Monday, May 30, 2022

Lola's World

Lola's World

(Above:  Lola's World, a site specific installation inside Gatehouse # 3 along Heyward Street, outside the former Granby and Olympia Textile Mills.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I'm excited to reveal my newest installation, Lola's World.  It started several months ago with a RFQ (request for qualifications) that included a Zoom meeting and lengthy application which was submitted to 701 CCA's selection committee for their Mill District Public Art Trail. After making it through this round, I was allowed to submit my proposal and eventually selected to transform Gatehouse # 3.  

(Above: Gatehouse # 3 with the Olympia Mill in the background.)

The five gatehouses were once the access points to the former Granby and Olympia Textile Mills.  The mills are now rental apartments, most for USC (University of South Carolina) students.  Each gatehouse is a 10' x 10' exterior, brick structures with a door on the back side.  Some of the gatehouses had only front windows; some only on two sides. Only Gatehouse # 3 had windows on three sides.  I was so pleased to have been assigned to this particular place.


(Above:  Installing wooden textile pirns inside Gatehouse # 3).

My proposal included this paragraph: 

The interior of the gatehouse will be transformed with hundreds of suspended, authentic, textile pirns (commonly ... though incorrectly ... known as "spindles"); a mass of unraveled sewing thread (floor); a life-size, quilted image of textile worker Lola Derrick Byars; and a framed quotation.

Like my recent Pirn Installation at the Cambria Hotel, I attached twine in different lengths to the individual pirns. On one end of the twine, a screw was held by a firm knot.  The twine was then wrapped around the pern and safety pinned in place.  This was done so that the perns didn't become impossibly tangled.  Seven boxes were used ... for different lengths ... from 1' to 7'.  One at a time, the perns were unpinned and screwed into the wooden ceiling.  Approximately 180 were suspended.


(Above:  The provided image of Lola Derrick Byars.)

Before doing all this, I had to create the life-sized art quilt.  A friend had the image of young Lola and sent me a high resolution scan.  Using Photoshop, I removed the background, uploaded my image to Spoonflower, and waited for the cotton fabric to come in the mail.


(Above:  Ernie the Cat helping to baste the fabric to synthetic felt.)

I ironed the fabric and basted it to a substrata of felt.  Ernie the Cat wanted to help. 

The piece was free-motion stitched in my studio.  (Ernie the Cat was nearby but camera shy!)

The entire background was stitched in small circles.  Black thread outlined and defined much of Lola's dress but not her face.  The shrinkage from the densely stitched areas can cause the foreground to pucker ... but I like this!  I know just what to do!

 (Above:  The reverse side of the art quilt showing the stuffing technique known as trapunto.)

I made careful slits in the felt and inserted additional pieces of felt ... effectively "stuffing" the area.  This technique is called trapunto.  It results in a 3D effect which increases the realism of Lola.


There was one other, important stitched addition to the art quilt ... an accreditation to the owner of the original photo. My friend promised Merelene H. Byars-Klutzow that any future use of the image would acknowledge her ownership.  Though Merelene died a year or so ago, it was only appropriate to thank her once again. 

(Above:  A stretcher bar with acid-free foam-centered board glued and stapled to the front.)

After stitching and "stuffing", the art quilt was stapled to a stretcher bar over which a piece of acid-free foam-centered board was stapled and glued. 

(Above:  Lola, an art quilt stretched and ready to be framed.)

Once on the stretcher bar, the piece was put into an ornate silver frame.  Also, Lola's words were printed on a professional sign and framed similarly.

(Above:  The top of the art quilt with Lola's quotation on the signage above the Gatehouse door.)

Lola's quotation came from a document called 'The Industrial Revolution Comes to Columbia: Red Brick Beacons of Hope". In it, Lola recalls her childhood:

 We lived on a farm so poor it would grow nothing but rocks. My daddy cut cord
wood on the side to buy food. He heard about the mills opening in Columbia and
one day he just decided to load up all our belongings and us onto the wagon and
come to Columbia. He drove that old wagon onto the ferry at the Broad River and
crossed. We went straight to the Granby Mill Village in 1898 and he went to the
mill to get a job. I was eight years old and worked in the Granby Mill until the
Olympia Mill opened and then went to work there. We got one of those nice houses
on Fifth Street. I was an experienced worker when I reached twelve years of age and
could run eight sides. I had two new dresses and plenty of good food.

