Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happiness is....

I vaguely remember a song from my youth called "Happiness is...." We sung it a church camp, on all car rides, in school plays. It was one of those annoyingly addictive tunes that continued in your head over and over again. Too bad that happiness doesn't nag on and on....but right now the melody is sounding loud and clear.

Happiness is....
hearing such wonderful, supportive comments from cyber pals. Thank you, one and all!

Happiness is....
going to a great art exhibit. Like Cats on a Leash: Three Decades at play. (Opening night reception images of event right outside my studio door are here.)

Happiness is....
riding on the back of your son's moped to the ballet. (Video here!)

Happiness is....
laughing at your son's Halloween costume as he wins second place in a contest. (Blog post here.)

Happiness is....
a serendipitous arrangement for using four sold works in an upcoming show. (Thank you Mel Dalton! Mel is the fabulous art patron that bought all four, large stained glass fiber pieces that had been in my Sumter Gallery of Art Blues Chapel exhibition. I was going to make four more....but Mel is actually from Pickens, South Carolina. Her mother is a quilter there. She is happy to lend the four pieces for the show...with identifications tags that read "In the Collection of Mel Dalton". We're both really happy about this.)

Happiness is....

Below is a picture of my Archeology Project which was on display at I. Pinckney Simon's gallery in Columbia last January. It was an exhibition I had with Janet Kozachek, a painter and mosaic artist. I loved this is exactly the type of "major" work I'm now seeking...all encompassing: physically, spiritually, with purpose and statement. I even went back yesterday to the blog entries I wrote while envisioning this piece. Some of the individual parts and one of the altered books sold. Later, I took one suitcase and some of the contents and put together The Collector....which will shortly be heading to Wayne Art Center outside Philadelphia for Craftforms 2007! I am elated.

This is The Collector:

The letter informing me that the work had been accepted said, "From among 844 submissions, our juror, Mark Richard Leach, Founding Director and Chief Curator of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, chose 82 objects by 80 artist from 25 states as well as Canada and Korea." This is MAJOR. I've generally been rejected but always knew I was in excellent company even in that category!

Happiness is....this past weekend!

Friday, October 26, 2007


(Above: About sixty Christmas ornaments!)

Ever since I finished the work for my exhibition at Francis Marion University, I've been in a strange sort of "funk". I am thrilled to be working toward another solo show with Blues Chapel, but I was looking for a new approach, a new body of work, something "significant"....something I still can't quite define and haven't found.

I tried a systematic approach...make backgrounds for a month. While I created many things with which I am pleased, it didn't solve my problem. I never found the "new body of work" in which to immerse myself. I tried working with my new embellisher...thinking that the machine would trigger something novel. Again, pleasant parts and no whole. Basically, I've been trying to "force" a new series into existence instead of quietly working until it reveals itself in the stitches.

I've also been struggling mentally. There are so many techniques to be attempted. It's overwhelming...and then, I spiral downward into thinking that my work isn't "good enough". I see all these great possibilities and I think, "Susan, you're light years behind". I'm so tempted to try everything....hoping the in these new techniques is some magical answer to the new work I think I'm destined to make.

When I got back from London, I had my hand Elements in Blue. I have several waiting to be stitched; but, I do my hand stitching in the home. What was I going to do in my studio? I didn't have anything going...generally, there's at least three projects in various stages on which to work.

One recent comment really triggered my thoughts (in a very good way!). It got me asking myself, "How are all the visual "treats" seen in London going to influence my work, even subtly?" I really don't know.

Yet, this last trip was honestly the first time I looked at quality fiber art and didn't immediately want to "try this" or "copy that idea" or think "I could do that". I just looked. Hopefully, this is a good sign. At least, I'm taking it that way. I am hoping that the experience will influence me with follow my own path, do my own thing...even if what I'm making really is "bad" because the PROCESS of making art is what is important to me. The thing I'm looking for is "vision", a concept, a way in which to relate something about me and/or my life through fibers with needle and thread. All the wonderful work I saw in London was done by people doing just this...communicating.

So, went I got into my studio I picked up a really ugly piece of felt onto which I'd embellished some dreadful yarns and snippets of other felt...all in blue...with the idea to use it as a background for some unspecified piece for the Blues Chapel exhibit. I just embellished...letting the barbed needles purr through the material. I was worrying about Alex (grade cards are due on Halloween) when a hair brained idea struck...cut this into circles...then make Christmas ornaments.

(Above: Ornaments of Tree of Blues)

As I worked, I remembered that I volunteered to create a Christmas tree for a charity event that benefits the local Children's Hospital. I even bought a pile of blue trimmings two years ago...for Alex's tree (yes, he donates too...I pay for the "stuff"). We didn't use the blue ornaments or the artificial white tree last year. Instead, Alex used about 200 old men's neck ties and made "A Gift for Dad" Tree. Somehow, making this year's tree revolve around Blues Chapel just happened. Now, this project (which could easily have become some anchor weighing me down as the deadline approached) is all but done. (Alex is making a "table top" tree on his own.)

