Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Bluegrass Roots

(My Bluegrass Roots. 45 1/2" x 35". Image transfer on vintage quilt with buttons. Hand stitched. Click on image to enlarge.)

My Dad and his parents, my Grandma and Grandpa Lenz, came to America sixty years ago this month. Originally from rural Hungary, they'd lived for three years in a DP Camp in Hessen before boarding a ship in Brennen harbor. They came through Ellis Island within two years of its closure and settled in Columbus, Ohio where a great uncle lived. So ... I'm the daughter of German immigrants.

But, that's only half of the story!
My mother's family is from Wild and Wonderful West Virginia! ( ...and the "rest of the story" is at the bottom of this post!)

This fact came in handy recently. Why? Well, my studio is located at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, a cooperative artist group in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. The location is an anchor for the two annual art crawls: Vista Lights in November and Artista Vista in the spring. This year, the group selected a title for our spring exhibition: O Brother, Where ART Thou? with a Bluegrass theme.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of Bluegrass music. My husband Steve, however, loves it ... plays it on the iPod when we've traveling through West Virginia. (I ignore it and stitch in the car.) I wasn't thrilled with this theme ... not even a little bit ... until I had this outlandish idea: Why not create a photo transfer on a quilt? Why not use one of the photos scanned from my great grandma's album, a photo from West Virginia, land of Bluegrass ... My Bluegrass Roots?

Of course, I'd never done a photo transfer on a quilt. In fact, I don't know that anyone ever has! I did know, however, that Denise Furnish works with acrylic medium on antique quilts. Her Nine Patch won one of the awards at Art Quilt Elements 2010. (This piece is pictured opposite my Father and Mother in the exhibition catalog.) The piece fascinated me. Immediately, I wanted to "try this new technique" but resisted. I generally don't jump on a new product, book, or approach to art-making unless I've got a strong, concept driven reason for it. Now, I had a reason ... and about a gallon of matte medium! (Denise paints on her old quilts. She planted a seed in my brain and it finally took root!)

The antique quilt came from Bill Mishoes' auction. There were three old, damaged quilts sold together, and I was successful with a $60 bid. I cut the blue-and-white one to a workable size ... something under 48" x 36", the size of my frame shop's dry mount press. Using matte medium, I attached the back of the quilt section to a piece of heavy, canvas-like upholstery material (also purchased at Bill Mishoes ... years ago ... an entire bolt.) A day later the two were mostly attached but I secured them with a few rows of straight stitching along the lines of the quilt blocks. For several days, I added layer after layer of matte medium to the quilt surface ... at least seven or eight layers.

In the meantime, I was also working with the scanned images from my Great Grandma's photo album ... looking for one with good contrast, clarity, and a bit of charm. Using Photoshop, the selected image was enlarged and the contrast was increased. (Generally, I would "flip" the image for proper orientation after transferring ... but I liked the reverse better when envisioning it on the quilt ... better placement of the faces against the quilt!) I burned a CD and had FedEx Kinkos print an over-sized photo copy.

Two layers of matte medium were applied to the photo copy. Finally, I brushed on yet another layer of matte medium on both the quilt and the photo copy and placed them wet-on-wet together. Using a brayer, I applied pressure, eliminating all air bubbles ... and then allowed it all to dry. Finally, I put the quilt into my dry mount machine. Knowing that acrylics adhere to one another when exposed to heat, my intention was to definitely fuse the acrylic covered quilt to the acrylic covered photo copy ... firmly embedding the photo copy ink and its "carrying film" to the "substrata", the quilt. (My dry mount was set to 185 degrees with 28 pounds per square inch for five minutes. Love this machine!)

Next step ... my new studio assistant and I rubbed off the paper. The first layer was easy! With a dampened scrap of terry cloth and a little "elbow grease", the image was exposed. Unfortunately, more abrasion was needed. The surface dried with what looked like a film of "white" over the entire surface. This was just "more paper" which required lots more gentle but firm rubbing ... and my fingertips seemed to be the best thing for it. This took about four more hours ... and, yes, I got one little blister ... but it was worth it!

