Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Cemetery Flags

(Above: Cemetery Flags. 9'1" x 4'8". Assorted US flags retrieved from cemetery trash bins free-motion embroidered onto a discarded casket flag.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

For several years, I've prided myself on having absolutely NO UFOs!  Among fiber artists and quilters, this is highly unusual.  So ... what's a UFO? Well ... the letters stand for UnFinished Objects.  I'm a "finisher" and always have been.  Yet, I recently found a box in which there lay a UFO ... my UFO from July 2011.  I blogged about starting this project HERE.  I seriously meant to finish it. It went to my art residency at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas (2011) where I nearly broke my little Bernina sewing machine.  The bulk of 61 little US flags basted on a casket flag with a foundation layer of black, recycled industrial felt was just too much.  Apparently, I put it into the box and totally forgot about it ... including the time when I totally moved my studio home from a cooperative studio group.  I must have moved the box!  I just didn't open it.

(Above:  Ernie the Cat supervising the flags.)

As soon as I took the basted art quilt out of the box, Ernie the Cat jumped into the box.  This action really seemed like a sign to finish the work ... or at least not to put it back into the box! LOL!  After all, the box was otherwise "occupied" and I now own a Babylock Tiara, a machine that can handle such a big, bulky piece.  I then looked at my assorted thread.  I had a large cone of variegated navy blue, variegated bright red, and two large spools of a medium blue to white thread.  Perfect.  I was stitching within a half hour ... and I've been stitching for hours and hours ever since.  Let's face it; a casket flag measures 9 1/2' x 5'.  That's a lot of area for dense machine embroidery!

(Above:  Cemetery Flags, stitching finished but excess felt isn't cut away.  Ernie the Cat would supervise the final finishing touches!)

While stitching, I contemplated all sorts of ways to finish the work.  I happen to have two more casket flags.  (Like the foundation for Cemetery Flags, these casket flags came on table lots at Bill Mishoe's estate auctions from families who discarded their loved ones' military/memorial flags.  Hard to believe but true!)  I thought about using one for the reverse side.  Yet, the dense stitching naturally shrunk the area.  From an original size of 9 1/2' x 5', the final dimensions measure 9'1" x 4'8".  Because the piece was stitched while rolled, I never really saw it until placing it on our living room floor.  At that time, it became obvious that all I needed to do was to trim away the excess black industrial felt.  No back or binding was needed.  In fact, no 4" sleeve is needed either.  Flags have grommets!

(Above:  Reverse side of Cemetery Flags.)

I didn't really need to cover the back. The reverse side actually looks good too!  It shows the patterns I stitched, especially when I used a white thread in the bobbin.  Otherwise, I used a black thread, especially for the variegated navy thread.

(Above:  Detail of the reverse side of Cemetery Flags.)

I also worried about the heavy canvas hoist at the top of the flag.  Of course, it didn't shrink.  Thankfully, it doesn't seem to matter when hanging the work by the grommets.  I took the final images at Stormwater Studios where I had access to a 12' wall and lots of natural light.  My artistic mentor Stephen Chesley made the arrangements.  Thanks, Stephen!

(Above:  Photo from 2011 at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios ... from when I designed and basted the art quilt.)

Back when I designed and basted this art quilt, my studio was across the hallway from Stephen's.  In the photo above, my studio was on the left.  His was the door on the right.  At the time, I worried about this art quilt being a flag code violation.  Perhaps it is ... but I didn't throw out or consign to auction any of the flags.  I rescued them from the trash. 

(Above:  Cemetery Flags, basted and ready to be stitched ... back in July 2011 ... photographed at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios ... a place that no longer exists but was once where my studio was located.)

To me, there is something profound in thinking about the flag as a symbol.  There's also something profound in thinking about the people who threw these flags out ... flags that once marked a loved one's grave as a patriot, a veteran, a fellow American.  There's also something profound about the many ways artist and protesters have used the US flag for a wide range of opinions.  As an artist, I don't really want to put any personal spin on this piece.  I want it to speak to those who see it ... in the light they bring to the experience.  Below are some of the detail images I snapped.



Ann Scott said...

I enjoyed your story behind this piece, the photos of it, and Ernie, of course. I'd say you are the best that could have happened to any discarded flag.

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

just WOW

of course this kind of tradition is probably only in America - I've no idea what happens my country for anyone in the Military.

In the 2nd photo is looks like you said to Ernie "smile" and he looked at you and couldn't decide what that meant...his look is priceless.