Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hung By the Chimney With Care, a window installation

(Above: S & S Art Supply on Columbia's Main Street ... the setting for my window installation Hung By the Chimney With Care. Click on any image in this post for an enlargement.)

Last spring, from the moment I knew about the pile of abandoned socks in the vacant laundry building on the grounds of the South Carolina State Mental Hospital, I knew what I wanted to do. I had a foggy vision of suspended socks and a make-shift fireplace and a concept of tying these found objects to Clement Moore's famous The Night Before Christmas, particularly the line reading "Hung By the Chimney With Care". I knew I wanted to suggest remembrance of all those in every community who are unable to celebrate a traditional holiday.

Serendipitously, I was asked by S & S Art Supply, a Main Street store, to create both an interior exhibit of work and mount a window installation ... in DECEMBER! My foggy vision became clearer once I saw the socks on the very dirty floor. Of course, I just couldn't drive up to the historic site (Robert Mills designed the main building) and go rummaging in the many outbuildings. I had to get special permission, sign a waiver and a confidentiality form, and be accompanied. While gathering the socks, I found the asylum's Christmas tree and tinsel ... and got permission to haul this off. Also, the alterations department's floor was littered with buttons ... thousands of them. I got these too.

(Above: Suspending socks from the SC State Mental Hospital. My studio assistant Reba and I had already attached lengths of mono-filament to each one. I just stapled and tied.)

During the summer I spent time on Main Street just looking at the two window units at S & S ... deciding exactly how I wanted the installation to take form. Then, I gathered all the materials and tools ... and borrowing Michel McNinch's Grandfather's pine mantel. (Thanks Michel! She's a talented painter whose studio is near mine at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios.) Yesterday, my plan came together. It was "installation day".

After suspending some of the socks, I taped footprints to the floor. Steve's old tennis shoes were used with acrylic paint on black kraft paper.

Then I spread out the buttons ... to resemble "snow" or to mimic the look of the asylum's alteration floor where I found them or to symbolize the difficulties in walking through a life full of mental issues (as in "walking on eggshells"). I'm not too particular when it comes to specific meanings. If a person viewing my installation is touched in any way ... that's my aim. It doesn't matter if he or she takes the exact meaning I might associate with the work.

I really like how the buttons look on the floor. I worked my way from the front/street side of the window units to the back ... knowing that access to the front would really mess up the careful placement of all the buttons.

The view above and below is the right-hand window unit as one enters the shop from Main Street. The Christmas tree, tinsel, socks, buttons, and framed photos are all from the Mental Hospital.

I completed the left-hand window unit before I tackled the other side.

Above and below is the left-hand window unit. The two framed photos are of the socks and the buttons ... as I found them in the Mental Hospital. On each 16" x 20" photo, I collaged the phrase: There But By the Grace of God Go I.

The gas fireplace was purchased at Bill Mishoe's auction. I made the makeshift fireplace from scrap wood and an old piece of Victorian furniture ... also from Bill Mishoe's auction ... my favorite place for "art objects".

The mantel was borrow from Michel McNinch ... who saved it from her Grandfather's home. Above I hung one of the mirrors Steve and I sell at Mouse House. Red acrylic paint carries the installation message.

Yet ... the "longer" statement is this:

a Holiday Window Installation
by Susan Lenz

This installation was inspired by a seasonal truth: NOT EVERYONE CAN COME HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS.

This Christmas some people will be working in a hospital or in another round-the-clock industry. Others will be in prison, serving our country abroad, unable to travel great distances, be sick or confined to a mental facility. Poverty or serious family issues trouble others, making it impossible to celebrate a traditional Christmas. As a visual artist, I created this installation as a reminder to keep these special members of our community in our hearts and prayers. The socks, Christmas tree and tinsel, buttons and photographic images come from the now vacant laundry and alterations building at the former South Carolina State Mental Hospital.

