Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Class of 1949

(Above:  Sierra Hampton modeling The Class of 1949, a garment made from vintage yearbook photos for upcoming opportunities with ecoFAB Trash Couture.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I'm very excited about my inclusion in a unique collective of artists known as ecoFAB Trash Couture.  It was founded by my friend Flavia Lovatelli who encourages participants to create unique garments made from material headed to landfills and other recyclables. For the most part, Flavia discourages the use of ordinary fabric/discarded clothing despite the fact that more than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in just the USA. The challenge is to make something WONDERFUL from more unusual materials ... like the photos from a 1949 yearbook!  Take a look at the ecoFAB link.  There are so many fantastical dresses made from used CDs, bicycle tires, dryer sheets, coffee k-cups, and so much more! 

 (Above:  The Class of 1949 on a dress form.)

There will be two runway shows for ecoFAB Trash Couture.  One will be during Charleston Fashion Week, Friday, June 14 and the other will be here in Columbia on August 31st.  More than just one-night-only events, Flavia organizes ways to showcase these recycled garments in artistic vignettes with related 2D and 3D artwork.  In anticipation of this, I've already finished my 3D piece for this garment.  It is my Anonymous Ancestors Folding Screen.  (CLICK HERE for a blog post featuring this work.)  My idea for a 2D piece is still rolling around in my head ... but it will include more photos.

 (Above:  Constructing The Class of 1949.)

Making a recycled garment generally takes a bit of ingenuity, some explorations with regards to the approach, and some experimentation.  For me, however, I knew this would work!  This garment was made exactly like my Grid of Photos and part of the skirt in my first Anonymous Ancestors Sculptural Garments ... both of which are currently in my solo show at the Gadsden Museum of Art in Alabama.  In fact, I will be devising a way to temporarily turn the skirt into a cape for this new dress.

 (Above:  The Class of 1949 being stitched on my Babylock Tiara.)

The make The Class of 1949, I first fused all the pages of class photos from a vintage yearbook to some unbleached muslin donated to my stash years ago.  Then I cut all the pictures apart.  The cover of the yearbook was already gone because I used it on the Alternative Storytellers pedestal made last month.

Then, I glued the individual images to a piece of Pellon's 806 Stitch-and-Tear. The Stitch-and-Tear was already cut into a basic shape/pattern for the garment.  I even stitched two darts on the front side.  I am thankful to have a Babylock Tiara sewing machine because it made it easy to keep the fragile piece together and flat during the free-motion stitching.  Every photo was linked to its neighbors on every side.

 (Above:  The Class of 1949, stitched.)

It really didn't take long to stitch the work, but it took two days to carefully tear all the pieces of Stitch-and-Tear away from the photos! My living room looked like a confetti bomb had exploded and everywhere I went seemed to leave a little trail of tiny paper squares.  It was worth it!

 (Above:  Detail of the stitching from the back, before removing all the Stitch-and-Tear. The little blobs/discoloration in the middle of each photo shows the tab of glue that held the photo in place for the stitching.)

Every square, no matter how small, was torn away.  Then, I had to address the side closures.

A garment like this is fairly adjustable in size.  This is a good thing because I really don't know who will be modeling the garment for the runway shows.  Siena would like to do it but it is not up to me!

 (Above:  Stitching cording from strips of plastic.)

At first I thought I would create closure ties from strips of plastic.  It worked well enough but the resulting cord was too stiff.  I ended up making cording from strands of neglected yarn.

There are four ties on each side.

I had fun arranging the larger senior class photos with the rest of the school portraits.

Sierra works two doors away for my state representative Todd Rutherford.  I asked her to model for these pictures and she came this morning dressed perfectly in black.  I think the outfit looks amazing and can't wait to start my next one!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Another Year

 (Above:  Another Year, a Grave Rubbing Art Quilt. 11 1/2" x 21 1/2". Crayon grave rubbing on silk with vintage doily.  Free-motion and hand stitching.)

