Saturday, April 30, 2011

Collaboration project 3 -- Christmas

I wrote recently about a project in which Uta Lenk and I exchanged emails every day for almost seven months.  (Read Uta's side of the story here.)  Both of us, it turns out, have done a lot of handwork over the years to make Christmas decorations, and in December many of our emails focused on these projects.

A couple of years ago Uta made a gorgeous Advent calendar quilt, with a little scene revealed every day during the season.  Here are some of the days:



Meanwhile, I have made tree ornaments every year for family and friends and shared many of my photos with her:





Uta sent me photos of her other decorations.  Here are the family's shoes set out for St. Nicholas to deliver presents.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, here are my traditional family Christmas guys, Herman, Sherman and Vermin.









Photo du jour

passing train

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Collaboration project 3

I have resolved to do 11 collaboration projects in 2011 and have recently finished the third one.  This one was a seven-month commitment, begun last fall, with Uta Lenk, a fiber artist whom I met a couple of years ago at a Nancy Crow workshop and who lives near Munich.  When we saw each other last summer at the opening festivities for Nancy's Color Improvisations exhibit, Uta suggested a project in which each day we would email one another with photo(s) and text.  She had written some notes a couple of days earlier and after we talked, we both signed the agreement.
 





















We would begin on September 15 and commit to six months; as it turned out, we kept Daily Mail in business until April 8. In retrospect, the key element of the commitment was "themes may develop."  When we started we really didn't know what we were going to send. 

As the months went by, we had different approaches.  Many times one of us would choose a theme -- shadows, reflections, pumpkins, fall leaves, food, decrepit buildings -- and send several days of photos which would be taken up by the other one.


reflections in Germany

reflections in the US

Sometimes one person would send a photo and the other would realize with a start that she had another just like it! 

old sink in Germany

old sink in the US --much nastier -- (I'd taken the photo just days before)

During the project we each went back and found photos from vacations past to share.  We exchanged pictures of our families (so far Uta has met my husband, and I have met her son, but the rest of the relations are mysteries). 

Uta's husband blowing glass in Bavaria

my brother swimming/freezing in Antarctica

A particular pleasure was to exchange photos of our Christmas decorations and celebrations.  I'll write more about that in a subsequent post.

Photo du jour

waiting for the ferry

Monday, April 25, 2011

Collaboration project 2

My theme for 2011 is collaboration, and I have just finished the second project of a planned eleven.  This one is embroidery, and my collborator is Terry Jarrard-Dimond.  A couple of years ago Terry did a workshop with fiber artist Dorothy Caldwell, and liked an exercise called blind embroidery, in which you don't look at your work till it's done.  Last fall we were together and Terry remarked that she was thinking of doing 24 hours of blind embroidery, but it seemed like a lot of time to commit.  I suggested that we collaborate and each do 12 hours.

I found white and black fabric, cut a piece of each, and we chose at random.  Terry got the white, I got the black.  The rules were simple: mark off a rectangle and stitch.  We sewed a heavy cord to outline our workspace so we could feel the boundary.  We planned to have our respective husbands take photos after every hour of stitching to document progress, but that didn't work out exactly; I missed hour 2 and gave up entirely after hour 7. 

I decided to work in cross stitch, and managed to actually get the stitches to cross for the first couple of rows where I could feel my vertical axis.  (That got more difficult as I worked in the center of the piece and lost track of my orientation.) 
























Here I am at work wearing a souvenir sleep mask from my last transoceanic flight.  The biggest problem was maintaining the proper tension.  Because I wasn't working in a hoop, the fabric wanted to buckle underneath the stitches, as you can see in the photo.  I spent way more of my 12 hours trying to keep the fabric flat and the thread pulled properly than I did actually poking the needle through the cloth.

Here's hour 4 -- oops, he shot the back of the work, not the front. 
















By hour 5 I started to panic -- would I ever cover the whole area in my 12 allotted hours?  I started venturing away from the neat rows and wandering out into the wilderness.

Here's hour 6, more wandering in the wilderness.  And hour 7 below.

