Friday, August 31, 2012

Works in Progress

(Above: Packed boxes heading out ... part of the constant "works in progress" life of an artist. Click on image to enlarge.)

I'm home from my month long art residency with Studios Midwest, a program administered by the Galesburg Civic Art Center in Galesburg, Illinois. I returned to a mountain of custom picture framing and other work that required my attention. Of course, the car had to be unpacked and artwork, supplies, equipment, and various materials had to be put away (or into storage). My studio had to be whipped back into shape, a manageable mess of creativity in various states of progress. That's WIP ... Works in Progress.

Recently, Nina-Marie Sayre started an on-line opportunity for fiber artists to share their WIPs. It is called Off the Wall Friday. (This refers to a "design wall" ... which I don't have and probably wouldn't use if I did have such a luxury item. I generally use the floor!) Anyway, I'm going to try participating in this process. One must simply link their blog post to hers. There are already fifteen images at the time I'm typing this entry! I'll see what happens as soon as I finish writing!

I like the idea of sharing WIPs on a regular schedule. I used to blog more often and frequently shared pieces as they developed. Over the years (this is my 959th blog post here on "Art in Stitches" which was started in August 2006), I fell into the habit of only showing finished work. I think this will be fun! Nina's blog post for this Friday is HERE.

So ... my WIP for this Friday is something that really represents a constant "WIP" in the life of a working, professional fiber artist. PACKING AND MAILING! This also represents the "check in" and "check out" of inventory lists.

Yesterday I collected my solo show from Frame of Mind, a local, alternative art space along Main Street in Columbia. The show sold VERY WELL! I had to "check in" the artwork against the inventory work. Nine pieces didn't return! A check should come within a month. One piece was pre-sold via the Internet. I packaged it for my new patron! (Small top box! Thank you Anne Larsen!) I also checked in a piece returning from Craft National at the Mulvane Museum of Art and one from Material Voices, a show that ran during the Lowell Quilt Festival.

I created an inventory list for Things That Go Bump in the Night at Vision Gallery in Chandler, Arizona. Going to that show (packed in the two large boxes) are The Book of the Dead, The Bat in a Box, and twelve framed photos of creepy dolls (which most recently hung in Galesburg) and 23 matted and shrink-wrapped doll photos. I call them my "Tiny Tina Series". The statement I wrote for the dolls is:

In November 1963 the popular television show, The Twilight Zone, aired "Living Doll", an episode in which a wind-up, talking doll was featured and eventually caused the death of the overbearing father. Since then, people exposed to this scary program have rarely seen dolls as innocent play toys but as a "thing that goes bump in the night".

Of course I'm working on other projects ... but there's always next week's Off the Wall Friday!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reception for "The Canopy" and wrapping up the residency!

(Above: The Canopy during the art reception on Friday, August 24th at "The Box" in Galesburg, Illinois. Click on any photo in this blog post for an enlargement.)

Last Friday night was the art reception for my August residency work at Studios Midwest, a program administered by the Galesburg Civic Art Center in Galesburg, Illinois. It was held in "The Box", a privately owned urban warehouse that has been renovated for studio and exhibition space. For the past month I've been working in this very location ... stitching 180 square feet of a canopy directly under where I hoisted it.

Earlier blog posts have covered the construction and the method of raising The Canopy. As pictured, it is 12' in height, 10' in width, and 18' long. I took plenty of early photos ... being very careful to exclude the two wooden beams in the room and any other extraneous distractions. While these are nice photos, they lack a true sense of scale. Thus, my husband Steve (who flew to Peoria on Thursday night ... Atlanta to Dallas to Minneapolis to Peoria) took photos at the reception. He tried to capture people under The Canopy ... for scale, for atmosphere, and for fun!

Thus, I'm in several of the images ... including the one above where I'm talking to Mark Holmes, the head of the Knox College Art Department and owner of "The Box", his wife, and Joanie ... who, along with her boss Dennis Johnson, became my best friends in Galesburg! They are the team at Johnson's Wallpaper, a business elsewhere at "The Box".