Next, some of the "backgrounds" just NEEDED to be made into ornaments...merchandise! The best thing that just "happened", however, was that the scraps of blue cut aways turned into an embellished piece, The Blues. If all this isn't serendipity, I don't know what is. Once I stopped trying so hard, things fell into place. Okay, I still don't have some great "master plan" and I don't have the slightest idea what I want to "say" with my stitches...but it will come. I have faith...and some nice ornaments to sell in the meantime!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Elements in Blue

Although I was really busy in London and have been even busier compiling my impressions and dealing with the stacks of work awaiting my attention, I did manage to get some stitching done! Above is Elements in Blue: Gothic Windows. Below is Elements in Blue: Capital. Both are intended to be part of next summer's solo exhibition of Blues Chapel at the Pickens County Museum.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Steve's trip

I know....I'm so far behind on reading everyone else's blogs, making comments, and doing all the things I generally do...Please forgive me and let me explain.

My darling husband Steve is very supportive of my blogging activities. He made all the arrangements for my recent trip to London. Yet, he was also going on a trip of his own. He won a free airline ticket and went flew to Seattle. So....I just spent the better part of the past two days working like mad (trying to earn some of the money we just spent!) and trying to salvage some of the photos Steve took on his trip. He even shot a video clip. Today, I posted the results on my "Family Blog".

Please, for Steve (who is really a bit jealous of all the comments I get!), post a comment for Steve!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Family, friends, fiber, fun

One of the best things about this year's Knitting and Stitching Show was meeting fellow embroiderers and textile people. Watching Maggie Grey embellish...and talk her way through about twenty minutes without electricity...was as marvelous this year as Mathias and I remembered her to be during last year's show in Birmingham.

Being surrounded by Valerie Campbell-Hardings carefully mounted work felt like another friend and former teacher was in our midst...and I think she really was there. I met Kate just outside the crowded booth on Thursday and on Friday I met Liz in the same spot. Unfortunately, I was enjoying our conversation so much that I forgot to take a picture...forgive me Liz!

I think I can finish my entries on London if I also mention some of the other exhibition areas that really were excellent, inspirational, and didn't allow photography!

Jeanette Appleton's work was mysteriously wonderful. In her felted and/or embellished landscapes and altered tourist scarves were layers of meaning. Her methods of using printed material subdued the designs but let their symbolic imagery peek through. Her layers were rich and deep. She deconstructed artificial flowers and presented them as if scientific studies of botany. She also uses paper to great ends. The show was called "Sow;Sew", which I thought a perfect title.

(Above: Dolls by Primmy Chorley. These were not part of the exhibit but have the same feel. Click here for an excellent article on this unique embroiderer, written by Audrey Walker.)

There was no hope of explaining Hillu Liebelt's more conceptual work to my sister Wanda. Yet, Wanda and I were both completely taken by Primmy and Jessie Chorley's exhibition, "Like Mother Like Daughter". Homespun materials; elementary school lined paper covered with penciled journal entries; altered books, dolls in 2D, wall hung houses, and simple embroidery stitches made this area enchanted with a feeling of yesteryear but with a powerful spirit of both stitchers.

(Above: Altered book by Jessie Chorley)

The most unusual fiber work, however, was made by French artist Helene Soubeyran. Her pleated and folded fabrics had been organized into terrains of the earth, "marbleized" in cylinders that had been saturated with resin. The resulting solids became pillars of sculpture and others were sawed into cross-sections of would-be stone.

There are more photos on my Flickr! sets. Those images here can be clicked for closer inspection.

I posted most of the photos of Mathias, Wanda, and I on my Family blog.

The V&A's Textile Department

The post directly below this has linked to all the photos I uploaded from the V&A, including several of the amazing embroideries found in the Textile Department. I could have shot pictures all day, but I just couldn't. It was all so overwhelming. There was so much, so many rare and wonderful piece, ancient fragments, delicate stitching, an international collection too vast to absorb. I thought about how odd the word "rare" is...all this was "rare"....and plentiful all at the same time.

Later the first evening I wrote in my notebook:

I can honestly say that I have really never seen Assisi embroidery until today. Nothing before can compare to the pieces in the V&A's I-53 to I-63 pullout files. They were mostly stitched in red silk on white grounds but several were in green. Long armed cross stitch and back stitching dominated, not the simply cross stitch I expected to see. There were even a few, well placed French knots. All the work was delicately done; the red areas solid with color. Most were borders of some sort with fantastic creatures and exotic floral patterns snaking around cherubs or delightful figures...17th c....18th c....a little fringe here and is a seat cushion...another a "cover". "Punchwork" is a term I'm not familiar with...I'm not actually sure what an "Italian Cross Stitch" is either...but here's "double running stitch"...I need more light or magnification. Other files contain other treasures. I've never seen couched and button-holed gold work on cut linen with filling stitches in what might be variegated silk satin stitches. Most of the lace is far to complicated for me to comprehend. I've forgotten what a coral stitch is but there are other raised stitches, over padding. There's heraldic shields darned on silk netting dating to the 14th c. Brick stitches on velvet. Medieval split stitch. Egyptian fragments. It's all so rare and there's so much of it. Work by peasants and trained professionals. Here's a pale blue background of "knitting" stitch surrounding the Adoration of the Magi, 15th c. St. Veronica has been on loan since 1985. The Death of the Virgin was created as appliqué masterpiece and seamlessly united with a complicated tapestry...mixed textile media. Herringbone stitch on diapered linen...couched gold gimp...gilt sequins and opaque, white, glass beads the size of today's petites...buttonhole filling stitches made to resemble different patterns as if a new fabric...laid work, needlelace, bundles of perfect fringe. Wool and silk blend with beads to the memory of Albert, Prince Consort, died 1861. "Fantasy" by Rebecca Crompton (1895-1947) is remarkable. I would have swore it was hand stitched, but she pioneering machine embroidery. This place is more than I could have dreamed...drawer upon drawer of embroideries...I can't really even skim the collection. I haven't pulled out a single file of printed or woven fabric. I all but ignored the oriental work. There's even some contemporary Japanese, space age materials meant for manufacturing unique lengths. Something for everyone...flash heated polyesters, using controlled shrinkage for patterned design ideas. I wanted to return even before I left.