(Above:  The signage above the door in Gatehouse #3.)

I used only the one sentence from the fuller quotation. Why?  Well, the Gatehouse is actually locked.  Viewing for the coming year will only be through the windows. I wanted the words to be large enough to read.  By the way, my camera didn't capture the same coloration for the sign and the background of the art quilt.  They are actually the same!

(Above:  Found objects on the east facing window sill.)

Knowing that people would peer into the space from the windows, I decided to add a few found objects on the east facing window sill.  There are two miniature books, square cut nails, a crochet hook, scissors, a lid from a can of vintage silver cleaner, a lock with key, and a sewing machine drawer filled with WWII ration stamps, a salt & pepper shaker set, and a candy tin.

(Above:  Found objects on the west facing window ledge.)

On the west facing window was a narrow ledge. I placed a vintage crochet runner on it and then added several found objects ... including a vintage cloth tape measure, two embroidered handkerchiefs, a broken silver-plated serving spoon, an old pin cushion, a blue porcelain plate, another sewing machine drawer filled with clothespins and hanks of silk embroidery floss, etc.  

(Above:  Gatehouse # 3 after the pirns were suspended and before the rest of the interior was arranged.)

Putting the interior together was a challenge.  Why?  Well, the pirns obviously had to be suspended first.  There isn't room inside for "the stuff" plus the ladder!  I had to do all the "ladder work" first.  Then, I had to crawl around under the suspended perns in order to finish the installation.


(Above:  Looking upward to the suspended pirns.)

Wisely, I didn't suspend longer pirns near the doorway.  Directly inside the door, I placed an old shelving unit to which I screwed one half of an aluminum Z-clip French hanging strip.  The other half was on the back of the art quilt's frame.  The effect really works.  Lola is prouding standing in her own world.

(Above:  The northeast corner of Lola's World.)

The last thing done for this installation was to spread miles and miles of unraveled sewing thread over the floor.  This thread was first used in an earlier (2014) installation, Threads: Gathering My Thoughts. It's been in three other locations before now ... once at the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum in Arizona as that year's proposal winner ... once at ArtFields, a competition in Lake City, SC ... and once at the South Carolina State library.  Some of the thread was used for Exposed Threads, a 5' x 9' 2D artwork now at the Cambria Hotel here in Columbia.  Otherwise, all this thread has been stored in three giant leaf bags in a closet.  Lots and lots of people contributed to this stash of thread!  Thank you to all of them!

(Above:  Lola's World.)

In front of the art quilt, I also placed two vintage baskets.  A crocheted bedspread and a vintage quilt top were piled inside them.  These objects, certainly things that easily could have been part of Lola's life, hid most of the shelving unit's base.  I am very pleased with this installation.  My statement for the installation is:

Lola's World. Eight year old Lola Derrick Byars started working in Granby Mill shortly after her family relocated to Columbia in 1898. They came in search of steady pay, secure employment, and a better way of life than farming had provided. When Olympia Mill opened, Lola went to work there. By twelve, Lola was an experienced textile worker living in a nice Fifth Street house where plenty of home-cooked meals were served. The intimate scale of a gatehouse will bring to life the focus and concentration Lola needed for her daily tasks, one of which was the constant replacement of textile spindles.

I'm excited to see what goes in the other four gatehouses!

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Six New Peacock Feathers

(Above:  Six, new Peacock Feathers.  Framed: 31" x 11". Layered polyester stretch velvet fused to recycled, synthetic packaging felt with heavy turquoise metallic foiling and a real peacock feather under an ultra sheer piece of a chiffon scarf.  Free-motion embroidery and melting techniques.)

In most modern, western cultures, peacocks are associated with Victorian era vanity. It's easy to understand this symbolism. Male peacocks strut their gorgeous tail feathers during mating season. The colors are dazzling. There's an air of confidence, beauty, and superiority.  I've witnessed this sort of elegance ... more than once.  It's striking.

Other cultures see peacocks as powerful. After all, they can attack, kill, and eat snakes.  I've never seen this and I'm pretty sure I never will.  That's okay.  It sounds sort of scary!