I particularly like the photo above because it really captures the size of this piece.

The reception was hosted by the Galesburg Civic Art Center under Heather Norman, its director. Heather had a lovely spread of finger food, water, and wine which was near the public sock art quilt and the door into the space.

I got lots of comments on the series of doll photographs too ... which made me feel very good. This was the first time I've shown my own photography ... as straight photography instead of as photo transfers or through other ways of incorporating image into another medium.

I did a lot of pointing and talking about the construction, the method of hoisting The Canopy aloft, and how I attempted to balance the design in terms of color and composition.

Steve also thought more detail images were needed. So, he took them.

He really captured the flood lights coming through the vintage crochet and lace.

His photos concentrated on the complexity of the many doilies, the subtly shading in the overlaps, and the draping of the fabric.

Steve also took two videos. I've posted them on UTube. One of the actual canopy is HERE.

Steve's other video captures a few moments of the reception and is HERE.

Just off the main exhibition space is the smaller studio where I also worked. On display was an art quilt (folded on the chair). It has the rubbings made from Carl Sandburg's Remembrance Rock. After finishing The Canopy, I put this piece together, did the free motion machine embroidery around all the letters, and started the hand stitching for the background. (I stitched on it for the entire drive back to Columbia too!) On the table is a small antique chest filled with wrapped and stitched wooden thread spools. Some of these were my demonstration pieces at the Fifth Annual Clay and Fiber Festival in Bishop Hill the weekend before last.

(Above: Taking down The Canopy.)

After the reception and dinner, Steve and I returned to "The Box". It took only one hour for us to take down all the photos and The Canopy and pack them into our car!

(Above: The Canopy ... rolled up on my shoulder!)

Amazingly, The Canopy rolls up and is easily carried! The entire piece really isn't that heavy! The next morning, Steve and I headed east toward Columbia.

(Above: Fiber demonstrations at the Clay and Fiber Festival in Bishop Hill ... spinning and rug hooking!)

But before sharing a few photos from our trip back, I want to "wrap up" some of the other things I did in Illinois ... like the Clay and Fiber Festival in Bishop Hill! I spent Saturday, August 18th demonstrating hand embroidery along with some other fun fiber artists.

It was a two day festival but I only went for one. I did have a chance to watch some of the other "hands on" areas ... like the potter's wheel! What fun! (I'm glad these kids weren't getting back into my car!)

There were all sorts of vendors too!

Also ... I wanted to share my favorite pizza place in Galesburg. It's new ... under two months in business. It's called Baked and is owned and operated by a young husband and wife duo. Pizza is bought "whole" or by the delicious slice. While waiting, customers can select from a stack of LPs ... to spin on one of the most unique combinations of musical machinery ever ... Victrola, Hi-Fi, and computer speakers!

The day I took the photo at Baked was also the day of the Galesburg Car Show. Four city blocks and their side streets were closed off for the occasion. I spent over two hours taking pictures. Learning more about my camera and its settings is another thing I love to do, especially while on an art residency! I took over 330 photos, keeping 130 of them. They're on Flickr! as a "set" or as a "slideshow".

I tried especially hard to "take the photo" I really wanted ... as I wanted them ... without having to play with it in Photoshop!

Some of these are pretty much "straight out of the camera".

Okay ... the weather was perfect and the colors are amazing to begin with!

I'm very happy with all the photos I kept.

I even saw an old Cutlass ... very similar to the first car Steve and I ever had.

It is sort of disconcerting to think of that car as "vintage"!

Well ... on the way back to South Carolina, we stayed overnight in Corbin, Kentucky. Corbin is the home of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. It is still serving buckets of fried chicken but is also has a souvenirs and areas that serve as a "museum" for Colonel Sanders.

There's plenty of memorabilia too!

I posed with the plastic Colonel.