At one point in my life, I had numerous grave rubbing art quilts in production. Taking a crayon and a length of silk into a cemetery was an obsession.  I haunted burial grounds, collecting unique epitaphs and photographing sculptural angels.  The work was my "rock", a firm anchor. I reveled in it. Although, I'm still drawn to final resting places, only occasionally do I make a new rubbing.  The sad fact is, I don't need more of them.  Last Words, the solo installation that grew from this obsession, only has one future exhibition ... next October at the Caldwell Arts Council in Lenoir, North Carolina. 

 (Above:  Detail of Another Year.)

I could do this work forever but it doesn't make sense.  There are so many related area for me to explore ... like suggesting narratives for the anonymous people staring out of forgotten photographs.  Truly, my current solo installation, Anonymous Ancestors, grew out of my passion for "all things funereal".  Other avenues exist too, and yet I can't quite give up the relaxation found in the running stitches that cover most of my Grave Rubbing Art Quilts.

 (Above:  Detail of Another Year.)

I adore this series.  The concept comes from the very heart of my desire to express myself.  So, it really isn't any wonder that I return to it upon occasion.  Cemeteries remind me of the passage of time.  2019 is another year and this is another piece in my ongoing love affair with final words and the motifs of death. For me, none of this is morbid.  I am not so concerned with the "last day" but how I intend to use all the days leading up to it.

(Above:  Another Year, reverse.)

I also have a great desire to give vintage household linens a "second life" as art ... even if they are used only for the reverse side of my work.  Every piece on the reverse was donated by my friend Valerie Summers.  Thank you, Valerie for rescuing them!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Things Kept, Five New Pieces

 (Above:  An assortment of beautiful, vintage buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

One might say that I collect buttons but truly that's an understatement.  I amass buttons!  At auction, I can't help myself.  I bid even though I don't need more, even if the selection is ordinary, even if I have seemingly run out of room to store them. One way or the other, I find a way to sort and keep them ... all of them.  I love buttons!  There's a old wooden box in which I've stashed my very favorite ones ... like those in this picture.  But recently I had to ask myself, "What are you keeping them for?  When are you finally going to use them?"

(Above:  Things Kept I.  Framed 38" x 30".  Decorative paper, fabric, buttons, vintage fans on heavy watercolor paper.)

Many of the buttons I've bought at auction were kept in neat cookie tins or glass mason jars. Without knowing the original owners, I am quite familiar with the reasoning behind keeping buttons:  One day I will need them ... One day I will use them ... One day will come!  Yet, it didn't come.  I got them instead and applied the exact same rationalization.  

(Above:  Things Kept II.  Framed 38" x 30".  Antique bookend paper, fabric, trim, buttons, vintage beads and ephemera on heavy watercolor paper.)

It is sort of pathetic to know that my enormous stash, and especially the "favorite buttons", had gone from one rationalization to another rationalization.  So, this New Year, I had to DO SOMETHING.  The day had come to finally use some of the most precious buttons.  These are the five pieces made inspired by my best-of-the-best.  

(Above:  Things Kept III.  Framed 38" x 30".  Decorative paper, fabric from an antique Chinese folding screen, thread, vintage print of ancient ceramics, buttons, beaded purse on heavy watercolor paper.)

I also dove into my stash of decorative papers and another box in which I've stored small previous keepsakes ... like a damaged, beaded handbag from the early 20th century, Sunday school gloves, antique lace and shells, and scraps of hand embroidered silk.  These are all THINGS KEPT, which became the title for the new work.  These are all things I intended to use "one day" and the day finally came.

(Above:  Things Kept IV.  Framed 38" x 30".  Decorative paper, embroidered Chinese fabric, buttons, glove, shell and beads on heavy watercolor paper.)

One of the things that prompted the work is an upcoming opportunity to have my artwork at a popular, fine dining restaurant called Motor Supply Co. Bistro (because the original use of the historic, brick building was as a motor supply store!).  In my mind, these pieces will look fabulous on the walls and appropriate to the classy decor.  The opportunity came from a friend, Bohumila Augustinova.  She curates a rotating schedule of artwork for the restaurant, changing it every three or four months.  Bohumila is originally from the Czech Republic ... the place where most of my favorite buttons were made.  It was in her honor that I decided, once and for all, to use these precious possessions instead of just keeping them hidden in the little, wooden box. 

  (Above:  Things Kept V.  Framed 38" x 30".  Antique paper with xylene photo transfer of a cemetery angel, water soluble crayon, epoxy, and buttons on heavy watercolor paper.)

