Monday, January 24, 2022

Mandala CVIII

(Above:  Found Object Mandala CVIII and me!  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Mandala CVIII is, to date, the largest in this series. I'm really pleased with it!  I'm also in debt to several people who have donated to my stash ... including my friend Flavia Lovatelli who gave me the ring of yarn samples.  That colorful ring inspired this piece.

(Above: Mandala CVIII. Custom framed: 40" x 40" when hung as a square; 57" x 57" when hung as a diamond. Found objects hand-stitched to a section of an old quilt. Found objects include: a fly wheel; two sizes of coffee K-pods; wavy hair curlers; green, purple, and orange plastic lids; a ring of yarn samples from a closed shop once located in California; expired medical devices in clear/blue plastic containers; aluminum brioche molds; keys; twenty, green, toy tractors; tennis balls that were cut in half; brown, ice cream container lids; and buttons.)
For the most part, I design these pieces according to the things I already have in my stash.  This piece was a bit different.  I imagined things I didn't have.  So, I'm in debt to my husband Steve who ate all the ice cream.  I needed the brown lids.  We also had to drink more grapefruit juice ... because originally I only had seven, green lids.  I needed eight.  Two friends provided tennis balls ... because I really wanted them in the corners but have never played tennis.  Many others donated to my stash.  THANK YOU!
(Above:  The old quilt used for this mandala's base.)

When I got the ring of yarn samples, I wasn't sure what old quilt would work as a foundation. Amazingly, this quilt was perfect. It came from Bill Mishoe's auction. It was one of several old quilts in a stack that brought next to no money at all.  Frankly, I thought I'd never use this one.  Seriously, the spots of red are too haphazard.  The pale green squares in the sashing looked totally wrong.  Yet, the ring of yarn samples looked better on this quilt than on any other one I own.  Who would have guessed?

(Above:  Mandala CVIII, detail.)

There are twenty, green toy tractors on this piece.  I've had them for months.  I never thought they'd work for a mandala.  They simply wouldn't lay flat on their sides. Sitting upright, they seemed "too tall".  Yet, the height of the yarn samples is actually taller than the tractors.  Who would have guessed?  

(Above:  Mandala CVIII, detail.)

I'm especially pleased with this piece and sort of imagining it in my booth at the Smithsonian Craft Show, April 20 - 24.  In my mind, it is my "show stopper".  Of course, there are several weeks before this opportunity.  For all I know, I might stitch something that I like even better!  I hope so!


Mandala CVII

(Above:  Mandala CVII. Custom framed: 27 3/4" x 27 3/4". Found objects hand-stitched to a section of a vintage, signature quilt. Found objects include: a film reel on which a part of an old typewriter is screwed; diamond-shaped, aluminum brioche molds; orange, plastic circles cut from a six-pack beer yoke; red casino chips; Heineken beer bottle caps; green, white, and peach-colored, plastic bottle caps; wavy hair curlers; part of a ribbon award from the SC Commerce Department; brown rings of unknown function; Starbucks coffee stirrers; laminated Green Back grocery stamps; woven straw beads; and buttons. Click on either image to enlarge.) 

I was nervous when starting this Found Object Mandala. The old quilt was a reverse applique.  Each floral motif included several, small openings in which a name (or initials) was embroidered in black thread.  Because of this personalization, few people really wanted this quilt when it went up on the auction block for bidding.  I was the only person who bid.  Success for fifteen dollars.  But I was also worried.  Should I pick out the stitched names? Would the resulting holes look worse than the names?  Quickly, I decided not to do this, but if I left them, would they take away from my found object design?  Well, there was only one way to find out:  Start stitching!

(Above:  Detail of Mandala CVII.)

I knew that I would need to add elements that would increase the visual contrast in order to have the black thread blend in.  To do this, I added lots of white buttons layered with navy blue buttons.  I think it worked!  I especially like the unique, undulating shaped created by all these layered buttons. It sort of mimics the shape of the applique!  How great!

