Monday, October 31, 2011

Grave Rubbing in the Circular Churchyard

(Above: A composite crayon-on-silk grave rubbing. I used two different markers. Click on image to enlarge.)

There's no place on earth that I'd rather be on Halloween/All Saint's Day weekend than in a graveyard creating crayon-on-fabric rubbings! That's exactly how I spent this past Saturday. Rising at 5:45 AM, I drove through light rain all the way to Charleston ... with fingers crossed that the weather would improve during the coming hours. IT DID!

(Above: Carolyn Thiedke, the Circular Churchyard, and grave rubbing supplies. Click on image to enlarge.)

I met Carolyn Thiedke, a long time church member and quilter, at 8:30 AM. We toured the unique sanctuary ... Circular Congregational Church. It is one of the oldest, continuously worshiping congregations in the South, dating to 1681. (The current building was finished in 1891.) The churchyard is Charleston's oldest, with unmarked graves dating to1695 and the earliest inscribed stone from 1729.

(Above: The start of my collage of grave rubbings in front of some of the rare 18th century medallion portrait markers. There are more of these unusual slate stones in this graveyard than anywhere else in the country! Click on image to enlarge.)

Most of the downtown Charleston churchyards have signs posted forbidding grave rubbings. Carolyn, however, secured permission for me ... in writing ... which I had "on display" for the many tourists who came and went all day long ... often snapping photos of me at work! I cannot truly express my thanks in mere words, so I'll keep Carolyn informed while working on these future art quilts.

(Above: Collage of grave rubbings on silk made from dozens and dozens of markers in the Circular Churchyard. Click on image to enlarge.)

My first task was to create one, large "future whole cloth art quilt". I started at around 9:30 AM and finished it around 2 PM. I am excited to pin it to recycled felt, baste it, and free motion machine the entire surface.

(Above: Individual grave rubbings and two "composites" ... made combining two stones into one "unit" ... these are the "top" and "bottom" ones on this panel of silk. Click on image to enlarge.)

From 2 PM until just after 4 PM, I used another piece of silk and recreated these individual and composite rubbings. All in all, I used more than half the ten yards of silk I bought at Forest Lake Fabric. Now ... time to stitch! Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ready for Christmas!

(Above: Approximately 140 Christmas ornaments with one of my fiber vessels. Click on image to enlarge.)

Almost everything came from my "stash" ... a collection of "stuff" mostly bought at a local auction house, on sale at a fabric store, or acquired through the generosity of friends who leave things by my studio door. The front and back of each ornament is felt. The edges are mostly "fuzzy" yarn. The "centers" are scrap mat board from our business, Mouse House.

This is not the first time I've created such ornaments. I've been doing it for a couple years. They are sold at the South Carolina Artisan Center. They've been $10 each ... but now the commission rate has changed from 60/40% to 50/50%. So, I'm raising the price to $12 just to net the same amount. Times are tough! Hopefully, the coming holiday season will brighten the economic picture. One way or the other, making the ornaments is fun and now I'm "ready for Christmas".

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Famous Last Words" at Vision Gallery

(Above: My show at Vision Gallery, Chandler, Arizona. It's up through November 5th! Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

Steve and I had a wonderful, long weekend in Arizona. We flew out on Thursday afternoon, arriving that night. This allowed us to visit Vision Gallery shortly after it opened Friday morning. I took most of the photos then ... before the crowded reception that night.

The gallery-wide exhibits were collectively called "Dia de los Muertos", (The Day of the Dead). This mostly Mexican and southwestern holiday focuses on prays and remembrances for those who have died. The celebration officially takes place November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day ... although the origin dates to the indigenous people, especially the Aztec. Some towns have elaborate parades. Many families erect household altars with special trinkets, candles, and other offerings for their departed loved ones. There is a cross cultural mix of Catholic symbols, skulls, flowers, cartoonish/demonic skeletons, special foods, and visits to the cemetery.

Hank Tusinski, a local Arizona artist, created a large "Dia de los Muertos" altar in the gallery.
(Above and below ... Hank's altar seen through several of my chiffon banners with free-motion machine embroidered epitaphs.)

His work and mine sort of "headlined" the show. My part is called "Famous Last Words". (I honestly don't know who added the word "famous". It wasn't in my original exhibition proposal. Yet, that's how I felt while there!) Many of the other artists represented at Vision Gallery produced theme appropriate work. Everything was beautifully displayed together in a large space. This was due to the great work by the Vision Gallery staff, including ....