Steve posed with the 1940s restaurant kitchen. Now ... we're back in Columbia. Tomorrow morning I face all the work that piled up during my absence. It was worth it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Looking For a Mate in Galesburg

(Above: Looking for a Mate in Galesburg, a unique sock art quilt. 55" x 55". "Mateless" socks donated to the public on recycled felt. Click on this or any image in this blog post for an enlargement.)

One of the missions of the Studios Midwest program is for artists-in-residence to conduct a public art project. They put it this way:

Studios Midwest brings artists to Galesburg, Illinois to engage and impact the community through creative and collab­o­rative art. The program works with each artist to create an envi­ronment ripe for the emerging trend of art and social practice. Distinct from modern art of the twentieth century, social practice builds on a variety of contem­porary art move­ments while incor­po­rating elements of soci­ology, anthro­pology, social work, envi­ron­men­talism, and community outreach.

I put it in SOCKS!

(Above: Looking For a Mate in Galesburg with a clothesline of "mateless" socks.)

Even before I arrived, the public was invited to donate their "mateless" socks. There was a newspaper article printed during my first week in Illinois. The work was also shown during "First Friday" on Seminary Street. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings during the residency, I was at the Galesburg Civic Art Center holding a "new age" quilting bee with community volunteers. I've blogged about it HERE. Well, the piece is finished, mounted, and hanging in the foyer of "The Box", the exhibition space where created my giant canopy. Both my residency work (The Canopy) and this public sock art quilt will enjoy a reception this coming Friday night, August 24th from 6 - 8 PM.

(Above: Creating a clothesline of "mateless" socks with clients of KCCDD, a private agency providing day programming for adults with disabilities.)

There were, however, extra socks! Leftover and "mateless"! What to do?

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to create a clothesline of socks with clients of KCDD, a private agency providing day programming for adults with disabilities. I went on Tuesday morning and within a hour we were heavily into stitching and knotting all the socks. The conversation was lively. Everyone was successful in attaching the socks ... even a staff person learned a new way to thread a needle! We made short work of this attractive decoration. It is now proudly hanging overhead in the foyer of The Box, a perfect compliment to the public sock art quilt.

My contact person was Lisa Stephens who has been a long time supporter of Studios Midwest.

I can honestly say that only one sock came detached after the hour at KCCDD ... and that likely happened as a result of untangling it for hanging! It was truly my privilege to work with this agency ... and to spread the love of stitching and quilting to a new group of people!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


(Above: Detail of the fringe on the giant, 10' x 18' canopy. Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

First of all ... A BIG, BIG, BIG
to everyone who has taken the time to look at my blog posts and the giant canopy and especially to those who left wonderful comments! It truly means the world to me to hear such positive feedback. I've been pretty much working in isolation and depending on the Internet for companionship and support. You've all been wonderful!

(Above: The smaller studio space with the first section of fringe pinned to the wall and the second section on the nearby table.)

Now ... I did manage to pull this feat off in record time and that allowed me to create fringe. Honestly, I didn't think I'd get so far but I did. I also thought I'd never say it but I'm almost completely out of crochet and lace! I did have enough to create fringe for the two 10' ends of the canopy! Love this frilly detail!

(Above: Me on the very big ladder attaching the fringe.)

I guess I could have lowered the canopy, attached the fringe, and re-hoisted it ... but that seemed like lots more effort, risky, and more time consuming than just working on the big ladder. I needed several breaks to move the ladder but also to restore blood circulation to my arms. In the photo above, I'm standing a rung higher than was optimal in order to see where the stitches needed to be placed. The photo was taken with the camera on a tripod and set for a delayed shot ... and I went up a step further than normal. Generally, I stitched from a step lower ... with my arms up! I also basted the extra bridal tulle and netting back along the sides of the canopy ... neatening up the piece.

(The Canopy, 10' x 18' x 12'.)

So now it is complete and really ready for Friday night's reception. I'm now finishing up the sock art quilt which was the public art project here in Galesburg. This morning I spent an hour with KCCDD, an organization serving adults with disabilities. We stitched almost all the extra "mateless" socks to a clothes line that will serve as decoration around the public art quilt this Friday night. (My next post will be on this project ... as soon as I receive the "thumbs up" on photo releases!)