(Above: Students sketching and studying files pulled from the wooden cabinets filled with historic textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum.)

The V&A: My new FAVORITE Museum!

My sister Wanda had to fly back to Frankfurt on Saturday afternoon. We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in the morning...via the London tube and an underground passageway that took us to a side door. We stored her suitcase with the coat-check clerk and wandered into a hallway of sculpture and then into the Islamic section of the museum. I'd seen an exhibition of selected works from the V&A's Islamic Department about two years ago. It was held in the National Gallery of Art's East building and said that the works were touring the world while a new, improved Islamic department at the V&A was under construction. I'd love the exhibit and thought that this was my ideal destination.

I was wrong.

It was wonderful, of course. There was an incredibly large carpet from the late 16th century that was lit only sporadically....revealing 304 knots per square inch. The Islamic calligraphy, tiles, enamels, costumes, and metalwork were fabulous. Wanda and I were quite happy and finally found ourselves in the gift shop. I saw the central courtyard nearby. We wandered in that direction and found the first ever museum restaurant. All other museum eateries pale by comparison. This was no ordinary cafeteria. A pianist played in one of three ornate dining areas. The food was good; the service was good; the price was no more expensive than everything else in London. Then, it was time for Wanda to leave.

(Above: The hallway of sculpture.)

Had I looked the other direction, we might have wandered into the main lobby with the largest Dale Chihully chandelier I've ever seen and found the walkway overlooking two enormous "Casting" rooms and the Textile Department.

I'M SO SORRY WANDA! You have to go back! I stayed wishing you didn't have to go. I returned the next day with Mathias too.

(Above: One of three very ornate rooms that are the V&A's cafeteria styled restaurant...the first and best museum restaurant ever.)

The photographs I took are on Flickr! Click here! and here.

The Pfaff Embroidery Challenge

Undoubtedly, the best part of this year's Knitting and Stitching Show was the Pfaff Embroidery Challenge Exhibition. It was mind boggling, beyond my wildest expectations, and included juried works by an international selection of completely professional fiber artists. No photography was permitted in this area.

I found the prospectus for the show here. This is a biennial. This year's theme was "Still Life". I unfortunately didn't buy a catalog, but here are some of the things I noted while gaping open-mouthed at the amazing work.

Genevieve Attinger's La Chemise Fantasmee blurred the lines between being 2-D and 3-D. It was brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed.

This is not the piece in the exhibit but one found on-line.

Annette McMasters of South Africa interpreted "still life" with exceptional free motion embroidery inspired by outsider art. She's won top prizes from Bernina too.

Cindy Hickok, USA, blended her realistic stitches of a man asleep with his dog on a Victoria sofa under an equally realistic "framed" still life onto paper with colored pencil details. The result was amazing...a still life of still lives; a frame within a frame; realism in stitching transitioning to traditional art on paper. It was brilliant. I found images of her other embroideries and artist's statement here.

The subtly of Marialuise Sponga's yellow leaves intrigued me. The work was created as folding screen made of heavy paper. Leaf-shaped slits revealed a yellow, plastic backing. Each opening was carefully stitched in gold threads. What I liked best, however, was the pricking of the paper...stitching without thread. Her website is here.

Carole Pitt's Encore looked like delicate flowers in decay. It used threadbare silk, tulle, and what seemed like tea-stained pattern paper. Lola Greenwich used photos of pumpkins printed on tarlatane. So often digital images don't really melt into the fabric...but they sure did here! The work hung as a panel of screens, layers of fabric and photos, detail of pumpkins with stitching. It was beautiful.

I admired Noemie Quelo's programmed satin stitches on acetate. Everyone simply stared in disbelief at the incredible, 3D stitched chocolates on dessert trays beside totally edible looking tortes topped off with stemmed cherries...complete with silverware...all by Rowena Charlton of Australia. Because I don't use computerized machine embroidery patterns, I'd never heard of Rowena...but she's evidently the absolute TOPS in this field and her piece was equally TOPS.

Jacqueline Bogg's combined sheer chiffon like material with opaque felt like material in perfect harmony. Louise Gardiner successfully stitched the details of her painted canvas called "Louise Gardiner...Makes Exceedingly Good Cake". It was whimsically delightful. Maija Brummer of Finland took pre-printed leaves and leaf shaped pieces of material and free motion embroidered them beautifully together on what must have been some sort of water soluble material. The result was lacy and included spiders' webs, a few butterflies, and other interesting insects. The work was denser at the top to hide the hanging device and also denser at the bottom to provide weight.

