Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sewing for the third generation

Thoreau warned us to beware of enterprises requiring new clothes; I might revise that advice to cover new clothes requiring alterations, since I'm the one in the family who has to make the alterations.  While I adore mending, I'm not so hot on alterations.  Nevertheless I do them.

Yesterday I got to step up to the plate for Isaac's new Cub Scout uniform, which set his mom back more than $100 (!?!?!?!?!?!?) at the Scout store on Tuesday.  Cubs Scout pants have to be the only kids' pants still sold in the United States that come without hems; they're made six inches too long and somebody has to take them up.  I wonder how families without sewing grandmas deal with this challenge.

But I rose to the challenge, not only with hemming the pants but also sewing the troop number on the sleeve.  I was happy that the other patches, indicating the local Boy Scout Council as well as the American flag, came pre-sewed.  After years of mending only for big men, I had forgotten how small little boys' sleeves are and how hard it is to get your sewing machine in on those little numbers without inadvertently catching some other part of the garment in the seam.

I guess the Scouts still value those old traditional survival skills like sewing.  I wonder if they will instill them in the boys as well as demanding them of the moms and grandmas!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not exactly recycling...

I've been trying for the last several months to get rid of things that I no longer need, but keep coming across boxes of stuff stowed away in closets and under worktables.  Sometimes it's straight to the grab bag pile, but other times I find work in progress, often things that I started in workshops years ago but never finished.  And often those things aren't half bad, just not exciting enough to have made me work on them once I came home.

I've thought, seriously, that perhaps my next body of work should be using up all those partially pieced expanses.  Because my fine-line piecing is so complicated and labor intensive, there's an awful lot of work invested in those little bits, and I hate to flush it down the drain.  Uncut yardage can always be donated for charity quilts, but who wants to inherit a bunch of little modules of varying shapes and sizes that cry for more intricate piecing to match?

Last month I found a box with leftovers from an experiment in piecing with stripes.  It happened at the Crow Barn in 2007 or 2008.  I was struck by this array of batiks in the fabric store, variations on brown and chartreuse. I was just starting to experiment with striped fabric as the very fine lines separating my small shapes, so the striped fabric was also appealing.  I also bought a chartreuse fabric marker so some of the white dots in the brown-and-white fabric could become green.

I sewed up a bunch of samples and was unimpressed.  I have never been a fan of brown, and though I love chartreuse, there was too much just-kinda-plain-wishy-washy-green in this bunch of fabric.  But I carefully folded and bagged up everything and took it home with me, to languish for a decade.

Last month as I unpacked that box I decided maybe the samples weren't that ugly after all.  And there were a lot of modules already sewed together.  I was in the mood for some therapy sewing, so I started sewing them together.  I even found, in another place, that chartreuse fabric marker, which miraculously still had enough juice in it for a lot of new dots.  I went through my stash of striped fabrics and found several in greens and yellows to use as the fine lines, which added a bit of interest and pep.

Halfway through I realized that I needed to make a quilt for my International Threads challenge, on the theme of "integration," and this could be it.  So I made the piecing fit the IT size, quilted it up, and sent it back to Europe with Uta Lenk, who was visiting.

Not a masterpiece, but finished. Actually, not half bad -- I like the graphic contrast of the light and dark, and the many different variations on the simple three-color palette.  And I love how all that long-ago sewing paid off in the end.  There's plenty more unfinished piecing where that came from, and maybe I'll start working with those UFOs.  I have enough square footage already sewed to occupy me for the rest of my life.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

My favorite things 38

In 2013 I had a solo show at the beautiful art gallery at St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary, a monastic institution in St. Meinrad IN, an hour or so west of us.  It was founded in the 1850s by Benedictine monks sent from Switzerland to the frontier; their presence generated a large and thriving Catholic community that still exists in southern Indiana.

My husband and I drove over to deliver the quilts, and as we went through the closed gallery we saw that the artwork from the previous show was still there, leaning against walls and stacked near the door.  It was sculpture by Brother Martin Erspamer, a monk at St. Meinrad with an MFA who paints, designs worship spaces, and makes furniture, ceramics and stained glass.