(Above and below: More photos of The Canopy ... complete with fringe. Click on any image to enlarge.)

This morning I also snapped new photos of The Canopy ... complete with fringe. I'm excited and pleased ... and grateful for all the Internet support! THANKS!

Now ... one more thing! The is not really "the end" of the canopy. In a sense, it is the BEGINNING! I view this artwork as the catalyst for other work responding to this, central piece. So ... thank you to those who have taken the time to answer these questions:

What does a canopy mean to you?
Do you have special memories/dreams about a canopy?

Please leave a comment or email me at I have one of my "foggy visions" of the future work and am sifting through ideas that include all the lace collars that I didn't use in the canopy construction. I "see" them on simple, wire coat hangers with strips of paper/fabric hanging from them ... perhaps in a figurative shape and including paraphrased words collected from all sorts of people, maybe stitched or maybe collaged or maybe a little of both. Vintage anonymous photos might work their way into this idea too ... all for artwork to one day hang on the walls surrounding the canopy. On Friday night there will be a box and index cards for visitors to write their impressions. I'm already saving emails in a special folder. This is just the beginning of something new and meaningful! Thanks!

Below is the statement that is currently hanging in the foyer of The Box ... just a few feet away from The Canopy!

The Canopy

Susan Lenz is very grateful for this opportunity to create a large-scale, fiber artwork during this artist residency. The canopy is larger than Susan’s studio in Columbia, South Carolina. She has been collecting vintage crochet, lace, and household linens for more than a year.

A canopy bed is an iconic symbol from fairy-tales, dreams, childhood, romance novels, historical interiors, and personal furnishings. It means different things to different people. Despite modern technology and changes in advertisements and parenting practices, most little girls in America still dream of a canopy bed … like their mothers did, like their grandmothers did. For some, a canopy bed represents the security of the womb. For others, a canopy bed represents an ideal or a “Happily Ever After” promise for the future. Canopies represent protection but also sexual fulfillment or marital bliss.

Canopy beds are frequently associated with the preciousness of feminine childhood, a concept largely manufactured by an adult society. In it, the idealized girl carries all the dreams for her parents. So, is this magical sleeping arrangement really the child’s desire or is it projected by the hopes of adults? So often, childhood memories are searched as an explanation of adult discontent. How does the fantasy of a canopy bed figure into the loss of happiness?

Personally, Susan is interested in the concept of childhood memories, especially how the canopy bed seems to stay part of little girls’ collective desires through generations. Toys, playtime, hopes for the future, stereotypical gender roles, adult nostalgia, a parent’s vision for an archetype child, and the threads that stitch together fairy-tales are important to this ongoing project.

During the month of August, Susan Lenz’s canopy is meant to stimulate conversation with regards to all possible associations for a canopy bed. Please feel free to share interpretations and stories with her. What does a canopy bed mean to you? Did you want one as a child? Have you ever slept under one? Do you have a special memory about a canopy bed?

Susan Lenz

Friday, August 17, 2012

Raising the Canopy

(Above: The Canopy. It is UP! Click on this and any other image in this blog post for an enlargement.)

I didn't keep track of the hours of hand-stitching involved in creating my 10' x 18' canopy. Whatever number it was can't compare to the number of hours put in by the anonymous makers of all the doilies, runners, and lace trim! It is, however, hard to believe that I managed this project, from design to installation, in twelve days. (Okay, an art residency does allow one to put in 12 - 14 hour days and I did just that ... a combination of sheer fear and total excitement. It is more than a little risky taking on a project for which a reception time is already scheduled before work is attempted!)

(Above: Stitching chiffon tubes to the reverse of the canopy.)

Help with hoisting the giant canopy was available. I didn't ask for help though. I couldn't imagine how I would direct such a venture when I wasn't exactly sure how it was all going to work out! But ... first ... let me back up a bit.

