Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From the archives -- The Actuary's Maps

I rarely make new pieces for a theme challenge, but when there's a call for entries and I just happen to have some nice appropriate work in the pile, I'll dust it off and send it in and see what happens.  Last week I dusted off two pieces in response to a call for art about maps and was reminded that I really liked the work.

The Actuary's Map 1, 2003, 30 x 31"

Two explanations are necessary to understand where these pieces come from.  First, the autobiographical narrative.  I've always been a math geek but for not-valid-in-hindsight reasons I switched my college major away from numbers to words.  But life sometimes gives you what you want and need even if you try hard to avoid it, and I ended up with the perfect job: writing about numbers.

For two decades I worked for a consulting firm that is the world's largest employer of actuaries, and I got to spend a lot of time with some of the most brilliant of them.  I speculated that people who work with numbers all day must see the world in a different light, quantifying things that the rest of us only observe.  I started making a long series of "actuary quilts" that had numbers printed on top of different compositions.

Second, the process narrative.  I had spent a lot of time with dye and discharge and made boxes full of beautiful, enigmatic fabrics that I was struggling to  use (aka the surface design dilemma).  These pieces were made from the legendary Walmart Black, a cotton that discharged to gray, beloved of many of us in those days before Springs Mills (Walmart's supplier) changed their formula and it started discharging to red.  I thought these pieces looked like maps.  Map 1 reminded me of barrier islands with narrow causeways; Map 2 looked like a huge factory complex, maybe next to an airport.

The Actuary's Map 2, 2004, 29 x 18"  (detail below)

The nifty hard-edge geometric marks on the maps came from the clothespins I used to wad up the fabric before it went into the bleach.

These two quilts were out and about in the day; one of them got a blue ribbon at the State Fair.  But then they went out of circulation and into The Box Under The Bed.  Maybe it's time to resurrect them, or maybe it's time to make some more in the same series.


  1. Dear Kathy,
    I love the enigmatic shapes. They are very map-like. Did you print the numbers with rubber stamps?

    Keep up the good work,
    Linda Laird

    1. No, with metal printer's type, which I have a lot of and love to use. I paint the type with fabric paint, then press it onto the fabric.