Eric Faulhaber ...

... and Yvonne Torres.
(Thank you both!)

One of the most important elements to tie together all the work was the use of the artificial flowers. They lined all the display areas, the pedestals, the exterior walls ... and added a brilliant, festive color ... plus they were quite appropriate!

The reception included a fantastic Mariachi band. I create a 30 video clip. It is HERE.

Yet, there was another, wonderful part of the day ... getting to meet two local fiber artists!

Lynn Kough (left) bought my piece from the recent SAQA auction. Traci Paxton Johnson (right) found my work through this blog! We are also now Facebook friends! We went to lunch at a nearby microbrewery ... and talked and talked. It was wonderful to learn about art quilts in their area and to be among new friends.

Now ... scroll down for the rest of the photos! I generally don't post so many ... but this is still the best way to share this amazing experience with people, especially my family. Hence, I'm posting a lot of images!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Listing in TSKW catalog

This coming March I'll be enjoying a month long residency at The Studios of Key West. I've always wanted to go to this exotic, bohemian location, visit the Hemingway House, and experience "island life". On March 8th I'll be conducting a workshop called "HOT. It is advertised in an incredible catalog. CLICK HERE to access ... I'm in very, very good company!

Now ... off to catch a plane to ARIZONA ! I feel like a jet-setter! I could get used to this!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


(Above: A selection of Decision Portraits at the Tapps Center for the Arts. Click on images to enlarge.)

I forgot to post these two pictures. They were taken on October 6th, "First Thursday", a monthly art event on Columbia's Main Street. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I chose these six pieces: From left to right: On Fighting Cancer I, Leukemia Decision, On Fighting Cancer II, (signage), Solidarity, Advocate, and Voter. Click on any link for more information on the portrait.

People stopped, read, and were touched by the artwork. Few knew I was the artist. It was quite rewarding to watch their facial reactions, see their emotions, and feel their otherwise private responses to these portraits.

Perhaps I'll feel this way on this coming Friday night from 7 - 9. Steve and I are headed to Arizona for the reception of Vision Gallery's 14th annual Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) exhibition featuring my solo show "Famous Last Words", a curated selection of my grave rubbing art quilts, epitaph banners, and "Angels in Mourning" series. I can hardly wait. I'll be blogging about it soon!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Week of Variety!

(Above: Book of Covers, altered book(s). 12 1/4" x 19" x 19" Click on image to enlarge.)

Although I haven't posted in just over a week, I absolutely have been working! In fact, I've got several projects going and at various stages of completion. Some have been photographed (just scroll down); some haven't been ... like a new grave rubbing art quilt, my small sculptural unit of old clock cases, and a mixed media series on mounted book pages dating to 1655. (These last ones include both hand and machine embroidery.) I'll post images soon!

(Above: Karen showing an interesting accordion fold. She used the covers of the current undefined issue as a "learning piece".)

Last Wednesday was my final book arts class. We created interesting accordion folds and shared projects that each participants made ... including my Book of Covers.

(Above: The Book of Covers. Click on image to enlarge.)

The first experiment with old book covers failed miserably. I attempted making more holes using an awl. For this piece, I used a drill ... with bits graduating from very small to rather large. The "interior" of each book cover includes vintage clipped letters with definitions and variations on the word "cover":

Cover, an entry fee
Dust Cover, a plastic machine or equipment shield
First Day Cover, a special stamp
Cover, a dramatic or operatic or dance understudy
Cover Crop, erosion prevention
Slip Cover, sofa protection
Cover, as in a blanket
Cover, a collection of mathematical subsets
Cover, a lid or seal
Cover Girl, the lady on the front of a fashion magazine
Covered Wagon, primitive transportation
Cover, a form of protection in combat
Cover alls, a work garment
Run for cover, getting out of harm's way
Cover, what one tells the boss for a co-worker
Cloud cover, overcast
Cover, singing someone else's song
Cover letter, the introductory page for a business proposal or an information packet
Covered, an insurance claim
Cover, to traverse or to travel over
Blow One's Cover, inadvertently give away one's secret identity
Cover up, a loose outer garment
Snow Cover, the white stuff
Cover, how a stallion mates a mare
Cover up, a type of cosmetic make-up
Break Cover, suddenly emerge from hiding
Take Cover, seek protection
Cover, the ability to pay for something
Under Cover, disguising one's identity to gain the trust of another
Cover up, an untrue explanation for an action or motive
Cover, a relatively common last name
Cover, as in concealment
Cover, a fielding position in cricket
Cover, a poor way to judge a book

(Above: Bookmarks. Click on image to enlarge.)