Ken fell in love with a ceramic Jesus and we bought Him and took Him home with us.  It's a ceramic bas relief, about an inch thick and amazingly heavy.  After we got it home I went to hang it on the wall and realized to my dismay that there was no hanging apparatus -- no holes so you could slot the piece over nails in the wall, no wire loop embedded in the clay.  Hmmmm.

Having seen it in the gallery only leaning against a wall, I had no idea how they had displayed it in the show.  I called the gallery and said how am I supposed to hang this?  Well, they really had no idea.

Thank you.

Jesus leaned against the wall in Ken's office for several months until my wonderfully practical son figured out how to put Him securely on the wall.  The solution was two wooden railings, long enough to be screwed into the studs, rabbeted to make lips that keep the ceramic slab from coming loose.

I surrounded Jesus with a bunch of appropriate companion artworks: two medieval handwritten manuscripts, a 16-pointed cross, a wax replica of ivory saints from a cathedral.

I particularly love this piece of art because it was Ken's choice.  For 47 years he has been graciously welcoming art of my choice into our home, with only a few pointed comments about how so few of my paintings have any people in them.  (Yes, I'm a landscape junkie....)  This time he got what he wanted.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Good news and bad news, all on the same page

I always look forward to Friday's New York Times because it has a whole section on art, with reviews of several current shows.  And this morning's paper started out well, with a review of a fiber art show in Boston that wasn't the least bit condescending, didn't refer to anybody's grandma, and talked about "the timeless, haptic allure of fiber art."  Bravo!

But farther down the page, by the same reviewer, came a description of a show by Sanford Biggers, an African-American artist who makes paintings, collages, sculptures and videos.  One of the pieces that the reviewer described is a large sculpture made from antique quilt fragments.

Marianne Boesky Gallery
Sanford Biggers, Selah

The reviewer explains that antique quilts "are central to the art of the African diaspora" (true) and "were signposts used on the Underground Railroad" (FALSE!!!!!!!).

I am so sick of hearing this fake news, which has been debunked so many times, such as here by the scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.  Just as disappointing as hearing that these are or aren't like your grandma's quilts.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A great week for divestiture

What a great week I just had!

First, I took a carload of fabrics to my friend Ann, whose quilt guild likes to make charity quilts.  I've given them four carloads in the last several months, and maybe this is even the last of the bunch.  I've saved out the Kona solids, and all the commercial striped fabrics, and the batiks, and the African fabrics, and some other stuff to precious to give away, but now I think all the other quilting fabric is gone.

Next, I took a carload of non-quilting fabric to my friend Alana, who teaches textile art at our arts magnet high school.  What a bunch of miscellaneous stuff -- upholstery samples, fabrics too heavy for quilting, cords, tapes, I don't even remember what all.  I drove up during textile class and the kids rushed out to the car and unloaded everything, which was delightful.

Then the construction guys started taking apart our old bathrooms.  I asked them to remove the cabinets carefully, rather than smashing them to bits, and advertised them on our neighborhood email list.

Some guy came over the next afternoon and took them away.  He sent me a thank-you message and said he had also taken the "vintage medicine cabinet" out of the junk trailer.  Couldn't believe it -- this fixture was low-end in 1963 and hasn't gotten any more charming in the intervening decades, just a mirror flanked by two naked vertical fluorescent tubes.  But somebody wanted it!!  What a thrill.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A new body of work

A couple of months ago I got the idea to buy wood painting panels as supports for collage.  I thought they would give substance to the work, and avoid the necessity and expense of framing.  So I bought a five-pack of 9 by 12 panels and set to work.

I decided to work on all of them at once, and that all of them would have the same general elements.  At a workshop last year I made several pages worth of calligraphy, just writing in black india ink, sometimes overlaying the first page of writing with more writing in a different scale and a different direction.  I used those pages as the bottom layer.

Each collage would include a map, most would include an old photo, and I found four old books that I would tear up as collage elements for each of the pieces.  Then I added bits and pieces of this and that until the collages seemed finished.