(Above: Escargots by Catherine Pascal)

I could appreciate the meticulous stitching over wire that was made by New Zealand's Sarah Battersby. Catherine Pascal's Escargots showed supreme control with a heat gun. The heat transfer painted organza and velvets were free motion stitched and perfectly zapped...knowing just what to leave alone and just what to burn out. (Catherine's website is here.)

Sian Martin incorporated words stitched on water soluble paper. Susanne Gregg and Patricia Resseguie, both of the USA, stitched on water soluble fabrics too. Elisabeth Straubhaar of France managed to free motion stitch into pastels over acrylic on paper until it truly resembled birch bark.

All in all, it was one of the best displays of contemporary embroidery I've ever seen. I've provided a few links...just in case I need inspiration one day! Any one of these cyber places has more than enough ideas...just like I felt when leaving the Pfaff Challenge. What's really important, however, was that I didn't seem to want to "try" some new technique. I was really inspired at the quality of the stitching and the personal journeys that were so obviously part of each artist's work.

Students are SO talented!

(Above: Unfortunately, I've lost the name of the artist. If anyone knows it, please inform me. I thought this was BRILLIANT!)

Last year I really was blown away by the graduate student work presented at the Birmingham Knitting and Stitching Show. I really looked forward to seeing what this year's batch of young, talented fiber artists would show. I wasn't disappointed!

Unlike the members of the Studio 21 Group, these kids generally do have proper resumes, portfolios of work, business cards, websites, and are armed and ready to take on the difficult tasks of finding a personal creative place, employment, and an audience for their work. I was quite impressed by each little nook and every partial wall of fiber art.

(Above: One of the garment by Rachel Crowley meant to show inner complexities by revealing body parts that are generally hidden...something like that...quite impressive actually.)

There were two areas, the Knitted Textile Student Awards and the Embroiderers Guild's selected graduate displays. Some of the work that most impressed me were the unique felted-like accessories by Lianna Merrony, everything by Rebecca Holmes (who won the top honor...though I didn't realize it when I was gawking at her sense of style!), the implied complexities of Rachel Crowley's body parts/garments, the humor in Laura Sollis' crashed tea party installation, the delicacy of Jennifer Syrett's Urban Fairy costumes, the clown-like ruffled neckwear made by Jill Flower, the ready-to-sell boxes by Linda Marie Young, and the interesting embellished writing by Filomena del Guercio.

(Above: Linda Marie Young and her boxes.)

The Knitting Students have more images available here. Including their winners...but scroll down a bit for several other photos.

I've included images in my two Flickr! sets. Here and here.

There will always be up-and-coming fiber artists in England because young people are simply exposed more often to the amazing possibilities in the field. There are hundreds of students...not just the college aged ones focusing on knitting and stitching and pursuing diplomas....but the KIDS. They were happy, excited, trying everything, happy to pose for pictures, and an absolute delight.

Studio 21

(Above: Assembled fiber works by Jacky Russell. These are inspired by the "faded paintwork, peeling plaster, and crumbling brickwork" of Venice. Her final step is to assemble the created textures into portals that suit the layers of surfaces perfectly.)

I spent quite a lot of time in the Studio 21 area of at the Knitting and Stitching Show. This exhibit was to mark the group's tenth anniversary. It was called "In Relief". Their website is:

The group evidentially started in 1997 with the twenty-one graduates of that year's Diploma Course from East Berkshire College in Windsor (a two year program)...Jean Littlejohn's students. Over the years, some of the original members dropped out and new graduates were added. Today, there are thirteen members. The group is "dedicated to and pushing the boundaries of creativity in Textile Art for the 21st Century". They meet monthly, exhibit together once or twice a year, and hold "open studio" days.

The work was wonderful and varied. Each artist seemed to have confidence in her own, personal direction. I particularly liked Linda Robinson's Redemption, everything created by Jacky Russell, and both pieces by Liz Heywood. I carefully studied Under the Arches by Sandra Meech and enjoyed the subtly of Linda Gleave's meteorological inspired pieces. Anne Froggatt was manning the exhibition and was a delight.

(Above: Anne Froggatt smiling in front of her two stitched and felted abstractions of the countryside in Cumbria.)

Because Blogger takes so long to upload images, I have created a "set" on Flickr! of photographs of work seen at the show...the work that allowed photography, that is. These can be found here. (By the way, the images here are "clickable" for closer inspection.) To access the first of two sets of images taken at the Knitting and Stitching show 2007, click here. To access the second set, click here. I have left descriptions on most of the images.

(Above: Detail of Linda Robinson's Redemption. The brochure included the following statement:

In my personal work I am instinctively drawn toward the interplay between textures and words. I find that i often remember places by the trees that I have seen, noting their interesting bark and twisted shape. Words and phrases haunt me and I feel that they have to be explored and used in some way. This current piece is based on an ancient olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane, whose words reflect Christ's crucifixion through to the present day when it is looking forward and hoping for peace.

