Monday, April 24, 2023

After a week of work

(Above:  Mandala CLIX.  Custom framed: 22 1/4" x 22 1/4".  Found objects hand-stitched to a section of a vintage quilt.  Found Objects include:  A fly wheel on which a toy motorcycle wheel was stitched; six toy convertibles; six International Atomic Star stainless spoons; keys; assorted coffee Kpods; copper colored can pull tabs; touchless door keys; four champagne muselet caps; four stain window corner brackets; external tooth lock washers; four turquoise pill bottle lids; buttons and beads.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I haven't written a blog in a week!  For me, that's a pretty long time ... especially when I've been as busy stitching as I have been!  So ... first up is this new Found Object Mandala.  It was inspired by the toy convertibles that were part of a table lot at my weekly auction house.  Stitching them to the quilt was a challenge. Drilling holes in them was out of the question.  A 1/6" drill bit would likely break if I attempted going all the way through the body of the car.  Instead, I tied 18" lengths of super strong thread around each wheel ... in the middle of the thread ... as in "nine inches on both sides of the wheel.  Then,  I threaded the ends and pulled the needle through the quilt.  The ends were tied together ... attaching each wheel to the quilt.  The rest of the stitching was straight forward.

(Above:  Detail of Mandala CLIX.)

I'm really pleased with this piece, especially the design of six cars on a quilt base that is divided into four sections.  Neither design element commands more attention than the other.

(Above:  Springtime at Noxubee.  Framed:  19" x 15".  Unframed: 14" x 10". Layers of polyester stretch velvet on recycled black industrial felt with free-motion machine embroidery and melting techniques.)

This past week also saw the finish of Springtime at Noxubee.  This piece is my contribution to the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge's permanent art collection.  Part of my recent art residency was the commitment to donate an artwork inspired by the experience.  The donated artworks are on display in the Visitor Center's auditorium.

(Above:  Detail of Springtime at Noxubee.)

The artwork is currently on its way to Mississippi!  Along with it, I sent the following statement:

The work is part of my on-going In Box Series. Each piece is a free-motion machine embroidered artwork composed of layers of polyester stretch velvet on a piece of black, recycled, synthetic packaging felt. The felt was once the protective covering for a kayak or canoe being shipped from a manufacturer to my friend's outdoor shop. The work was stitched using 100% black cotton thread. In the final step, the work is exposed to intense heat from an industrial heat gun. The space between the polyester stretch velvet shapes melts away in just a few seconds. This technique (which I developed myself) is very much like the prescribed burns done in the refuge. It transforms the area into something new and beautiful. In the "boxes" are stitched drawings of leaves found in the refuge. I used the "Autumn Leaves Scavenger Hunt" handout found in the Visitor Center. Although my visit was during the spring, all these leaves helped make my many walks more enjoyable. The colors I selected reflect the new leaves on the budding dogwood trees, the blooming red buds, and the light, sky blue that appears with every dawn over Bluff Lake. Thank you ever so much for the time and space for creative exploration, quiet contemplation, and new discoveries in nature.

(Above:  New additions to my Patchwork Installation.)

Earlier this month, I shared the start of my newest installation, Patchwork.  At that time, I was hoping to sign a contract for my solo show, Once & Again: Alterations with a new venue.  At that time, I'd already met with the executive director, toured the spacious galleries, and discussed potential dates.  At that time, I had a vision for this new installation.  I wrote that my mind's eye could already see the pieces "meandering down the length of the walls ... a running, linear arrangement ... flexibly hung with only the sides abutting one another ... pieces moving up and down ... around the corners ... above and below other artwork." 

(Above:  Detail of the new additions to Patchwork.)

Well ... the contract arrived, was signed, and mailed back!  Once & Again: Alterations by Susan Lenz will be at the Imperial Centre's Maria V. Howard Arts Center in Rocky Mount, NC from September 1 to December 31, 2023. I'm very excited but also need to continue making LOTS MORE PIECES.  September will be here before I know it and I really want this installation to wrap around the provided walls!

