Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fragments and Keys

(Above: Fragment LXVI.  Unframed: 6" x 9".  Framed:  14" x 16 1/2".  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

Earlier this month I replenished my stock of framed keys.  I used a pile of little frames Steve had made from scraps of moulding here at Mouse House, our shop.  It was fun.  I made them in my studio using the tagged keys that were part of Wall of Keys ... approximately 1200 of them hanging together.  Unique backgrounds were made using my "embellisher", a dry felting machine.  I was quite pleased.  Steve even made a video.

(Above:  The Key to Antiquities.  Unframed:  8" x 7". Framed:  12" x 11".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Well, Steve gathered up a large bucket full of scrap moulding.  He intended to make a bunch more frames.  Though I thought I was finished with this on-going project ... at least for a while ... I gave in.

(Above:  Fish with a Fur Tail.  Unframed:  2" x 5 1/2".  Framed:  6 1/2" x 9 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Friday and Saturday was spent making twenty-nine pieces!  It was a design challenge.  The scraps of moulding, the unframed keys hanging on our sculptural door units, needle and thread, and mat boards all came into play.

(Above:  The Key to Great Expectations.  Unframed:  5 1/2" x 5". Framed: 10" x 9 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

I got into a routine:  Design piece within the measurement limits of selected moulding; write the measurement on the back of the scraps of moulding for Steve to cut and build; pick mat board and stitch piece in place; create the label for the back of the piece; enter piece into inventory book.  When Steve returned from the garage with frames, I put the piece, the label, and the frame together for him to assemble.  I also took a photo at this time ... before glass was added to the package. 

(Above:  Fragment LXVII.  Unframed:  9" x 7". Framed:  17" x 15".  This piece used embossed and painted buffalo skin from Thailand, a practice that is now, fortunately, regulated.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Did this create a mess?  You bet!  But, it was very fun and obviously very productive!  The work went quickly ... because I really wasn't doing much "art making".  I was simply DESIGNING work using previous created bits and pieces from an earlier installation called The Archeology Project.

(Above:  The Archeology Project, an installation created toward the end of 2007 and displayed in January 2007.)

The Archeology Project was one of my first installations.  It was made to look as if a collection of unique, foreign relics stored in vintage suitcases.  I wanted viewers to be able to shift through fragments of materials, small objects, pages of text, and secret treasures.  I wanted to recreate the fantasy of finding oneself in the face of discovery, as if at the next "King Tut's tomb" or given free reign in the storage units of a faraway museum.  I imagined a narrative behind these artifacts.  In my story, a quirky, distant uncle died and left to me his life's work ... an amassed treasure trove of ancient articles, each with a story of its own.

(Above:  The Key to Adventure.  Unframed:  9" x 7". Framed: 13 1/2" x 11".  Click on image to enlarge.)

To create The Archeology Project, I cut up every UFO (unfinished object) in my studio.  I collaged old ticket stubs from childhood travels with expired passport pages, stamps from my old hobby, and bits of antique book pages and maps.  I invented a script that resembled all the shorthand I'd forgotten from high school.  I stitched and beaded and made everything "two-sided" ... so that it could be handled, turned over, and inspected from every angle.  My first wrapped, wooden spools were made for this installation ... an obsession that I still have.  A few keys were even used ... definitely still an obsession.  The work was on view in a proper gallery.  People were allowed to rummage through it all ... and everything was individually priced.  Some things even sold.

(Above:  The Collector.  2007.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Later in 2007, I took one of the three suitcases and an assortment of the objects and staged the photo above.  I called it The Collector and was overjoyed when it was accepted into the prestigious, international fine craft show:  Craftform 2007.  Steve and I went to the opening reception in the Wayne Art Center outside Philadelphia.  I blogged about it HERE.  At the time, I didn't even know this location also hosted ArtQuilt Elements.  I also didn't think I would ever really find my way into the art quilt world either ... even though I was stitching on a quilt, Bessie's Quilt, at the time.  I simply "needed" this piece for Blues Chapel, another installation on which I was working.  It is strange how one thing leads to another and back again.  It is strange but, at the same time, familiar.  One of my first Grave Rubbing Art Quilts, Father and Mother, was accepted into ArtQuilt Elements in 2010.  We went back to Wayne for this opening too ... and I blogged about it! 

(Above:  The Common Butterwort.  Unframed:  8" x 5". Framed: 16 3/4" x 12 3/4".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above:  Three vintage suitcases used to store and display The Archeology Project.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Well ... I knew exactly where to find the contents of The Archeology Project.  Though I've removed some of the parts and pieces (like the wooden spools and carriage bolts and all the artist books), the rest of the collection was still in its suitcases.  These vintage, leather bags were under a work table ... where they've been for a couple years.  It was fun to open them and browse through the contents in search of a "fragment" on which to stitch a key.  Some of the "fragments" and "relics" didn't even need a key.  They just needed a frame!
(Above:  The Key to Artistic Expression.  Unframed 13" x 9". Framed:  15" x 11".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Some of the things inside the suitcases were simply layered together.  The Key to Artistic Expression was made by combining two pieces from the Archeology project, one on top of the other, with a key.