I liked the piece so much before I read the statement. After reading them, it was like falling in love a second time. I especially liked how a tree inspired words and how the artist didn't try to copy the vision but tried to capture the feeling of the experience.)
One thing that really amazed me, however, was that most of these talented women didn't really seem to be pursuing their fibers work in the ways I understand artistically. Only one, Sandra Meech has her own website. More than half the members don't seem to list more than a couple exhibitions, mainly with the Studio 21 group. Perhaps this is just the approach to art that is most common in England. I thought that these artists would all have long lists of juried shows and have work in dozens of important collections. I guess working in fibers is difficult no matter where one is, what one's training is, and no matter how impressive the work is. Overall, everything shown by the members of Studio 21 was first rate.

The Knitting and Stitching Show, Alexandra Palace, 2007

The "Knitting and Stitching Show" has got to be about the worst title imaginable for what is actually an incredible, immense, and well attended contemporary venue for all forms of fiber arts. There are dozens upon dozens of vendors, many coming from distant locations (like Dale and Ian Rollerson's The Thread Studio of Perth, favorite supplier).

One can find all forms of needlework...from chessy cross stitch patterns to the most exotic goldwork kits; from cheap, stick-on glitter to hand spun yak yarn; from scrapbook supplies that might catch a stitcher's eye to expensive, turned wood embroidery stands; from Ott lights to self-published books; from felters to smockers; from fiber magazines to beads from Africa; from Chinese textiles to marbleized fabric; from counted threads to contemporary's all there...under one, turn-of-the-last-century crystal ceiling beyond a palm tree decorated lobby. It was more than I dared to hope. It was eye-candy, education, and inspiration rolled into a shopping opportunity that required a debt-free credit card.

Getting there was no problem. From the moment my sister Wanda and I left the tube station, we knew where to go...we followed the sea of women to a bus stop and shuttled to the exhibition door. I was amazed at the large number of cute, uniformed English school girls in attendance. It is no wonder that stitching is so popular in Great Britain; they expose youth to the art. There was an exotic, specialty chocolate stand right inside the main door. Business was brisk...chocolate and embroidery, what could be better?

Wanda and I decided to walk the aisles, one at a time, and not to purchase anything on our first day. Shopping on the second day, after all the options are viewed, is a better choice...except that Kim Thittichai's Hot Textiles was sold out by then. We only progressed through the Great Hall, the area most heavily populated with vendors. We left the exhibitions for the second day...along with our purchases.

This plan went well. It was amazing for me to walk the floor with my sister, a traditional stitcher, an expert at Blackwork, one looking for the perfect kit to begin goldwork and for insight into quilting...absolutely nothing that I'd look at. It was amazing, though, because it gave me a chance to think, to look, to see the different types of embroiderers. It let me watch needs being fulfilled, merchandising ideas, and popular forms of stitching I'd otherwise have ignored. It was fascinating, but I was eager for the second day.

With Wanda, my viewing was more limited than I would have done alone. Alone, I would have skipped all the aisles of vendors and spent two days with my head buried in a notebook, scribbling down ideas, engrossed in someone's else output, feeling inferior, and unable to purchase anything due to being overwhelmed by the total. As it was, I felt rushed through the exhibits and certain that I'd missed things...but I never felt inadequate, behind-the-times, lacking in abilities, or hopelessly behind all the latest techniques. I didn't see everything; but, what I saw, I really looked at.

I spent a great deal of time in the Pfaff Embroidery Emroidery Challenge Exhibition, in the Studio 21 exhibition, and in both student areas (knitting and embroidery). I had hoped to take notes while looking at the work from the 62 Group; but, surprisingly, most of this just didn't live up to my expectations and I never took the pen from my purse.

I got to meet some cyber friends and bought some great "stuff" at Oliver Twist and the Thread Studio as well as Maggie Grey/Valerie Campbell-Harding's new book and the booklets I didn't already own from Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn.

More posts will to come will concentrate on the things that really impacted me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Edward II: David Bintley's X-rated Ballet

Let me paraphrase a couple of telephone conversations I had with Mathias over the past several months.

"Hi, Mathias! How are you?," I asked innocently.
"Mom, have you heard about Edward II?"
"No. Except that your Artistic Director, David Bintley created it."

"Well, yes. But, have you heard about it?"
"Well, people call it his X-rated ballet."
"Really? How so? What part is yours?"
"I really don't know what it's all about; but, I'm cast as the 'Fool', which probably means I'm wearing some hideous costume, walking on stage, standing there like an idiot, and moving furniture or some other stupid prop off at the end of the scene."
"Well, hang in there. I'm sure you'll get your chance to impress everyone soon. Love ya'"
(We hang up the telephone.)

(About a week later)
"Hi, Mathias! How are you?," I asked innocently.
"Mom, remember about my being cast as 'The Fool'?"
"Well, it's not one of those parts that moves furniture. It's a real dancing roll."
"No, Mom, you don't understand. It's a real soloist part...but..."
"No, Mom, you REALLY don't understand...remember that this is David Bintley's X-rated ballet?"
"Yes," I say, half as a question and half because I'm not sure what else to say.
"Well, Mom....I'm the "X"'s a dancing roll...not an excuse to get some prop off stage...a real dancing roll...but....the costume....," he trails off.
"What about the costume?," I inquire.
"Remember, I said it might be 'hideous'?"
"Well, it's hideous. Almost all the costumes all are black and Gothic looking." (The costume is actually royal blue!) I have to wear all this face paint....(which didn't sound too hideous either)....and....well, Mom, there's an eighteen inch, strap-on, hot-pink dilbo...." (Please note, spell check isn't sure about the word "dildo" and I really don't have the slightest idea about the spelling...this is truly a dramatic "pause"....and the hot pink actually looks very "flesh" colored under the stage lights.)

