Saturday, July 28, 2018

Lucy Stone, finished!

 (Above:  Lucy Stone, a contemporary, 3D art quilt inspired by the original 19th century daguerreotype of the early suffragist.  Open:  26" x 40"; Closed 26" x 20."  Image transfers on fabric with self-guided, free-motion machine embroidery, hand stitching and beading, trapunto, buttons, metallic and cotton threads, hinges, custom frames, upholstery tacks, recycled black industrial felt, faux-finished watercolor paper and letters clipped from mostly vintage ephemera.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Returning from my five-week art residency at the Rensing Center meant I was also returning to an important project that was left unfinished for all those weeks.  Before leaving, I'd completed the photograph of suffragist Lucy Stone and blogged about it HERE. This portrait occupies only 25% of the total surface area, but it was the most labor intensive and obviously the focal point of the whole.  I was excited to finish the piece but knew it had to "go on hold" until this past week!

 (Above:  The left interior side of Lucy Stone.)

During this week, I collaged the paragraph I wrote onto a heavy piece of watercolor paper.  I faux-finished the paper to resemble orange marble.  This is half of the sheet.  The other half was used for Pandora's Box.  I had all my words written on tracing paper to use as a guide, but sometimes "something bad" happens ... especially when going from the end of one line to another ... especially when the words all start with the same letter.  When this happens, it is easy to accidentally skip and entire word.  So, if you enlarge the image, you will see that I accidentally omitted the word "husband".  (It was supposed to go between "her" and "Henry" ... all words starting with the letter H!) I didn't catch the error until those lines were completely dry.  What's an artist to do?  Like any student forced to longhand write an essay, I just "crammed" the missing word into place ... very small and at the end of the line. My husband Steve found this particularly hilarious and totally appropriate for a suffragist who insisted on using her own surname.  To Steve, "husband" should be especially small in this case. He said it was "conceptually correct".  I'll go with this explanation!

 (Above:  The exterior of Lucy Stone.)

As a work of art, Lucy Stone is meant to resemble the original 19th century daguerreotype owned by the Library of Congress.  Like a real daguerreotype, my work is hinged and the exterior is another image transfer on fabric of an original daguerreotype case.  This image is NOT the original outside of the daguerreotype of Lucy Stone.  That image was not available.  I found many others and settled on this one.  It did require quite a bit of work in Photoshop to make it the correct size.  I free-motion stitched each side with King Tut's beautiful, cotton, variegated Cedars, #983 thread.  Along with Pinecone, #992, these are my very favorite threads.  To be honest, I'm pretty sure I accidentally used a little of both on these two sides.  They are so beautifully subtle that they blend perfectly together.
(Above:  Lucy Stone, exterior, detail of the edge with upholstery tacks and melted felt.)

Another "favorite" thing to do is to attach my work to the frame using assorted upholstery tacks.  The excess substrata of black industrial felt is then melted away using a soldering iron.  The tiny "white" line on the outside of the tacks is where the soldering iron also melted away the black paint I'd applied to the frame.  It adds a nice touch!  I'm so very, very pleased that this piece is finished and ready for Deeds Not Words: The Power of Persistence, Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Suffrage, an exhibition being curated and organized for a national tour by Sandra Sider and Pam Weeks.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Hansel and Gretel's Witch: Hoping for a Michelin Star

(Above:  Hansel & Gretel's Witch: Hoping for a Michelin Star.  Framed: 15 1/2" x 37 1/2". Inventory # 4305. $300.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

During my very first week of an art residency at the Rensing Center, there was a potluck dinner to which most of the invited guests brought very exotic, locally sourced, organic delicacies. I blogged about it HERE ... complete with photos of a meringue coated red snapper and descriptions of a roadkill venison tenderloin prepared according to The Sioux Chef recipe book. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't generally cook at all.  In desperation, I brought deviled eggs in an ice cube tray and felt very much like a "fish out of water".  Yet, the experience got me thinking, especially about fusion cuisine, farm-to-table dining opportunities, and all sorts of alternative ways some people look at food preparation.  I knew that all the other guests would be horrified to know that for most of the remaining days at the art residency, I would be nuking frozen pizza and pulling aluminum foil from the top of ready-to-eat fruit yogurt containers. My priorities aren't necessarily "wrong", just different ... alternative!   

(Above:  Hansel & Gretel's Witch: Hoping for a Michelin Star, framed and sitting on my window ledge for photo.)

