Saturday, January 01, 2022

145 Original Guestroom Artworks!

(Above:  Steve holding one of the 145 original fiber artworks headed for the new Cambria Hotel in Columbia.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It all started more than a year ago when I was contacted by NINEdot Arts to submit two proposals for the lobby of the new Cambria Hotel slated to open in spring 2022.  The theme of the hotel is "fibers".  After all, Columbia was once a major textile producing hub.  I'd never had such an opportunity and was overjoyed to have been "found" and offered the chance to apply. Amazingly, I was awarded both installations. Over the coming months, I worked with the team to refine the ideas and brainstorm on everything from the interior designer's palette to the physical construction needs for the artwork.  I learned plenty, signed contracts, and sent required updates on the progress of the work. Along the way, NINEdot Arts learned that my day job is custom picture framing.

(Above:  One of more than a dozen selfies taken over the past year while visiting the hotel's construction site.  This image was taken last July.)

As a result, I was asked to frame a small piece selected for the individual guest room bathrooms.  I will not show a photo of it because ... well ... in my humble opinion ... it was unbelievably ugly, cheap-looking, and tacky. The reason for framing it was because a "spec room" was being installed inside a giant warehouse outside of town.  This makes sense.  A "spec room" allows the contractor, hotel representatives, interior designer, and any others heavily invested in the project to actually SEE what was being planned.  So ... of course ... they needed this ugly thing framed and hung in the "spec room."  

I was given a budget for the framing.  Then, I googled the company which printed the ugly piece of fabric and learned that it retails for $25.  Putting the amounts together, I couldn't help myself but to wonder what I might be able to do ... wholesale ... for the same amount.  It didn't take more than a day before I had two identical frames ready to deliver to the "spec room".  In one was the ugly thing.  In the other was one of my In Box series pieces created in the exact same color palette.  Both were delivered and I wrote an explanation to my NINEdot Arts contact. 

Soon, I had a contract for 145 original guestroom artworks!  The fun started months ago.  For me, this was a challenge.  It was a test of perseverance and emotional steadfastness.  I had to make sure that the last one was as original and unique and as fun to make as the first had been.  Below are some of the images and words sent in my progress reports.  Now, I can't wait for springtime and the chance to see my art in this new hotel.  (By the way, coming blog posts will document the two lobby installations!)

This is a stack of 145 pieces of Pellon 805/Wonder Under, a heat activated glue that fuses together the layers of polyester stretch velvet. Each piece was ironed onto a large rectangle of recycled black industrial synthetic felt that was once the protective covering for a kayak or canoe while it was shipped from a manufacture to River Runner. River Runner is an independent outdoor shop located one block to the west of the hotel. The owner, Guy Jones, has been donating this felt to me for years.

The photo above shows the felt with the pieces of Wonder Under ironed to it. The "whiteness" is a facing paper that is pulled away in order to expose the heat-activated fabric glue.

The photo above shows piles of polyester stretch velvet already cut into random squares and rectangles. All the pieces are cut by hand. The piles were replenished dozens of time during the construction phase. The fabric came from two different shops in New York City's fashion district, Spandex World and Fabric Wholesale Direct.

The photo above shows the 145 pieces after squares and rectangles of the polyester stretch velvet were ironed into a foundation layer. Each foundation layer is different and required no less than twelve minutes to compose.

The photo above shows the 145 pieces after additional pieces of polyester stretch velvet were layered and fused to the foundation level. All the pieces were cut by hand. Each piece required no less than twelve minutes to continue the compositions. There is an additional layer of Wonder Under ironed over the entire surface. This additional layer of heat-activated glue is needed in order to have chiffon scarves fused to the surface. The chiffon scarves further complicate the mix of colors while providing a smooth surface for the free-motion machine stitching.