Our Mayor, Steven Benjamin, wrote a most fitting Thanksgiving message that beautifully sums up the concept behind this artwork: “Let us not forget those less fortunate than ourselves. Let us keep them in our hearts and in our prayers and let us dedicate ourselves."

(Above: View into the right-hand window from the shop.)

The opening reception for this installation and the interior artwork (which I blogged about HERE) is on Thursday, December 1 during Main Street's Mingle and Jingle celebration 5 - 9 PM.

(Above: View of S & S from Main Street ... during a slight rain but with the installation FINISHED!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

(Above: Wrapped and stitched wooden spools. This photo was taken while en route to Pennsylvania ... in the car ... of my lap full of fibers and stitch!)

Steve and I traveled north for Thanksgiving this year. We stayed with my parents in their lakeside log cabin but went for dinner at my youngest sister Sonya's home. Sonya and her husband Vipin live in town (Slippery Rock) ... in the house where my parents raised us. Yet, this was not a Thanksgiving like any of the occasions from the past.

(Above: Sonya adding the final touches to a most beautiful Thanksgiving dinner.)

Why? Well, Sonya and Vipin introduced us to TURDUCKEN ... a turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with cornbread and a hen! It was a delicious new tradition. I blogged about it on "My Family Blog" with more photos and even created a little video of Vipin carving this exotic "bird".

(Above: Me ... standing beside my art quilt Handed Down. Click on image to enlarge.)

Steve and I left on Friday morning in order to attend the Black Friday opening reception of "Art of Fiber", a national juried show at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center. Candance Edgerley was one of the two jurors for this show. She attended the reception and was most approachable and so nice. Several of the artists with work in the show also came to the event. It was so much fun to chat with other like-minded artists ... especially people like K. Velis Turan and Joan Hutten who is part of the fiber cooperative at the Lorton Workhouse. I was thrilled that one of my pieces, Handed Down, was hung right beside the exhibition signage. I was also invited to briefly speak about this art quilt at the reception. Quite an honor!

(Above: Ancestors ... SOLD!)

I was also stunned that Ancestors was SOLD!

(Above: The Cemetery. Click on image to enlarge.)

I actually got all three pieces accepted into this exhibition. The other piece was The Cemetery.

(Above: Alex at Mother Ginger in Carolina Ballet's The Nutcracker.)

We returned to Columbia by Saturday evening. I spent most of Sunday preparing to for Monday's window installation and exhibition at S&S Art Supplies. Yet, Steve and I also attended Carolina Ballet's matinee The Nutcracker. Why? Well ... that's our estranged son, Alex, in his eleventh year with the production. We haven't seen him in months ... but he was terrific as a party gentleman in act one and as Mother Ginger in the final scene. He's alive ... something to be thankful about!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Returning to the "In Box Series"

(Above: In Box LXXXII. Framed: 17 1/4" x 15 1/4". Unframed 11" x 8". Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

I've returned to my "In Box Series" ... creating seven small pieces. They aren't all the same size though. The first three were made to fit into frames from older work ... 2004. I just couldn't stand seeing these three pieces anymore. It's not that they weren't "good"; it's just that they haven't found a home and it was high time to "shake things up a bit". Something "new" was in order. Perhaps this is a result from cleaning my studio for last week's Vista Lights Holiday art crawl.

(Above: In Box LXXXIV. Framed: 17 1/4" x 15 1/4". Unframed 11" x 8".)

Vista Lights went very well. I saw lots of nice people and even sold two from the "Dearly Departed Series". Yet, I really think it is the cleaning that makes the most difference to me. In the process, I found a piece I started in 2004 ... but never finished. This is highly unlike me. I generally finish things. I didn't even know I had a UFO (Unfinished Object). Now, however, I remember thinking, "I hate this piece! Why did I ever start this?"

(Above: In Box LXXXIII. Framed: 17 1/4" x 15 1/4". Unframed 11" x 8".)

Well, I was tired of looking at three older pieces from 2004 but I'm no longer displeased with the unfinished one from that same year. I'll be working on it during our trip to Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. Photos coming as soon as it's done!

