Monday, August 26, 2019

Hudson River Valley Art Workshop, Frederick Church's Olana, Friends and Longwood Gardens

(Above:  Selfie of Steve and me outside Olana Historic Site in the Hudson River Valley, New York.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

This past week was magical in so many ways!  First (and very significantly!), my husband Steve was invited to come along to the Hudson Valley Art Workshops for the entire week during which I was teaching a five day "HOT" workshop.  This meant that I got to stitch during the drive to New York State and back, have excellent company, and share the adventure with my very best friend!  Plus, he was free to roam around the area while I was conducting the workshop ... scouting out all the best places for me to visit on Saturday and sampling local craft beers (many of which are currently in our refrigerator!)

(Above:  A visit to Longwood Gardens for the Festival of Fountains with family friend Anabel Pichler and her husband Mark Rybarczyk.)

On the trip north, we spent the night with Anabel Pichler and her family.  They live less than three miles from Longwood Gardens and had tickets for all of us to attend the "Over the Rainbow" Festival of Fountains performance.  It was incredible.  We certainly didn't see enough of this vast complex and hope to return in the future.  The greenhouses were gorgeous.  The landscaping was beyond amazing, and the show defied what one thought possible for coordinated lights, music, and spouting water.  What an evening!

The week at the Hudson River Valley Art Workshops was truly grand.  We were housed in a suite above the 24/7 access studio space at the Greenville Arms 1889 Bed & Breakfast.  The studio is perfectly appointed, large, well lit, and comfortable in every respect.  Gourmet breakfasts and dinners made the experience absolutely decadent (especially since the Greenville Arms is home to a chocolaterie called Life By Chocolate.)

The participants came from Ontario, Canada; California; New York, and Massachusetts.  The work produced was as diverse as the locations from which they came!  I provide lots of pre-cut mats but 3D work also emerged during the five days.  People had a blast zapping synthetics with my heat gun, melting grooves with the soldering irons, fusing layers of polyester stretch velvet, applying heat-activated metallic foiling, adding both hand and machine stitched embellishments, and finally mounting their explorations for show-and-tell.

On the final day, everyone shared their finished pieces.  The new record for finished work is now twenty-one!

Creating this composite of work was hard.  There were so many fabulous pieces ... especially lots of horizontally oriented work!  The photo above shows just a sampling!

 (Above:  The Rip Van Winkle Bridge over the Hudson River as seen from Olana Historic Site.)

On Saturday after a sad farewell to the Hudson River Valley Workshop, Steve and I went to Olana Historic Site, the home of the renown 19th landscape oil painter Frederick Church.  We had to cross the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole's historic site.  I was really excited to tour Olana.  Why?  Well, Frederick Church has been a personal inspiration for me!
 (Above:  Olana, home of 19th century landscape painter Frederick Church.)

Two years ago I wrote about this inspiration when exhibiting Saint Anastasia, a triptych that is now part of the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) traveling juried show called 3D Expressions.  (CLICK HERE to read the early blog post about Saint Anastasia.)  Two years ago, I displayed my work as one-night-only installation for a single work of art.  I wrote:

I was inspired by Frederic Church's 1859 unveiling of Heart of the Andes.  This mammoth oil painting was elaborately framed with a large, theater curtain.  South American plants decorated the darkened room filled with benches.  Tickets were sold.  The curtain was drawn, intentionally creating the illusion of a window to an exotic landscape.  The public was even charged and admission to witness this single work ... and allowed to use opera glasses to examine the details.  Today, we'd call Frederic Church's presentation "installation art".  This spectacle was an instant success, and the work was later sold to the Metropolitan Museum for $10,000.

To actually go to Frederick Church's estate was WONDERFUL!

The architecture is a mixture of exotic tastes and the interior a testament to the 19th century passion for collecting rare items and rich appointments.

Steve and I took two tours:  one of the ground level and another of the second floor.  Both were too short to fully take in all the colors and details.  95% of the interior is original to the home.  It is truly magnificent!

The tours were limited to twelve people, and our tour guide was excellent.

Frederick Church's studio included his paint brushes and easels.  It was drenched in natural light.