Peacocks are often symbols of royalty. In various Chinese dynasties, only the highest nobles and members of the royal family were allowed to wear the rare "two eyed" peacock feathers. Yet in other, ancient times and in many Indian and Chinese interpretations, peacocks symbolized ever-lasting life. This makes sense too. At the end of summer, peacock's molt; they lose their feathers and grow new ones in time for next year. In this sense, peacocks are like a phoenix rising from ashes. There is a sense of reincarnation in a peacock, and there are even Biblical legends that spin a tale about the peacock being the only animal who does not eat the forbidden fruit offered by Adam and Eve. In the 4th century Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, peacocks are plentiful. They represent resurrection.  I've been to Ravenna twice in my life and that's likely when I fell in love with peacocks.

I like peacocks because of all these associations but most of all because a peacock is really just a pretty chicken. I've always gravitated to the elevation of the mundane into fine art!

(Above:  Composite image.  From left to right, Peacock Feather XXXIX, XL, and XLI.)

These six Peacock Feathers are $395 each and going to the Grovewood Gallery in Asheville this weekend.  

(Above:  Composite image.  From left to right, Peacock Feather XLII, XLIII, and XLIV.)

Friday, May 20, 2022

Installation in Seattle

(Above:  The Triptych, my artwork installed someplace in Seattle!)

I blogged about this commission a couple months ago.  I didn't have a decent picture though.  I couldn't capture this triptych while it was here in South Carolina because I seriously don't have a wall large enough on which to hang it ... at least not a wall from which I can stand back far enough to take a decent photo.  Now, however, I've got this great image!  It was sent to me from Seattle!  That's where the piece went.  I'm so excited to see it on the wall!

(Above:  Capitals on Blue and Tan installed in Seattle.)

Yet, the giant triptych wasn't the only thing that went to Seattle.  In another crate, Capitals on Blue and Tan went too.  I blogged about them HERE.  Like the triptych, I really couldn't get a decent image of these two pieces either.  Between the glare off the UV filtering epoxy and my lack of location, I really could only imagine how they would look when installed.  Now, I know! 

I'm honestly not sure where in Seattle these pieces are now hung but I'm so proud that they are there.  It was a wonderful experience to work with a professional arts consultancy.  I hope they seek me out again!


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Exposed Threads and the Pirn Installation

(Above:  Exposed Threads, artwork behind the reception desk of the new, Cambria Hotel in Columbia, South Carolina.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I've been anticipating this blog post for more than a year.  It is so exciting to finally see the results of an amazing opportunity through NINEdot Arts, an art consultancy company that contracted for two, large commissions for Columbia's new Cambria Hotel.  From a proposal to negotiations on materials to the actual making of the artwork to presentation/installation, this has been an adventure that I just didn't feel quite right about sharing until it all worked out so very, very well.  Yesterday was INSTALLATION DAY!  Success!

So ... a team of professional installers arrived with a rental truck!  They carefully bubble wrapped the top and the bottom and carried the 105 pound piece to the truck.

At the hotel (which is slated for a June 1st Grand Opening), they carefully measured so that the piece would hang higher than the backs of the receptionists' chairs.  The metal hanging strip (also known as a French cleat or Z-clamp) was screwed into the wall's studs.  In the image above, this narrow, aluminum strip can be seen on the wall and also on the back side of the artwork.  As a professional picture framer, I had this all worked out well in advance.  I also had a careful plan for making this piece ... because ... seriously ... when asked if I could do something that measured 5' x 9' with exposed threads meant to hang vertically ... well ... I had to experiment before taking on such a project.  My experiment was shared on this blog.  ( I just didn't know if my proposal was going to be accepted and thus didn't mention why I was experimenting!  To read this post, CLICK HERE.)

I also shared the giant frame ... but didn't exactly say what it was for!  It's big!

Building the frame was only the first step.  Next, a white floater frame was built to fit inside the frame.  This was done in order to have "a ledge" on which the three, interior frames could "sit" and to which the three, interior frames could be permanently attached.  For these three frames, Plexiglas was cut and caulked into place.  Steve and I also sat each one on a flat surface and poured a little water into the shallow depth ... to make sure nothing leaked!  This was seriously important!  Why?  Well ...

The next step was to pour UV filtering/non-yellowing epoxy.  We couldn't risk this expensive material leaking out.  One by one, we worked mixing the solution ...

... pouring it into the frame ...

... and kneading piles of unraveled thread into the epoxy until the surface was covered.

