I'm very proud to be a member of Through Our Hands, an international group of contemporary artists working primarily in layered textiles. The group's Portfolio is amazing. (It has eighty-four, full colored illustrations showcasing work from the twenty-seven Affiliate Artists and several well written articles ... and it is available for a very low purchase price.) This book came out about the time of the last group exhibition. The next group exhibit is scheduled for The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England ... at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) ... this coming August. This is a fabulous show, attended by thousands. I'm excited. Yet, for the first time, Through Our Hands has a theme: Portraits.
Initially, I wasn't excited about "portraits". Despite having stitched 108 pieces in my own Decision Portrait Series, I don't really consider this approach part of my personal repertoire. I certainly didn't want to make something similar to my past work ... but I also didn't have anything else in mind. Steve and I talked about it.
He asked me, "What sort of portrait would you like to stitch?" My answer, "Something that goes way over the top ... like the twenty-four portraits in my Blues Chapel ... but those weren't in fabric. There weren't any stitches at all."
"Can't you stitch some sort of 'over the top' portrait?," he asked.
My mind started churning. Hadn't I added sequins, beads, costume jewelry, millinery lace, and all sort of things to those early, female Blues singers? Hadn't I added gilded halos? Made them appear as if "sainted"? As if icons? Wasn't the concept to pay homage to these singers who lived in a male dominated world, a segregated country, and worked in an industry that took advantage of them ... depicting them as "saints"? YES! They changed the world for today's young, African American vocalists. They sang with PASSION. They were icons!
Would I like to stitch "an icon"? YES!
But what icon? Who would be my saint?
Who did I know living a life meant to make a difference? Who was filled with passion? Who possessed the qualities of a saint spreading love? I really didn't have to think for long.
Anastasia had posed for me before ... for the Decision Portrait Series.
CLICK HERE to read Anastasia's profound decision. But even more than saying "I Love You" in place of "good-bye", last spring Anastasia was changing people by facing cancer with an amazing dignity, grace, and ethereal spirit. She fought to the very end. Last week would have been her fiftieth birthday.
While Steve and I were talking about a new icon and my potential portrait for the upcoming exhibit, we were in Washington, DC. It was Easter and we went to the National Basilica for high mass. We've been to this gorgeous house of worship many times. It is very near the Kirov Academy of Ballet where our elder son went to school. So, we knew how to avoid the parking lot ... finding a street space near the other end of the large structure. As we were walking up, I saw a side door ajar. We went inside ... at the lower, crypt level. The very first, ornate side chapel (totally done in glittering mosaic) was for Saint Anastasia. That sealed it. Anastasia was contacted soon thereafter ... already battling cancer, already having undergone chemo and lost her long golden locks of hair, already in pain but happy to pose.
Not only did Anastasia pose but she was happy to talk about my other plans for the piece. After all, I want to convey the reason I think she's perfect as a "saint", an icon, a role model for life. I knew I wanted to put the finished portrait into a triptych. I already had the antique mirror frame, but I didn't know exactly what I wanted in the two side panels. Anastasia knew. She suggested two phrases: Live to Love and Love to Live. Perfect.
(Above: The antique triptych frame for Saint Anastasia.)
I spent hours working with layers in Photoshop ... changing the orientation, abstracting Anastasia's face to better coordinate with the graphic icon image, developing ideas for the halo, and leaving a space for her name at the bottom. Finally, the results were uploaded to Spoonflower and ordered. The printed fabric came but I was too busy when it arrived.
I didn't start stitching until my recent art residency to PLAYA in the remote Oregon Outback. Serendipitously, I left Columbia while family and friends gathered at Anastasia's bedside ... staying until the day she died ... the day I did the free motion stitching. I started seed stitching the golden background with a metallic thread on the day her life was celebrated with a party at The Art Bar. The timing for this blog post is also important. I started taking pictures last Thursday, the Anastasia would have turned fifty years old.
While in Oregon, I had time to think about how this icon would come together. I decided that the wings needed to be more three-dimensional. I ordered images of just this area from Spoonflower, stitched them, cut them, and covered each with gel medium to prevent the edges from fraying and to add an appropriate stiffness. To dry them, they were pinned to a piece of foam-centered board.
(Above: Detail of the feathers ... with gel medium.)
Gel medium dries clear. The wings were then applied to the portrait.
Since these photos were taken, I've continued stitching. I've also ordered the fabric for the two side panels and am working out ideas for the "name" at the bottom of the portrait. I will continue to post as this work progresses. Until then ... this is how my living room looks ... lots of beads and a beloved angel on the floor looking up.
I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.