(Above: The giant canopy on the floor with my Bernina 1630 in place ... midway through stitching one of five chiffon tubes to the reverse.)

In order to hoist this canopy, I brought 1" in diameter PVC pipes. They come in ten foot lengths ... which certainly won't fit into my car and aren't exactly an optimal length for shipping should this piece have opportunities to be installed elsewhere (which I hope is the case!) I had the five pipes cut into halves and purchase t-connectors for them. My plan was to create chiffon tubes and stitch them onto the reverse of the canopy. The PVC pipes were to be slid into these chiffon tubes. Extra strong wire was purchased and brought to run through the PVC pipes and hoist the canopy into the air ... wire secured from the ceiling.

(Above: Stitching the chiffon tubes to the reverse of the canopy.)

I used chiffon leftover from my Decision and Epitaph banners. Making them was easy. Attaching them wasn't so easy! There was no better place to do this than on the floor. The center tube required, of course, half the canopy to squish through the space between the needle and the arm of the machine. I had a long extension cord in use and also had to continuously move the machine backwards every few feet. Naturally, each tube required ten feet of pinning and at least two passes with the machine. Now this is definitely "contemporary" stitching!

(Above: The canopy with the PVC installed inside the chiffon tubes.)

I cut "holes" in the centers of each tube to allow space for the t-connector. Each leg of PVC was slid into the tube from the outside and fit into the t-connector in the middle.

(Above: Chiffon tubes and PVC pipes.)

Because the canopy is fairly fragile, I wanted the tubes to be stitched on both sides to the reverse.

(Above: Center chiffon tube and PVC.)

The chiffon is sheer enough not to detract from the canopy but strong enough to really hold the PVC pipes.

(Above: Getting ready to hoist the canopy.)

So ... now to hoist the thing! It seemed wise to place the canopy as far off the floor as safely possible in order to minimize the lifting required. I placed the nice, very heavy table under the center PVC pipe and got out the really big ladder.

Next, I positioned the two PVC pipes directly beside the center one on the table ... making sure the canopy wasn't "stuck" under any of the pipes. I ran the wire through the center pipe. (By the way ... because the overhead pipes were narrower than ten feet, I also inserted 10' metal electrical pipes inside the PVC to prevent sagging. Screwing in perfectly placed hooks wasn't an option; this is an antique tin ceiling!)

I dragged the ladder from side to side ... securing the wire on a pipe on one side, hoisting from the other as far as I could, returning to the other side to straighten out the pipe, re-returning to hoist some more, etc.

I set my camera up on a tripod and snapped a delayed photo ... just for scale. I'm a little afraid of heights but this ladder was really stable and I did simply "take my time" and "tried to enjoy" the adventure!

Soon, the center PVC pipe was raised and fairly level and at the point where the next two pipes would come off the table. Hoist!

One at a time, the next two PVC pipes were fitted with wire and raised off the table.

This allowed me the first peak at what the canopy would look like. I got excited and the rest of the work really was easier than I'd feared. It was wonderful seeing each pull on the wires bring a vision into a reality.

By the time the three center pipes were up, the final two, end pipes were just dangling ... waiting to for wire and "elbow grease" to pull them into place.

Of course, the two end pipes had "something special". This is where I attached the fiber bed posts!

At this point I was really thrilled and took a photo with my phone to send to Steve back in Columbia. I had to share what I knew would be "success"!

Soon afterwards, all four fiber bedposts were up. The canopy was in place!

Of course, it was nearly 11 PM at night. I knew I'd have to return this morning for better images ... without the gallery lights. I did manage to sleep despite the relief and happiness. Below are the photos from this morning in no particular order. The reception for this work is next Friday, August 24th from 6 - 8. I have plenty of time to finish the public sock art quilt project (which is nearly done!) and perhaps to create the 56 feet of "fringe" I've been thinking about making to dangle from the perimeter of the canopy. Wouldn't that be pretty?