The second half of the project is undocumented, mainly because my husband took a trip as I finished my embroidery.  At the end, I removed the cord that outlined my stitching area, pressed it as well as I could and stretched it.






















Here are the two pieces together; detail below.  We call them "Equinox: Day" and "Equinox: Night" and you can probably figure out why without an artist statement.  Go over to Terry's blog to read her side of the story!






Photo du jour

boats after the rain

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The modest triumph of the leftovers

More than a year ago I participated in a group project in which several people sent around a composition on fabric, each one adding, subtracting and/or rearranging the elements from the previous people in the chain.  Many of us put in a little extra fabric as we sent the project along, in case somebody wanted to use more of a previous color, and anything that had been subtracted from the composition still went along with the package.

When the project was over, I inherited the leftover bits and sewed them together into two small quilt tops.  I showed them on my blog last spring and quite frankly didn't think either of them was a work of art.  I love to sew leftover bits together and making the two small tops was a good engine-starter for me after a fallow period; the project was relatively mindless but it did get me into the studio every day and by the time I finished, I was revved up for "real" work.

The tops were pinned to a piece of board in my studio that I use as a design wall, but other boards got propped up in front of it and for more than a year I pretty much forgot they were there.  A couple of weeks ago I was in search of an empty board for a new project and what did I find but one of the forgotten tops.  At first I hadn't planned to even quilt it; it seemed like a minimal piece of work.  But a year of absence made my heart grow fonder.  As it happened I had just finished quilting a large project, had leftover batting and backing still out on my work table, and it seemed like a good idea to use it to finish my formerly forgotten top.

Crazed 12: Groupthink    2011  25 x 31"

I realized as I quilted that although the piece was small and simple, it was important to my body of work for a couple of reasons.

First, take a look at this detail shot.  You will notice that one of the small bits of fabric has marks on it.  That's because one of the participants in the group project drew on her fabric, and I decided to use those leftovers along with everything else in the package.  When I saw the marked fabric sewed up, I wasn't sure I liked it, but then decided that it gave energy and mystery to the quilt. 

When I moved on to "real" work I decided to use the same approach, writing on my fabric before I cut and pieced it. Here's a detail shot of one of my subsequent large works; you can see how it was influenced by the leftovers quilt.

Another reason why the leftovers quilt was important was that even though it is only three colors -- red, blue and brown -- it has many different shades of those three colors.  Seems that everybody who contributed red to the project had a different one!  I liked the tension and excitement of the very close contrast, and when I moved on to "real" work I used the same approach.  When my local fabric store didn't produce enough different reds, I sent away for every shade of red and blue Kona that Robert Kaufman makes, and my large works had the same monochrome-but-different flavor of the little quilt.

Finally, I probably wouldn't have used brown, my least favorite color, as the mediator between red and blue if left to my own devices.  But the presence of several different browns in my package of leftovers made me use them, and I liked what happened.  I used brown again with both red and blue in the "real" works that I made later.

The moral of the story, apparently, is that even a project that seems minimal and mindless can give you ideas that graduate into maximal and important works.  When I realized the virtues of this modest little quilt, I decided it not only deserved to be quilted up, but maybe even go out in public, to the right modest little venue.

By the way, I hope you will understand if I give you only details of the two large "real" quilts.  They are finished, and I entered them in Quilt National last fall but they were not accepted.  Because of the virginity rules in some major quilt shows, I've decided to keep them off the website for now, in case I want to enter them in a show with restrictive requirements.  With any luck, they'll find a date someday and get to come out of the closet.

In keeping with my penchant for naming quilts in my Crazed series for disasters and things out of control, I decided to call this one "Groupthink" in honor of my collaborators.  Usually groupthink turns out pretty bad, but in this case it delivered all kinds of benefits to my doorstep.  Thanks again to all whose bits of fabric ended up in this quilt.

Photo du jour

meeting of species

Monday, April 18, 2011

Photo du jour

beachfront drive

Photo crisis -- happy ending -- part 2

If you read my blog last fall you may recall my horror story about computer failure and concomitant loss of a whole lot of photos.  We were able to recover most of the important ones, but some were lost forever.  I got over it, but every now and then would think of a photo that I vividly recalled taking -- but didn't have any more.  Fortunately the daily photos that I posted to my blog remain in cyberspace, but I still was missing about two months of everything else I shot.