(Above: In Box LXXXVI. Framed: 19 1/2" x 15 1/2". Unframed 13 1/2" x 10".)

(Above: In Box LXXXV. Framed: 19 1/2" x 15 1/2". Unframed 13 1/2" x 10".)

(Above: In Box LXXXVIII. Framed: 19 1/2" x 15 1/2". Unframed 13 1/2" x 10".)

(Above: In Box LXXXVII. Framed: 19 1/2" x 15 1/2". Unframed 13 1/2" x 10".)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Muses Series

(Above: Muses Series, True to Life. Click on image to enlarge.)

Several years ago Steve and I bought an old book ... a really old book! It was published in 1655. The title is TABLEAVX DV TEMPLE DES MVSES, (Tirez Dv Cabinet De Fev Mr. Favereav). We still have the title page. The book had been rebound at least once ... and the existing binding was broken. Some of the engravings and pages were missing. We took the book apart, framed and sold the engravings (personally keeping two ... hanging in our living room), and were about to throw out the pages. I just couldn't do it. To touch these pages was like "touching history". I kept them ... and now I've finally used all 88 pieces for art. (This antique book can be seen in its entirety on line ... just click HERE.)

(Above: Muses Series, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Click on image to enlarge.)

First I fused a canvas-like upholstery fabric to the back of every page. I used Fusion 4000, an acid-free mounting product from the framing industry. It works using heat and pressure in a professional dry-mount machine. The bolt of fabric came from Bill Mishoes' auction, my favorite place for used household "stuff". My studio assistant carefully cut the excess fusion and fabric away from the edges of the pages. Now ... I could both hand stitch and free motion embroider on the paper.

(Above: Muses Series, Any Minute Now. Click on image to enlarge.)

Before stitching, however, I used ink and watercolor on each page. The marks were done using Zen-like gestures, each color reacting to what came before it. This is how I painted The Book of the Dead. I found that the brown "wing-like"/abstracted willow tree/gateway symbol is something that flows almost from my unconscious. I started with this, then added the other washes of color and luminous gold "moon" orbs.

(Above: Muses Series, The Time of Your Life. Click on image to enlarge.)

I drew my hand on a piece of paper, cut it out, and used it like a stencil on all 88 pages. I free motion stitched the "hand print" using a beautiful, variegate purple thread .... Oliver Twist ... a special purchase from the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in 2006. Then I started stitching by hand using mostly pearl cottons in running stitch. As I finished a few, I began collaging random adages (especially about "time") onto each page. I also collaged bits and pieces of ticket stubs from family trips in 1974 (Kenya, the UK, and Austria) along with 19th century cancelled stamps, words from letters written before I was born, and other assorted ephemera ... then I started free motion machining, especially around each vintage clipped letter. Finally, I added beads and a button from the now vacant laundry department of the South Carolina State Mental Hospital.

(Above: Twenty-five framed "Muses Series" pieces and two piles of them shrink-wrapped! You can see the "label" on the back of two of the framed pieces ... a photocopy of the original book's title page with a block that includes my name, title, inventory number, pricing, etc. Click on image to enlarge.)

At one point, I had stacks of these pages all over both the house and studio ... in various stages of completion! Finally, I started mounting and matting them. Because of the buttons and beads, I decided that each mat needed "fillet", a wooden insert at the mat window opening. (Thankfully, this champagne colored fillet has been discontinued and was at a ridiculously low price ... since I needed nearly 400 feet!) The fillet simply "raises" the mat above these embellishments. It took several days ... but (except for a few stragglers because I ran out of mat board!) ... THEY ARE FINISHED and ready to be shown at S&S Art Supplies next month. Steve selected twenty-five for framing. (I like them all and just couldn't pick! The ones pictured in this blog post were randomly selected too!)