As a mother, one is often required to "go where no man has gone before"...this was one of those times....what is one suppose to say to one's nineteen year old son about wearing an eighteen-inch, strap-on dildo?

Without missing a beat, I tried, "Well, I'll certainly be able to pick you out from the other dancers!"

"MOM!"....(please add all the righteous, shocked, exasperated intonations possible from a nineteen year boy about to have his mother witness him performing with a dildo)

"MOM!," he continued, "You don't understand! When the five of us come on stage we have to act like were "shagging" each other...and we're like, all guys!"

"Well, with an eighteen inch dildo, you should be very popular in that scene." (I'm not a prude.)

"MOM!" (Said with total shock and absolute exasperation).

We didn't discuss the role or the costume much beyond this. Birmingham Royal Ballet's website carried a capsulized version of the king, rejected and then vindicative wife, angry barons, civil war, a beheaded lover, and a red-hot poker up the....well...a dark and twisted Gothic tale of neglected responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting them...a tale of power corrupting absolutely...a tale of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, a tale of a historic death and a society's anger, a tale of violence and a monarchy's worst side...Edward II.

My sister Wanda joined me in London. Wanda's experience with ballet was limited to Mathias' graduation performance...the pas de deux from Flames of Paris, Le Corsaire, and Satanilla...competition pieces along with fun and fluffy contemporary choreography meant to depart from the heavily classical, Russian story, no plot, no statement, nothing modern, and certainly devoid of homosexual themes, blatantly sexual costumes, and scenes of violence.

My mother, upon hearing about Edward II, exclaimed, "How horrible that a company forces its dancers into such roles." Little did she know that Mathias' only problem with the part was the fact that I, his mother, would be witnessing it. With rehearsal time, however, Mathias got over this fear/anxiety/problem. He was the perfect FOOL! He positively embraced the light-hearted, frivolous nature of the part and was truly animated. He and his cast of "clowns" provided both comic relief and a symbolic icon of "inappropriate expenditures of time for a monarch". They fulfilled their role, added a laugh, danced well, and were a pivotal part of the plot.

Overall, the ballet was riveting. Wanda was entranced. After the show, she exclaimed (paraphrased!), "I never knew that ballet could tell a story without a single word, without reading the program notes, without background information about dance or history. I thought I was going to be bored by tiaras and tutus. I never knew that ballets could include gorgeous men stomping angrily in boots on table tops, dramatic sets, spectacular live music, history, real-life and relevant meaning, and be FUN to watch. This was GREAT!" She meant it too.

I was able to see both Thursday and Saturday evenings productions. Unfortunately, these featured the same casts...not that I minded. It would have been interesting to compare how various members of the company interpreted the parts...but, I'm no ballet expert. I'm not sure that it would have made a difference...besides, Mathias dances the Fool in all the shows...every cast. Frankly, I agreed with Wanda. It was totally captivating, brilliantly choreographed, and excellent to watch.

One of the most important things about the ballet, however, was watching how complicated all the action really was in terms of staging. The corps de ballet and all the other characters have so many extra parts...carrying props or furniture, making transitions form scene to scene, working together as a company with a focus to create an entire work...not just a dancer going through the steps...a whole show. David Bintley's ability to stage the work is incredible. There are so many little things to be done in order for the story to progress and make sense.

It was brilliant and worth seeing time and time again

BRB's Strictly Dancing

I arrived at Heathrow airport in the early morning...really early...jet-lagged, tired, and with only the computer print-outs Steve provided. Honestly, in another life Steve was both a travel agent and an accountant. Thus, I embark upon a trip without any preparation because Steve has printed out itineraries, maps, and confirmation numbers and put them into a nice folder with "money". It is lovely and strange...all at the same time.

I found the airport "tube" stop and purchased a ticket (Steve provided at least seven pages of explanations for various one-day, three-day, and "oyster" fare cards). Somehow, I found the hotel...okay, the TOTAL DIVE...I've stayed in cleaner, nicer, and better kept youth hostels in the 1970s...but the location was FIRST RATE. Mathias had booked a triple room with discounts offered to members of Birmingham Royal Ballet. He had already left for "work". I thought I'd sleep a bit....but, housekeeping checked in, reception requested payment, and finally my sister Wanda arrived from Frankfurt. Soon, it was time to go to Sadler's Wells Theater for the matinee.

Strictly Dancing was the title given to the three act performance. I was a bit nervous, having read that the program didn't quite "gel" as did last season's Stravinsky triple bill (according to the forum). Of course, I hadn't really LOVED the Stravinsky triple bill. Agon left me yawning, feeling the affects of jet lag. I'm not a Balanchine fanatic. I can't quite embrace "ballet for ballet's sake"...all movement and no reason, story, or implied connection whatsoever. So, I was a bit worried. Were these seasoned ballet goers really blessed with superior knowledge and correctly assigned levels of quality? I just didn't know.

I'd recently seen Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs, as done by North Carolina Dance Theater. I was anxious. Mathias would be performing in the segment called "Forget Domani". As a member of the corps de ballet, he would also be performing in Chloe and Daphnis.

