Tuesday, May 23, 2017
If you love hand stitching you'd be really pleased with this work at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
Imagine a very long wall with a very long meandering outline drawing (probably a phototransfer from an original ink drawing) of assorted fruits and vegetables, maybe two feet tall at its edges.
Apparently Bengoa began this work a dozen years ago, exhibiting it first in Australia, and has been adding to it ever since, hence the "(so far)" in the title. The stitching is so perfect it's almost mechanical, but you can see and admire the artist's hand.
I'll let you drool over a bunch of detail shots. Notice how carefully the colors shade in hue and value, one row of stitches at a time.
Monday, May 22, 2017
OK, got the crabby stuff out of the way, now I can talk about the work in the Thread Lines exhibit that I liked. And guess what, it was almost all all hand stitching.
Here's an unassuming but solid and joyous work, simply little shapes of felt hand-stitched to felt backgrounds.
Just two colors, simple shapes, the simplest possible stitching, but it all goes together into complex and sophisticated compositions that make you smile. The background layer is thick, a tad more than 1/4 inch, so it hangs solidly, and it's held to the wall with T-pins.
Interestingly, many of the older works are framed under glass (which I think is not a good way to display textiles; it may protect them from viewers' touch but it also places a barrier to viewers' view) but the newer pieces are frequently hung with simple pins or nails.
Here's a piece hand stitched onto black organdy, an imaginary or remembered map.
More good stuff in tomorrow's post. The show continues at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville through August 6.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
We moved into our house in 1986 and had to buy boatloads of stuff to fix up and furnish the place. On one of our numerous trips to the mall, my teenage son and I were walking through J.C. Penney's and saw that microwaves were on sale. Although this was not on my shopping list, or in my budget, Matt insisted that we buy one -- a relatively new appliance that we had not previously owned. I think we paid $89 for it.
It's still there.
Maybe I shouldn't say going "strong," because it seems to have lost some of its oomph as it aged. In other people's kitchens, you zap a cup of tea for one minute and it's nice and hot; in my kitchen it takes two minutes and 20 seconds. But what's a minute or two among friends? The microwave soldiers on, never faltering. It's the easiest of all our appliances to reset the clock after a power failure. We've never even had to replace the light bulb.
I know one day the microwave will die, as will we all. I don't relish the thought of replacing it; I don't want to have to choose among lots of fancy features that I probably won't use. I don't want to have to learn new formulas for which buttons to push for a cup of tea. I don't want a turntable or a convection feature or a sensor that allegedly tells me when things are done. I don't want it built in. I just want a microwave exactly like the one I have. My friend for lo these many years.
Friday, May 19, 2017
According to the statement on the wall, the Thread Lines show at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft "brings together those pioneers who -- challenging entrenched modernist hierarchies -- first unraveled the distinction between textile and art with a new wave of contemporary practitioners who have inherited and expanded upon their groundbreaking gestures." I'm not sure what that means, although two points for using "unraveled." I didn't detect anything that specifically expanded upon the work of the pioneers, and in fact the specific approaches of the pioneers -- weaving and patchwork -- were barely used by the younger artists in the show.
I had to quarrel with the curatorial decision that included not one, not two but three artists whose work consisted of pattern charts -- two for sweaters, one for weaving (but you could probably knit a sweater from it if you wanted to).
This artist's gimmick is to find a photo of somebody wearing a sweater at a famous demonstration from the past -- this one was against nuclear weapons -- and chart the pattern, then paint it in gouache.
If these two sweater-chart artists are twins, then here's their big sister. This artist drew charts of weaving patterns, photographed the charts and printed them out, then digitized the pattern and had an embroidery machine stitch over the printout.
Next week: some work in the show that I liked!
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
A new exhibit at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft shows the work of 15 artists in and about fiber and textile processes. It includes some very big names in the fiber art world (Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney) and in the plain-old-art world (Louise Bourgeois) as well as many artists I had not heard of. Organized by The Drawing Center museum in New York City, and now on the road, the show will be at KMAC through August 6.
I can't say I was overly impressed. It had the slightly gee-whiz vibe that so often sounds when people from the plain-old-art world contemplate works made from fiber or with fiber techniques. How strange but also nice that people make art from cloth using needles! And if you squint your eyes a bit you can even think of it as Real Art!
