Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Gift of Time

 (Above:  Cigar boxes in progress.  Key contact areas have been sanded away using a dremel and then painted ... to allow the lids to close after collage elements have been added.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I absolutely love art residencies.  They are a Gift of Time.  Every morning after I get up, make coffee, check email messages, and write my "Morning Pages" (a eleven+ year habit developed by following Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way), I have one thing on my "To Do" list:  MAKE ART.

This two month residency with Osage Arts Community has provided time to explore.  I have no idea whether altering all these cigar boxes will amount to anything or not.  I'm pushing through the struggle to collage so many surfaces.  (They are cubes, after all ... with six interior sides and six exterior sides!) I'd like to instantly be a "master" at collage techniques but I'm really only a beginner.  Being at an art residency almost means forcing myself to practice what doesn't come perfectly naturally.  I have the time to learn.  I have the time to think about potential concepts: Confinement but now also the notion of a secret place inside or even an inviting safe harbor.  The more I work, the more gets accomplished ... inside and out ... of me and the boxes.

I also had the time to start and finish an art quilt for an upcoming invitational show.  Unfortunately, the requirements include "not sharing" the work until later this summer.  Let's just say that this project would have taken more than a month if I were at home.  At an art residency, it took only a week.

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch: Some Things Never Change.)

This past week, I've spent all day, every day with the cigar boxes and art quilt.  But, the evenings are different.  I've been altering vintage cross stitch pieces.  Last winter I bought several at Bill Mishoe's auction.  They were all in cheap, skinny black frames ... a typical presentation for works made from pre-printed fabric kits dating to the late 1950s to 1960s.  I removed and washed them but then set them aside.  Why?  Well, there's a story!

In April 2014 I had the honor of presenting a workshop Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One of the participants had a selection of these vintage cross stitches and asked how she might use them.  A thought immediately occurred to me and I made that suggestion:  Cover them with your own stitches!  Make the work about then & now; past & present; old & new ... a collaboration with an anonymous maker in hopes that both are remembered in the future.

As soon as I voiced my encouragement, I also felt a tinge of regret.  I had just given away an idea that would have liked to do. I answered honestly with an action plan coming straight from my heart ... and appropriately for a workshop called "Second Life".  I know that a good teacher really should give generously.  I did.  I also thought that once I had given away an idea, I couldn't act on it myself.  I had GIVEN IT AWAY.  I rationalized, "Susan, there's not enough time in a single life to do all your ideas anyway ... just think up another idea".  

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch: From Dusk to Dawn.)

I resisted the idea until last winter.  At the auction, no one else wanted the sad stack of pieces.  I bought them for a total of six dollars.  Still, I couldn't bring myself to use them until this art residency approached. I knew that I would need a hand-stitching project (or two or three or more) for every evening.  These were perfect.  I stitched Some Things Never Change even before I left ... to make sure it was something I would like to really spent time doing.  I loved it!

Of course, I had to change the idea I gave away ... a little bit!  I decided to mount the pieces on a larger piece of linen and add a contemporary phrase.  My original idea expanded to include new comments on the old sayings or even a twist on the original intention.  Time allowed my idea to germinate, to expand into this approach.  Time is also necessary to accomplish this much handwork on this small amount of fabric!  Thankfully, an art residency is "the gift of time".

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch:  I Love Everything.)

After couching my phrase, I started dense running stitches with a tan wool thread.  To highlight the center, I added off white perle cotton to the outer edge of the vintage piece.  It's been so much fun.  Every night here at Osage Arts Community, I've been stitching and streaming episodes of Nurse Jackie on Netflix (a show I had never seen).   

 (Above:  Altered Cross Stitch: I Love Everything, detail.)

And now the rest of the story!

I am still in contact with the lovely lady from Arrowmont, the one who owned a collection of these vintage cross stitches, the one to whom I gave away my idea!  She took my suggestion and added batting to the backs of a few and rice stitches to the edges ... but did nothing more.  Like me, she set them aside.  Then amazingly, she sent me part of her collection!  I'm guessing the time was needed for the project to germinate into this series. I can't wait to add my work to hers.  This is going to be so much fun. 

(Above:  The gift from a friend ... given at the perfect time ... during a gift of time.)

