Saturday, January 11, 2020

CRAZY (In the Millennial Age)

 (Above:  Detail from CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Finished!  Thousands of stitches, hundreds of anonymous photographs, dozens of old keys and clock gears, and too many buttons to count!  I truly loved each and every moment and even learned to use a thimble.  (Several of my fingers are nonetheless in rather raw shape! LOL!)  I've spent hours contemplating exactly why I love this work and how I want the title to reflect the concepts that drove me forward and kept me so totally engaged in the process.  This adventure has been remarkable, and I'm very, very pleased with the results.

(Above:  CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).  64" x 59".  Antique crazy quilt embellished with hundreds of anonymous photographs previously fused to unbleached muslin, keys, clock gears, buttons, charms and trinkets, beads, embroidery floss.  Hand stitched.)

I bought the antique crazy quilt more than two months ago but only started working on this piece approximately three weeks ago. I blogged about the first half of the process HERE. At that time, I was busy stitching around each photo that I could reach.  Only one small corner had any other embellishments ... which was my "sample" ... just to see whether or not I really wanted to add beads and buttons, keys and clock gears, etc.  (I did!)

At the time, an action plan was in place.  I would finish stitching around all the photos except those in the center (where I couldn't reach) and then I'd add all the embellishments (except in the center where I couldn't reach.)  Then ... I would take the entire crazy quilt off the stretcher bars.  So ... last weekend, I did. 

 (Above:  The living room with two pieces of thick wood atop two sets of workhorses.)

Two pieces of thick wood were placed on top of the two sets of workhorses.  One of these wood panels was the remains from Second Marriage, another contemporary expression using an antique quilt.  The other piece of wood used to be part of my twenty-five year old treadmill.  Despite an exhaustive effort with a voltmeter trying determine where the treadmill was "broke" in order to "fix" it, we ended up pronouncing the thing "dead".  Steve totally dismantled it but I saved the wood for this project!

The crazy quilt was then put on top of the two pieces of wood. Between the two, I could slide my chair toward the center and stitch that section.  It was hard but this approach did work!

Above is a photograph of a tray of embellishments.  In addition to clock gears and keys, I found sea shells, safety pins, escutcheon, costume jewelry, tiny locks, medals, minute and hour hands, Chinese coins, a pair of dull stork scissors, a mechanical compass, and several earrings that I loved but one of which I had lost.

As for the buttons ... well ... my stash is embarrassingly large.  I grabbed just a few, certainly more than enough, but I did try to place all the tiniest ones (probably for doll clothes) which I saved in a small container.  Seriously, what other project was I saving them for?

At long last, the final stitches were plied.  It was time to reattach the work to the stretcher bars ... but after covering the stretcher bars with acid-free foam centered board.  Over-sized boards are ordinarily 60" x 40" so I had to splice two together.

The face of the stretcher bar was coated in glue but I also stapled the foam-centered board to the wood.

Then, I placed the crazy quilt on top of the foam-centered board.  A few staples went in the corners until I could lift the piece vertically.  All the staples are now on the reverse side.  The side of the stretcher bar is covered by the original blanket on which the antique crazy quilt blocks were originally stitched.

Yesterday was a lovely, overcast but otherwise bright day.  I hung the piece on the garage doors and shot full and detailed images.  Below are the details.  Generally, I don't take more than one or two detail shots.  It was much too difficult to select one or two areas, so I shot lots of pictures.  They are further below.

The only things left to do were suppose to be simple.  Yet, it wasn't simple to price something like this and it also wasn't easy to decide on a title.  Many artists price by the square inch (or for some quilters, by the square foot).  There's 3,776 square inches in this piece.  With my "In Box" and "Stained Glass" pieces, I try to get approximately one dollar per square inch ... but those pieces are free-motion machined stitched, not HAND stitched.  Those pieces don't depend on years of collecting anonymous photos, old keys, assorted buttons, and clock gears.

Plus, professional artists with gallery representation really should always incorporate a 50% commission in their pricing.  It isn't professional to "raise the price" to cover commission; it isn't professional to sell directly "for less" ... that's an excellent way to permanently end a relationship with any gallery.  My pricing has always assumed that I'd be happy to pay 50% to a gallery ... and there is no way on God's green earth that I'd settle for $1888 for this piece.  Obviously, I was going to have to price this work at more than one-dollar per square inch.