Frankly, rubbing the paper off was the most difficult part of the process. This is only because my fingers are really, really strong! I decided to stitch buttons around the edge. My collection of mostly vintage buttons is large enough that I could use only ones 3/4" or larger ... in both whites and blacks. I used a chenille needle and button hole thread.

(Above: Detail of edge ... black and white buttons. Click on image to enlarge.)

The piece needed one more thing ... two lines of running stitch, above and below the transferred image. This was pretty hard to do considering all the layers of quilt, upholstery material and at least ten to twelve layers of matte medium ... but it worked! I'm really please with the piece and am already working on two, smaller companions.


Of course I knew that the photo came from my Great Grandma's photo album. It is owned by my 93 year old Grandmother and is located in the attic over my Dad's workshop. I scanned it a couple years ago. What I didn't know, however, was the identity of many of the people in the photographs! Earlier this week I wrote to "my genealogy studio assistant", aka my mother. Who were these people? They were in a lot of the pictures. Some of the other photos identified the woman as Mary Rollings. Unfortunately, my mother didn't know who this woman was. She had to visit my Grandma.

Mary Rollings isn't a relative at all! She never did marry into the family but the man in the photo is Frank Haeberle, the sixth child of my Great Grandpa's eldest sister. Frank was born in 1897 and was supposed to have been madly in love with his first cousin, Elma. Elma was my Great Grandpa and Grandma's eldest child. She was born in 1908. From the looks of LOTS of the other photos, she was also madly in love with Frank! Unfortunately, she died right before her sixteenth birthday of spinal meningitis (1923). My grandma, Elma's baby sister, was the last to see her alive. Grandma was only six. Grandma vaguely remembers Mary Rollings. She's in lots of the pictures, especially with Frank in the mid-to late 1920s. Frank Haeberle, however, never married.

When I think about Bluegrass, lost love is a recurring theme. A wild and beautiful landscape is also a recurring theme ... that's West Virginia! While Mary Rollings isn't a relative, she's likely the embodiment of my Bluegrass roots. Frank Haeberle would be my third cousin ... I think? (I'm never exactly sure how this works!) My mother remembers him as a handsome man despite having parents that weren't so attractive ... tragic ... also My Bluegrass Roots.
(Thanks Mom!)


Doris said...

I love this: the story, the recycled quilt, the finished piece, the whole thing!!!

Caryquilter said...

Fascinating process. Thanks for sharing. Love the quilt; great use for an old damaged quilt.

Dee's Diary said...

Enjoyed reading this post. The photograph blends with the blue blocks so beautifully, love the way the quilt piecing just shows behind the faces. I'm sure the original quilter would be pleased to see her work remade like this. The story behind the photo is charming too.

I always enjoy your blog. Hope one day to sea your work for 'real'.

EmandaJ said...

Love the post,love the finished piece, love the whole story! I'm a huge fan of blue and white together.


Julie said...

I have been thinking about this photo transfer process for sometime too but the thought of all that rubbing off of the paper is putting me off. You have achieved a wonderful effect with it and the story makes the quilt so much more special.

Rhoda said...

As usual, your imagination and learning new techniques is amazing. Very nice work. Rhoda

Els said...

Love the "ancient" quilt with the modern technique !
Thanks for the (family) history lesson too .... ;-)

Tamber said...

Beautiful photo and great piece!

Wanda said...

Wow. What an wonderful piece and story. Honoring a part of our heritage that we've heard about our whole lives but maybe never really thought about. I mean really, really thought about. There is tragedy and sorrow all around, in every family, in every lifetime. And yet, there is love and music and bindings. I will be thinking about this post for awhile. Oh, and just one small correction...Kastl is not in Hessen. It's in Bavaria. Not that it really matters but just thought you'd want to know.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story!!! I am also from WVa! Also have several interesting stories of old photos. Hope you share more!