The Steinway Mandalas

(Above:  Mandala CV. Custom framed: 22" x 22" when hung as a square; 31 1/4" x 31 1/4" when hung as a diamond.  Found objects hand-stitched to a large, vintage quilt block. Found objects include: Steinway piano parts; decorative, brass plates for drawer pulls; keys; coffee K-pods; tan, plastic bottle caps; faux-coin bangles; a silver coaster; a gold Christmas light reflector; a black beer bottle cap; and buttons. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Months and months ago, I had a solo show at Central Piedmont Community College.  Several of my Found Object Mandalas were included. During the weeks of this exhibit, the nearby Carolina Steinway dealership visited.  They were negotiating a new, grand Steinway for the new, grand arts building that was under construction. They saw that I'd stitched a few felt-covered piano hammers on some of the pieces.  They liked what they saw but didn't make a purchase.  After all, they'd rather the piano parts came from a Steinway.  They contacted me and initiated an amazing adventure!

(Above:  Mandala CVI. Custom framed: 22 1/2" x 22 1/2" when hung as a square; 31 3/4" x 31 3/4" when hung as a diamond. Found objects hand-stitched to a large, vintage quilt block. Found objects include: Steinway piano parts; soups spoons; keys; coffee K-pods; a glass floral frog; four brown rings of unknown function; and buttons.)

I couldn't create a "Steinway" Found Object Mandala without first having an old Steinway!  At the time, I couldn't imagine anyone getting rid of a Steinway!  Seriously, it's a STEINWAY.  Little did I know that pianos, even Steinways, aren't like 17th and 18th century Stradivarius stringed instruments.  Pianos aren't easily taken apart, carefully glued back together, re-varnished, re-strung, and played by the world's most gifted musicians.  Once the sound box is cracked or otherwise broken, repairs are more costly than a new instrument.  Repaired Steinways aren't necessarily "better" than a new one or even as good as they originally were.  So the dealership found an old, upright Steinway that had no better future than having its parts find a "second life" in my artwork.

(Above: Me ... in the process of dismantling an upright Steinway inside the cargo van.)

It took two men lifting and me pushing from the back to get the piano into my cargo van.  

Dismantling the Steinway went well until we could find no more screws.

Apparently, the sides and a couple other wooden parts are pegged and glued. A google search told us to "use a sledge hammer".  It seemed CRAZY but one little tap and it worked!  We are still trying to find a woodworker who wants the nice, mahogany wood.  We have taken the "harp" (the part to which all the metal wires are attached ... which produces the music) to another artist.  We aren't sure what will happen with this heavy, cast iron piece ... but hopefully it will become something "interactive" for the public.

(Above:  Detail of Mandala CV.)

For me, only the small, internal parts are most easily incorporated.  On Mandala CV, I used three different parts without cutting them apart.  Each individual key/note had these three parts.  I only had room for seven groups. Obviously, I have lots of them left!

(Above:  Detail of Mandala CVI.)

For Mandala CVI, I cut the felt covered hammers off the rest of their part and combined them with two other parts.  I really don't know the names of these parts ... despite having once spent hours in the Smithsonian's Dillon Ripley Center when Piano 300: Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos was on view. (March 2000 - October 2001).  It was a great show.  Yes, there was a Steinway or two.  I learned to appreciate this complicated instrument but not the names of the parts!  Anyway, Steinway's signature colors are black, white, and Old World gold.  Unfortunately, most of the parts of a Steinway aren't actually black, white, or gold.  The large, vintage quilt block is about as close as it can get! 

My agreement with the Carolina Steinway dealership was to create a couple Found Object Mandalas and to give them "first refusal".  This means, these two pieces will be offered to them first.  They are under no obligation to buy either.  These two pieces will remain on "first refusal" for the coming weeks.  Why?  Well, I am also creating another "Steinway Mandala".  It will include all eight-eight keys ... the entire key ... which is a lot longer than what is seen when playing the piano.  I'm very excited about this.  It is going to be really, really BIG.  By the way, this old upright was a much older piano; its white keys are real ivory!