I guess this book arts class prompted me to make another batch of bookmarks ... plus, the South Carolina Artisan Center was out of them.

(Above: Two Hours at the Beach. Click on image to enlarge.)

Yet one of the most exciting things I've done this week was to work on the materials I'll need to transform a display window at the Tapps Center for the Arts. The window will include this unique art quilt and will also be called Two Hours at the Beach. What I needed was MORE BEACH TRASH.

(Above: Trash collected from Folly Beach in two hours. All "washed" with a garden hose and packed tightly into containers. For some reason, my husband Steve thinks this shouldn't be brought into the house! Click on image to enlarge.)

Yesterday I had a picture framing delivery outside of Charleston. I took advantage of the drive by visiting Folly Beach ... both before the delivery and after the delivery. I needed the "recovery time" between the two, hour long tasks. Why? Because it's HARD WORK! I'm pretty sore today. Lots of muscles are aching! Plus ... I couldn't park anywhere near the end of the island where most of the trash washes ashore. Folly Beach was totally devastated by Hurricane Irene. The County Park at the end of the island is closed due to severe erosion. If I hadn't known where I was, I wouldn't have guessed it to be the same location at which I collected all the trash for the original art quilt. The dunes are almost all gone. "Relic sand", the kind that oozes between bare toes ... a combination of soil and sand generally found where the sea has most recently claimed solid ground ... was everywhere and right beside the tide lines. All the signs of a beach in poor health were obvious. It was so sad ... and also quite full of trash.

It was also covered with some amazing shells. I couldn't resist these two. The presence of so many nice, big shells made clear the underway force from the hurricane.

Yet it was the beach trash I came to collect ... to add to the art quilt in the storefront window. I was shocked to fine such fragile glass bulbs still in tact. The strangest piece, however, was undoubtedly another dental floss tool. I found TWO this spring during my "two hours". They are on the quilt. At the time I wondered, "Who flosses at the beach?" To find another one was just plain strange!

Most horrible were the black "rocks" littering the beach. I picked up a few small ones but couldn't manage to haul back any of the larger ones. They are lighter weight that "real rocks" but still heavy. I don't think I would have figured out what they were if it hadn't been for a kind gentleman out for his seven mile jog. He explained that these are "tar balls", and he broke a small one with his bare hands. I picked up one and could easily do it too. They have the consistency of water logged charcoal. Some were larger than bowling balls. They leech coffee-like stains back into the ocean. This is undoubtedly the remains of an oil spill ... now washed up on an already devastated South Carolina beach. (PS THANK YOU to the gentleman ... who also carried most of the first haul over half the way back to my car. I couldn't have done it without you!)

I made a video of Steve breaking one of these small "tar balls". CLICK HERE to view it.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Book of the Dead

(Above: The Book of the Dead. As shown: 12 3/4" x 23 2/4". Closed: 12 3/4" x 11" x 4". Altered book filled with collected epitaphs. Click on image to enlarge.)


(Above: The Book of the Dead on it's lectern, front view. Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

There are 696 individual pages in this altered book. I didn't count the epitaphs but the best estimate is "over 1200". They were collected in the United States: in pioneer cemeteries in Oregon, cowboy cemeteries in Arizona and Texas, historic churchyards in Charleston and Norfolk, famous places like Bonaventura in Savannah (featured in John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), military resting places in Arlington and San Francisco, and in all sorts of other cemeteries located in Richmond, VA; Washington, DC; Slippery Rock, PA; Colma and Napa, CA; Hot Springs, AR; all over South Carolina ... and beyond. They were also collected in England: from Bath and Westminster Abbeys to churchyards and public cemeteries in Manchester, Eccles, Birmingham, Dudley, Plymouth, London, Chester, Exeter, and beyond.

The original sketchbook was a Christmas gift (2009) from my mentor Stephen Chesley. He’s filled at least two since then! I hadn’t put a single mark in mine …until my residency at Hot Springs National Park. Why? Well, it's GIGANTIC! It came from Art Alternatives ... 348 blank sheets of paper. That’s 696 pages of 75 lb. acid free paper measuring 12 ½” x 10 ¾”.