(Above:  Detail of the new additions to Patchwork.)

When sharing images of this on-going project to social media, I've been asked about my process and how I am mounting the work.  Well ... I start by stapling a piece of recycled black industrial felt to a stretcher bar that is bigger than the one I will use for the finished piece. (The felt is the same material I use for my In Box and Stained Glass series ... because I have an unbelievable large stash of it!) Using a white pencil, I trace the outer perimeter of the stretcher bar to which I will mount the finished work.  Scraps of old quilts are pinned inside the pencil line ... leaving about a half-inch between the outer edge of the scraps and the penciled line.  Then, I stitch the pieces together.  When finished stitching, I remove the piece from the larger stretcher bar.

(Above:  A composite photo of mounting the finished scraps.)

Before mounting, I've painted the stretcher bar black.  I use the back of the stretcher bar as the front.  Why?  Well most stretcher bars have a raised edge on the front.  This is so that a canvas isn't touching the wood except at the very outer edge.  I use the backside ... because it is generally nice and flat.  I squeeze a line of glue around the inside perimeter.  Then, I position a piece of acid-free mat board on the glue and staple it in place.  The mat board is cut a little bigger than the inner perimeter of the stretcher bar ... leaving about a half-inch or more of the black face of the stretcher bar showing.  The stitched piece is then positioned over the stretcher bars.  I "feel around" to align the corners and tack them down.  Then, using assorted upholstery tacks, I tack the piece to the stretcher bar ... mostly hiding the raw edge of the piece.  Because the work is about a half inch smaller than the outer edge of the stretcher bar, it is easy to tack in place.  Finally, I use a soldering iron to melt away the excess black felt.  The soldering iron simply follows the outer edge of the tacks. My recycled felt is the same sort of material as the "cheap" acrylic felt from big box fabric store.  Because it is synthetic, it melts easily.  

Monday, April 17, 2023

Mandala CLVIII

(Above:  Mandala CLVIII.  Framed: 21 1/2" x 21 1/2".  Found objects hand-stitched to a block of an antique quilt.  Found objects include:  An antique ambrotype of an anonymous lady; chess pieces; old fashioned, wooden clothespins; brass paper binders; blue poker chips; beer caps; eye glasses; felt covered piano hammers; fountain pen nibs; four wrist watches; plastic sewing machine bobbins; buttons and beads. Click on any image to enlarge.)

The antique quilt block was once poorly framed and on a table lot at Bill Mishoe's Tuesday night, walk-around auction of used household items.  I wish I had the entire quilt.  The fabric used on the reverse side was as lovely as the front.  Sure, both sides were well worn.  A layer of sheer bridal tulle went over the front of the block before I stitched down any of the objects.  But, once in its frame, the back will not be seen until someone opens the framing and un-stitches the artwork from the acid-free foam-centered board to which it is mounted.  Seems a shame ... but I think the mandala turned out really well.  

(Above:  Detail of the antique ambrotype photo in its Victorian era casing).

The ambrotype's casing needed a little work and was missing its outer cover, but I never wanted the cover!  The chess set was missing a pawn but I didn't need all eight pawns anyway.  The eyeglasses are all different but also all vintage.  Eight, oval-shaped jet buttons also found places on this piece.  There's a decidedly nostalgic feel to this mandala.  As a result, I decided not to present the work in a floater frame but to use a beautiful wood with an ornate but distressed gold lip.  I'm really pleased how it turned out.

(Above:  Detail of Mandala CLVIII.)

Friday, April 14, 2023

Entwined: A Group Exhibition of Textile and Fiber Art

(Above:  Installation photo of Entwined: A Group Exhibition of Textile and Fiber Art at the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art in Georgia.  Click on any of Brian Weaver's provided images.)