In my stash of decorative papers, I found a xylene photo transfer of a cemetery angel.  I made it years ago.  It was made on an extremely large piece of antique paper that came from a giant-sized book.  I adore the foxing on the paper.  It sings with age.  It became the perfect place for a collection of fine Czechoslovakian jet buttons.  I added shading with water soluble crayon and an epoxy halo. Below are some of the detail shots featuring the buttons that inspired this work. 

 (Above:  Detail of button on Things Kept I.)

 (Above:  Detail of Things Kept II.)

 (Above detail of button on Things Kept IV.)

  (Above detail of button on Things Kept IV.)

  (Above detail of button on Things Kept V.)

 (Above detail of Things Kept V.)

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Anonymous Ancestors Folding Screen

 (Above:  Anonymous Ancestors Folding Screen, view of the interior.  Dimensions when standing at a right angle as seen above:  68 1/2" x 36" x 16".  Antique Chinese folding screen, anonymous vintage and antique photographs, decorative upholstery tacks, thread. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Over the past several months I've gotten to know an incredible artist named Flavia Isabella Lovatelli, a multidisciplinary sustainable artist who is known for her award winning, coiled paper sculptures and as the founder of Art Ecologie Group, a collective that annually presents an event called ecoFAB Trash Couture.  More than just a runway show featuring garments made entirely from recycled goods (no fabric!), this event also presents the garments in exhibition vignettes with coordinated 2D and 3D artwork. 

Flavia used a couple of my recycled fashions in a recent exhibition at the Anderson Art Center.  Shortly thereafter, I became a member of the group ... which means I am responsible for creating a perfect TRIFECTA for the upcoming Charleston Fashion Week and the next runway show here in Columbia, August 31.  (Actually, I'm planning two trifectas!)  A "perfect trifecta" includes a 100% recycled garment to be displayed with coordinating 2D and 3D artwork. 

(Above: Two of the vignettes recently seen at the Anderson Art Center in South Carolina.  My Pantyhose Dress and black boa are on the left; His Secrets and Her Secrets hung behind another artist's garment and 3D piece.  For this opportunity, Flavia mixed the artists' work.  My garment was paired with another artist's 2D and 3D pieces, and my 2D pieces were shown with someone else's garment and 3D work,)

 So ... I'm working on a garment made from vintage photos and I've just finished my 3D piece. I'm very pleased with this folding screen, my first trifecta's 3D artwork.  I've actually owned the screen for over a decade.  It had four panels but I've only used the outside two.

 (Above:  Anonymous Ancestors Folding Screen, exterior.)

Flavia and I have had wonderful/serious conversations about our studio art practices, collaborating with other artists, and many of the issues that face any group of people working toward a common goal.  A frequent problem are group members who wait until the last minute.  These are often the artists who claim to "work well under pressure".

Flavia and I both work well under pressure but we choose not to do this!  We are both the sort of people who prefer to be ahead of a deadline.  Flavia said it best.  She said that a successful piece can be made during the "last minutes" but that it is rarely "the best effort".  It takes time and contemplation, the freedom to step back and examine the initial efforts, and the opportunity to make changes that result in an artist's "best work". 

Such is the story with this folding screen.  It only took two days to sand the rough surfaces, apply maple stain to the unfinished wood, and tack the photographs to the screen.  To be honest, it looked WONDERFUL and I was very, very happy.  This could have been the end of it.  This is what I would have made if working under the pressure of a looming deadline.

The next day, however, I stood back and looked at the screen ... really looked at it and wondered about the spaces between the photos.  I thought about the independent layers and had a hair-brained idea about stitching ... about linking the images and the front to the back and how the screen might look even more amazing.

It took quite a lot of time to stitch this piece ... weeks.  I was constantly jumping from one side to the other.  As I worked, I realized that I was creating another layer ... the back side of the photographs.  After all the stitching, I ripped and tore more images and glued them in the spaces behind the threads. 

I wish I had snapped a few pictures before all the stitching ... just as a comparison.  Why?  Well, the screen is so much more successful now than it had been earlier.  Because I had the time, I could truly go that "one more step" from "good to great."