Mandala CIV, a commission

(Above:  Mandala CIV. Custom framed: 15 1/2" x 15 1/2". Sentimental and found objects hand-stitched to a single block of a vintage quilt. Sentimental objects include: wrist and pocket watches, old keys, name plate, and AA recovery medallions. Found objects include: clock gears; four brown rings of unknown function; white bottle caps, and buttons.  Click on either image to enlarge.)

Accepting an artistic commission using someone's precious keepsakes is both an honor and a risk ... especially if the expectation is that the resulting artwork would be a Found Object Mandala.  I might have been worried or anxious or unsure of myself, but that wasn't the case with this particular piece.  The nice lady requesting this artwork has contributed to my stash for years.  She's given me piles of beautiful old fabric to use in the workshops I conduct.  She's let me know about her church bazaar ... where I've scored dozens of "multiples".  She's brought old quilts too and has followed this series since it started.  So, I was actually excited to accept this important commission.  The items were once her father's.  

(Above:  Mandala CIV, detail.)

He died years ago ... after receiving his 28th AA recovery medallion.  He is remembered with love and respect.  I don't doubt that his great grandchildren will adore this artwork long after I join him in heaven.

Mandala CI, CII, and CIII

(Above:  Mandala CI. Custom framed: 13" x 13" when hung as a square; 18 1/4" x 18 1/4" when hung as a diamond. Found objects hand-stitched to a block of an old quilt. Found objects include: A brass part of a table lamp; two different types of corn cob holders; shower curtain rings; yellow ducks from another set of shower curtain rings; felt covered piano hammers; brass screw eyes; four woven beads; four brown rings of unknown function; and buttons. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Less than two weeks ago I wrote six blog posts all on the same day.  I was trying my best to "catch up".  Silently, I promised myself that I wouldn't get so far behind again.  Something went wrong with this plan.  It's not all "my fault" though.  I ran out of the thin stretcher bars on which my Found Object Mandalas are mounted.  I had to wait for my order to be delivered.  By that time, the artwork was piling up.  Then, it snowed!  It was too cold and wet to photograph anything outside on the garage door.  


(Above: Detail of Mandala CI.)

As a result, I spent time over the weekend mounting and framing eight new additions to the series.  This morning, they were photographed.  If I wait even one more day, the next Found Object Mandala will be finished.  Thus, I am almost "forced" to blog another round of "catch up" posts this afternoon.  This is the first one.

(Above:  Mandala CII. Custom framed: 13" x 13". Found objects hand-stitched to a single block of a vintage quilt. Found objects include: The receiver end of an old rotary dial telephone; dairy pull tabs; dominoes; red plastic bottle caps and one red plastic jar lid; buttons and beads.)

I really like to stitch on more than one piece at a time. Small ones are ideal for taking with me to Bill Mishoe's weekly auction of used household item. This is one of the places where I've found numerous "multiples" for these mandalas.  It is fun to be stitching while waiting to bid.  In my TEDx talk, I called Bill Mishoe's auction house "my very favorite art supply store".  It is!

(Above:  Mandala CIII. Custom framed: 13 3/4" x 13 3/4" when hung as a square; 19 1/2" x 19 1/2" when hung as a diamond. Found objects hand-stitched to a single block of a vintage quilt. Found objects include: A red jar lid with a "silver, spoked thing" of unknown function; a blue bottle lid; dairy pull tabs; large aluminum can pull tabs; two kinds of New Belgium beer bottle caps; small, decorative, black clothespins (intended to be used on a cheap bulletin board); beads and buttons.)

Several months ago, I lost a table lot of "stuff" while attending Bill Mishoe's auction. (On Tuesday nights, "stuff" is sold by the card table lot.  Basically, card tables are loaded with all sorts of things that are sold together for one bid.  The minimum bid is six dollars.)  The only things of interest on this particular table lot were the little, black clothespins that went with a cheap bulletin board.  But, the table was full of candles, pots and pans, small kitchen appliances, padded coat hangers, paperback books, and other "stuff".  I approached the successful bidder and asked how much she wanted for the little black clothespins.  Her answer was, "There are clothespins?" I said, "Yeah!  Little black ones".  I rummaged around in one of the boxes and showed them to her.  She laughed and said, "Take them!" 