I've been fortunate enough to have had artwork in a variety of juried and invitational exhibits all over the country but rarely am provided dozens of high resolution images from either the show itself or the public art reception.  That isn't the case, however, with Entwined: A Group Exhibition of Textile and Fiber Art at the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art in Georgia.  Curator Madelaine Beck selected four of my Found Object Mandalas for this opportunity, was super easy to work with, and then sent a link to more than one hundred professional images taken by Brian Weaver. I'm absolutely astounded!

(Above:  Visitors admiring one of my Found Object Mandalas.)

The reception for this museum show was unfortunately on the same evening as my solo show at Piedmont Arts in Martinsville, VA.  Obviously, I went there instead ... but it would have been nice to be in "two places at once"! 

(Above:  The exhibition signage.)

This show runs through June 4th.  I'm most pleased to be included alongside the outstanding work by fourteen other textile artists.  Most of all, I'm pleased to see my work viewed as "contemporary"!  This is quite an honor.  Below are more images!


Thursday, April 13, 2023

Mandala CLVII

(Above:  Mandala CLVII.  Custom framed: 33 1/2" x 33 1/2".  Found objects hand-stitched to a section of a vintage quilt. Found objects include: A red citrus juicer; a metal trivet; artificial leaves for wedding cake decorations; brass paper binders; eyeglass frames; purple perm hair curlers; thin paint brushes; coffee K-pods; sewing machine bobbins; keys; external tooth lock washers and small washers; green casino chips; brioche molds; rivets; champagne muselet caps; red and black plastic circles cut from the yokes of a six-pack of beer; red, purple and green plastic lids; buttons and beads. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Recently I finished another Found Object Mandala.  It was inspired by a donation to my stash ... the never-before-used paint brushes!  THANK YOU!  The red juicer and trivet came from a thrift store in Starkville, MS.  I bought them during my art residency at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. 

(Above:  Detail of Mandala CLVII.)

I'm already at work on the next piece but I'm also hand-stitching on additions to Patchwork, my new obsession/installation.  Yet, I have other events too!  On Sunday, Steve and I are setting up at a local neighborhood art sale called the Melrose Art in the Yard event.  I hope the weather cooperates!

(Above and below:  Detail of Mandala CLVII.)


Sunday, April 09, 2023

Sue's Thank You Notes

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes, a series of twenty-four altered Sun Bonnet Sue quilt blocks.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Believe it or not, another Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top found its way into my life.  This one came from a Facebook friend, Donna Johnstone Bearden, in Colorado.  Donna and I have lots in common.  We both journal daily, are passionate about mandalas, and have a soft spot in our hearts of old textiles.  Donna sent me a few photos of the textiles she was willing to donate to my stash ... including the Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top.  At first, I was worried that I couldn't come up with another, really good way to alter these obviously very traditional profiles into meaningful modern expressions.  After all, my first Sun Bonnet Sue's became The Feminist To Do List (2019).  The second Sue's became Sue's Environmental To Do List (2020 ... which is finally having its first time in the public eye at my solo show in Martinsville, VA ... blogged HERE), and the third Sue's turned into Sue Goes to the Protest (2021). How was I going to think up another idea for a fourth Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top?

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes.  Each individually framed work measures 15 3/4" x 14 3/4".)

I dreamed about the quilt top.  I brain-stormed ideas while driving to Scottsdale to conduct a workshop.  Finally, an idea occurred to me!  I could transform the blocks into Sue's Thank You Notes. I even wrote down a statement for the future work: 

A woman doesn’t have to vote, go to work, take her husband’s name, attend college, run for office, have an abortion, or conform to conservative virtues but she should be grateful to those ladies who worked hard and are working still to provide these choices.

My idea is all about gratefulness to iconic ladies from both the past and present who will always serve as role models.  It is my way of saying THANK YOU ... by actually embroidering selected names with these exact words:  Thank you!

(Above:  The quilt top from Donna Johnstone Bearden.)