(Above:  Fragment LXVIII.  Unframed:  4 1/2" x 3". Framed:  10 1/2" x 9 1/4".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Some of the pieces just needed an attractive presentation.  Yet, with each tiny treasure came a decision:  Which side to use?  Sometimes, it was obvious ... like with Fragment LXVIII.  The silk cocoon and fibers issuing from it made one side almost three dimensional.  The stitching on the back was flat ... and now is hidden underneath.  

(Above:  The Key to History.  Unframed:  10" x 8". Framed:  16" x 14".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Some of the collaged pages came from an ancient book we once owned:  TABLEAVX DV TEMPLE DES MVSES, Tirez Dv Cabinet De Fev Mr. Favereav.   It was printed in 1655!  (When we bought it, it was missing engravings, several pages, and the binding was more than a little "broken".  We've never "cut" a fine book!)  I'd forgotten that I had ever used any of these pages before making my "Muses Series" in 2011!  Of course, I had to select which side of the page to use ... and then I dry mounted it to acid-free foam-centered board and stitched "the key to history" on it. 

(Above:  The Key to Love.  Unframed:  7" x 3". Framed:  13 1/2" x 5 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

I had a lot of fun thinking about my older work and how so many of the same things still interest me ... always have.  It was so easy to dip into my own past and design things for the future.  I thought a lot about "finding one's voice".  This is a topic that is often discussed on various on-line groups.  The "art experts" in these Internet conversations encourage "newbies" to "work in a series" and "try different things in search of a personal style, unique characteristics, and 'one's voice' ".  They caution less experienced "wannabe artists" that it takes time, often years, before "one's voice" is developed.  

(Above:  The Key to Opportunity.  Unframed:  9" x 7"; Framed:  12" x 10".  Click on image to enlarge.)

I thought about all these words of wisdom while designing these "fragments" and "keys".  I only started making work in 2001, seriously in 2003.  The Archeology Project was started in 2006 ... definitely toward the start of my adventure into the realm of a professional studio artist.  (Please note, I don't have a formal art education.  I started "making" art in 2001.)  Did I have "a voice" then?  Yes ... and it is the same voice I have now.  In fact, I think "my voice" was with me long before I started making art.

(Above:  The Key to Peace.  Unframed:  6" x 5 1/4". Framed:  10 1/2" x 9 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Although the advise found on Internet art groups is generally wise and well-meaning, there is another way of looking at the search for artistic individuality.  Instead of spending months and years "developing" a voice, it is wise to simply LISTEN.  Content, message, style, and emotion are qualities of a mature artistic voice.  The medium can change and/or develop.  The techniques can change and/or develop.  One will hopefully improve with practice.  Some work will always be more successful than other work.  "Elements of art" and "principles of design" can be learned in a classroom or from a book.  They will likely enhance one's quality ... but the most essential ingredients in an artistic voice are those that are already deeply rooted in the artist's soul.  This is a voice trying to be heard, seeking for expression, and influencing everything in an artist's output.  My "voice" was speaking long before I started listening.  When I look back, the evidence is always in the works I made from the heart.  The Archeology Project was from my heart and I'm happy to be resurrecting it as small, affordable pieces. 

(Above:  The Key to the Enchanted.  Unframed 7" x 5". Framed:  9 1/4" x 7 1/4".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Below are the rest of the little pieces I designed on Friday and Saturday.  Steve and I had fun making them.  He had my frames built quickly and is actually still closing up the art in their specially selected mouldings.  We also talked a lot of these works as "merchandise".  Sure, they are for sale.  In fact, the entire reason for making the "keys" and "fragments" was because so many of the earlier framed pieces have sold during the last year-and-a-half.  Steve wants me to make them available on-line.

(Above:  The Key to the Love Letter.  Framed:  7 1/4" x 6 1/4".  Click on image to enlarge.)

I'm a little squeamish about using this blog for sales purposes.  I've always looked at blogging as:

1)  A way to share my work with my family ... none of whom live within a couple hours drive from me and some of whom live overseas
2)  A way to document my work, my process, my thoughts at the time, and my "life in stitches"
3)  A way to connect with other artists, especially those working in fibers, especially "like-minded" people who work from a strong desire to convey concept through materials
4)  A way to share my work with others ... whether an artist or an art admirer

(Above:  The Key to the Universe.  Unframed:  7 3/4" x 3 1/2". Framed:  13 1/2" x 7 3/8".  Click on image to enlarge.)

I have rarely considered this blog for its marketing potential.  That isn't to say I've never sold a piece using my blog.  I have ... a couple of times.  Each time was a wonderful surprise.  Still ... do I want to add prices?  Do I want to turn some attention to "selling" via the Internet?  I just don't know.  Steve has set up a business Pay Pal account.  It works.  I could add "Pay Now" buttons ... but should I?