So I thought about charging two-dollars per square inch ... making the total $7,652 ... but what about all the embellishments, the stretcher bars, the time spent fusing anonymous photos to unbleached muslin?  I thought about it for about an hour and decided to round up to $8000.  Now, I've never sold anything for that much money.  It seems like "a lot", but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is another way to think about pricing.

Without a doubt, this is a one-of-a-kind, "major" piece.  It took nearly a month to make.  I asked Steve what he thought a self-supporting artist ought to make per year.  (For several years I've been "making money" through my art career but I am NOT self supporting.  Steve and I still have to custom frame pictures at Mouse House to make ends meet!)  Steve's answer was $40,000.  My answer was $36,000.  That works out to $3000 to $3333 per month.  So, if a self-supporting artist had made this piece, she would have to charge over $6000 to continue living ... or $8000 in order to cover the cost of the embellishments, stretcher bars, etc.

It's not that I think anyone is actually going to buy this piece (though it would be absolutely fantastic!), but this piece deserves to be priced fairly ... for itself ... for the investment in time and because the concept is strong.

This leads me to the other "last thing" to do: Give the piece a title.

Even in the earlier blog post regarding the first part of stitching this work, I was toying with the title Crazy in the Millennial Age.   In that post I wrote:

I am also determined to transform the piece to speak to the 21st century.  I want the work to remind viewers that the original makers are as unknown as those faces from the past that I've attached.  This is about the "anonymous" nature of most household textiles and thousands of neglected family photos.  This is about the way the digital age has changed our relationship to nostalgia, snapshots, family heirlooms, and home decor.

It is also about many young people not wanting their family's heirlooms.  It is about the high likelihood that future generations are not going to remember their ancestors beyond names on an ancestry chart.  It is about the truth behind the original crazy quilt ... forgotten, neglected, unwanted, put up for auction, sold in a group of five quilts for just $20.   

This piece is my way of honoring all the memories held in the fabric, in the eyes of the people added, and the stories old keys and clock gears could tell if they could speak.  This is a piece about yesteryear and today, the past and the present, but also about the future when this crazy quilt might become as lost as all its parts had been before I stitched them together.

I feel compelled to write this because of one negative comment received on Facebook.

On Facebook, I posted some of the photos taken for my earlier blog entry.  Almost everyone LOVED the piece.  More than two-hundred people clicked the "like" button. Nearly fifty comments were written and twenty-five people shared the images. Literally thousands were exposed on various "groups" ... but despite the overwhelming positive response ... I focused on the one negative comment.

I do not remember who wrote it.  I deleted the comment from my page quickly because I didn't want to defend my work or myself.  I didn't want to remember someone who said that my actions were negligent.  The writer likened my work to the ways contemporary interior designers are bleaching finely knotted Persian rugs and how books are being destroyed by those altering them.  The writer's final assessment of my crazy quilt was that it was typical in the millennial age, an era of total DISRESPECT.

I thought long and hard about this viewpoint.  There is validity in it but there was absolutely no disrespect in my work.  I know that all the precious possessions in a family really can't survive.  It is all too much.  We can't all become hoarders.  There are often good reasons why pictures aren't saved and why crazy quilts don't get handed down.  As an artist, I rescue some of these former keepsakes and make artwork.  I give these objects a second chance.  I am using them to communicate truths:  Things get forgotten; People get forgotten; Nothing is Forever.

As a result over many mental conversations with myself, I've decided to stick to my "working title" but to put part of it in parenthesis.  Why?  Well ... no matter what I thought about, no matter how I loved stitching all these anonymous people together, and no matter how much I'd like to think that my finished work will "last" ... this piece might not make it into the next millennium.  That's just CRAZY ... and a perfect title regardless of the era.  So, this is now CRAZY (In the Millennial Age).

This might not make much sense, but it doesn't have to make sense.  It is CRAZY after all!

Below are more of the detail images.  Enjoy!