Recently something bad happened to my nine-month-old camera, and for three weeks I had to use my old one.  A couple of times I got the dreaded "no more room on your memory card" message, had to delete last week's photos as I stood there on the street, and thought how much better my new camera is, with its much larger card. 

It took a while for the other shoe to drop.  Namely, the realization that my old camera actually had two memory cards: a small one that was my first purchase, a larger one that I bought in anticipation of a long international trip.  (Technology being the way it is, I paid less for the larger one than I had for the smaller one a year earlier.)

I had taken the large card out of the old camera, which had been retired months earlier, when I gave it to my husband for his January vacation in Arizona.  Why?  Because the large card still contained a couple of photos of my mother, who died in 2008.  For sentimental reasons I liked to keep them on the card, and it seemed easier to sub in the empty small card than explain to my husband, a camera novice, what was going on with the large card.

Finally, several days later, I had a moment of blinding insight.  What else, besides the photos of Mom, might be on that memory card, sitting for months in my jewelry chest?

Well guess what!  Over 1,400 photos from the lost two months!  Not everything I lost, but a whole lot of it.  Some that I remembered, some that I didn't, some that were pretty good.  For instance --






And finally, here's one of the photos that I was saving all along.  That's my daughter-in-law with the bottle of wine; we're on the deck of her new house.  Mom was able to attend my son's wedding six months before she died, and then come back to see the new house, the last time she visited us.

Thanks Mom!  You helped me out of another jam, perhaps the ten thousandth time in my life that you came to the rescue.

So I'm a happy camper today.  Why did it take another photo crisis to make me remember the solution to the previous photo crisis?  Can I please stop having photo crises?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

International Quilt Festival Cincinnati 5

One of the highlights of the Cincinnati show was the Signtlines exhibit, a touring exhibit put together by Studio Art Quilt Associates and curated by Virginia Spiegel.  I had heard about the exhibit when it debuted last fall in Houston and was eager to see it in person.

The premise of the exhibit was that each participant's work had to include a "sightline" that went through the work from left to right, positioned 60 inches above the floor at the edges of the area, but it could move up and down as it progressed across the center of the space.  In some of the works the line was prominent; in others it was barely there.  With the 14 participants' work hung one next to another, the line would unify the entire enhibit and keep the viewers' gazes moving on.

The rules said that artists had to have two eight-inch square quilts at the left of the area, and two more at the right, to provide transition between one artist and the next.  I found these little quilts distracting and arbitrary -- they often seemed to be afterthoughts, and didn't seem to enhance the large centerpiece works.  One artist I've talked to said that the minute the quilts come home from their tour, the four little pieces will go their separate ways from the big ones.

By the way, although the four works shown here all have one large squarish quilt in the center, not all followed that format.  Some had two or three central panels, and I think some artists hung their central panels at different heights, although that didn't occur at the Cincinnati show, constrained by the pipe-and-drape hanging apparatus.

Here are some of my favorite pieces from the exhibit.

Annie Helmericks-Louder, No Place at the Table

I wrote last week about looking for pictorial quilts that didn't come off as merely cute and sentimental.  Although the animals crowding around the woman at her dinner table are certainly beautifully rendered, the overall impression is one of unease and tension rather than cheerfulness.  You're curious about what's going on, not just happy to see the adorable animals.  See more of her work here.

Shelley Brenner Baird, Seeing Around Corners

Rendered onto an old painters' dropcloth, this quilt is screenprinted with photos, drawings and ads from old comic books.  See more of her work here.

Yael David-Cohen, Windows

Cohen is primarily a painter and printmaker; if you go to her website you won't even find quilts.  She printed an etching onto both opaque and transparent fabrics to explore the different effects.

Jayne Willoughby Scott, Thoughts

The beautiful curves are all pieced in; the letters are stamped with fabric paint.  You can read words but not phrases or sentences -- the thoughts remain a  mystery.  See more of her work here