I corresponded with Donna about the idea.  She liked it too ... and suggested a block for all the anonymous women like her mother who was one of the first WAVES officers in WWII (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service ... part of the US Naval Reserve). This branch of the military was established in 1942 and had a peak enrollment of 86,291 members before demobilization at the end of the war. Donna's mother was discharged and had some difficulties adjusting to her civilian life as wife and mother.  Yet, it was these mostly anonymous, pioneering women who changed the navy. On July 30, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act which allowed women to serve in the regular Army or Navy on a permanent basis.  So, I had a plan for this quilt top even before I received it in the mail.

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes: Naomi Parker and all the Rosie Riveters.)

Yet, the plan required a lot of research. Which iconic women would I thank?  I only had twenty-four blocks.  My list was extensive because I really wanted to include women from all sorts of different eras and backgrounds.  Also, how was I going to include Donna's suggestion regarding the anonymous women from WWII?  One cannot mail a thank you note without a name.  I could have selected Captain Mildred H. McAfee, the first director of the WAVES (1942–1945).  She was the first woman commissioned in the Naval Reserves and later was the first woman to receive the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  But, I really wanted to thank ALL the women who contributed to the war effort ... and the name "Rosie the Riveter" is very well known.  Thus, I selected Naomi Parker who is considered the most likely model for the famous "We Can Do It!" war poster.  If I end up with yet another Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top, I will include Mildred H. McAfee ... and lots of other women whose names were on my too long of a list!

(Above:  Detail of Sue's Thank You Notes.)

The quilt top was carefully taken apart with a seam ripper during the first few days I was at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge as an artist-in-residence.  Every day thereafter found me doing the hand embroidery.  The names I selected include:  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; Amelia Earhart; Sojourner Truth; Betty Friedan; Rosa Parks; Florence Nightingale; Oprah Winfrey; Frida Kahlo; Naomi Parker and all the Rosie Riveters; Helen Keller; Gloria Steinam; Rachel Carson; Malala Youafzai; Michelle Obama; Coretta Scott King; Jane Goodall; Angela Davis; Marie Curie; Sandra Day O'Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Maya Angelou; Anne Frank; Eleanor Roosevelt; and Margaret Sanger.

(Above:  A collection of tiny envelopes.)

Upon returning home, I found a template for small envelopes and folded colorful pieces of cardstock.  The buttonhole stitching around each hand was removed.  An envelope was placed under it and I then re-stitched the buttonhole outline right through the envelope.  Thus ... each Sue is ready to mail her Thank You note!

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes: Rachel Carson.)

I had to remove the piece for Patchwork in order to hang the collection and photograph it.  I really do hope that both these new series will find a place in a future exhibit.  I also hope that another Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top comes into my life ... so that I can thank even more women who selflessly made my world a better, more equitable place!  THANK YOU!

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes: Sandra Day O'Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Patchwork, a brand new and growing series!

(Above: Patchwork, a new series.  Twenty-nine individual pieces of assorted sizes.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Ever since I started stitching my Found Object Mandalas, I've had a mental dilemma with the quilting scraps that haven't been used.  After all, cutting up an old quilt into usable squares often results in scraps (especially since these quilts are the ones no one wants ... for good reasons ... like "the dog ate one corner" or it had huge stains, rips and tears, or exposed batting, etc.)  My concept has always been about "giving second life" to these materials. But my reality has been that the scraps were thrown away.  Some of these scraps were twelve to fourteen inches in width.  They just didn't lend themselves to being the foundation for a Found Object Mandala.  I felt horrible every time I gave up on the scraps and threw them out.  Guilt! 

(Above:  Patchwork ... as seen during Columbia Open Studios, April 1 - 2, 2023.)

Finally, an idea occurred to me!  This began my newest series, Patchwork.  Scraps are pinned together on recycled black industrial felt.  Fancy trim, old doilies, individual fabric yo-yos, and other old textiles are added.  Then, I hand-stitch them together.  Each piece was designed to fit on an old stretcher bar that was painted black.  Each piece was then tacked to the stretcher bar.  Excess felt was melted away using a soldering iron.  Most of the pieces can now be hung as a vertical or horizontal.

(Above:  Detail of Patchwork.)