Moral of the story:  What you give away might come back in ways even better than what was released!  THANK YOU my friend for a little miracle!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Dremel Saves the Day

(Above:  Selfie with a dremel tool and wearing my carbon filtering ventilator mask.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Well over a year ago when I first applied to the Osage Arts Community, I sent a proposal to transform my giant collection of vintage household linens into a soft enclosure called The Cocoon.  I sent the same proposal to the Rensing Center, got the opportunity last summer, and created the installation.  (To view the South Carolina ETV segment covering this project, CLICK HERE.) Then, I got accepted at OAC.  I notified the director that I had already accomplished my proposal.  Thankfully, this didn't matter.  OAC considers an art residency a pure and unrestricted "gift of time".  For these two months, I can do anything ... or nothing ... just relax, think, rejuvenate, dream up new ideas for latter, eat well, and sleep late into the morning. 

 (Above:  The back of my cargo van ... as it was packed for this adventure.)

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I don't "do nothing" very well.  I am trying though!  I'm trying to "slow down", take walks, listen to soothing music, read, write longer stream-of-consciousness journal entries (already a daily practice ... but a relatively short one!), and actually cook pretty meals.  (I don't generally do "food preparation" at home!) I've opted for more hand stitching and less free motion embroidery.  I'm also trying something new.

Because I drive a cargo van, I decided to fill it up with all sorts of things collected in my studio and in other places all over the house.  Most of these boxes are filled with antique books and magazines, decorative paper, handwritten letters dating to the 1920s - 50s, antique scrap books and vintage photo albums.  I love this stuff.  I've always seen "potential" in them, the potential of being transformed into art, the potential for collage, the potential for renewal.  Yet this year marks my sixtieth birthday, a landmark occasion and time to realize that I might never use these precious material ... especially those stored in boxes for years without me even rummaging through them.  It seemed high time to deal with this stash of "potential"; use it or lose it!  This art residency has provided the time to sort through and make decisions about these things.

   (Above:  Four boxes filled with empty cigar boxes.)

Not only did I bring the paper goods, I brought four boxes of empty cigar boxes.  I bought them for less than $40 at Bill Mishoe's auction ... because they had POTENTIAL for collage ... because along with vintage paper, I adore boxes.  It seemed high time to address this idea even though I've never really been much of a collage artist (other than gluing clipped letters in "ransom note" style!)  So I started.

 (Above:  The first thirteen cigar boxes.)

The first few days found me sorting through the boxes, deciding on "what stays", "what is given away", and "what is to be thrown out". I'm happy to report that the cargo van will not be as full on the return trip as it was in getting here.  I gave away "potential" to another artist here.  I respectfully disposed of things I deemed no longer to have "potential".  I am now starting to use the "potential" I kept.  It's been more difficult than I imagined ... trying to figure out how to best approach to the number of sides on these assorted cigar boxes.  It's been hard not to be firmly planted in a larger concept, a solid reason for covering these boxes.  It's been difficult to "just making them pretty" without a good reason why.  Generally, I am driven by a statement not just the desire to engage in a process, a technique.  I'm trying to embrace the exploration, the random selection of materials, the slow pace, and an intuitive way to work. 

Of course, a problem occurred.  The boxes wouldn't close properly when paper and matte medium interferes with the tight fitting lids.  The solution was obvious:  a dremel tool.  Thankfully, Osage Arts Community has one.  I tackled all the boxes I'd started and then sanded away the key areas on all the remaining boxes.  It took almost a full day.  I wore my carbon filtering ventilator mask.  A dust mask would have worked but didn't have one of those!

 (Above:  Detail of the first thirteen collaged boxes.)

A little paint to a few areas without collage and a little wax over the acrylic medium, these will be done.  I'm already feeling much better about how to tackle the other boxes.  I hope some sort of concept comes to me if I just keep moving forward ... something about "containment" but much more likely something about "potential".  If "potential" isn't developed, it is doomed to remain a wasted opportunity.  My entire art residency seems like "potential".  So does the rest of my life.  At sixty, it is likely wise to evaluate the paths I can pursue in the days ahead ... because it is impossible to follow all the potential paths.  Hopefully, time to relax and a slower pace will help me decide what options to choose in my creative future.  As for now ... just the boxes.  Filling them will come later.

In the meantime, the first signs of spring are starting to pop up here in Belle, Missouri!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Red, a biomorphic abstraction

(Above:  Red, a biomorphic abstraction placed in a circular arrangement.  Flexible dimensions. As shown:  48" x 48".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I started out to make a boa for The Red Carpet Dress. I've made a boa before (2013).  It was for the Pantyhose Dress, another garment made from recycled materials.  The earlier boa was made from recycled packaging felt.  The red carpet remnant from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show is similar to felt.  I thought it would work pretty much the same way.  It didn't.