(Above:  Mandala CIII, detail.)

Sixteen, little black clothespins became the inspiration for this little mandala that was mostly stitched at another, Bill Mishoe auction. I still have more of them. Believe it or not, there were also several, even smaller, white ones.  They will likely be used in the future.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022


(Above:  Me holding one of the twelve In Box pieces that were created for the blue veneer frames.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Once upon a time, my Elements in Blue Series was framed.  That was about fifteen years ago.  Some sold.  Twelve didn't.  At some point, the twelve were removed from their frames and shrink-wrapped.  They sat in a print bin for several years ... until I had the opportunity to mount Blues Chapel at the Kershaw County Arts Center, a show that coordinated with a Blues Festival.  That was in October.  I blogged about it HERE.  

(Above:  In Box CDV.  Framed: 16 1/4" x 14 1/4"; unframed artwork: 11" x 9".  Layers of polyester stretch velvet on recycled, black synthetic felt with free-motion embroidery and melting techniques.  All of the pieces in this blog post are the same size and framed alike. Each one is $195 plus SC sales tax and shipping.)

For this solo show, I had to re-frame the twelve pieces.  Thankfully, my husband Steve found a discontinued BLUE moulding. It was PERFECT.  The show looked great ... but ... it's done now.  Okay ... six of the piece were selected by curator Harriett Green for my show Behold the Wonder at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Sumter, South Carolina.  I didn't even get a good picture of this grouping ... but ... they are there now.  Unfortunately, that show will come to a close soon, February 13th. 

(Above:  In Box CDVI.)

It became quite obvious that by mid-February, I'd have twelve blue frames holding much older work.  I really don't need the older work framed.  It makes more sense to simply shrink-wrap them again.  It makes more sense to create newer work for the newer frames.  So, last weekend I did just that!

(Above:  In Box CDVII.)

There was another, important reason for making this new work.  It is all wrapped up in the creation of 145 In Box pieces for the Cambria Hotel that is currently under construction here in Columbia.  Each guest room will have an original "Susan Lenz"!  The pieces were created using the interior design's palette ... blue and orange.  (I blogged about this HERE.)  After making that many blue-and-orange pieces, I started seeing "orange" every time I see anything "blue".  In my studio, "blue" just goes with "orange".  The two colors have melded in my mind.  Filling the blue frames with ANYTHING other than blue-and-orange was my exercise to eradicate the assumption that these two colors just had to go together.

(Above:  In Box CDVIII.)

Although blue and orange are complimentary colors according to color theory and every color wheel ever made, blue doesn't have to go with orange.  Why not purple? Why not red?  Why not yellow or green or silver and gold?

(Above:  In Box CDIX.)

No two of these twelve pieces is exactly alike but each one started out with plenty of blue!  It was great fun.

(Above:  In Box CDX.)

I worked on these pieces all weekend long.  By Monday morning, I was in the garage melting them, happy that I was no longer seeing "orange" as the automatic response to anything blue.  Then, I got an email from the arts consultancy company that commissioned the 145 blue-and-orange guest room pieces.  They want five more ... for storage ... in case something breaks!

(Above:  In Box CDXI.)

Hilariously, I am now making five more blue-and-orange pieces.  I guess this is an excellent example of "the best laid plans"! LOL!  The plan worked ... but not for long!  Perhaps I'll just have to make more blue-and-anything-else pieces next week!

(Above:  In Box CDXII.)
(Above:  In Box CDXIII.)
(Above:  In Box CDXIV.)
(Above:  In Box CDXV.)
(Above:  In Box CDXVI.)

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Catching UP: Round Six, Seven new Relics

(Above:  Relic CCXLVI. Framed: 13 1/2" x 11 3/4". Layers of polyester stretch velvet fused to a piece of cotton upholstery material with scraps of chiffon scarves.  A soldering iron makes indentations in the synthetic material. Each piece is then hand-stitched with assorted threads and beads.  Each piece is  $100 plus SC sales tax and shipping. Click on any image to enlarge.)