My sister Wanda flew in from her home outside Frankfurt. We went to the theater to see the matinée. It began with Paquita. Mathias wasn't cast in this piece; but, I've seem so many Paquita variations in competition that all the music was oddly familiar. Then, I read the program notes. Paquita started out as a short French ballet. The Russians later adopted it and added the finale. Over time, everything but the finale was, what remains is some strange ending to a lost ballet that hardly has a story and barely a hint of the original Spanish styling. It is a collection of short solo moments...not unlike the many graduation productions I've seen or the competition selections that I've watched. There were the customary tutus and regal attitudes. Fortunately, it was first on the program...otherwise, I could have lapsed into the arms of jet lag. That isn't to say it wasn't well was quite nice. The lead was a new member of BRB, originally from London...helping fill the house with fans and presented a lovely bouquet of flowers at the end for a London debut. Yawn.

This was followed by Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs. I saw this recently done by Charlotte's North Carolina Dance Theater. I was eager for the work. Mathias was cast. I know all the music. I was expecting something more wonderful, bigger than life, alive with action, and breath=taking. For the most part, I was rewarded. Of course, I was thrilled beyond words at how Mathias took command of the stage. He has energtic and happy, all good attributes. He also looked to be about age fifteen in the tuxedo...which wasn't totally a problem in this segment.

I couldn't help myself but to compare the work to what I'd seen earlier. In almost every instances, BRB was superior...except in my favorite part. In "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)", the dancing was forced and emotionally lacking. I was surprised. BRB cast leads in these parts. They didn't know how to act, to dance, to relate to the story line, to fulfill the parts required...there was NO FLOW. Everything was "forced" and "mechanical" and void of all emotion. It was lack-luster. Traci Gilchrest and Ian Grosh danced amazingly for NCDT. BRB couldn't even stand in their wings.

The finale piece was Daphnis and Chloe. It was an unusual number, quite an interesting mix of time, style, and presentation. Everything about it seemed dated; yet, it was enjoyable. In fact, the scenary, costuming, and fresh dancing seemed to perfectly blend "old and new". Mathias danced in the corps de ballet.

In the end, I can honestly say that the program might not have "gelled" because it showcased the many facets that are ballet...old, new, emotional, youthful, retro, traditional, multi-cultural, international, and ever changing.

Organization or posting order!

Yesterday I drove to Charleston and delivered framed artwork, still semi-jet lagged, but it was necessary. I do have to work in order to afford travel and fibers! Yet, it gave me a chance to think about the posts I want to write and the thoughts I've had about this blog.

First, I been thinking about this blog quite a bit: what it means; how I used it in the past before anyone read a word of it; how I started using it when people started reading; how I want to use it in the future; the pressures I heaped on myself to post more pictures and fewer words; the thrill of collecting hits and comments; the self-imposed pressure to try new techniques; the overwhelming depression associated with thinking my work isn't good enough because of all the other images on line; why I post; what I want to get out of this experience, etc. etc. etc.

Second, I have concluded that I will keep this blog as it had been before I ever had a single personal, artistic I am happy to share with anyone willing to read. Starting now, however, I will post for mainly for myself...selfishly...which isn't easy to do. Part of me really wants a "community", to "fit in", to "share and compliment others and keep up with 'things' in cyberland". I just can't do all of it. Lately, I've been overwhelmed with a sense of commitment. I need to get back to a sense of self.

The time I spent in London was wonderful in so many ways. One of those ways was absorbing everything just for myself, arrogantly. I had no access to the addictive powers of the computer. I simply looked, made notes, absorbed art of all kinds, and enjoyed the processes around me. I want to record all that I experienced. I want to be able to draw upon the time in England, relive it at the click of a few buttons, and document my feelings...all of them...without worrying that readers might not find interest in ballet or museums or my family.

At the same time, mere words cannot possibly express how much it has meant to me to have other fiber artists interested enough in the work I've created to leave comments and visit this blog regularly. I don't want to disappoint but I must be true to myself. To summarize, I have a lot to record about my recent trip to London. I want to remember. It will require several posts. I'm doing this mostly/mainly for myself. Yet, I am aware of a "public"...that's you, Arlee (and anyone else who cares, like Jacqueline!). So, I've spent all day with my digital images. I'm working with Flickr! to post them all...with comments and tags and (God knows what else)...and I plan to write the following entries...because they've profoundly touched me:

(Okay, many aren't "fiber related"...I'm not a 100% fiber girl...I love my family and have developed an odd relationship to dance as a totally uninformed ballet fan/parent. Ballet season is upon us...or at least me...I've been completely torn between keeping this blog "only about fibers" or "my total artistic journey"'s going to by ALL OF ME. That's ballet and everything...including the trial and tribulations of having a seventeen year old boy riding a moped all over Columbia, SC without informing his parents as to his whereabouts!)

Anyway, the upcoming posts are to be:

Birmingham Royal Ballet's "Strictly Dancing"
Birmingham Royal Ballet's X-rated and absolutely delicious "Edward II" (Mathias is the "X")
The Knitting and Stitching Show, a general view
The Pfaff "Embroidery Challenge" at the Knitting and Stitching Show (Best of the Best)
The Student/Graduate word at the Knitting and Stitching Show
"Friends, Fun, and Family", my time in London
The Victoria and Albert Museum's Textile Department (TO DIE FOR)
The Victoria and Albert Museum: My new FAVORITE museum in the world

It might take through tomorrow, but it is important to me that I record my feelings, inspirations, and thoughts...what my airline ticket paid for...INSPIRATION!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm Back!