(Above:  Red.  Approximately 78" x 16" x 16". Recycled red floor covering from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.)

This spun polyester material is much stiffer.  On one hand, it made is super simple to cut. I just had to rip a pair of scissors up 18" wide lengths ... hundreds of times. On the other hand, it made it harder to stitch because the mass wasn't particularly flexible like softer, thinner material would have been.  Once started, however, I couldn't stop.

(Above:  Me holding up Red beside The Red Carpet Dress, a work in progress, and the remaining roll of red carpet flooring.)

Each 1 - 1 1/2" strip was folded in half.  The fold was tapered to about 1/2".  Each piece was then stitched to a red rope ... three straight stitches for connection and one slip stitch around the grouping.  This process took time but allowed for every folded strip to move in any direction.  After stitching all the folded strips to the rope, I carefully cut the lengths into narrow sections ... each one about 1/2" wide.  Still, the material remained stiff.

 (Above:  Red, detail.)

If the model selected to wear the Red Carpet Dress is willing, it can still be an accessory.  Yet, it is heavy and not particularly "boa-like" ... fantastical, over-the-top, bigger-than-expectations, a show-stopper ... but not really a drapery piece clinging to the shoulders!  In my mind, I can see the impression this over-sized boa would make walking down a runway and being pulled back behind the model on her return.  Yet, this might not work!

 (Above:  Red, a biomorphic abstraction.)

I knew of this problem very quickly but I also saw potential for this work to be a stand-alone creation.  Within an hour of the start, I could sense that the piece was taking on a life form, not a particular creature but assuredly the suggestion of an abstract being.

 (Above:  Red, detail.)

It wasn't long before I was researching the word "biomorphic".  I've heard it often and thought I understood what it meant ... and I did!  Borrowing from the Tate Museums website: Biomorphic forms or images are ones that while abstract nevertheless refer to, or evoke, living forms such as plants and the human body.

 (Red, elongated.)

The word "biomorphism" come from the Greek word "bio" (meaning "life") and "morphe" (meaning form).  Yet, the art term doesn't actually mean "life form", as in a REAL life form. It means that the object exhibits the appearance or other qualities of a living thing.  The term was coined by Alfred H. Barr, an art historian the the first direction of NYC's Museum of Modern Art, in 1936 in an exhibition catalogue.  Barr defined biomorphism as, “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.”  Well ... that's Red.

(Above:  Red, detail.)

Red took four full days to stitch but I think it was worth it.  I'm toying with the idea of submitting it to juried opportunities, not as a boa but as a biomorphic abstract work in and of itself.  (Although it is not lost on me that elegant, feather boas take their name from a snake, a definite life form!)

Thursday, March 07, 2019

White Collars Installation

 (Above:  White Collars, Fortune 500.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Three-and-a-half years ago I created White Collars while at an art residency in Wisconsin.  At the time, I was pleased enough with the results.  The short video most assuredly held promise because the thread suspended collars rotated slowly in the breezes inside the barn in which I hung them.  There was something visceral about the movement and the juxtaposition of pristine symbols from the corporate world floating in a decidedly blue collar space. Yet after leaving Wisconsin, I never did anything with the work.  Something was "off" but I didn't know what.

 (Above:  White Collars, in progress.)

I didn't think about the installation for at least two years ... until another bunch of antique but never worn white collars came up at auction. In 2015, I had twenty-two collars.  Now I have more than the forty-five used for this new version of the installation.  First, however, I had to think about what I didn't like about the first approach.  It finally hit me.  I didn't like my self-guided, free-motion stitching.   What was needed was a more industrial approach, words stitched in a computerized font on a digital machine.  Some people would say that I could learn this (and maybe I could have) but I didn't want to buy a new machine too!  So, I sub-contracted the work with an amazing lady who owns Scouts Honor Stitching.  I gave her my list and suggestions.  She stitched it all out.  We agreed that I would remove all the stabilizing interface to save her time and me money!  Perfectly, the stitched work was done in time to come to this Missouri art residency.

 (Above:  White Collars on the oak desk at Osage Arts Community.)

Shortly after my arrival, I started tearing away the stabilizer and thinking about how and where I would suspend them.  As I worked, I couldn't help but to notice the nice, antique oak desk at which I was working.  This is just the sort of office furniture that would have been where a man wearing a white collar would have worked.  It occurred to me that I didn't have to suspend the collars.  I could stitch them into the circular form they were intended to become and place them in neat rows on the desk.  (As luck would have it, I brought a bag of white shirt buttons with me!)