Okay ... I admit it. Twenty-five of them don't have any hand stitching or collage work! I did not photograph them ... just mounted and matted them as they were ... color and stitched hand print. I call these Touching History I - XXV. Some of the others have been photographed. I'm not about to upload them all here ... but I did post them on my "Strata" blog ... a place where I "bury" things in the layers and tiers of my personal planet! There are approximately 55 of them HERE!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Getting Ready for Local Shows

(Above: The "Dearly Departed" series hung abutting one another as if a single unit. Each piece includes one of my photos of cemetery angels in an original page from a Victorian album and a collaged epitaph made with vintage clipped letters. Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: The "Dearly Departed" series and Anonymous hanging on the wall just outside my studio door. Click on image to enlarge.)

November is always a busy time in the Columbia art scene. My studio is at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios ... an "anchor art location" for the annual Vista Lights art crawl, Thursday, November 17 from 5 - 9. There's another event every spring. The two occasions function like mandatory deadlines for cleaning up the studio ... which I'll get to next Wednesday with Reba, my studio assistant. (Boy does it need it!)

(Above: View into my now "messy" studio and the wall just outside.)

This week, Reba hung sixteen of the eighteen pieces in the "Dearly Departed" series as a "unit" on the wall just outside my studio door. It takes quite a bit of time and measuring to get the works to line up perfectly. Details of each can be seen HERE.

(Above: View down the hallway at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios ... to my #4 door.)

Anonymous, a grave rubbing art quilt, hangs beside the grouping. I'm really pleased with how these works look together. The Book of the Dead will be part of the exhibition in the larger gallery space.

(Above: But By The Grace of God. 35" x 19". Original but altered laundry/clothing issue index cards from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, buttons from the asylum, and ink. Machine and hand stitched. Click on image to enlarge.)

While getting ready for this art crawl, I'm also working toward an installation and exhibition that will happen at S & S Art Supplies in December. The work uses found objects from the former South Carolina Department of Mental Health historic asylum ... which is about four blocks from my house. South Carolina was the second state in the nation to provide funds/facilities for the mentally ill ... hiring noted architect Robert Mills in 1821 to design the central building. The now vacant property is in the midst of development plans. I was granted access to one of the "out buildings" ... the former laundry and alterations department ... and permission to collect several items for my artwork.

(Above: Detail of But By the Grace of God. Click on image to enlarge.)

I was required to sign a waiver promising to keep patient information confidential. Thus, the laundry/clothing issue cards I found had to be altered. Clipped letters were collage over the names. I used the thinnest Koh-i-nor rapidograph to write on each card ... tiny green words including the piece's title. (In order to stitch on the cards, they were first mounted to upholstery canvas ... recycled from another auction purchase!) The buttons were collected from the mental institution's laundry floor.

(Above: Detail of But By the Grace of God. Click on image to enlarge.)

The orange fabric came from Bill Mishoes' auction ... and was likely a leftover from some anonymous stitchers stash from the mid 70s. The reverse was folded over to create a binding. It was a piece of batik donated by Libby Gamble before she moved to California to study photography. Thus, everything about this quilt is "repurposed" and had a life before I turned it into an art quilt.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Two Hours at the Beach, Window Installation

(Above: Two Hours at the Beach, Window Installation at the Tapps Center for the Arts on Columbia's Main Street. Click on image to enlarge.)

Last spring I went to Folly Beach and collected trash for two hours. I knew what I was doing. I was savaging for an art quilt's "raw materials". I blogged about the art quilt HERE. The piece was accepted into Art Quilt Lowell 2011. But ... I wasn't really done with the concept. I don't know if I'll ever be done with recycling and related ecological issues in my art. (I wish the world would eliminate the need to draw attention to pollution!) So, how could I resist another opportunity to creatively "scream" .... DON'T LITTER! I signed up for another window installation at the Tapps Center for the Arts. It opened this past "First Thursday on Main Street".

(Above: Two Hours at the Beach, Window Installation at the Tapps Center for the Arts. Click on image to enlarge.)