Like most of my series, the initial plan was a culmination of several ideas colliding into one another.  Not only did I want to "give second life" to the old textiles, but I was looking for a way to use a stack of stretcher bars that were gathering dust in my studio.  Most of them came from auction.  I really didn't want them but they were on a table lot with something I did want.  At auction, the successful bidder is supposed to haul away everything in the lot (whether wanted or not!).  With over two dozen old stretcher bars "just sitting there", I needed to use them ... or throw them out ... which would have increased the guilt!  Surely I could figure out how to put the scraps and the stretcher bars together ... into "something" ... saving both of them ... turning the excess materials into art!









(Above:  An old quilt from auction ... purchased for six dollars.)

Right before going to Scottsdale to conduct a workshop, I bought this old quilt at auction (six-dollars).  It was in TERRIBLE shape.  There was even mildew ... but with this many blocks, I knew everyone in the workshop would have a similar surface on which to work.

(Above:  The blocks hanging on my clothesline.)

I cut the old quilt into blocks, washed them, soaked them overnight in diluted bleach, rinsed them, and hung them on my clothesline.  Some of the blocks were worse than others but twelve went to the workshop.

(Above:  Mandala CLV.  Framed:  12" x 12".  Found objects hand-stitched to one of the blocks.)

Most of the blocks did become a Found Object Mandala ... stitched by one of the workshop participants.  (CLICK HERE to see the blog post about the workshop ... called One Woman's Trash Transformed.  Several of the images depict the mandalas made in the workshop.) When conducting a workshop, I don't bring samples.  I teach by example ... which means that I have to stitch at least one of everything too.  Above is the piece I made.

(Above:  Detail of one of the pieces in Patchwork.)

Some of the more damaged blocks, however, had salvageable sections.  The photo above shows one of the centers stitched onto one of the scraps.  It also shows how I've been weaving embroidery floss to "repair" other damaged areas. 

(Above:  Detail of Patchwork.)

There's all sorts of other creative challenges in this new series. I've often put scraps together that don't actually look complimentary.  It is my job to integrate the diverse colors and design through stitching and by the textile embellishments ... like adding snippets from table runners or parts of crocheted doilies.

(Above:  Detail of Patchwork.)

I find myself pulling one color from one area to the next area ... and adding lots of running stitches.

(Above:  Detail of Patchwork.)

I've even cut a very, very well worn, blue-and-white crib quilt and layered it on a scrap from a crazy quilt.)

(Above:  Detail of Patchwork.)

The little Scottish man came from a damaged, souvenir handkerchief.  I think I'm going to be able to give "second life" to all sorts of handwork ... while keeping the scraps out of the trash, etc.  I'm quietly anticipating many hours of stitching, but that's not all.

(Above: Detail of Patchwork.)

In the convergence of ideas that started this new series was one more important element ... actually, a vision.  I'm supposed to be getting a contract for a solo show in 2024 for Once & Again: Alterations.  I met with the executive director and toured the gallery.  It has really high walls (as in almost two stories), excellent natural and gallery lighting, hardwood floors, and lots of space.  Instantly, I could see Patchwork meandering down the length of the walls ... a running, linear arrangement ... flexibly hung with only the sides abutting one another ... pieces moving up and down ... around the corners ... above and below other artwork in the next rendition of Once & Again: Alterations.  I'm guessing that I'll need at least one-hundred pieces/patches/irregular blocks, perhaps even more.  Patchwork could function as a way to unify all the work, a river of alterations running through the exhibit, a continuous line of "making do" and "using what is at hand" and "giving second life to old materials".   

(Above and further below:  Details from Patchwork.)

Like many of my installations, time will tell if my vision and the collison of ideas pan out ... but, in the meantime, I've got plenty of new work to create in hopes that "something wonderful" will come of this.


Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Mandala CLVI

(Above:  Mandala CLVI. Custom framed: 18" x 18". Found objects hand-stitched to a block of a vintage quilt. Found objects include: A clear button on a vintage Spotlight Coffee lid; four antique, shell buttons; four vintage, metal train tags; beer caps; vintage capacitors; laminated Tampa Nugget cigar bands; wooden PET ice cream spoons; blue and orange plastic lids; red casino chips; and buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I started this Found Object Mandala before going to Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge for a four-week art residency.  Since returning, I finished, framed, and photographed it.  It was on display last weekend for Columbia Open Studios, but until today, I haven't had a minute to blog it!  Better late than never ... especially since I'm well on my way to finishing the next mandala!

(Above:  Part of my collection of wooden PET ice cream spoons.)

I might have to stitch another mandala with wooden PET ice cream spoons.  The ones I used for this piece hardly put a dent into my stash!  I am grateful to all sorts of people for donating to my collection because I don't think this series would continue to grow without their help!


Monday, April 03, 2023

Once & Again: Alterations at Piedmont Arts in Martinsville, VA

(Above:  A Selfie beside the exhibition signage at Piedmont Arts.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Since returning from my four-week art residency at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi, I've been busy, busy, busy.  This included loading up the cargo van with all the artwork selected for my solo show at Piedmont Arts in Martinsville, VA and delivering it. Steve and I drove there and back on Sunday. I was super excited to see the signage and took this selfie.

(Above:  Two photos with Bernadette Moore, Director of Exhibitions.  The picture on the left was taken the day Steve and I dropped off the artwork.  The picture on the right was taken five days later at the reception!)

To be totally honest, I was a bit worried when Steve and I unloaded the artwork into the provided space.  I couldn't quite wrap my head around the dark walls and the high contrast of downward pointing spotlights.  Yet, I didn't say anything.  Of course not!  After all, it wasn't up to me to install the artwork.  Bernadette Moore, Director of Exhibitions, has been installing shows at Piedmont Arts for the last sixteen years.  She knows the space, the area audience, the lighting, where the studs in the walls are, and exactly how she envisioned the exhibit.  I knew to trust her ... and honestly, I really like to see how someone else hangs my work.  There's almost always something new and wonderful that happens when an artist doesn't insist on total control.  I looked forward to Friday night's reception ... to see how Bernadette would install the artwork.

(Above: Once & Again: Alterations at Piedmont Arts.)

I couldn't have been happier!  The show looks fantastic.  The lighting is excellent.  Everything about this display is wonderful.  I am in deep debt to Bernadette and the entire staff.  The reception was great and lots of people attended.  Steve and I arrived early enough to capture a few photos before the space got crowded. 

Many of the pieces in this exhibit were created during the pandemic.  Other than social media, they hadn't been seen outside my house.  None of the altered cross stitched pieces have ever hung on a gallery wall.  The series called Sue's Environmental To Do List was photographed and then boxed.  Until now, it has never been out of the box.  

Some of the work has been in a "virtual show" but not in front of "real eyes" in an "in-person" event.  Some of the work has been in a show but not alongside all the other pieces that I envisioned as a "solo show".  These facts made Friday night almost miraculous ... like finally coming out of the pandemic!

I was also so pleased to see several of my Found Object Mandalas hung "on point".  I really think they attract a lot of attention in this orientation.

I was also stunned to see Second Marriage ON THE WALL.  It had been in a smaller show in Charlotte but was deemed too heavy to hang.  It was on a low pedestal leaning gracefully against a wall.  Although that was a unique presentation, it looks more like my intentions when hung!

Piedmont Arts is located in the magnificent Schottland Estate which was donated to the organization in 1981.  After a 1995 capital campaign raised $3.5 million, the structure was renovated and expanded into a full-fledged museum with a $1 million endowment.  Another wing was added by 1998.  The main entrance is on the ground floor.  The gallery space is just up a wide staircase (or an elevator, of course).  The staircase also provides additional linear feet for artwork ... including Sue Goes to the Protest and other pieces!








I was also pleasantly surprised to see some of my White Collars installation suspended from the ceiling. This has been a wonderful experience.  If in the area, the show is up through May 13, 2023.  I posted a video on You Tube. Click HERE to access.