Back in 2015, I wrote:  Once upon a time, "white collar" had only positive references.  One on-line dictionary gives this definition:  adjective, belonging or pertaining to the ranks of office and professional workers whose jobs generally do not involve manual labor or the wearing of a uniform or work clothes and noun, a white collar worker.  This history of this term goes back to the late nineteenth and beginning of the 20th centuries when a white dress shirt was the common dress for male office workers ... as opposed to the blue overalls worn by manual laborers.  Upton Sinclair is often credited with coining the term.  

The detachable white collars for this installation came from more than one manufacturer.  Yet, many were made by Cluett Peabody & Company, Inc.  This place had been headquartered in Troy, NY and their best known brand was called Arrow.  Arrow Collar Man advertisements were popular from 1905 - 1931.  For years I've seen these advertisements!  White Collar meant upper class, high society, college educated, and the highest tier in the American work force.  A man wearing these collars was EXACTLY the man every mother hoped for her daughter.   To wear a white collar meant a share of the American Dream!

(Above:  White Collars, 60" x 42.  Machine stitched vintage, detachable white collars hung with t-pins.)

Times have changed and with it the associations with the phrase "white collar".  We've all heard too much, too often, and too many insulting and illegal actions done by a greedy, well-to-do, cheating class of white collar workers.  

So my list includes: Shirt & Tie Guy; Not Getting My Hands Dirty; Salaried Not Hourly; College Educated; Minimum of Physical Exertion; Married a Gold Digger; Status is Everything; Clean Shirt Everyday; Executive Level; Master of the Universe; Born into Privilege; Haute Couture; Fortune 500; Yearly Bonus; Country Club Set; Fast Track to Success; From a Good Family; Cushy Job; Lots of Perks; High Class; Upper Management; The Great White Way; Securities Fraud; Insider Trading; Boiler Room Operator; Hedge Fund Manager; Money Laundering; Plead the Fifth; Plausible Deniability; Ponzi Scheme; Financial Improprieties; Embezzlement; Cheating the Shareholders; Breach of Trust; Tax Evasion; Insurance Fraud; Racketeering; Pyramid Investment; Antitrust Violations; Corruption Charges; Mortgage Fraud; Mail and Wire Fraud; Pump & Dump Stock Scam; Corporate Scandal.

After playing with the collars on the desktop, it occurred to me that I could hang them on t-pins ... right on a wall.  It was fun deciding the arrangement due to the different sizes and styles of collars I had.

They look pretty good hanging beside my residency work table.  I'm now in the process of turning yards of the red carpet from the aisles of last year's Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show into a giant boa to go with the dress I'm making. Now that I am truly satisfied with this piece (and the many possible ways to display it!), I am returning to ideas I had back in 2015 ... ideas about "pink collar workers" (referring to secretarial, clerical workers, and nurses) and "grey collar workers" (skilled technicians, especially in information technology or any other worker whose job requires both administrative and manual labor) or "gold collar workers" (referring to highly skilled professionals in very high demand ... like engineers, doctors and lawyers.)  Obviously, I'd like to address "blue collars" but also the notion of a philanthropist.  After all, I don't really want to suggest that every white collar worker is a crook.  I wouldn't be at an art residency, qualify for grants, get many of the arts opportunities I've enjoyed and especially see great works in museums without the generosity of white collar philanthropists who make the world a better and more creative place!    


   Below are a few more detail shots of White Collars.

 (White Collars, Fast Track to Success.)

 (Above:  White Collars, Racketeering.)

 (White Collars, Born into Privelege.)

(Above:  White Collars, The Great White Way.)

Monday, March 04, 2019

The start of a two-month art residency with Osage Arts Community

(Above:  The front of the Osage Arts Community Gallery in Belle, Missouri.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last week was a whirlwind of activity.  I was BUSY!  Not only did I have to drop off my artwork for the group Alternative Storytellers exhibit that will open (sadly without me) this Thursday and finish all sorts of custom picture framing, but I had to prepare for two May workshops in Wisconsin ... because I'm not coming back to South Carolina after my two-month art residency with the Osage Arts Community in Belle, Missouri.

 (Above:  The interior gallery space, a non-profit/non-retail place for residents and others to exhibit artwork.)

