Saturday, June 09, 2018

Lucy Stone, a work in progress

 (Above:  Lucy Stone, a work in progress.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Some time last fall, Sandra Sider and Pam Weeks, both very well known curators who have worked tirelessly to put quilts and art quilts into museums and in front of the public's eyes, sent me a wonderful invitation.  They asked me to create a work for their exhibition, Deeds Not Words: The Power of Persistence, Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Suffrage.

Of course I said YES, YES, YES!  The show will premiere at the National Quilt Museum during Quilt Week in 2020 and there is a publication underway.  I'm excited!  The first thing was to select one of the suffragettes.  It didn't take me long to land on Lucy Stone. 

(Above:  The Library of Congress, copyright free, image of Lucy Stone's original daguerreotype transferred to fabric and basted to recycled black packaging felt with two, distressed gold frames.)

Why Lucy Stone?  Well, I knew I wanted to create a hinged work that referenced antique daguerreotypes.  Last Christmas while visiting Santa Fe, I saw Betty Hahn's Soft Daguerreotypes from 1973.  I'd never heard of Betty Hahn at the time.  I had no idea she was a famous photographer specializing in alternative processes who often used embroidery and other fiber techniques.  I didn't know about her many solo shows and inclusion in various Smithsonian exhibits or the multiple NEA grants and fellowships.  I didn't know the Museum of Modern Art has one of her works or that feminism was a driving force.  I didn't know that Betty Hahn's work delivers " a powerful message in regards to women and embroidery," one that "pushes the audience to acknowledge the work of women not as craft or tradition, but as a meticulous, creative, and unique."

(Above:  Betty Hahn's Soft Daguerreotypes, 1973 at the Santa Fe Art Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.)

It is almost embarrassing to admit this but my first thought was, "I can do better than this!"  Maybe I thought this simply because I was already envisioning my piece for Deeds Not Words as a giant daguerreotype, one that really is hinged.  After all, I'm also a picture framer and an installation artist.  Presentation figures prominently in even my initial approach to art-making.

 (Daguerreotype of woman and child in folding, hinged case.)

So ... what's a daguerreotype?  This early photographic process employed an iodine-sensitized silver plate and mercury vapor to create a very fragile, mirror-like surface with extremely accurate and sharp details. Because the plates were so vulnerable to damage, most were presented in special folding cases, often with velvet liners and ornate clasps.  The process was named for its inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre.  The daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process and pretty much the only one used for personal portraiture from 1840 - 1860.  The Library of Congress owns seven featuring Lucy Stone.  These images are high resolution and copyright free.  I selected the one I liked best.  After careful sizing, I ordered my image from Spoonflower.  The size was determined by the fact that the finished piece is required to measure no more than 22" in width when closed.  That's the constraints of the exhibition's shipping containers. 

I basted the fabric image to my normal batting ... recycled black packaging felt.  Simple free-motion stitching outlined much of the figure.  Then the real work began.  Using a metallic pewter/silver sewing thread, I seed stitched the entire oval background.  To me, this reflective thread mimics the look of early photographic processes. It took days to get the surface so densely stitched.

 I knew that stitching the background so densely would slightly shrink that area ... making the un-stitched areas slightly bulged.  That area was Lucy Stone's face ... but I had a plan from the start!

I opened a hole through the felt and stuffed the inside of Lucy's head with three ovals of felt, each one cut slightly smaller than the one on which it sat.  This is a technique known as trapunto.  The word comes from the Italian language and means "to quilt".  Trapunto is a traditional stuffing technique and quite effective.

Lucy Stone's face just slightly projects away from the densely stitched surface.  I like that!

Because the Library of Congress scan from the original daguerreotype didn't give me a strong oval line, I cut a mat on my oval cutter and drew a pencil line.

Next, I fished out all sorts of beads from vintage and costume jewelry I've collected from auctions.  The beads are almost all exactly the same size but they vary slightly in shades of off-white.  I like this because they don't look perfect and new.  I strung them on button hole thread and carefully couched them onto the pencil line.  I also stitched through each one individually.  These beads are very firmly in place!

Another purchase from Bill Mishoe's auction was a vast collection of buttons.  Some were still in boxes by the gross.  At the time I bought them, I almost got rid of the gold buttons.  I couldn't imagine having a use for them.  Thank goodness I kept them!

The buttons became the spandrels surrounding the oval image.

Some buttons were stitched on top of others.  There are LOTS of buttons on this piece!  That's just my style!

Yesterday I was able to position the portrait into one of the two frames.  It looks wonderful!

Yet, I know that the weight of the buttons could easily pull the fabric out of shape.  It could sag over time.  To prevent this, I stitched through the acid-free foam-centered board and piece ... a lot!  No area will now be carrying too much weight.  I'm already working on the rest of the piece but will have to delay finishing it.  Why?  Well, I'm going to the Rensing Center outside of Pickens, South Carolina tomorrow.  I'll be there for a five-week art residency during which time I'll be working on a major installation.  I'll be blogging from there too.

Before I sign off with this post, however, I'd like to clarify one important thing!  I did NOT select Lucy Stone just because I found a high resolution, copyright free image of an original daguerreotype.  All the early suffragettes had such images made and most are available through the Library of Congress.  I did not select her because she was the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree (though I very much like that fact!)  I selected Lucy Stone because she refused to give up her surname upon marriage and because she and her husband Henry wrote their own, egalitarian wedding vows and penned a famous protest against patriarchal laws and customs governing marriage.  Lucy Stone stood against all inequalities.  She was an abolitionist, a great public orator, and was part of the 19th-century "triumvirate" of women's suffrage and feminism along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The more I read about Lucy Stone, the more I knew I wanted to stitch her portrait more than any other suffragist's picture!

I'll blog about this piece again in July when I've returned from Pickens and can turn my attention to finishing it!  Can't wait!


Christine said...

Fantastic post! Loved all the historic information and the detailing on the image itself!?!! Wow! Loved the idea of the buttons....Wonder if I could do this on an ATC....have to try don't you think? lol

Christine said...

Fantastic post! Loved all the historic information and the detailing on the image itself!?!! Wow! Loved the idea of the buttons....Wonder if I could do this on an ATC....have to try don't you think? lol

Margaret said...

I am amazed at how you can do such fine, dense handwork relatively quickly. Wow! (As one who procrastinates about sewing on buttons, I particularly admire your ability to sew on so many!)