Steve and I did this in the later afternoon, after our business Mouse House closed.  By the next day, the epoxy had dried and had attached the thread to the Plexiglas. This allowed a vertical presentation with no visible means of supporting all the exposed threads.  In the photo above, Steve is showing the reverse side on the left and the front side on the right.  All three sections were then put into the large, ornate gold frame with its white floater.  

Attaching the three interior frames and the French cleat was tricky because this had to be done on the back side.  At 105 pounds and with the three sections liable to fall out if tilted downward until attached, Steve and I had our work cut out for ourselves.  The piece was finished a couple months ago and has simply been waiting for INSTALLATION DAY! 

(Above:  The Pirn Installation at the Columbia Cambria Hotel.)

Although I wasn't the installer for Exposed Threads, part of the contract for the other lobby artwork specified that I would install my Pirn Installation.  Now ... many people refer to these textile mill objects as "spindles" but according to my rudimentary research, these are "pirns".  (Here's a Wikipedia definition with an image.)


I was asked if I could come up with an original idea for an installation that would link two interior columns and provide a "view" from the main entrance to the reception desk.  Thankfully, I already owned a box of blue dyed, wooden pirns.  I bought them at an auction despite having no real plan for their use.  I had 343 of them.  These were supplemented by another opportunity to acquire more than 1000 wooden ones.  This worked out very well because one of the interior designer's choice for wrapped wool was the same shade as the blue pirns.  Thus, the brown/wooden ones were used for the blue yarn.  (No ... I didn't select the colors.  This was part of the process of working with a design team, construction people, hotel management, and an arts consultancy!)  Yet, the idea and the working plan were mine.


My action plan was to first wrap the pirns with yarn.  There were two shades of turquoise, two of rose, and two daffodil yellow.  I wrapped them last September while at Guadalupe Mountains National Park as their artist-in-residence.  Next came attaching the twine and knotting a screw to the end of the twine.  Ten different lengths were used ... and put into ten different, marked boxes.  Because the twine would impossibly tangle, the twine was wrapped around the yarn and safety pinned in place.


Most of this work was done while watching television.  (Ernie the Cat is actually inside one of the boxes when Steve took this photo!)  Like the Exposed Thread, this work was completed more than a month ago ... and just waiting for INSTALLATION DAY!

Steve and I arrived at 7:30 AM.  In my mind, I hoped that we would be able to finish before the construction crew closed the building at 5:00 PM.  With a total of 500 pirns, I knew that if we managed one per minute, we'd be working for just over eight hours ... and that calculation didn't include bathroom breaks or lunch!  Yes ... we were both a little nervous!  (Okay ... I had permission to return today but that was "Plan B"; I really wanted to stick with "Plan A!")

I started in the center with the shortest pirns.  Then, I went to the ends and (going back and forth from end to end) worked toward the middle.  Steve and I unwrapped six to twelve pirns at a time.  Steve stood on the shorter ladder and handed them, one at a time, up to me.  I used an awl to start each hole.  It took a few attempts to figure out how NOT to let the twine twist around the electric screwdriver but soon we had a nice system going.  It also took a bit of planning as to how best to deal with the light fixture and the air in-take!  Thankfully, Steve and I work well together.


There is a perfectly beautiful, meandering and organic feel to this installation.  Even the hotel manager was impressed.  All the artwork has labels too!  I'm very, very proud of this project.  Below are two detail shots!


Sunday, May 08, 2022


(Above:  Steve and me early one morning on the Lost Mine Trail at Big Bend National Park. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last late summer, I was the artist-in-residence at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Steve flew out on the final day to help with the driving on the return trip. We spent a day in Marfa, an artsy town near the turn-off to Big Bend National Park.  There simply wasn't enough time to visit there too.  So, we planned a return trip via San Antonio ... because we'd never been there either.  Last week was THE WEEK!  We flew into San Antonio, rented a car, and drove to a rustic AirBnB rancher's cabin outside Terlingua.

(Above:  The AirBnB rancher's cabin that we rented.)

Many of my friends thought we were totally nuts when we described this place. There was no indoor plumbing.  There was a composting toilet (basically a plastic structure not unlike a pot-o-pot that was equipped with a bucket under the seat and a pail of wood shavings) and an outdoor shower fed by a cistern.  These are not the luxuries we really want (and seriously, the composting toilet was clean and didn't smell).  The luxuries we do want, it had ... air conditioning and high speed Internet connectivity!  As far as we were concerned, this place was as perfect as the Milky Way ... which was spectacularly on view every night.  We had a glorious time.