This is just a short post to say, "I'm back from an exciting trip to London!"

Over the next few days I will be sorting through 298 digital images, my notes, my mental impressions, and the many beautiful visions of art, ballet, and family. I will post as I manage all no particular, please return often!

Steve leaves for a mini-vacation to Seattle on Thursday. This is how he decided to use the free airline ticket he won in a raffle at Pub Night, a CMFA fund raiser. I will be stuck at Mouse House....but with nothing better to do than post on my blogs!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Demonstrating at Saluda Shoals Park

(All images can be clicked for a larger view!)

The leaf project is done at last. It was fun and exhausting. Steve and I hauled all seven tree stumps out to the shelter in which I spent the rest of the day demonstrating how felt leaves are created. Hundreds of people came, watched, admired the leaves and all my fiber vessels. It was over ninety degrees. At the end of the day, we hauled everything back home and to my studio. I would have loved to postpone some of the unpacking....but, I'm leaving for London tomorrow! I still haven't thought about packing and I've got so many other things to arrange before leaving...naturally, I'm blogging instead!

Below are all sorts of pictures...none of which I particularly like because I'm in them. I prefer to be on the other side of the camera. Alex took these photos (I took the rest long before the crowds arrived). He loved coming out to the park on his moped and will hopefully soon be creating a little video of all the pictures he took.

These last photos are details of the installation of leaves, vessels, and tree stumps. Nature can both inspire my work and be part of it!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Birmingham Royal Ballet has updated their photos

Birmingham Royal Ballet just updated the photos of their dancers...including Mathias. Mathias doesn't particularly like it...he's so traditional and prefers the older, posed, black-and-white one used last year. Personally, Steve and I really like it a lot. I can't wait to see him dance next week. He had to step in for another dancer last night in Nine Sinatra Songs due to a minor injury. He said he did well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Trying to Catch Up!

I just can't seem to catch up with all the items on my "to do" list. Going out of town is fun, but both work and pleasure seems stack itself into piles waiting for my attention. There's even more to do since I'm leaving for London next Tuesday.

On a recent post, I mentioned being awarded an honorable mention in the current MOJA exhibition in Charleston. I never got around to posting a picture of the piece, Happy, until today. It's from my African Series mostly created last year. I've made about twenty-four or so of these...all based on digital images of genuine West African artifacts printed as giclees and fused to fabric. Each is then embellished with fabrics, paint, and free-motion embroidery. Yesterday, I found a review of the exhibition in the Charleston City Paper. Writer Nick Smith said, "Susan Lenz uses thread, and through stitches explores her own being. Judging by her past work, her inner self is complex, reflective, and comprised of many tiny pieces of yarn." I'm thrilled, of course, especially since I don't know who Nick Smith is but he's evidently seen more of my work than just the one featured in this show.

I did managed to finish my recent work. It's called Elements in Blue: Taking Flight. Thank you to everyone who left comments on it while in progress. To answer a few really good questions: I cover these pieces with very sheer chiffon scarves in order to avoid getting the free motion foot (open or close toed) tangled in the bulky hand stitches (image below was taken during this step.) Also, the finished piece is 32" x 13" (approximately 80 x 32 cm). I'm really pleased with this one since I've not done any like it at this larger size.

One of the reasons I'm far behind on almost EVERYTHING is the fact that I had the problem getting the correct colored felt for making leaves. I will be demonstrating the steps at an outdoor event (under a shelter with electricity!) this Sunday. I need a bunch of leaves already painted and dried, just needing to be melting. I need a bunch to cut away from the felt using a soldering iron. I need a bunch just penciled onto felt and ready to be free-motioned. So, I've been working like crazy trying to finish up framing at Mouse House in order to stitch leaves! Here are two photos. One shows a single, finished leaf in the spot from which it was cut. Each one really shrinks quite a bit. I left a Sharpie marker in the photo for size.

I promise to get around to writing people individually, especially Kate. Since I am about to leave for London, I'd love the opportunity to meet a just fellow fiber enthusiasts while there (especially Kate!)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Work in Progress: Hand Stitching Complete

I took this embroidery with me to Hilton Head and finished the hand stitching. Now, to cover it with sheer chiffon scarves and do the free-motion machine embroidery. (Click on it for a closer view.)

Hilton Head

After picking up my embroideries from the solo exhibition at Francis Marion, Steve and I headed to Hilton Head Island for a weekend with my parents at their time share. Alex and Erica joined us after school...bring the moped in our utility van...thus, we barely saw them at all.

My Dad has really healed very nicely after the emergency tracheotomy. Although he hid behind a palmetto tree, the photo above was taken on his first day without wearing the bandanna over the wound. It is still healing but miraculously better.

Below are several photos I took...from a leisure seaside lunch to one of dozens of mushrooms that my mom and I discovered and photographed. We really laughed at the sign posted on the door to a chic boutique. I spent a great deal of time on the beach with a needle and thread...stringing together shells with holes...hence, I stitched on the beach! More photographs are posted on my "family" blog.