I left on Thursday morning and arrived here the next day.  Already, I am in awe.  This is truly "the gift of time".  I have no obligations other than to "be an artist" ... and even that doesn't mean what I thought it didThe expectations are for me to relax, think, enjoy, honor "nap time", and examine my studio practice as it exists now and how I'd like it to go forward in the future.  This program knows that the best work might come later.  This is a time to grow in more ways than just productivity ... which is indeed a novel way of thinking for me ... even scary.  It challenges my preconceived ideas.  It is an opportunity like no other I've ever encountered, and I'm only on full day three!

 (Above:  My bedroom ... which is nice an dark at night and peacefully very quiet!  What's not to love!  It even came with a quilt!)

Osage Arts Community has several building spread over this tiny Midwestern town in which residents and fellows live and work.  I haven't met them all yet.  My studio and living quarters are in the back of the organization's non-profit gallery space.  The gallery is on the main street, well lit, and has regular weekend hours.  There's a common area/classroom too.

This is the kitchen which I share with a young couple, poets from Tuscon.  They are in a building across the street. 

My area is spacious and includes lots of natural light.  I have WiFi and a back door to a parking lot that so far is for my cargo van alone.

There are stairs to a large attic with four bay windows.  I can use this area too.  I took the photo above from the staircase.  It shows the rest of the studio space and the red felt dress I am making for ecoFAB Couture's upcoming August runway show of recycled garment.  I started the dress shortly after I arrived.  It isn't done, just a nice start, a good foundation for a piece I'll title The Red Carpet Dress

Last November as the Philadelphia Museum of Art Show was packing up, I took a section of the red felt-like material that lined all the aisles.  I knew I wanted to make a recycled dress from it.  There were hundreds of yards being stripped from the floor and headed to a landfill.  The material is a spun polyester, very much like a thick, stiff interfacing used to line purses or shape hats.  It is not biodegradable ... yet it is A RED CARPET.  It was put down because it really gives the impression of a Hollywood event ... a "red carpet" sort of occasion to which a really high fashion statement is meant to be seen.  The section I took fills my parking lot but was really just a small portion of what was being thrown away.

So, I really want to make a dress fitting for the red carpet is once was.  I even got an invisible zipper sewn into the back seam.  It works ... but not easily.  The thickness involved make it difficult to use.  I will leave it in place but will look for other closing options.  I will also be changing the front of the dress.  As is, it will be cumbersome to walk without the dress looking bulky ... but the back has potential to be a great train of trash embellishments.  I might make a boa too.  I certainly have enough red carpet to work with!

Trying to get my mind around the idea of easing into a creative mode (not going full steam ahead with a artistic to-do list), I spent several hours just clipping letters from vintage sources into my sorting trays.  It is mindless work.  It allowed me to simply think about art, not stress out about doing "something significant".

 (Above:  Almost "before" and "after" photos of a friend's beloved Christmas Tree Skirt.)

Before I started all this, however, I tackled a repair job.  A friend from Bill Mishoe's weekly auctions gave me her family's Christmas Tree skirt.  Over the last two years, she has given me all sorts of things, especially vintage household linens and antique garments.  She continued to say, "When I find the Christmas tree skirt, will you repair it for me?"  Of course I agreed but she couldn't find it until two weeks ago.  She knew it was in much worse shape than she thought.  The entire background was disintegrating.  She thought it couldn't be fixed.  Tearfully, she said, "If anything is salvageable, please use it for yourself; but if you have to throw it away, never tell me about it."
 (Above:  The four sections of the Christmas tree skirt.)

Well, it really was in bad shape.  Even the four design elements have plenty of problems.  I thought synthetic felt wasn't biodegradable.  It is possible that only the white felt is synthetic because most of the rest is really, really fragile.  Yet, I was able to remove the designs and carefully applique them to new green felt.  I even removed the rick-rack, washed it, and put it on the new skirt.  I had to stitch more than just the outer edges but I'm quick with a threaded needle.  It only took one full day to do!  I don't hope she likes it ... I know she will!
 (Above:  Downtown Belle, Missouri.)

Fixing the Christmas Tree Skirt seemed like a perfect thing to do while the snow came down and the parking lot behind the building became a nice, flat, white surface.  Although it is REALLY cold here (at least for someone from South Carolina), I couldn't help myself ...

... I went outside and made thirteen snow angels!  The view from the attic's bay window was great!

I haven't made snow angels since I was a kid (except for those few times in college when a little beer was involved!)  It was great fun.