The floor plan was straight-forward and included enormous windows to vast landscapes and light.

Every surface was covered in collections from foreign travels ... from South America, Egypt, Jordan, and all over Europe.  Frederick Church and his wife entertained famous people too ... including Mark Twain and his wife.  I could almost imagine them in the dining room.

The grounds were also glorious.  Situated atop a hill, there were views in every direction.

I couldn't snap photos of all the lovely vessels, books, paintings, carpets, sculptures, and wallpaper.

My camera couldn't capture all the personal touches, bedroom furniture, damask upholstery, servants' bells, tiles, or textiles.

Every angle was beautiful.  Every corner contained an object of beauty.  Every nook held something precious.  I hope to return!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Going to Hudson River Valley!

(Above:  Window CLXVI.  Layers of polyester stretch velvet on recycled black industrial felt with free-motion machine stitching and melting techniques.  Framed:  19" x 17". $265.)

I've finished two more "Window Series" pieces just in time to pack up most of my studio for a great, upcoming opportunity.  Starting on Monday, I'm conducting a five-day workshop at the Hudson River Valley Art Workshops.  Steve gets to come along too!  This means I'll be stitching in the cargo van while looking out the window.  It's going to be a fantastic trip!

(Above:  Window CLXVII.  Layers of polyester stretch velvet on recycled black industrial felt with free-motion machine stitching and melting techniques.  Framed:  19" x 17". $265.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Fiber Vessels with Epoxy

(Above:  Fiber vessel, exterior and interior with clock gears in epoxy.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I've again been experimenting with epoxy!  The idea isn't a new one; it's one that's been nagging at me for more than eight years.  It started back in 2011 while spending a month as an artist-in-residence at Hot Springs National Park.  (I wrote about it HERE.)  The idea was to transform one of my fiber vessels into something like a "spring", a body of water-looking substance in which unique/mysterious/unexpected object might be found ... sort of like the magical hot springs at this national park. 

It was the first time I stitched a vessel with open areas, but more importantly, I poured tiny bits of a glossy acrylic glazing medium into the center ... day-by-day ... allowing the medium to soak into the fiber and finally create a little depth.  I added a few beads and sequins.  Naturally, this piece was selected for the National Park's permanent collection ... even though it was really just an experiment, something I intended to do again in the future ... but never did ... until now.

 (Another fiber vessel with clock gears and epoxy.)

Back in 2011, I was using some cheap acrylic stuff purchased at a big box craft store and marketed for filling bottle caps for cheap jewelry.  It was a rather amateurish way to acquire itty-bitty amounts second rate material ... but it worked.  It would be several years before I did the research to find artist-grade, non-yellowing, UV filtering epoxy sold by the gallon.  It's not cheap ... but it works ... especially after sealing the interior with GAC 200, an acid-free fabric stiffener which prevents the first pour of epoxy from soaking into (and through) the yarn.

Instead of throwing in beads and sequins, I sought more inspired objects to encapsulate as if frozen in time.  Clock gears are automatically symbols for passing time, suggestions of minutes and hours and yesteryear preserved for tomorrow.  They are also nicely circular, mimicking the shape of the fiber vessels.  So, the first three pieces had clock gears.

The fourth vessel, however, has a collection of knickknacks, including a plastic cowboy and Indian, a domino, thimble, a rosary, a charm from Germany, a Monopoly house, a tiny toy train engine, two marbles, an antique ink pen nib, a Squirt bottle cap, and a pair of scissors from a craft sewing kit.  The epoxy pour isn't perfect.  I still have a bit of research to do that will allow a slightly deeper pour.  The epoxy I've been using is a self-leveling solution meant for quarter-inch depth only. 

I sure hope I don't wait another eight years to continue this experiment!  I don't think I will ... but I never expected so much to to have passed since first hatching this hair-brained idea! 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sleeping Beauty and reasons for reworking older art

(Above:  Sleeping Beauty. Mixed media with fibers and stitch. 14" x 13 1/2". $350. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Once upon a time (2004 - 2005), I made a series of mixed media works using my digital images of genuine African masks and artifacts.  Each one was printed as a high quality giclee print (approximately 22" x 17") which I fused to fabric before applying all sorts of stuff ... including silk and wool rovings and snippets of thread suspended in various gel media, pieces of fused polyester velvet, and fabric paint along with oil pastels.  Some had free-motion embroidery. Some had hand stitching (This one didn't have any stitching!)