Quilt Queen Diane said...

Love it!!! Try contacting a hospital to buy it. It is so interesting to see all the details. And it is a great reminder how we are all related in being human! Blessings!!

KonaSusan said...

I absolutely love this quilt! In our world of constant movement, one has to pause to view each and every stitch, every picture, every object on your quilt. It is a stunning piece of art. Mahalo for sharing your work.

Denise @Playlearnteach said...

I adore this amazing crazy quilt with all of its embellishments and rescued photos. It’s stunning! Brava!

MountainMuse said...

My late sister-in-law was my kindred spirit in genealogy research. It was one of our common interests and emotional bonds. Still, while visiting her on the farm once, I came upon her sending family photos up in smoke on the burn pile! I intervened and saved a bunch for my own collection but she explained that many were duplicates and her own kids were not interested in storing them. As with art, antiquities, real estate and other “commodities,” value is relative to perception. In many an auction house one can find cartons upon cartons of family “treasures” that become more precious to strangers than the descendants of the original owners. In my book, the criticism of devaluing the elements of your piece, is a reflection of the critic’s privileged bias and has nothing to do with you. Most people cannot hoard objects, no matter their “value.” You, Susan, are rescuing, preserving, and elevating these elements to tell the story of impermanence in the human lifecycle. I find it not only beautiful art but also a contribution to our human history.

eileen2000 said...

Great idea

Lubna said...

This is a true labour of love. You have accomplished a great feat in creating this most astounding piece of Art. It defintely needs to be on exhibition for the world to see and appreciate. Many Congratulations. 👏👏👏❤

Sandy said...

Well, WOW! This is spectacular, I do hope it gets seen a few places before some lucky soul grabs it and secludes it from us forever. My 'theory' of using old stuff, collections from a former time, flotsam and jetsam collected over years- is that is is our way of giving all this stuff a shove into the future. An additional life, an expectancy no one could have anticipated. We are doing the culture a favor to bring things back out into the light for a new generation. So keep on amassing all this stuff. Too many people die with too few buttons- I figure we will live a lot longer trying to use them up!

Final thought- I spent days sorting family photos before my folks sold the old house. I put all I wanted in a huge box to pick up next time I visited with a big car, but when I went to the closet I had left them, the estate sale people had gotten too clean and tossed the whole closet full of my treasures. So I don't have my own pictures to work with, probably why I am attracted and collect OTHER families! Sandy

Ann Scott said...

Crazy, mind-blowing, beautiful. You have given life back to all of the pieces... IMO, $40,000 seems quite appropriate.

Susan Lenz said...

Thank you to one and all for leaving such nice comments! I loved learning a new Hawaiian word: Mahalo. Thank you for the validation that this piece deserves a price so much higher than anything I've ever successfully sold. Thank you for the understanding in regards to family photos, anonymous photos, and the conceptual way that I've used the ones in my stash. Thank you for the perspective that a negative comment is a reflection on the one expressing it, not necessarily on my work or on me. Thank you for reading my blog! In this day and age of social media when so many just look at pictures, I am very appreciative to those who read! It means the world to me!

Mary Ann Tate said...

As an ardent genealogist I think it's an amazing piece of work. Kudos to you and I hope someone buys and places it a public place where others can enjoy it too :)

Sandhya said...

Amazing attention to detail! I can only imagine the amount of work that went into this beautiful piece. Don't focus on any of the negative comments. Looking forward to your next creation... and I really hope someone buys this.

Createology said...

Being a very sentimental 70 year old and a Border Hoarder, I am in AWE of your dedication and amazing handwork to create such a Beautiful and Timeless Work of HeArt. Thank you! You are an inspiration to those of us who appreciate fine detailed and memorable Heirloom Treasures. Creative Bliss Blessings...

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

Yes it's crazy and I really think your pricing is fair, but I'm sorry I can't buy someone has said an organisation with public walk space who also will would put it behind glass is a great option. As I said some place else, I'm sure some of those embellishments are things I once owned/knew: people, keys and buttons etc...

I guess now it's going to be a "break" and then maybe something a little smaller...:-) OR are you addicted to big, bold and somewhat CRAZY...