(Above:  The Key to Victory.  Unframed:  5" x 3 3/4".  Framed:  10" x 8".  Click on image to enlarge.)

I've visited some of the on-line websites ... like Esty.  It appears to be a "buyer's market", not a "seller's dream-come-true".  I'm pretty sure I don't want to join this sort of opportunity.  Yet, what if I started another blog ... just for selling?  

(Above:  The Key to the Picturesque.  Unframed:  7" x 5 1/2". Framed: 11 1/2" x 10".  Click on image to enlarge.)

If anyone reading this blog post has managed to scroll down to this point, let me know your thoughts!  All of these "fragments" and "keys" are priced between $60 - $100.  Would you look at them on a blog on which sale prices were listed?  Would you actually make such a purchase on-line?  How do you feel about blogs that have an obvious focus on "selling"?  I'd like to know!

(Above:  The Keys to Intelligence, Knowledge, and Justice.  Unframed:  9" x 5 1/2". Framed:  12" x 8 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Below are the rest of the "fragments" and "keys".  Enjoy!

(Above:  Fragment LXII.  Unframed:  7" x 7". Framed:  11" x 11".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above:  The Key to Employment.  Unframed:  7 1/2" x 4 3/4". Framed:  8 3/4" x 7".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Fragment LXIII.  Unframed:  7 3/4" x 6 1/2". Framed:  11 1/2" x 10".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above:  The Key to Respect.  Framed:  13" x 12".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Fragment LXIV.  Unframed:  11 1/2" x 7". Framed:  18" x 13".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above:  Key to the Ideal.  Unframed:  5" x 4 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Fragment LXV.  Unframed:  12" x 5 1/2". Framed:  16" x 9 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above:  The Key to Ecstasy.  Unframed:  5" x 4". Framed:  9 1/2" x 8".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above:  The Key to the Forbidden.  Unframed:  5 1/2" x 10 1/2". Framed: 9" x 13 1/2".  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Fragment LXI.  Unframed:  8" x 9". Framed:  13" x 14".  Click on image to enlarge.)


Traci Johnson said...

Hi Susan - I love all of your pieces! You are truly one of the most creative artists I know, I'm always amazed at all the different things you create.

Personally, it would NOT bother me if you had prices listed below each piece on this blog. I honestly don't think you need to create a new blog just for selling purposes. You can list the price with a PayPal button along with the title under each piece. No point in making extra work for you or Steve with another new blog. And I think if you are selling pieces, it's important to list the prices rather than saying, "Contact me for pricing" (that always scares me off).

My bottom line advice, try it and see how it works for 3-6 months. You can always try something else later on.

Best of luck! Hope you are able to get to AZ sometime soon.

Ada said...

You make wonderful stuff.
I personally wouldn't mind if you put prices on your blog. Like Traci, I wouldn't contact someone when it says "contact me for pricing" But when the price is mentioned and I really love the object, I might consider buying it.

Mary Stori said...

For what it's worth....I began my blog as a means to keep in touch with my students and audience. Now that I'm slowly pulling away from the travel teaching I've done for 25 years, I am in need of finding homes for so, so many of my book and workshop samples. I found it easier to creat a new blog shop......with prices listed there...... When I complete new pieces that are discussed on my main blog, I simply provide a link and if the reader is interested they can visit the shop.

This seems to work better since all the sale pieces are in one spot...and don't get lost as current blogs are posted. This allows interested folks to go to the shop blog whenever they'd like without wading through older posts.

Hope this helps.... Mary Stori

Roberta said...

Oh my!

How lucky you are to not only have access to all the frames but to be able to frame all those pieces! I hate framing. It is so expensive. My work sits in piles all over the house due to inertia on my part for framing.

These pieces are simply gorgeous and the frames really add so much to them.

Els said...

A LOT of very special pieces Susan !

Wanda said...

Wow. Each one is perfect by itself and also as part of the series. I know it would be more work but I personally think a 'selling blog' or a store. You take the photos anyway so you already have them. Maybe links to the store in the blog so if people want to see prices etc they can easily link to it but not get the feeling that your blog is about selling. I think I would kind not like the prices on the blog but I don't think it would bother me so much that I would stop reading.

underatopazsky said...

I was just scrolling down the post, reading, enlarging and thinking how much I'd love to own one of those pieces when you mentioned being for sale on line and I got very excited!

I would prefer to see prices alongside the item (I just wouldn't get round to contacting someone for details) and wouldn't mind whether it was on your ordinary blog or another.

I think you get a feel for someone whose blog is just for selling their stuff and that's not the way you come across at all.

I found what you're been saying about working in a series to be really helpful. I feel like I'm flitting around, trying lots of different things, and not really settling to a voice of my own and that's been bothering me a little. But now I'm happier to wait for that to emerge with time. Thank you - it's really helped.