Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Last work at Wormfarm Institute

(Above:  What's for Dinner? California Drought, 15" x 24", vintage formal dinner napkin rusted with old farm tool gears with self-guided, free motion machine embroidery.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I saw the What's for Dinner? call-for-entry for a special exhibition for the International Quilt Festival in Houston but never really thought about entering until I realized that there it was a perfect way to wrap up my art residency at Wormfarm Institute.  The main reason Wormfarm attracted me was the single line on their website that said, "Piles of abandoned rusty farm implements and other detritus may be used."  I came to rust vintage garments and household linens ... including several, large (26" square) damask dinner napkins.  The rusty tractor and machine gears were perfect for my needs.  This napkin almost called out to be transformed into the "placemat" that could be entered.  Okay ... I'm familiar with the two high profile jurors, Jamie Fingal and Leslie Tucker Jenison.  They are very, very well known for their bright colors, whimsical art quilts, and superior art quilting abilities.  I'm not silly enough to think my piece stands a chance ... especially since it might look odd on the "table" with the other, accepted pieces ... BUT ... that's no reason not to make what really is a good idea!  So, I did!

(Above: What's for Dinner? California Drought, reverse.)

Seriously, I've spent a little over three weeks on a working farm ... planting, cultivating, weeding, and even harvesting.  I've trellised peas, caged tomatoes, lay down irrigation drip tape, spread straw mulch, and driven heavy metal stakes into the ground in order to construct lines onto which more tomato plants might climb.  I've watered, washed, hauled, hoed, and been really, really cold, wet, hot, sweaty, stung be flies and bitten by a tick.  Farming is hard work.  If the weather isn't cooperative, plants fail.  If plants fail ... there is no dinner!  This piece just had to be made.  In the future, I'll blog the jurors' results.  (Fortunately, I already have a piece going to Houston, to Digital Alchemy, curated by Jane Dunnewold. My piece is Guardian Angel.)

(Above:  My pan of approximately 350 pebbles collected from the drive at Wormfarm Institute.)

So ... tomorrow is my last full day at Wormfarm Institute.  I've slowly been wrapping up my experiments and projects.  I put all the pebbles back on the driveway ...

... after I untied the rusty wire wrapped around them in this vintage skirt.  I really loved the way it looked after all the pebbles were removed.  I almost kept it in this condition but rust would continue and I'm not sure about the vinegar and salt solution in which it was soak (and smelled like.)

If I ever want to create an interesting terrain ... well, I know how to do it!  Pebbles and wire!  Moisture and slow cooking in a pot!

I just had to photograph the thick, blackness that the rusty wire also produces.

This rinses away but it sure was attractive beforehand!

The skirt is on the left.  In the center was another pair of bloomers and finally another vintage undergarment ... my last transformed pieces at Wormfarm.

I've folded everything and shipped one box home.  I've also attended the monthly meeting of the Reedsburg Quilt Guild ... which was lots and lots of fun.  I almost forgot that I had yet another garment tucked away in the hoop house!

Yes ... for two weeks I had a vintage garment lying in the muck and algae of the potted plant irrigation system.  It was hidden under this heavy wire stand for plants.

It really looked lovely among the plants ... almost like my favorite Pre-Raphelite painting of poor Ophelia drowning herself for love of Hamlet.  (Millais, 1851-52 ... image from the Tate Gallery in London.)

Any one whose been reading my blog for long know just how much I love this painting and also just how much it has inspired some of my work ... including my lone performance piece

So ... still in the irrigation system, I really loved the look of this vintage garment.

Unfortunately, algae isn't a great natural coloring agent.  The plants did manage to eat some holes in the bodice. 

There were some streaks and slight indications that this piece was "drowning" for two weeks.

Plus, I have ideas as to how I might continue to transform the garment into one that better reflects the state between life and death, decomposition, a return to earth.

As much as the one garment didn't work, an installation idea that was nothing more than a "seed" in the back of my mind DID WORK!  I bought the box of c. 1920 white collars at Bill Mishoe's auction less than a week before I left Columbia.  Because they were "wearables", I threw them into the box of vintage garments headed to Wormfarm.  I had no idea what I'd do with them until it occurred to me that I was squarely working in a "blue collar" world!

Once upon a time, "white collar" had only positive references.  One on-line dictionary gives this definition:  adjective, belonging or pertaining to the ranks of office and professional workers whose jobs generally do not involve manual labor or the wearing of a uniform or work clothes and noun, a white collar worker.  This history of this term goes back to the late nineteenth and beginning of the 20th centuries when a white dress shirt was the common dress for male office workers ... as opposed to the blue overalls worn by manual laborers.  Upton Sinclair is often credited with coining the term. 


Most of my never-used, detachable white collars were labelled with the company name "Arrow".  A quick bit of research lead me to this Wikipedia statement:   Cluett Peabody & Company, Inc. once headquartered in Troy, NY was a longtime manufacturer of shirts, detachable shirt cuffs and collars, and related apparel. It is best known for its Arrow brand collars and shirts and the related Arrow Collar Man advertisements (1905–1931).

For years I've seen these advertisements!  White Collar meant upper class, high society, college educated, and the highest tier in the American work force.  A man wearing these collars was EXACTLY the man every mother hoped for her daughter.   To wear a white collar meant a share of the American Dream!

Now ... I had a box of twenty-two of them!

Yet, my research started out strangely.  Most google searches included another view of white collars, a more contemporary association ... crime!  There's even a USA Network television show by the same name ... and it is about crime too.  We've all heard too much, too often, and too many insulting and illegal actions done by a greedy, well-to-do, cheating class of white collar workers.  Time has changed the association with this term.

I compiled a list and free motion machine stitched on both the inside and outside of the collars.  My phrases include Hedge Fund Manager, Clean Shirt Every Day, Antitrust Violations, Embezzlement, Married a Gold Digger, Yuppie, Elitist, Not Getting My Hands Dirty, Plausible Deniability, Wire and Mail Fraud, Financial Improprieties, Stock Investment Scam, etc.

This morning I suspended them inside the Wormfarm barn.

I'm not sure that this is a finished installation or not but, like my What's for Dinner? California Drought, it seemed like the right thing to do with my materials during these last days in Wisconsin.  I'm particularly fond of the juxtaposition of the "white collars" in a "blue collar" setting.  To me this is a sign of the changing references ... which nowadays include all sorts of other terms because the workforce is very different than it was when the barn was new and is continuing to change.

I had no idea that "pink collar workers" refers to secretarial, clerical workers, and nurses.  Nor had I ever heard that "grey collar workers" are skilled technicians, especially in information technology or any other worker whose job requires both administrative and manual labor.  I didn't know that "gold collar workers" is a way to refer to highly skilled professionals in very high demand ... like engineers, doctors and lawyers or that "red collar workers" refers to the "red ink budget" compensation that many government workers receive.  Who knew?

I'd like to expand this installation ... I think!(?)  I'd need more vintage white collars ... I think!(?) 

In the meantime, it was fun to work once again in the field of installation!  Almost as a "reward", Wormfarm Institute residency manager Betsy Arant made my favorite meal ... PIZZA!  Thank you, Betsy!

I'm linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork!


Maggi said...

Well done for putting together such a great array of rusted fabric. I think your What's for Dinner piece is so appropriate and good luck with it being accepted. Love the collar installation.

Debbie said...

Love the dyeing, beautiful results