I know I'm being snarky, but as both practitioner and aficionada of art from fiber, I found little to get excited about.
Sheila Hicks, one of the patron saints of fiber art, was represented by four "minims," the name she gave to thousands of tiny weavings, five or six inches wide, done on a portable loom that she took with her as she traveled. She used these little works as a sketchbook to record ideas and materials.
What can you say about these fragments? Perhaps that sketchbooks, doodles and studies aren't always museum-worthy. If these pieces had been woven by Kathy Klutz in a workshop at John C. Campbell Folk School you know for sure they wouldn't be hanging in this show.
Similarly, there are four Louise Bourgeois pieces made from old napkins, towels and striped fabric. Two are clever riffs on her signature spider motif, cutting the striped fabric into wedges and assembling them into spiderwebs. The curator's notes point out that Bourgeois made these pieces in her old age, raiding her lifelong stash of old textiles.
You don't expect artists in their 90s to have the perfect technical skills of their youth (as a girl, Bourgeois did textile restoration in her family business, so you know she could really sew), but you do expect them to make up for a shaky hand or failing sight with a mature artistic vision. Think Matisse's paper cutouts or Monet's waterlilies. Maybe I'm being too critical but this patchwork doesn't say anything to me.
In that time, weaving was the pinnacle of fiber art (quilts or knitting sure didn't get a foot in the door) and doing interesting things with your weaving was so avant.
You can't help but admire how it broke ground in its day, but now it looks dated and ordinary. The point of this show, according to the wall sign, is to honor the "groundbreaking gestures" of the fiber art pioneers, they didn't do a very good job of choosing work that has aged well.
Well, enough crabbiness for one day. I'll show you work by the younger generation in my next post.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
My mother loved big jewelry, and liked feeling the weight of a substantive hunk of stuff. Once I made her a necklace from stitched cords and beads, and she complained because it was too light; she couldn't feel it around her neck. So I took it back and added another strand containing some big coins with holes in them. I would have gone crazy wearing it, but Mom loved it in the heavyweight model.
After she died, my sister and I divvied up the jewelry, but I don't wear it frequently just because of the weight; Mom's big earrings fall off my ears (none of us pierced our ears) and her big necklaces make my neck hurt before the evening is over. (I took back the stitched one, cut off the strand with the big coins, and happily wear it in the lightweight version.)
I'll be wearing it today to celebrate Mother's Day. Somehow I don't think it will feel at all out of place, even cooking in the kitchen or holding the baby. Thanks Mom, for this bracelet and for everything else. Wish you were here.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Do you ever run into technical problems that you can't solve, so you put everything away hoping for better ideas in the future? I did that a couple of years ago with a project, but continued to think about it at 4 a.m. when I wasn't sleeping. I figured out a solution, but wasn't sure it would work. Finally this week I got my workbench cleared off sufficiently to roll into action.
When the great Baer Fabric store closed I scored four garbage bags full of drapery sample books. Somebody else took all the fabrics, but gave me the covers, which are perfect supports for collage. I had made a bunch of collages and then wanted to put them together into one large expanse. The individual slabs were maybe 12 x 15, some bigger, some smaller, and my concept was to sew them together into a finished piece about 25 x 35 inches.
That worked pretty well on the outside edges, where I could pull the boards out over the edge of the table and get my hands onto both front and back to manipulate the needle. But I hit the fan when it came to the center of the piece. The separate slabs were flopping around, falling of their own weight, not staying in place while I stitched, and I couldn't even reach into the middle.
So I put everything in a corner and went away for many months, until I realized I should hold the work vertically. So I rigged up chains that hung from the same hooks in the ceiling that hold up the fluorescent lights over a workbench, and suspended the collage boards. Adjusted the height so the boards barely rest on the bench, and sure enough, I can stick the needle through from either side and the contraption holds everything stable while I work.
Stitching through boards that are at least 1/8 inch thick is kind of tricky; first you have to make holes with a nail.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Toward the end of last year I wrote a post about my "found poetry," a technique in which you search out intriguing phrases from newspapers, magazines or books and combine them to make "poems." One of my internet friends, Sharon Robinson, left a comment that I should check out the work of her friend Judy Kleinberg, who does the same thing.