On and off, it took three days to fill the book with washes and splatters of ink, coffee filter stains, and watercolor gestures … in a “zen like” process of simply “marking the paper” and then responding to the mark with the next color. I did this during the first week of my residency. The pages dried quickly; the high temperatures were up to 106 degrees that first week!

For the remaining time I was in Arkansas, I wrote in the book at least three hours a day ... morning, afternoon, and evening. This allowed my wrist to recover from all the calligraphy.

Since returning to Columbia, I worked on the cover ... altering a cover from an 1880 Bible and attaching it with weathered, brown microsuede fabric, thread, and beads.

(Above: My work table at Hot Springs National Park's residency program.)

My studio assistant Reba spent over five hours erasing the light pencil lines that I drew for the calligraphy. Three "magic rub" erasers are now little nubs. Fortunately, we have an air compressor to blow away all the eraser residue.

Some of the pages are rather densely covered. The spread above is probably my longest epitaph. It's from Hilton Head!

At the front of the book I added vintage, clipped letters ... for a title page. For some reason, I couldn't resist using both my potential titles: The Book of the Dead and The Book of Death. This photo was taken in the main "gallery" room at Mouse House, Inc., our business. I guess that's where it will sit until opportunities for exhibition hopefully come along. I do plan to share it in Columbia at Vista Lights, the annual fall art crawl, at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios ... where my studio is located.

Right behind the title page, I added "Collected Epitaphs by Susan Lenz". Of course, I'm still collecting ... though I'm not sure why or "for what"! Time will tell.

The next page is a combination of various on-line definitions for the word "epitaph". The last page lists the places from which the collection came. Otherwise, all the pages are ink and watercolor washes with calligraphy.

(Above: The front cover.)

(Above: The back cover.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Unearth and new studio

(Stitching on a grave rubbing art quilt. Photo by Kristine Hartvigsen.)

Sunday was "unearth: A Celebration of Naturally Inspired Art" at Saluda Shoals Park. Along with 25 other juried artists, I sat at a table along one of the many wooded trails and demonstrated my art and showed off various creations.

(Above: Me talking about art and nature. Photo by my husband Steve Dingman.)

I talked about how nature is a constant reminder that society needs to preserve its precious resources and how my artwork is thereby influenced through repurposing fabrics and other materials. The weather was glorious. Music filled the air. (Some of the artists were musicians and the Lake Murray Symphony was also there for a free concert.)

(Above: Wayne Thornley and me. Photo by fellow artist, Lisa Donovan.)

Lots of people were out walking their dog. Others came as entire families. There were even bicyclists and power walkers. I heard over 3000 enjoyed the day. I got to catch up with several friends and fellow artists. Some took terrific pictures too.

(Above: One of my acorn vessels. Photo by Wayne Thornley.)

(Above: Acorn cap gems. Photo by Kristine Hartvigsen.)

It was fun to wake up on Monday morning and find photos of my work and me on Facebook. Otherwise, Monday was the day that my husband Steve left for a week in England. He'll be visiting our elder son Mathias and his girlfriend, seeing them dance in Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill.

So ... I'm "stuck" at Mouse House, our business. Yet, it isn't that bad this time! Why? I turned one of the back storage rooms into a NEW STUDIO. This space is intended for 3D sculptural art. After all, the drill, miter saw, screw drivers, vises, clamps, wood stains, dremel and all our other tools and materials are here. I don't need to carry these back and forth from my off-site studio. There's no more space there anyway! I've been "hunting and gathering" things for this project for almost a year ... odd assortments of Victorian furniture parts, clock cases, antique objects, etc. It was high time to START MAKING SOMETHING!

(Above: The new 3D studio at Mouse House. Click on image to enlarge.)

Monday was productive! The first thing I created was a lectern for The Book of the Dead ... which is very nearly finished! I'll be posting photos soon.

(Above: Lectern for The Book of the Dead. Click on image to enlarge.)

The lectern was made from Victorian furniture parts and used a piece of beveled glass (all purchased at Bill Mishoe's auction during the last year). I wanted the book to rest against something transparent ... so that the cover will show from the other side. I can't wait to put the book on this lectern!