(Above: Vintage tablecloth with grave rubbings from unknown Confederate soldiers' graves. Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)
When looking for new calls-for-entry, I don't generally consider shows that would require me to make new work. I'm generally looking for opportunities to submit EXISTING work ... pieces I've already finished, pieces that are already listed in my inventory book, pieces I've already photographed and that are conceptually part of the work I've been creating for quite some time. I work in a series ... several series. I'm looking for shows into which my work might have a chance for acceptance. I'm NOT looking for new inspiration or ideas for new work.
Every once in a while, however, I read a prospectus and instantly experience a semi-miraculous vision of a fully formed idea. My mind's eye can practically "see" the new artwork. My brain seems to understand all the steps necessary to execute the new artwork. My heart really, really wants to make the new piece. Call it fate! Call it folly! I can't help myself. I "have to" make the vision a reality.
So ... it happened. I read the McKissick Museum call-for-entry for an upcoming exhibit called Crafting Civil (War) Conversations and I instantly knew what I wanted to do.
This exhibition is one of several cultural events in South Carolina and elsewhere that will commemorate the end of the Civil War's sesquicentennial. The information includes the following statements:
We seek entries from artists working in what historically have been regarded as craft-based media--clay, fiber, glass, metal and wood—who will imagine and give visual and sculptural form to this scene. It is perhaps the scene that Martin Luther King conjured when he dreamt of a day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
What kind of table might energize and sustain continued civic dialog about how the institution of slavery continues to shape southern life? What kind of table, chairs, and table wares might bring people together to share a meal, share experiences, and speak candidly about the collective work that remains to be done? Would the table be set with china, ceramic stoneware or wooden plates? Would sterling flatware or oyster shells serve as eating utensils? Would guests drink from glasses or gourds? Would a tablecloth grace the table’s surface? Do napkins or placemats define individual place settings? Are there serving pieces on the table suggestive of the food traditions southerners forged and share?
(Above: Ironing out the excess wax from the grave rubbings.)
I could see "my table" and my tablecloth. I could see an antique quilting frame at which daughters of former slaves and daughter of former slave owners might sit down to mend their nation ... to stitch their histories back together ... a table of sisterhood ... a quilting bee with all the conversations of community ... with place settings of scissors, thimbles, needles and thread. I knew I had to make this.
(Above: My husband Steve and the completed grave rubbings.)
Of course there was an initial problem. I don't own an antique quilting frame. I've seen them sold at local auctions. I've seen them in various antique shops. When looking for one, none are available. eBay and Craigslist and various google searches yielded nothing more than a "wild goose chase". I posted my need on two on-line art quilting groups. I got two responses.
One generous art quilter offered a very expensive, modern quilting stand for the price of a shipping label. (I couldn't accept. It wasn't right.) Another generous art quilter offered pieces of a frame that had been in a relative's ex-wife's possession but were stacked in a garage. I got these ... but they weren't "perfect" and they weren't a complete set either. (I have a plan for these pieces ... chairs!) I continued my search ... and finally located what I needed. It was in Pennsylvania ... Northumberland ...Susquehanna Valley ... a ten hour drive from home. What to do? We went, of course. We also drove 200 miles more to my parents in Slippery Rock, PA for a family cookout. This sort of made the trip seem much more sensible than a trip to acquire a quilting frame! (By the way, shipping the over-sized boxes would have run over $180. The quilting frame cost me a $100 donation to the Unitarian Universal Congregation of Susquehanna Valley.)
(Above: Finished grave rubbings on the vintage tablecloth ... laying on my driveway.)
I had to acquire the quilting frame before any other work could be done. The length of the rods would determine the length of the quilt. In my stash, I had a perfect, vintage damask tablecloth ... perfect size ... perfect border. Off I went to the Confederate burial grounds inside of Elmwood Cemetery. It is only four blocks from my house. It was only 98 degrees out! Outlines of the unknown soldiers' graves, the symbol, and the word "unknown" were rubbed with brown crayon. I came home and ironed out the excess wax. The next day (a mere 96 degrees) found me in Historic Randolph Cemetery ... approximately five blocks from home. Randolph Cemetery is beside Elmwood Cemetery. It was founded in 1871 by nineteen local black legislators and businessmen seeking a respectable place for African-Americans to be buried. I made grave rubbings of all the doves, joined hands, olive branches, hands pointing to a star, and other lovely, peaceful motifs I could find ... using a black crayon. Because the final artwork will be "a table", a sculptural object around which people can walk, there is no "directional" orientation. Consciously, I made the grave rubbings facing all four sides ... and then ironed out the excess wax.
(Above: Basting the tablecloth to recycled white acrylic felt ... using the tiled living room floor.)
I basted the tablecloth onto a piece of white, recycled acrylic felt. This felt was once the packaging material for a kayak or canoe being shipped from a manufacturer to my local outdoor shop, The River Runner. The owner, Guy Jones, saves all the felt for my artwork. Thanks, Guy! I'm now doing all my self-guided, free-motion embroidery all over the surface. This brings out the detail of the rubbings. Once finished, I'll be back on the living room floor basting the "top" to another vintage tablecloth that will be the "back" of the art quilt. This will be tacked onto the antique quilting frame. Hand stitched outlines around all the unknown soldiers' gravestones will be started using ecru #5 perle cotton. It may sound silly to other quilters for me to have done all the machine stitching and then re-baste ... but I like doing it this way. I don't like seeing the words in reverse on the back of the quilt. Almost all my grave rubbing art quilts have this sort of "faux back". The hand stitching is the way I pierce all three layers. I'll be blogging more about this piece as it progresses. I'm LOVING it ... just like I knew I would from the moment I envisioned it.
(Above: Fiber bookmarks ... half stitched.)
Yet, this isn't all I've been doing. I ran out of fiber bookmarks. So ... I'm in the process of making several hundred. I do this every few years ... as needed. The photo above shows the bookmarks half complete. I've zigzagged decorate yarns up one side and down the other side of torn, decorative paper ... leaving the "tails" as fringe.
These are the ones that are finished. I'm almost a third of the way through the stack! Every day now I stitch bookmarks for about an hour before going on to anything else.
The final step is stitching a decorative feather stitch to each side of the zigzagged yarn. I sell these for $4 each. They make great Christmas gifts for teachers ... as long as I have them on hand. It's a good thing to be making them in the summer ... plenty of time before the need for holiday gifts!
(Above: Nanette Strucinski Zeller, her friend Sharon, and me at Mouse House.)
Finally, this past week has brought me much joy. Nanette Strucinski Zeller and her friend Sharon came down from North Carolina to see my solo show Last Words at the Tapps Art Center! We had a great visit. Sharon makes traditional quilter and has been a Civil War reenactor. Her expertise includes the ability to confirm the fact that my antique quilting frame is, in fact, a "period piece" ... and dates from the Civil War era if not beforehand! I'm THRILLED!
From Cashiers, NC I had a visit from Jeanne Hewell-Chambers and her husband Andy who I met at Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts. Jeanne was in my class. It is quite an honor to have people drive for hours just to see my show ... but it is even a greater honor that these two came on their 41st anniversary!
(Above: Jeanne and me.)
I forgot to snap a photo ... but Carolyn Thiedke also visited from Charleston. Wow! It was a great week. I'm linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artworks.