(Above:  Eating on the porch.)

Steve cooked dinner every night on the provided propane equipped Coleman stove.  We had local craft beer and sampled plenty of southwestern staples ...

... which included various spices and salsas (though we didn't actually buy the Fat Cat sauce.  I just liked the look of them on a grocery store shelf!)

(Above:  Starting out on the Mule Ears Trail just before dawn.)

Because afternoons are hot, hot, hot in Texas ... even in early May ... we stayed on East Coast time, got up at 5:15 AM, and were in Big Bend National Park before dawn.  We hiked several trails, including the Lost Mine Trail, Mule Ears Trail ...

(Above:  The Santa Elena Canyon)

... and the Santa Elena Canyon trail.  To reach the Santa Elena Canyon, visitors must wade across the Terlingqua Creek right where it meets the Rio Grande River.  We sat down on the bank to take off our hiking boots. Beside us was a couple from New Jersey.  They'd been on this trail a year ago.  They were shocked and explained that this creek is ordinarily only a few inches deep, almost blue in color, and quite clear.  But, it had rained a day earlier.  Water from elsewhere was flowing.  The mud was several inches deep and very slippery.  The water was thigh high ... but we all decided to go forward.  We definitely made the right choice.  It was a grand adventure.  The views were terrific and the chirping of birds filled the air with music.

(Above:  Steve wading across the Terlingua Creek on the Santa Elena Trail.)

(Above:  Panorama from the top of Lost Mine Trail.)

As much fun as we had getting muddy, I think our favorite trail was Lost Mine, a more mountainous path with 1,100 feet in elevation change.  We started this one before dawn too.  The morning light was awesome.

(Above and below:  Terlingua Cemetery.)

We also visited the nearby Terlingua ghost town.  Ruins of the earlier community are surrounded by shops, motels, and an amazing cemetery that is still in use.

The personalities of the deceased were very identifiable on many of the final resting places.
Other plots looked worn by years and weather, making the hardships of desert life apparent.

After three days in this area, we returned to San Antonio.  What a wonderful city!  I took hundreds of photos but strangely none were of the famous River Walk.  We opted not to ride one of the party boats but walked the entire circuit one evening.  The sounds, lights, and colors make this attraction festive every night.  It was so much fun. 

We went to two soft-openings at Blue Star Arts Complex and had lunch at a local brewery.  (We also met the Jane Bishop, owner of Mockingbird Handprints ... who took one look at my business card and exclaimed, "I follow you on Instagram!"  Now ... how small-world and totally super is this encounter!)

San Antonio might be the seventh largest city in the entire USA but the downtown is easy to navigate, especially when renting one of the Bcycles.  These electric-assisted bikes make sight-seeing so fun and easy.  The cell phone app tracked available bikes and their parking stations.

Our first stop was the Alamo.  We weren't sure what to expect and were pleasantly surprised that it was quite informative, not too touristy, and the grounds were very, very pretty.

Also in the downtown area, we went to San Fernando Cathedral.  Like many centuries-old churches that are still in use, there's a beautiful blend of past and present.

The domed ceiling had a distinctively modern feel despite its age.

Steve and I always like to visit an area's religious sites.  It was the main reason for renting Bcycles. We rode down the River Trail to visit the historic missions.  Each one was special and different from the others.  They fall under the protection of the National Park Service.

We visited all four:  Mission Espada, Mission San Juan, Mission San Jose, and Mission Concepcion.  Each is just a few miles from one another.  (By the way, the Alamo was also once a mission called Mission San Antonio de Valero.)  I took dozens upon dozen of photos.  Below are some of my favorites.

With one final day (well ... morning and early afternoon before our return flight), Steve and I went to Villa Finale, a National Trust for Historic Preservation site and the "final" living quarters of ninth generation Texan and former investment banker Walter Nold Mathis.  We chose very, very well!  This place was magnificent ... seriously "over the top" in just the most excellent way.  Mathis certainly was a collector's collector.  Every room was filled with amazing treasures, fine furniture, plush carpets, and attention to every imaginable detail.  Below are some of the hundred+ pictures I took!  I hope Steve and I return to San Antonio.  It was a delightful trip!