The window installation takes its name from the art quilt that inspired it. To create the installation, I returned to Folly Beach for another "two hours worth of raw materials" ... blogging about that experience HERE. I hung the quilt in the center and flanked it with water-inspired batik material, netting, and a metallic blue lacy polyester. My statements hang on the two side "wings" and read:

Last spring Columbia fiber and installation artist Susan Lenz spent a mere two hours along South Carolina’s coastline collecting beach trash. She resisted cigarette butts, aluminum cans, dog poop, and debris of enormous size. In June, Lenz combined her “trash stash” with recycled acrylic felt, netting, and thread. She called this unique art quilt Two Hours at the Beach. It was accepted into Art Quilt Lowell, a prestigious, national juried exhibition in Lowell, MA and then became the centerpiece for this window installation. Lenz collected another “two hours” worth of shoreline pollution to convey her anti-litter message. She says, “South Carolina’s beaches are a precious natural resource. They are the home of a diverse wildlife population and a major source of our state’s tourist industry. Even though Columbia is two hours from the beach, many Midlands’ residents visit regularly and litter is something that needs to be addressed EVERYWHERE ... even on Columbia’s Main Street.”

It is amazing just how much trash washes ashore or was left in the dunes. I hope people see the window, the quilt, and think about pollution ... about littering ... about our precious natural resources and responsibilities toward them.

(Above: November 2011's "First Thursday on Main Street". Photo by Alex Smith.)

I forgot to snap photos while walking around on "First Thursday". Fortunately, Alex Smith didn't! He works at the Tapps Center and posted several on their website. The day before this evening art crawl was the official "grand opening" and ribbon cutting for the Tapps Center. For the past year, the building has been jumping through financial hoops, under "art studio" construction, and basically transforming itself from a former department store into a professional arts incubator! I'm proud to have been involved all year long. This is my fourth window installation!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Minstrel, A Grave Rubbing Art Quilt

(Above: The Minstrel, Grave Rubbing Art Quilt. Crayon on fabric rubbing. Vintage quilt scraps. Hand and free motion machine embroidery. Click on image to enlarge.)

I couldn't resist making a grave rubbing of the unique marker to a bygone character, a minstrel. The tombstone is in one of the historic cemeteries in Hot Springs Arkansas and I designed the art quilt during my August artist residency at Hot Springs National Park.

(Above: The Minstrel, detail. Click on image to enlarge.)

On and off since then I've been stitching. The scraps are all that was left from a battered antique top sent to me by Connie Akers.

(Above: The Minstrel, detail. Click on image to enlarge.)

I wanted this piece to reflect a raggedness, a patched together world that I imagine as the life of a minstrel. It is not square or totally flat or "perfect" in anyway. The stitching is intentionally varied and haphazard ... rough, rugged, held together by a thread ... or a few thousand stitches!

(Above: The Minstrel, reverse. Click on image to enlarge.)

The back is all that was left from a purchase made over a decade ago at Bill Mishoes' auction ... back before I ever started stitching as an artist ... back when I spent everyday framing pictures and managing a staff that numbered up to fourteen strong. Back then, I dreamed of time to ply a threaded needle. I'd buy beloved, vintage fabric just to touch occasionally ... as the physical manifestation of a half hidden dream. The buttons came from the floor of the abandoned South Carolina State Mental Hospital ... and I intentionally selected the worst looking ones ... the ones with the most character and sense of "being used". They hold the most "life". (Click here for a blog post about collecting "found objects" at the SC Mental Hospital.)

(Above: Bessie's Quilt. Probably the first quilt I ever made ... when I thought it would be the only quilt I'd ever make ... December 2007.)

I used the patchwork strips on Bessie's Quilt ... back before I ever thought I'd "really quilt". This was supposed to be a one-time-only experiment. (The link is to the blog post when I finished this piece.)

Now ... I'm ready to start several more quilts using the grave rubbings I made last Saturday in Charleston's Circular Churchyard. Who would have ever thought I'd quilt!