 (Above:  Sleeping Beauty, detail.)

There were easily twenty-five or more pieces in this series.  Several were sold.  Several were removed from their frames and shrink-wrapped. I haven't looked at any of them in years, and I might not have peeked except for a particular Day-of-the-Dead "call-for-entry" at Visions Art Museum in partnership with the New Americas Museum. I noticed that there was a size limitation of 14" x 14" but thought nothing of it.  I have several Grave Rubbing Art Quilts under this size and thought I'd enter them.  Then, I read the entry more carefully.  I had a problem.  There is a very specific Day-of-the-Dead theme.  The focus is on the Luchadores.  The prospectus reads: Lucha Libra or free fight is the name of Mexico’s professional wrestling genre which was named a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of Mexico City in 2018. Lucha Librewrestlers are called Luchadores and are characterized by their colorful masks.

 (Above:  Sleeping Beauty, view including the side.)

Well, I'd never even heard of this sport, but the idea of "masks" reminded me of the older work. Of course I know that West African masks have nothing to do with Mexican wrestlers ... but this particular mask was already titled Sleeping Beauty.  Even back in 2005, I thought of it as "dead" ... as in "lifeless" or "sleeping" or waiting for someone to remember a time when someone wore the mask.  Somehow (at least in my mind), this mask seemed right for any Day-of-the-Dead theme.  Yet, at 22" x 17", it wasn't even close to the limited size ... unless I cut it.  Why not cut it?  Why not rework it?  Why not take on a challenge to see whether I could transform a piece made fourteen years ago into a new work?

The very idea of reworking an older piece was once totally foreign to me.  I remember seeing the Dada show at the National Gallery of Art in 2006.  (Click here for a webpage about this major exhibition.)  Lots of the work on display were reworked several times. Many pieces had multiple dates of completion.  I thought, "How odd?" and "Why would an artist do this? Rework a perfectly sound piece of art instead of getting a new fresh start?" and "If it hadn't sold the first time, why spend any more time on it?"

Well, I get it now.  Storage is an issue!  Just because an owner wasn't found shortly after the work was done doesn't mean the piece wasn't any good.  Just because a piece is "good" doesn't mean it couldn't be "better" or at least "different"!  Why not rework an older piece?  Why not cut it up?  I cut Sleeping Beauty to 14" x 13 1/2" (because square was just too wide) and started adding hand stitching.  Then, I fused it to a piece of acid-free mat board and glued it to a stretcher bar cut to the same size.  I spent more time painting and distressing the stretcher bar's sides than anything else.  I'm quite pleased with the results, and I don't care if it gets in the show or not!  It was fun!

 (Above:  Paper tags for keys.)

While the paint was out, I decided to cover a few pieces of heavy watercolor paper and make tags for keys.  I also found an old, unsigned lithograph and painted over it too.  Darker colors were sponged on and ink was splattered over both sides of all surfaces.

 (Above:  Tags for keys ... in front of the Wall of Keys.)

I like having plenty of "tags" on hand for keys and for workshops I conduct.  After the page was dry, I scored and tore them into the desired strips ... but when I came upon the last section of the lithograph, I stopped.  Parts of it looked very intriguing, especially since the scraps from The Sleeping Beauty were sitting very close by.  Before I knew it, I made three little pieces for three old frames!

 (Above:  Cascade.  Framed: 17 3/4" x 12 1/4"; unframed 11 1/2" x 5". $100.)

Sure, I didn't design or print the lithograph, but I did paint over it and add the little squares from The Sleeping Beauty and the stitches.  How is repurposing an old lithograph really any different from collage artists who use images from magazines?  
 (Above:  Detail of The Cascade.)

Then, I put together two more pieces.  They are below.  I don't know that I'll spend more time altering old work but I will not rule it out.  It was fun.  It was a challenge.  It opened my mind to possibilities I hadn't really considered.  This is a good thing!