The photo above shows the process of adding strips of chiffon scarves over the surface. The chiffon scarves are very, very thin and were order from a Chinese import company. Adding these strips was quite quick, each one requiring less than three minutes

The photo above shows four stacks of 30 pieces and one stack of 25 pieces. They are sitting on the floor of my studio beside my Tiara free-motion machine. These waiting stacks are ready to be free-motion stitched using 100% black cotton thread. Free-motion stitching is sort of like "drawing" with thread. The machine does not pull the fabric from the front to the back of the needle. It depends on the user/stitcher to move the fabric. It allows the fabric to be moved forward, backward, from side to side, in circles, or in any direction. 

I didn't take photos of me stitching or stapling each piece to a stretcher bar.  I stitched one after another until they were all ready to be melted.  Twelve pieces were stapled to twelve stretcher bars, taken to the garage, and exposed to the heat from an industrial heat gun.  The excess black felt was removed from the stretcher bars and the next twelve were attached.  Finally, I was ready to "neaten" up the "fringe" on the sides of each piece and attach them to mat boards.

While I was in Texas as the artist-in-residence at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, my husband Steve will built all the frames. Before leaving, I cut all the mats.  This is stack of 145 piece of mat board. Each piece measures 20" x 16", exactly one-quarter of a sheet of mat board.

Of course Ernie the Cat was intimately involved in every stage of this project.  Here he is on Steve's worktable supervising the installation of glass into every frame.  Because the artwork is "top mounted" (it is on top of a solid piece of mat board, not under the opening cut into a piece of mat board), the glass is held in place by strips of foam-centered board taped and glued to the interior sides of the frame.  This prevents the glass from coming into contact with the artwork. It creates a "mini shadow box" inside the framing package.  In the photo above, a strip of black foam-centered board is shown with two-way ... ready to be installed. 

By the time I returned from Texas, the back room looked like this.  It was at this point that I started the melting and mounting process.  As I worked, Steve installed each piece into the waiting frames.  Security hardware was added.  The work was put into boxes.

The back room now looks like this.  It has been a great experience in several ways.  I had to keep up my own enthusiasm, share the process with others who weren't familiar with fiber art and/or my personal approach, manage time and materials, and figure out how to store and transport so much artwork.  All the while, I was also keeping up with my own studio artwork.  Sharing this on New Years Day is also part of my hope for the coming year ... to be just as productive and engaged in the process of making ART!


Christine said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing your hard work and well done to both of you.
It is easy to commit to something like this as we are carried along by enthusiasm but to continue to keep up the enjoyment of creating over that number..... That takes stamina.

Hope 2022 keeps you both healthy and enjoying life.

Cindy P. said...

Susan, I don’t think any other artist could have accomplished this feat. You have such a creative force and an amazing work ethic that most artists would aspire to. The hotel was very fortunate to have you apply for this project. Your work always amazes me and I love that you share what’s “cooking” in your artistic and personal journeys. Happy New Year my friend!

Ann Scott said...

Congratulations! You and Steve are very generous to share all of this and I appreciate getting a better understanding of your process in making this artwork. Wishing you a exciting New Year.

GG said...

Your work is awesome. Finished product is phenomenal! ❤️

jhoddick said...

What an amazing experience and creative adventure! Thank you for sharing in your blog and on FB. Just figuring out the step by step process must have made your head spin! Congratulations - I am sure it will be wonderful to see it all installed in the new hotel.

Jill Hoddick

Margaret said...

First, congratulations!

Second, I'm relieved to find you've prefaced this post with "It started a year ago..." It's a monumental project, and I'm thrilled you got to knock their socks off with it!

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

agree with every other comment but want to add WOW

Alex said...

That's an incredible undertaking and how amazing that you managed to make so many and keep your love of creativity to the end - I struggle to make two things the same/similar! Fabulous - well done!!

Shannon said...

This is so exciting! I can't wait to read and hear more about it!

helen said...

All I can say to make sure I cover everything is: “you are one incredible lady👏🏻)

Debra G. said...

Thanks for sharing your process. Could you give more details about the "foam centered board" and how you used it? I've struggled with mounting and framing densely-embroidered pieces.

Anne Godwin said...

It's me again, Anne from Mobile. Your brain is firing on all cylinders! Wow! Just wow! I just looked at your blog about the installation. Congratulations! You and Steve are amazing.