Within a day, I had an idea for a new piece headed to a springtime show with Flavia Lovatelli and Olga Yukhno called Alternative Storytellers. Within a week, I'd purchased a couple of vintage cookbooks at the Pickens County flea market.  There will be two more pieces made about Hansel and Gretel's witch.  This first one uses a 1940s instruction booklet for a General Electric oven.  Each of the five pages I used is altered with letters clipped from the rest of the booklet and from other vintage sources.  It was really, really fun to imagine a witch who was into exotic, locally sourced, organic delicacies ... and hoping for a Michelin star!

 (Above:  Binding the pages together using a curved needle.)

Each of the five pages has been fused to fabric for stability.  Each has been mounted to a piece of acid-free foam-centered board before being glued to the mat board.  This allows the pages to look as if "floating" above the background mat.  Between the pages, I used a metallic ribbon and stitched them in a criss-cross fashion using a curved needle.

By enlarging the photo above and the two below, all the words should be legible.  Enjoy the amusement.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pandora's Box

(Above: Pandora's Box.  Antique chest collaged with my childhood stamp collection. 10 1/2" H x 24" W x 11" D.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Since returning from my art residency at the Rensing Center that included last Thursday's reception for The Cocoon, the work created during the prior five weeks, I've been itching to act on several ideas that have been otherwise "on hold".  You see, being at an art residency is a definite "high".  It is the "gift of time"; it is an opportunity to focus on a new body of work; it is a chance to devote one's days to a particular goal.  I love this ... but there are also drawbacks.

One cannot just "switch gears" and work on something else.  Focus is great!  Productivity is wonderful!  Dedicated time is amazing!  It just doesn't always allow for new hair-brained ideas to roll into reality.  As ideas bubbled to the surface, I could only write them down ... save them for the future.  Over the weekend, I planned to let this happen.  I planned to start working on three new ideas for my upcoming group exhibition called Alternative Storytellers.  I was bursting with ideas about Hansel & Gretel's witch, King Midas' fictional cousin, and Snow White's nightlife.  I'd been thinking about these ideas for WEEKS.

(Above:  Pandora's Box, antique chest collaged with my childhood postage stamp collection and the framed "alternative" story with a feminist twist.  Framed work: 28" x 19 1/2"; unframed: 23" x 15".  Collaged letters clipped from vintage ephemera on faux-finished watercolor paper.)

Yet, something happened with my careful planning.  Another alternative story popped up on Friday night with the purchase of a small, antique chest filled with turn-of-the-last-century photographs.  I bought them for the photographs but unexpectedly found instant inspiration in the chest ... Pandora's Box!  All earlier ideas are still "on hold" but I will get to them!

Even with so many other ideas brewing in my head, I couldn't help myself.  I knew exactly what I wanted to do and say through this old chest.  I sanded all the wooden surfaces, got out my childhood stamp album, and loved every minute of the transformation.  My husband Steve watched in horror and fascination. As a kid, he collected stamps too ... and wasn't about to let me touch his album or the one he inherited from his Dad.

We talked about the lazy weekend days adhering little, gummed hinges to the reverse of canceled postage stamps.  Steve daydreamed about finding a rare, Inverted Jenny, the 1918 mint accident that depicted an upside down Curtiss JN-4 airplane.  He hoped his collection would become valuable.  I never thought about money when pasting my collection into the album.  I dreamed about all the pretty pictures and hoped to have at least one stamp from every country.  I wanted to fill the pages.  I liked the colors and the idea of touching a piece of paper that had traveled to a faraway place before I was born.  So, for me, dismantling that album into an artwork seemed appropriate and wonderful and a way for my stamps to continue traveling the world.

(Steve couldn't help himself.  He lent a hand.  He soaked off some of the stamps still attached to corners of envelopes.  He offered advice ... and one day he might decide his stamps will become art too!  I have high hopes because it was so much fun!)

Alone, an antique chest covered with old, canceled postage stamps is not necessarily "art" nor does it tell an alternative story. I knew this. So, while collaging the chest, I thought about Pandora and her box.  I thought about all the evils of the world being unleashed.  I thought about the remaining virtue of hope.  I did a little research.  I read plenty of articles that documented translation errors and dual meanings.  Then, I wrote the story!

Here it is:

Pandora's Box

Dear John aka Epimetheus: Foolish Titan of Greek Myth

I know you told me not to open the special box because it would unleash all sorts of evils, but I did! There are now dirty dished in the sink, dust bunnies under the bed, mildew in the shower, and every stitch of clothing needs washed. The evils of a patriarchal society have escaped.  I have taken the box with me and will travel the world spreading awareness of equality. I leave only HOPE behind. Treat her well and she might stay. Since I'm gone, you will tell a different sotry, but this is the TRUTH about my box.