I've really liked my conversations with Flavia and am looking forward to working with her and for the opportunities with ecoFAB couture.  Scroll down for more details from this new 3D piece!

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Anonymous Ancestors at Gadsden Museum of Art, a brief video

Although not a particularly good video ... it gives some sense of space to the exhibit

Anonymous Ancestors at the Gadsden Museum of Art

(Above:  Me ... after a long but utterly wonderful day installing Anonymous Ancestors in the Gadsden Museum of Art, Gadsden, Alabama.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Before New Year's Eve my husband Steve and I started gathering all the furniture, garments, framed pictures, hand tools, packing blankets, and everything needed to take Anonymous Ancestors to the Gadsden Museum of Art in Gadsden, Alabama.  By the next morning, it was all near our back door.  On the morning of New Year's Eve, we packed the cargo van.  We do this in order to have enough time to "remember everything".  In a rush, "something important" might get overlooked.

Apparently, taking our time didn't quite work either.  We accidentally left four folding chairs.  They were by the back door with everything else ... but behind a shelving display that wasn't making the trip.  Today, we boxed and shipped them via FedEx Ground.  Even without these four folding chairs, the installation looks great.  Yet, it will look better with them.  I encourage visitors to sit awhile, read the altered books, and sort through the dozens of loose vintage pictures sitting on the marble topped table.  Thus, more chairs are better, and these really are wonderful.  The four folding chairs feature photos from my Grandmother Lenz's photo album.  CLICK HERE to see them. 

Only about 220 of the framed pieces were hung.  Sixty-five came back.  Believe it or not, the more I have, the easier it is to make nice arrangements on the wall.

To hang an exhibit like this, I first place the large pieces on the various walls.  Then I work up and out.  Steve is indispensable.  He functions like my "third and fourth" hands.  He's always there with a hook-and-nail, to hold a piece while I'm hammering, and to fetch the ladder. Plus, he does all the driving.  I couldn't do it without him!

I think of my wall arrangements as "linked vignettes".  Pieces are generally selected by size and orientation.  For this long wall, I also had to work around the wall mounted thermostat.  I love the challenge.  Working this way means that some of my favorite pieces didn't make this show ... like "Virgins on their Honeymoon Night".

 (Above:  Neighborhood Children Thought I Was A Witch.  Antique frame and hand-colored antique photograph altered with letters clipped from vintage ephemera.)

On the flip side, this piece was finished just last week.  It did find a place on the wall. I don't think I'll ever get tired of inventing phrases for anonymous photos from yard sales and auctions.  The people depicted seem to look out begging to be used.

The statement for this show hangs on the the short wall to the right of the photo above.  Between the two is the entrance.  The show is the first exhibit just inside the museum's main door.  I am truly honored to have my work in this incredible place.

The statement reads:
To stand within Susan Lenz’s installation, Anonymous Ancestors, is to become immersed in the myriad of family stories handed down through generations. Each snapshot is a frozen moment on life’s time line. Letters and words clipped from vintage print material allow one’s mind to wander, envisioning forgotten friends, past holidays, ancient occasions, former cars, and hilarious fashion trends. Yet, all the images are anonymous. The photos come from yard sales, auctions, and abandoned locations. Who are these people? Who really knows? They are distant aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, siblings, and in-laws. They are society’s family tree, our collective wall of ancestors.
Susan invites visitors to sit for a moment, browse through the scrapbooks, albums, and altered images. Please use the provided white gloves while contemplating your own, precious heirlooms.
This installation was made possible through the support of family and friends, including Ray Wetzel, Blake Dodgen, and staff at the Gadsden Museum of Art; Springboard for the Arts and the Hinge Art Residency program, Fergus Falls, MN; Forrest and Grant Imaging, Columbia, SC; Bill Mishoe’s Estate Services, Columbia, SC; all those who have donated vintage materials to Susan’s studio practice; and the many anonymous individuals who stared out of their half-forgotten pictures with inspiration.

 Scroll down for more pictures from the show.  The exhibit officially opens on January 6 and runs through February 22.  There's a reception on February 1 from 5 - 7 but unfortunately I will not be making the trip back to Gadsden.  If you go, let me know what you think!