So I did, and fell in love -- Judy's work is a lot more sophisticated than mine, and she must have one heckuva collection of magazines to cut from. Partly because I admired her work so much, I decided to define my daily art project for this year as heavy on text. Every day I have been making a small collage composition that features some text that must be read to be appreciated. (You can see all my daily art here.)
I follow Judy's blog, and earlier this year she wrote that she had two found poems published in an online website called Rise Up Review, which bills itself as "a landing site for the poetry of opposition." When I visited the site to check it out, I noticed that they were inviting submissions, and since some of my daily collage texts are highly political, I sent a few in. Here's one of them:
they were published.
I was happy to see them on the same page as Judy Kleinberg's work, since she is the connection that brought me to this venue, and more important, that brought me to making this kind of daily art. I love the way internet friends expand your life.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Over the past several months I've been cleaning my studio, not because I've had a sudden attack of tidiness but out of necessity. I have four fluorescent light fixtures in the studio, and they have been dying one by one. When you lose one, you live with it, even if you can't see your design wall that well, and when you lose the next one, which happens to be the one over the work table, you start thinking about calling in the electrician. But then you notice that your work table is silted over with two feet full of stuff, and you realize that the electrician isn't going to be able to get to the fixture to replace it.
So since Christmas I have been trying to get the worktable and its surrounds clear enough that I could have an electrician come in and replace all the fixtures. Even the ones that (currently) were still working! What a luxury! Finally the moment arrived. Look at him sitting on my worktable, with nothing besides him on the work surface! (Well, at least in the area where he had to work.)
We put in LED fixtures and I am assured I will never have to change them out within my lifetime. The studio is now bathed in light; things I haven't seen properly since last summer are radiantly in play.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Our house was built in 1963, when room-to-room intercoms were all the rage. I know this because our previous house was also built in that era. When we moved into that house in 1974 the intercom worked for a while, but soon died; apparently a decade or so was all you could get out of those systems. Besides, our kids had a way of ignoring it when you called on the intercom. If you confronted them they would innocently say "I guess I must have been in the bathroom."
By the time we moved into this house, its intercom was more than 20 years ago and dead as a doornail. In most of the rooms I simply hung a picture over the useless speaker. But when we had our kitchen remodeled, I had a little niche built into the hole where the intercom master station had been. I put my armadillo statue into the niche, where it fit perfectly.
Over the years, though, the niche has become baby-picture central. A few tiny 1970s pictures of my kids and their cousins, and a lot of newer, bigger, more colorfast photos of their respective children. I change the photos out every now and then to display the newest baby, or maybe to pull out an old picture that hasn't been on view for a while.
And best of all, as of yesterday morning, there's a new granddaughter whose picture will soon be front and center.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
I wrote yesterday about how I've been wrestling with the question of teaching. I love to teach, and I think I'm pretty good at it. But finding the appropriate venue is complicated. If you want to teach in the fiber arts, you have several choices other than a fulltime job as an art teacher in high school or college.
You can teach at a public venue such as Quilting By the Lake, Quilt Surface Design Symposium, Arrowmont, or similar institutions; these places generally have one- or two-week workshops but may also offer shorter courses. Big quilt shows like Paducah and Houston also offer shorter workshops, some full-day and others only a few hours. Art stores and museums often offer workshops, either one- or multiple-day.
You can teach at a conference, where a group such as the Surface Design Association combines classroom/workshop activities with lectures and plenary sessions.
You can teach at a guild or fiber group, following whatever format they like. Most common seems to be a full-day workshop, but I've also been asked to teach two days, or do the same full-day workshop twice for different groups, or attend a retreat in which there will be multiple two-hour sessions. Often they want you to give a lecture too, as long as you're there. It usually isn't economical for a guild to pay travel expenses for less than a day's work, but groups close to home may want you to do a three- or four-hour class.
You can offer workshops in your home, which can be as elaborate as Nancy Crow's barn setup or as informal as your kitchen table. Many teachers have established small studios where they can accommodate a half-dozen or so people (some art techniques take up less space than others).
I've done every one of these formats. Often I have been paid to do it; other times I do it for free.