This is the last post for today!  With it, I'm finally caught up on my blogging!  I created these pieces in order to enjoy over New Year's Day ... a Saturday ... and on the Sunday thereafter.  Why?  Well, I knew that I would want to spend those days watching the Rose Bowl Parade and football games.  Thankfully, the Ohio State Buckeyes won.

(Above:  Relic CCXLVIII.  Framed: 12 1/2" x 11 1/2".)

So ... in order to be productive even while watching television, I prepared these seven pieces.  Three factors were involved in the decision of "what to stitch".  First, I am almost out of other, previously stitched "Relics".  Generally, I don't make one of these pieces unless I'm conducting my HOT workshop.  These pieces are the results of my demonstrations.  I figure that if I'm demonstrating as a "professional artist", I'd better not just be making another "sample" but making ART, a piece worth finishing, framing, and writing into my inventory book.  It is the best way to encourage workshop participants to finish, frame, and take their own creations seriously.  Generally, I bring several examples with me.  All of them are priced low, just $100 ... including the frame.  Many participants seem to want to own one of my pieces and this provides an affordable work to those who have already paid to be in the workshop.  Of course, I haven't had a workshop since 2019 due to the pandemic.  Yet, almost all of my examples were sold here in my frame shop or at local sidewalk sales.  That's a slight problem!


(Above:  Relic CCXLIX.  Framed 13 1/2" x 11 3/4".)

I'm hoping that my June 2022 workshop at QSDS (Quilt and Surface Design Symposium) in Columbus, Ohio fills.  I love teaching this five-day workshop.  If it does, I'll need these examples.  They are so much fun to make and they are the perfect lead into my melting techniques.  Everyone in all of my workshops finishes at least two pieces.  Most finish several more. 

(Above:  The seven pieces still stapled to small stretcher bars.)

The second reason for stitching these pieces has everything to do with a very generous friend who has contributed lots and lots of her mother's fabric to my stash.  She knows that these material are headed for "workshop supplies".  (Yes ... I bring EVERYTHING needed for everyone in my workshops.  The only item on the supply list for participants to bring is their own scissors.  Oh ... I bring scissors too, but mine aren't necessarily very sharp!)  With no workshop scheduled since 2019, I felt sort of bad about the seriously large amount of fabric my friend was donating.  I wanted to let her know that some of it was definitely being used.  Every one of these Relics was created on fabric she gave me.  By the time I finish one of these pieces, the original upholstery material isn't distinguishable.  So, I took the photo above so that the edges (which are under the mat board) show the transition from one design to my design.

Above:  Relic CCL.  Framed: 13" x 11".)

Finally, the last reason for making these seven pieces was about the frames.  I bought them for "next to nothing" at my local auction house.  None are absolutely perfect but I really like the "finished corners" on them.  I also knew that the interior depth would accommodate my mat, wooden fillet inlay, and the space needed to prevent the beads from touching the glass.  Each piece was designed carefully to fit each frame.  (Yes ... I cover this approach in my workshops too.  I even provide standard 8" x 10" mats with pre-cut openings!)

(Above:  Relic CCLI.  Framed: 13 1/2" x 11 3/4".)

So now I'm ready for June's workshop.  If, however, I sell these before the workshop, I'll simply make more!  Obviously, I can find an excuse for watching television! LOL!

(Above: Relic CCLII. Framed: 13" x 11".)
(Above:  Relic CCLIII. Framed: 12 1/2" x 11 1/2".)

Catchin UP: Round Five: Mandala C ... as in 100 !

(Above:  Mandala C ... as in Roman numeral 100 !  Custom framed: 13 3/4" x 13 3/4" when hung as a square. 19 1/4" x 19 1/4" when hung as a diamond.  Found objects hand-stitched to a section of a vintage quilt. Found objects include:  A gold Christmas light reflector; seven, bronze colored Dogfish beer caps; tiny brass hinges taken from small corrugated gift boxes; old keys; binder rings; antique, bone underwear buttons; clear sewing bobbins wound with yellow thread; four, corrugated centers from other Christmas light reflectors; and assorted sewing buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

It's been just over a year-and-a-half since I started this Found Object Mandala Series.  I remember a thought from the beginning.  I wondered whether I would have enough "stuff" to finish the mandalas stitched on the first old quilt I cut into sections.  There was no way I would have believed that I'd hit the "one hundred" mark, but I did!

