, Duncan Slade and his wife Gayle Fraas, for Quilters' SOS, Save Our Stories. (The interview is HERE. Duncan and Gayle have three pieces in Robert Shaw's 1977 The Art Quilt, generally known as the first scholarly look at the new medium of art quilting.) Karen came with Elizabeth Cherry Owen, another art quilter with a piece in the same important tome.

After the interview and lunch, Karen and Elizabeth spent some time looking at my work, discussing my series and the powerful changes such decisions make in life. Elizabeth was still mourning her precious cat. She'd had to put it to sleep less than two weeks earlier. Elizabeth became the Decision Portrait participant for Pet Owner. The stitched words read: I put my cat to sleep. (By the way, it was Duncan who pointed out that my series was, in fact, art quilts! They do have three layers and are held together with stitch! Thus, I started as an "accidental art quilter"!)

(Above: Skirt! is a Rebel, detail. Click on image to enlarge.)

Fast forward just under three-and a half years! I've learned a lot about art quilts, had some of mine accepted into international juried shows, and have had several solo shows with the work I've created. I was advised to join SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) and became a "professional level" member. Later, I stumbled upon an on-line group for SAQA members. I lurk. Rarely will I post. There are some "big name artists" posting regularly ... including Karen Musgrave.

Earlier this year Karen was looking for art quilters to create work for an upcoming, traveling exhibition called Women Who Break All the Rules. The pieces were to be portraits of women who decided to "change the world", vertical in orientation, and 24" x 18". Well, since my Decision Portraits are, for the most part, vertical, 24" x 18", and focus on decision in life, I figured that I had enough experience to handle the challenge. I wrote to Karen asking to join. I mentioned my Decision Portrait Series ... hoping Karen remembered them ... as a "reason" why I could fulfill the commitment, be a "good member". For me, volunteering for such an important group was a very big deal ... and more than a little scary. (This group has some really talented art quilters who have years and years of experience and lots of awards ... and written books on the subject. I've really never been an active member of any quilt guild.)

(Above: Skirt! is a Rebel, detail. Click on image to enlarge.)

I WAS ACCEPTED INTO THE GROUP! The group's name is CLAW, which stands for Crossing the Lines: Artists at Work! Such a great name! Membership is limited to only twenty artists. The group is to create work responding to Karen's exhibition title twice a year. The first deadline, for Women Who Break All the Rules, is coming up in August.

The first thing to do was "select a woman". Asked around. My friend Margaret Nevill, owner of The Mad Platter here in Columbia, without hesitation said: NIKKI HARDIN, founder and publisher of Skirt! Magazine, a monthly print publication now in 5 market areas and with an outstanding website with 42 market area and book publishing company. I googled her and was totally blown away. "Herstory" is amazing. I could easily identify with "throwing caution to the wind" and starting a business without know-how or capital. That's how Mouse House started. That's also how Mouse House ended and I set off on a journey to become an artist. I wrote to Nikki Hardin and was thrilled when she agreed to participate. We exchanged emails ... model's release, photos, and the perfect words for the quilt ... words that truly addressed Karen's exhibition title.

(Above: Skirt! is a Rebel, reverse. Click on image to enlarge.)

The second thing to do was gather the materials for the art quilt. It seemed like a PERFECT idea to create the work "on a skirt". I needed a skirt that would LOOK LIKE A SKIRT even when flat and only showing the front. It would need to be a solid color so that my embroidered words would be legible. It would also need to be "small" ... after all, 18" is very narrow for half the width of most women's hips! I'm not "big" but none of my skirts would do!

I went to my favorite thrift shop. Sales benefit Pets, Inc. I didn't find ONE skirt; I found TWO! The total for both was a mere $6. Excited, I went to my studio intending to select background fabric. I threw the skirts onto my studio floor (aka "my design board"). They landed one on top of the other. Instantly, I knew exactly what I wanted to do ... my first hair brained idea ... no background fabric, just the two skirts.

By the next day, the piece was nearly finished. During the process I had another hair-brained idea for the reverse. It is a collage of logos, titles, and symbols from the April and May issues of Skirt! Magazine on a piece of vintage damask. As I worked on the collage, the third hair-brained idea occurred: a skirt hanger! Within almost no time at all, the work was photographed and ready to hang ... which is possible "in the round"! I emailed Karen.

Well ... some times I try too hard to impress, too hard to "fit in", too hard to prove my worth. Before emailing, I did know I had a problem. The one corner of the shorter, dark skirt juts out to a maximum width of 19 1/2". Yet, that didn't end up being the bigger issue. For Karen, the skirt hanger had to go. I felt horrible. It was difficult for both Karen and me. Karen generously said she'd compromise on the 19 1/2". I agreed to compromise on the hanger by adding tiny tan loops at the waist ... like those one skirts meant to dangle on tiny hooks on other hangers.

When I went back to my studio, however, I just couldn't do it. Why should either of us compromise? I broke the rules for Women Who Break All the Rules. (Yes, I see the irony!) I could "fix" a piece that I liked and didn't consider "broken" or I could make another art quilt. It isn't as if I don't have experience with 24" x 18" portraits. I should have done my second piece the first time around. It took less than three days.

I can't show the finished second piece. Participants aren't supposed to blog or put full images on their website until after exhibits are booked and at least the first show has opened. (I've never understood this strange requirement in the art quilt world ... but it is there and I'm not going to break this rule too!) Suffice it to say, the second piece is called Nikki Hardin and it has the same basic format as all my Decision Portraits. Since Skirt! is a Rebel is no longer part of the show, I guess I can blog it.

I'm happy to say that Nikki Hardin like the work too! This is so exciting! Thank you, Nikki!

(Above: Ed Madden reading from his book of poems, Prodigal: Variations at City Art.)

I'm already mentally working on the next project for the CLAW group. It exhibit will focus on social issues. I've selected my topic: same sex marriage. I'm really thrilled that my friends Ed Madden and Bert Easter are going to help me with this. They've been married for several years. My mind is seeing "hand prints" ... and they are absolutely going to fit inside the 24" x 18" dimensions and have a traditional hanging sleeve on the reverse ... the FIRST TIME!


Gayle said...

I love this piece and I totally get why you couldn't change it. No matter what you did it would never measure up to your first vision.(to you) Probably a good thing that you started over on another piece. Nice work my rebel friend!

Dee's Diary said...

Love this work, and totally get why you decided not to compromise on the hanger. Thanks for sharing it.

Mosaic Magpie said...

The reason I love your work is because you do break all the rules, think outside of the box, tell it like it is, have the ability to be yourself and most importantly you "stick to your guns". I love "Skirt" magazine, it is full of great graphics and articles. Another job well done my friend.

Julie said...

Congratulations on being accepted into this group! I am sure that your original 'Skirt' piece which works so well will find its niche and I'll look forward to seeing its replacement when you are able to reveal it. I have been smiling wryly here as you wrestle with the 'rules'. Art quilts allow a lot of flexibility and as you say, you have unwittingly been making them for a long time.

Marilyn said...

Next challenge: Please consider calling this same gender marriage. The focus from the outside on "sex" as the significant item in all areas of gay life is absurd and is a main inflammatory issue, I think.