I had a wonderful time making this piece and am looking forward to the ideas I put "on hold".  In the meantime, I'm playing catch up with all the custom picture framing work that piled up in my absence during the art residency.  Time away is grand. Time back in my home studio is equally grand.  Focus and exploration are needed in equal measure to keep the creative ball rolling!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Cocoon, a fiber installation by Susan Lenz

The Cocoon at the Rensing Library

 (Above:  Me stitching inside The Cocoon.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last Thursday was a wonderfully exciting day.  Not only was my installation, The Cocoon, already receiving visitors in the Rensing Center Library, but Libby Dallis, a multi-media specialist with SCETV (South Carolina Educational Television) came to interview me on film.  It was quite amazing to see the professional equipment being erected and put into use.

(Above:  Libby Dallis, setting up her equipment.)

Libby had already sent a list of questions.  We talked about my concepts, my TEDx talk that inspired this installation, the SC Arts Commission grant that helped fund the project, and the hopes that The Cocoon will find future venues.

 (Above:  Libby interviewing me inside The Cocoon.)

Libby was quite thorough and spent several hours capturing detail images and watching people view the installation during the evening's reception, including ...

... the children who really did add one of the available yoyo-s to the existing panels.  


It is my fond hope that more people will want to share stitches and embellishments to the installation.  Yet, I know that few will actually get to experience The Cocoon in person.  My husband Steve suggested a video.  He even shot one!  CLICK HERE for this You Tube video of The Cocoon!

(Above:  Steven Chapp posing beside his mother's 1948 satin wedding gown.)

One of the best moments of the day was a visit from printmaker Steven Chapp.  Steven donated his mother's incredible satin wedding dress to the installation.

Another special touch was the delectable canapes and deviled eggs served beside colorful flower arrangements.  The Rensing Center's board member Ron Few was in charge of hospitality.  I am so very, very grateful for his time, attention to details, and theatrical arrangements.

(Above:  Staff members/volunteers for the Oconee Cultivation Project viewing The Cocoon.)

On Friday morning, fifteen teenagers from the Oconee Cultivation Project came to the Rensing Center to learn about bees and other pollinators. Before embarking on this activity, they toured The Cocoon.  Because it is a bit tricky to receive permission to photograph and blog/publish images of minors, I took only images of the staff/adults!  (It was easy to ask the parents of the children attending the reception ... but not on a summer camp sort of workshop!)

(Above:  Katrina Black, a Parks & Recreation PhD candidate at Clemson University specializing in youth programming development.)

So ... I couldn't snap pictures of the teenagers but I could capture the dreamy look of one of their supervisors, Katrina Black, who recently became engaged and found the nostalgia of the wedding dress a perfect way to remember her family's sense of "home" and all their marriages!

Shortly after taking this picture, Steve and I had to dismantle The Cocoon.  It took only one-hour-and-fifteen minutes to take down all the panels, fold them over the heavy-duty hangers, walk the hangers to the cargo van, dismantle the pipe structure, and say good-bye.  I'm now back home putting the finishing touches on the final report for the South Carolina Arts Commission's successful grant!  Soon, I'll be working on an exhibition proposal and hoping to erect The Cocoon again!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Cocoon Gets Finished and Installed

 (Above:  Inside The Cocoon at the Rensing Center Library.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Yesterday and today have been simply grand!  The vision in my head became a physical reality. The Cocoon is mostly installed in the Rensing Center Library.  I've got a few finishing touches to add (like threaded needles and buttons on the little, round table ... something visitors can use!), but otherwise I'm ready for Thursday evening's art reception, 6 - 8 pm.  If you are in the area, please come!

 (Above:  The front side of the last two panels created for The Cocoon.)

Before writing about the process of transporting and installing, I'd like to share the last two panels created.  The one on the left has three different petticoats below a simple camisole on top of a pink tablecloth. The other panel was more complicated.  The decorative edges of five different bed sheets were removed and stitched into strips and decorated with yoyo-s.  The rest of the cotton sheets were donated to the Rensing Center for an upcoming indigo dyeing workshop.

 (Above:  The back of the last two panels.)

It's been great fun deciding how to incorporate my stash of mismatched, often damaged, generally well worn and neglected old textiles.  Yet, I've run out of hangers and I know I've made more panels than can be on display Thursday night.

(Above:  Spoonflower printed labels with the South Carolina Arts Commission and other funding information ... ready to be ironed onto sixteen different panels.)

One of the last things I did was to attach sixteen labels to various panels.  I designed the labels in Photoshop and ordered a "fat quarter" of them from Spoonflower.  Wonder Under (a heat-activated adhesive) was ironed to the label's reverse and then onto the panels.  Each label includes the official logo for the SC Arts Commission and the following statement:  Funded in part by the SC Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC. Including this information is part of the agreement for the funding.  The funding assisted with the purchase of the pipe system on which The Cocoon is built.