Why would you work for free, you ask. My local fiber and textile group, for instance, offers frequent workshops -- the deal is members don't get paid to teach, nor do they have to pay to learn. I've worked as a mentor with three different people under the SAQA program, and with three or four who are just friends.
But the getting-paid part is more complicated. I didn't know, until I started teaching in such venues, and perhaps you don't know either, that when you're invited to give a workshop at QBL or one of the other public series that you're not really being "hired" in the traditional sense. Instead, you're being given the chance to teach IF enough people sign up. And these venues expect you, the teacher, to do a lot of your own marketing. Which is why I'm being forced to flog my own workshops in the blog and through other methods, a process that I fund uncomfortable.
If people don't sign up, your workshop can be canceled, or perhaps you can renegotiate your pay so you work for less. Like so many other instances of the gig economy, this arrangement transfers the risk from the sponsor to the individual contractor -- the teacher. In past years there was much discussion on quilting email lists about the very low pay for teaching at the huge Houston quilt show. Some people said they usually couldn't even cover their travel and lodging costs, and did it as a loss-leader for marketing purposes. Just like in the larger economy, where employers want newbies to work at unpaid internships or provide their own workspace and equipment with no guarantee of long-term work.
This kind of arrangement pays off for people who have established a following. Many teachers have groupies who return year after year to study with their guru (I know, I was one of those groupies once upon a time). But it's difficult for teachers who have just started on the national circuit, especially if their workshops get cancelled the first time. Venues seem unwilling to make an investment in new teachers who might very well build a following if they ever got their foot in the door.
I don't think this business model of offering public workshops on spec is particularly good business for either the sponsor or the teacher. It's not good for the reputation of either one if a workshop gets cancelled. The customers who have signed up are disappointed when their chosen class gets killed; perhaps their second-choice class is already full, or perhaps they've already made travel arrangements that would be costly to cancel. But that's the way most of the big public venues have chosen to operate.
In a way, this business model has been very kind to the quilting public, enabling us to learn many, many things from many, many different teachers. I can't testify to this, but I get the feeling that quilters have lots more learning opportunities than painters or collage artists or woodworkers, because of the proliferation of public workshop series. The situation has become more precarious in recent years, as some of the big venues are having a harder time attracting students (perhaps there are too many workshops out there??). It's understandable that sponsors are looking to spread their financial risk, since they're the ones with the hotel contracts and other big-ticket obligations.
But I've about decided that I'm not going to teach under this kind of arrangement any more. I teach for gratification, not to earn a living, and I have neither the inclination nor the time to invest years of marketing into a potential future on the teaching circuit. (If I were 35 I might think otherwise.) I will continue to accept invitations from any guild or group who asks me, because that business model is different: you discuss the details of the workshop, agree on a price, and it's up to the guild to make the finances work. I find that kind of arrangement a lot more respectful of the teacher.
Enough on the soapbox. If you'd like to spend a week, or three days, or two days, having fun with me at Quilting by the Lake in July, now's your chance; get it while it lasts. Here's the link to QBL; #17 and #18 are my workshops.
Monday, May 1, 2017
Still time for you to sign up for Quilting by the Lake, the annual quilt and fiber teaching extravaganza that's held in Syracuse NY at the end of July. QBL, sponsored by the Schweinfurth Art Center, has been going on since 1981 and each year has a bunch of talented teachers to share a wide variety of quilting approaches and techniques.
This year I will be one of them -- if enough people sign up for the workshop.
I'll be teaching a two-day and a three-day workshop -- two days on improvisational strip piecing, three days on fine line piecing. You can sign up for one or both.
If you've never attended a week-long workshop and are not sure you're up to that long a commitment, psychologically or financially, it's nice to be able to take a shorter class as a tryout. That's how I started attending elite workshops, with two-day classes at QSDS in Columbus OH, which made me realize I would enjoy something longer and more intense.
Other people simply prefer shorter workshops, which may fit better into busy schedules or pinched budgets. Shorter classes also let you "try out" a teacher or a technique that you're not sure you want to invest a whole week on.
Would you enjoy taking one of my workshops at QBL?
Here are two blog posts (here and here) that I wrote about a fine line piecing workshop that I taught in Florida a couple of years ago. It was two days, and we'll have three days at QBL so imagine that you'll accomplish even more. Here's a blog post about an improvisational strip piecing workshop; again, we'll have an additional day at QBL to explore that process.