 (Above: Prairie.  Framed: 9 1/4" x 7 1/4"; unframed 5 1/4" x 3". $45.)

 (Above and below:  Summer.  Framed: 11" x 11"; unframed 5 1/2" x 6". $70.)

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Seasonal Leaves Commission

(Above:  Commissioned set of Seasonal Leaves.  Polyester stretch velvet on recycled black industrial felt with free-motion machine embroidery and melting techniques.  Each frame measures 19" x 15".  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Every Friday night while attending Bill Mishoe's estate auction, I play with my iPhone and upload images from my blog to Instagram and Pinterest.  I do this because so many people have told me, "Hey, Susan! You're a visual artist.  These are the on-line places that are specifically VISUAL ... just pictures, very few words.  You need to do this!"  Lots of these same people assume that I spend plenty of time on social media. The truth of the matter is, I upload and hope for the best.  I'm not one of those people who get sucked into streaming videos or browsing through thousands of images or listening to podcasts.  Sure, I still blog but that's my part of my personal documentation, and I like to write!  But basically, there's not enough time in a day to work a job, make art, and spend time on social media.  So I never really believed that Instagram was "necessary" ... but I could be really wrong about that!  Why? 

(Above:  Four pieces of black industrial felt with a heat-activated adhesive [Pellon's #805 Wonder Under] ironed onto each one.  The facing paper is still in place.  It was removed, exposing the adhesive.)

Well, recently I uploaded four Medium In Box Series pieces to Instagram and was contacted by a former client.  The conversation resulted in a commission!  Over the weekend I created a set of Seasonal Leaves. I documented every step in progress and created a PDF to accompany the work.  These are some of the images, including ....

... the foundation layer of polyester stretch velvet in seasonal color waves ...

... and the additional squares and rectangles fused to each unit.  Some are six layers deep.

Then came strips of chiffon scarves ...

... and self-guided, free-motion embroidery.  My husband Steve even shot a short video of this stage.  It is HERE.  

Each shape has a leave motif.  My leaf outlines come from this little paperback book, Tree Finder: A Pocket Manual for Identification of Trees by Their Leaves, by  May Petrea Theilgaard Watts (May 1, 1893 – August 20, 1975).  She was an American naturalist, writer, poet, illustrator, and educator.  The book was originally published in 1939 and reprinted in 1991.  I bought it years ago at Congaree National Park (back when it was still a National Monument).

After stitching, each piece was stapled to a stretcher bar and zapped by an industrial heat gun.  The photo above shows the work before ...

... the fringe was neatened with a pair of dull scissors ...

... and then stitched to acid-free mat board for framing.  In the future, I think I will pay a little more attention to Instagram and Pinterest.  The set is now on its way to a permanent home!  How wonderful!

Friday, August 02, 2019

Six New Lancet Windows

(Above from left to right: Lancet Windows CCXXII, CCXXIII, and CCXXI.  Polyester stretch velvet on recycled black industrial felt with free-motion embroidery and melting techniques. Each is framed at 31" x 11" and $395.)

I've been busy.  I need to keep going!  November will be here before I know it, bringing the prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show with it.  I'm determined to have as much new work in my booth as possible.  These six Lancet Windows have been in the works all week and are now finished, photographed, framed and ready to go!

 (Above from left to right:  Lancet Windows CCXIX, CCXXIV, and CCXX.)

Of course if someone wants to purchase one before then, I'm happy to ship.  I love making this work and especially facing the challenge of such elongated shapes.  Several of these new pieces can hang horizontally, and that's another great challenge.  Plus, I limited the palette on one piece. It was inspired by Greek motifs in my 1868 copy of Owen Jones' Grammar of Ornament. 

Photographing these pieces was easy today.  It was bright but also overcast ... perfect for taking pictures outside on my front porch.  I took several detail shots too.  Below are my favorites.

 (Above:  Lancet Window CCXXI, detail.)

 (Above:  Lancet Window CCXXIV, detail.)

(Above:  Lancet Window CCXXIII, detail.)