Finally, I had all thirty-six hangers filled and ready to be transported to the Rensing Library.  (Just look how nice my label looks in the lower portion of that panel!)

I had what seemed to be a great pipe for my cargo van.  All thirty-six hangers fit nicely on it.  I thought it was brilliant ... until I tried to drive down the gravel path and out onto the paved driveway.  In my rear view mirror, I could see the pipe bouncing and bending under the weight of these textiles.  I knew I was in trouble and needed a better pipe!  I did manage to get to the Rensing Library, thank goodness.  It's only about one hundred yards away!  I unloaded my hanging panels.

Then I headed into downtown Pickens to Bivens Hardware store ... a real hardware store ... with an owner/manager and a knowledgable and hard-working staff.  The boss' nephew measured the inside of my cargo van, cut a much thicker pipe, drilled holes in it for hanging hardware, and chained the well-designed contraption to the cargo van's roof.  It can even be easily taken down later ... and put back up again when needed.  This service ran me $21 but I insisted on an equal tip!  It was so worth it!  This hardware store even sells my favorite, hand-cut, square Tremont nails!

So ... finally I was back in the library with the assemblage system in place.  The view above is how visitors will first enter the space.

This is how it looked from behind where the two chairs sit.

This is the view across the space ... obviously these views were before the panels were installed.

Now I have all the pipes filled but still have thirteen filled hangers.  I really don't mind the fact that not all the work will be on display.  I've known from the start that I had enough pipe system to erect a 20' x 20' area.  The Rensing Center Library isn't that large ... but hopefully future opportunities will require all the panels!

So, the rest of the photos are details of The Cocoon.  This one is in the interior.

In another indentation hangs the beautiful, heavy satin 1948 wedding gown.

Visitors will be able to walk totally around The Cocoon, looking at both sides of the panels.  The view above is one of my favorites.  In the distance is Rensing Center Executive Director Ellen Kochansky's grandmother's treadle sewing machine!


Between the skylights, the track lighting, and another set of double doors, one would think the interior would be awesomely lit. To be honest, the installation could use more light. But in another sense, the shadows from one side to the other are absolutely amazing!


With more even lighting, I don't think I could have taken this fantastic shot. It really showcases the elaborate designs of an otherwise white tablecloth.  The green color comes from a tablecloth on the other side of the panel.  The lighting for this particular view is stellar!

I'm very much looking forward to watching people explore The Cocoon.  Best yet, I can't wait to hear their stories of family members who stitched, quilted, and did handwork.  It's going to be wonderful!


Saturday, July 07, 2018

More Panels for The Cocoon

(Above:  Detail of gloves now attached to one of the panels in The Cocoon.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

The piles of vintage textiles laying on the floor of "The Pottery", my accommodations and studio here at the Rensing Center, are getting smaller. More panels are stitched every day!  Soon it will be time for me to move the entire installation to the Rensing Library for next week's reception.  (Thursday, July 12th from 6 - 8)  I'm getting excited! The Cocoon will be open to the public!   

 (Above:  Three more panels for The Cocoon.)

I've been hanging the newly made panels on this outer section of the pipe-assemblage cube and photographing both the front (above) and the back (below).  Of course, there really won't be a "front" or a "back" once the installation is set up.  There will be only "interior" and "exterior".

(Above:  The "back" of the panels shown previously.)

After I took these photos and the details, I took the panels down and hung them on my 22" heavy-duty bedspread/drapery hangers and immediately started stitching new panels to replace them. So, scroll down.  I'm sharing the details of this first set and following it up with the next set!

This detail shows a how I attached one of the small circular tablecloths to a larger green one ... and then put a blue apron on top!

Here's a crocheted collar that I attached with buttons.

I put a very small piece of crochet (possibly one meant to be combined with others and made into a doily?) on top of this great but damaged hand embroidered, cotton doily.

I love how the green curtain on the other side of this panel makes the lacy tablecloth stand out!

 (Above:  The next set of three panels created since the Fourth of July.)

Figuring out how to incorporate the circular tablecloths was a challenge!  Getting the elastic that gathered up the "arm part" of these colorful gloves was another challenge! 

(Above:  The "back" of the panels just shown previously.)

I was able to use a lightweight, ruffle edged bedspread as a backdrop to yet another antique, cotton dress.  Below are the detail shots of both the "front" and "back" for the second set of panels.  Enjoy!

I used six different cotton placemats on this panel!

The center of this circular tablecloth was embellished with yoyo-s and another, small lace doily.

My stash included several coats-of-arms for Scandinavian countries, and I found a place for each one!

Ironing an antique dress like this is a real pain!  I cannot imagine doing it without an electric iron!