Meanwhile, Upstate New York in summer is a nice place to be. Sign up for a workshop!! I'd really love it if you sign up for mine, but if you must, sign up for somebody else's; lots of good teachers on the menu. Here's the link to QBL; #17 and #18 are my workshops.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
When my parents got married in 1941 they received this unassuming but beautiful vase as a wedding present. It's a great example of the American Arts and Crafts movement that applied fine design to simple household objects. A whole bunch of pottery companies flourished in southern Ohio around the turn of the century (that is, 19th turning to 20th), including Roseville, the maker of my vase.
A while ago I decided to look online to learn more about my particular vase. Since Roseville produced dozens and dozens of different patterns, and dozens of different variations on each one, I despaired of ever locating the one I wanted. Fortunately I recognized the flower as a columbine, and sure enough, there was a pattern called "columbine."
It was made in three different colors, blue, pink and brown, and several different shapes and sizes. After I'd spent some time clicking around on the website I realized that my vase was also identified by a number -- 17-7 -- and sure enough, that was one of the models listed under the columbine pattern. It was dated as "circa 1941," which would be exactly right. Apparently the vase is worth slightly over $100, but I know I would never sell it.
Some years ago I got to spend a couple of long afternoons at the Zanesville Museum of Art and was impressed by its large collection of art pottery, both vintage and contemporary, Zanesville, which sometimes calls itself the Pottery Capital of the World, is obviously proud of its industrial/artistic heritage, which was made possible by lots of good quality clay.
Here's a slew of Roseville from the museum. Makes me kind of wish my vase had been pink instead of brown!
Friday, April 28, 2017
Last week the great artist Magdalena Abakanowicz died. Had she done so decades earlier, she probably would have been described as a fiber artist, because that's where she started off, making flat works out of burlap, bedsheets and clotheslines and weaving monumental pieces that were exhibited in Tapestry Biennials. But, as the New York Times obituary put it, "Chafing at the limits of fabric art, she began to conceive of her work in sculptural terms," going 3-D with fiber and then with wood and metal.
Probably her most familiar works are the long series of huge forms she called "Abakans," a shortening of her own name. Which, by the way, reflects her ancestry: she's a direct descendent of Genghis Khan, through his great-grandson Abaqa Khan (get it?). I realized from the obit that all these years I have been mispronouncing her name; it's supposed to have the accent on the NO, not on the KAN.
|New York Times photo|
Abakanowicz frequently made forms that closely or not-so-closely depicted people, and arrayed them in big crowds. Looking at these works last week made me think hard about my own recent foray into making crowds of people from fabric.
I realized that Abakanowicz's people took strength and meaning from their crude forms and construction. I had already been wrestling all along with not wanting my own people to become cute, not wanting them to become exercises in doll-clothes-making. Now with Abakanowicz in mind, I made some new people that were deliberately more abstracted and more rough-edged. I omitted the arms and kept the frayed edges prominent instead of turning them to the inside. I replaced my usual cord wrappings with self-wrapping from torn strips.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Yesterday I showed you some of my earliest forays into printing on fabric with my printer's type. Some years later I got into a new phase of printing on fabric, using the letters as abstract designs rather than to spell out words. Here's an example: I prepared the background by stitching the large letters into tight bundles and applying fabric paint with a brush; the paint wicked out just enough to make a fat initial. Then I printed the smaller letters on top.
I worked for 20 years at a company that was the world's largest employer of actuaries, and much of my work involved translating complicated actuarial concepts into terms understandable by our non-actuary clients. So I spent many hours hanging out with actuaries, and my son also trained to become an actuary. I was envious of their ability to think in numbers, and imagined that when they lay down to sleep, they might see numbers floating about.
I made a quilt covered with numbers and called it "The Actuary's Dream." It wasn't in the roll that I unpacked last week and I don't have a good photo, but the next time I come across it I will take a picture and show you. Subsequently I made a half dozen or more "actuary quilts" -- here are four of them.
As in the alphabet quilt above, I bound or sewed the fabric into bundles, then applied fabric paint to make the underlying patterns, before printing on top.