Wednesday, December 16, 2020

COVID-19 Firescreen

(Above:  Detail of COVID-19 Firescreen.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It's been just over a full week since I posted, but that's not because I haven't been working!  Far from it!  I've been painstakingly surrounding cross-stitched motifs with very tiny satin stitched borders ... for days and days and days.  It has, however, been a labor of love.

(Above:  COVID-19 Firescreen.  29" x 22 1/2" x 6 3/4".  Antique wooden firescreen with altered cross stitch.)

I bought the firescreen months ago at Bill Mishoe's auction.  At the time, I was bidding in person.  So, this had to have happened sometime in January or February.  After that, Bill Mishoe's auction was like every other non-essential business:  Closed for the pandemic.  More recently, Bill has been holding silent auctions ... the sort where every item or table lot has a sheet on which bids can be written by registered bidders.  (I have a permanent number: 74)  People can come during regular business hours to bid on items.  Bidding closes every other Wednesday at 5:00 PM.  I have no idea why I bought this firescreen.  Perhaps, no one else wanted it.  I got it at the opening bid:  six dollars.  The firescreen featured an embossed piece of thin leather.  It was water damaged.  If I had a thought about this firescreen, it was likely an idea to alter it with some sort of fabric or quilt.  Yet, a plan didn't present itself until last month.

(Above:  A cross stitch bought at another Bill Mishoe auction.)

Last month I went to one of Bill Mishoe's silent auctions.  I previewed early in the week and then went on Wednesday, right before the 5:00 deadline for bidding.  There were lots of people there ... too many (even though everyone was wearing a mask).  I checked the few items on which I'd written my bids and was about to leave.  Hanging on the back wall was a beautiful cross stitch.  It was very nicely framed (and as a professional framer, I ought to know!)  I could tell that it wasn't mounted to sticky board.  There were spacers to keep the UV glass from touching the threads.  The needlework was impeccable, done on 36-count even-weave linen. No one had written a bid.  

(Above:  Detail of the cross stitch.)

My heart sunk for the woman who spent untold hours on this piece ... in 2003.  That really isn't a long time ago at all ... just seventeen years.  Now ... I know that there are plenty of sound reasons why a family doesn't want or can't keep all the things they might inherit.  I've talked about this during my TEDx talk called Precious: Making a Plan for Your Precious Possessions.  I listed possible excuses:  family living too far away, houses already filled with other precious possessions, down-sizing the homes of older relatives who need assisted living, or being forced to get a house ready to go on the market after someone unexpectedly dies.  People often have to make these decisions right when they are overwhelmed and grieving.  That's how lots of things end up at thrift stores and tag sales and at Bill Mishoe's auction.

(Detail of the cross stitch from the back.)

Generally, I have a sad understanding about these things.  I get it and actually have empathy for those who consign things that seem like they ought to be kept forever.  I know that everything can't be saved.  Everything isn't going to make it to the next generation ... but this cross stitch.  Well ... I just couldn't stand the idea of it going without a bid.  I couldn't stand this piece not being loved and admired and getting a second chance as ART.  So, I bid the minimum, a "mercy bid":  Six dollars.  No one upped me.

(Ernie and me ... working on the piece.)

At the time, I had no plan for the cross stitch. Frankly, I hoped that my mercy bid would start the ball rolling.  Others were supposed to fight over this gorgeous needlework.  In my mind, I wasn't supposed to end up with it, but I did.  It seemed like two pieces without a plan became an idea for one whole, altered artwork.  I took apart the firescreen.  The damaged embossed leather pulled easily away from the thin plank of wood to which it was once glued.  I used the wood to trace an outline on a piece of golden colored brocade (a piece of fabric from my stash that probably came from an early Bill Mishoe auction.)  Wonder Under was ironed to the reverse of the cross stitch (to prevent raveling).  I cut the motifs apart and arranged them on the fabric.  My stash of thread (almost all of which came from other auctions) includes plenty of Paternayan tapestry yarn.  Ecru and light tan were selected.  The tan went around the green lettered alphabet.  The ecru went around the motifs.  First, however, I removed the woman's name and her date.

(Above:  COVID-19 Firescreen, detail.)

I replaced the date with 2020 and stitched the words "Coronavirus Pandemic Victims".  Historically, firescreens often featured needlepoint or other embroideries.  These elaborate pieces were not used to catch a spark or prevent a hot coal from rolling out into a room.  Wire mesh fire screens do that!  The decorative fire screens were for shielding people from the intense heat when sitting near the fireplace.  They were a form of temperature control. 

(Above:  COVID-19 Firescreen, detail.)

The original cross stitch was like many antique samplers which included funereal motifs:  Urns, a wreath, and words of remembrance. I don't know if the woman who stitched it has died but she had obviously been thinking about her own memory.  This year, her memory almost got entirely lost.  With my mercy bid, the piece might easily have been discarded.  Somehow in my mind, altering the cross stitch was fitting.  It now honors everyone lost this year, including the memory of the woman, a memory that escaped a fate of neglect.  This firescreen might never stand in front of a real fire, but it will be kept ... at least for now ... with remembrance for many.

(Above:  COVID-19 Firescreen, detail.)

When the last wool satin stitch was plied, I used Yes Paste to glue it to the wooden plank.  Yes Paste is awesome.  It is acid-free, flexible, slow drying, and cleans up with soap and water.  I coated the wood with a thin layer and positioned the embroidery on the wood.  I had to move the fabric around quite a bit to get it lined up ... but Yes Paste allows for this. No problem.  When I finally had it right, I put a piece of Plexiglas over the wood and weighted it down overnight.  The next morning, I cut away the excess fabric and installed the panel back into the firescreen. 

1 comment:

irene macwilliam said...

Interesting your comment such firescreens were used for shielding. In our family here in Ireland your type firescreen was used to cover an unused fireplace, to make it attractive when the fire was not lit. Polescreens were used to shield people, you could alter the height of the shielding part. Love what you have done.