(Above:  Detail from Mandala C.)

Little did I know that there were generous people willing to donate to my stash.  Little did I know that my eyes would focus on "multiples" while haunting local thrift stores.  Little did I know that the series would be accepted in last November's Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft show and the upcoming 2022 Smithsonian Craft Show.  Yet, all of this has happened and I'm continuing to stitch more pieces.

 (Above:  Mandala C when hung as a diamond.)

At this very moment, I have three more pieces under construction.  One is quite large. One is quite small.  All will be finished, framed, photographed and shared here on my blog!  Life is good!

Catching UP: Round Four, Mandala XCIX

(Above:  Mandala XCIX. Custom framed: 18" x 18" when hung as a square; 25 1/2" x 25 1/2" when hung as a diamond. Found objects hand-stitched to a block of a vintage quilt. Found objects include: an octagonal shaped cookie rosette; dairy pull-tabs; Christmas light reflectors; Bud Light beer caps; single serving coffee K-pods; gray hair curlers; red protective, plastic corners for beveled mirrors when being shipped to our frame shop; and buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Between the holidays, solo exhibitions, and my day job custom picture framing, I've fallen a bit behind.  I'm not referring to my artistic pursuits ... far from it!  I've been as productive as ever!  It's just that my blogging has fallen behind.  So today, I'm determined to catch up!  This is the fourth of several posts featuring new artwork made in late December or early this year.  In fact, this is the first piece entered into my inventory book in 2022!

(Above:  Detail of Mandala XCIX.)

Like several other pieces in my Found Object Mandala series, this one was stitched on a block cut from a rather poorly made Dresden Plate quilt.  Yet, I adore the bright colors and the challenge of hiding the irregularities.  The ring of white, plastic dairy pull-tabs hides the fact that the center really isn't round.  It's very lopsided!  The protective layer of netting over the entire surface prevents the fragile fabric and poorly plied blanket stitches from being a future problem. 

(Above:  Mandala XCIX, hung as a diamond.)

Stitching down the old, Christmas light reflectors was also a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays!  Plus, I'm gearing up for the 2022 Smithsonian Craft Show, April 20 - 24.  This series was accepted! 

Catching UP: Round Three: Mandala XCVIII

(Above:  Mandala XCVIII.  Custom framed: 17 1/2" x 17 1/2" when hung as a square; 24 3/4" x 24 3/4" when hung as a diamond. Found objects hand-stitched to a block of a vintage quilt.  Found objects include: a blue, plastic lid on which was stitched a decorative copper candy mold; white dairy pull-tabs; dominoes; eight electric toothbrush attachments; wavy hair curlers; white plastic water bottle lids; assorted beads and buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

This Found Object Mandala was stitched to another section of a rather poorly made Dresden Plate quilt.  The bright red background fabric is happily tremendous and worth the effort to figure out how to deal with the otherwise poor, original applique work and the fact that the center isn't really round at all.  Using the dairy pull-tabs, hid the lack of symmetry.  Over every one of my Found Object Mandalas, there's a layer of nearly invisible netting.  This netting protects the fragile material and damage ... though, one can see the ill-plied blanket stitch in places. 

(Above:  Detail of Mandala XCVIII.)

Despite the problems with this vintage quilt, I really do like the colors and pattern.  Each piece stitched on a block from this quilt is vivid and draws attention to itself.  I was especially happy to used these dominoes.  I've used other dominoes in the past but these are the kind my family had.  I'm very lucky that they were donated to my stash.  Thanks, Marguerite!

(Above:  Mandala XCVIII when hung as a diamond.) 

The electric toothbrush attachments came from a local church bazaar.  I am thankful that another good friend recommended this opportunity because I really scored all sorts of great things that Saturday morning!  Thank you, Sue!