The advantage of working on several pieces at once was that it gave me time for the various paints, inks, glues and mediums to dry; by the time I had worked on all five panels the first one was ready for another step.  I used plenty of matte medium as the top coat, or I should really say top coats, because I kept slathering that stuff on until some of the the surface resembled encaustic.  Toward the end I added some mystery junk for 3-D interest.

The five panels that I started with eventually grew to about ten, and I kept working on them bit by bit through the summer, not sure whether they were done yet.  The first one to be declared finished was a birthday gift, on a smaller but deeper panel that allowed me to add stuff on the sides and a roof on the top.

This week I declared two more finished so I could put them in the sales room at Pyro Gallery.

Messages: Eschenbach (detail below)

Messages: Allouez  (detail below)

I like the way this work is turning out, especially when several of the series are seen at once.  I like the way the various elements are finding their own balance, and the old photos and old book fragments seem to go well together.

Good thing, too, because there are at least a half dozen more of these in the studio waiting for something before they too can be finished.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My favorite things 37

One of the nice things about being a member of a co-op gallery is that you get to spend time hanging out with the art while you do your shifts of gallery-tending.  After I joined Pyro Gallery last fall, we had a pre-holiday show in which all the 22 member artists displayed work.  During my shifts I noticed that some of the art was definitely priced to sell -- perhaps it had been sitting in the studio so long that the artist didn't want to bring it home again.

I was drawn to a limestone sculpture by Mike McCarthy which looked vaguely pre-Columbian, and when we held a 10 percent off sale the week before Christmas, I pounced!  I wanted a sculpture for our front yard, something that would hold up to the weather, too small to be noticed from the street and too big to be easily stolen if a miscreant did spot it.  This one filled the bill.

When Mike brought the statue over, it was the dead of winter and this part of the front garden was just dirt.  My husband the gardener thought it was pretty much plant-free, although he wasn't sure what might come up again in the spring.

We sited the statue so it gave the big eye to people walking up the path, but also to those coming down off the porch.

As the spring wore on, daffodils came and went, sometimes crowding the statue on one side while leaving it empty on another; obviously no professional landscaping had occurred in the testing of this product.  But in August all of that changed -- brilliant zinnias came up to the left, scarlet sage came up to the right, framing my pre-Columbian guy in color.  He guards my front walk with a stern, all-seeing eye (and peeks into the guest room window with his back eye if you open the curtains).

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Good news!

Here's a long story about a small quilt.  If you've been reading my blog for years you've heard parts of it before.  It started out in 2010 as the leftover bits from a group project organized by Terry Jarrard-Dimond, in which a bunch of people collaborated on a quilt design.  After Terry sewed the final version together, I asked if I could have the scraps, and made two small quilts.

Or more accurately, two small quilt tops.  Only one of them got finished at the time because I wasn't pleased with the design.  I carried the other one around with me for years as a workshop sample, and at one workshop I had it pinned up on the design wall.  I was talking about how you should always evaluate your work, and that it's often more important to understand why certain things didn't work than to understand your successes.  I pointed to the quilt top on the wall and said I never felt that the top half played well with the bottom half.  And then I heard these words come out of my mouth:  "What I really should do is cut it in half, right about here..."

So I went home and did just that, separating the Siamese twins.  And they have been much happier as companions than they were together.

Left Coast

And now the latest chapter in the story.  I entered one of the quilts in the 24th Annual Juried Art Exhibition at the Krempp Gallery in Jasper IN.  I've been in that show several times before and try to enter every year; it's a beautiful space, the show attracts a wide variety of entries in all mediums, and best of all, the jurors seem to be very happy with fiber art.  In fact, two years ago another of my quilts won best in show.

Turns out that Left Coast, one of the Siamese twins, won best in show this year.  I am so proud of her!  If you're anywhere in southwest Indiana in the next month, drop by Jasper and check out the show -- there's plenty more fiber art besides mine.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hello to the new gallery...

Yesterday was the first day that Pyro Gallery's new space was open for business, and after it closed for the day we gathered for champagne to celebrate.  We took possession of the new space 12 days ago and it's been a flurry of moving, painting, and hanging the new show.  Although there's plenty left to be done -- almost half the space is still under construction, and we don't expect that finished until early next month -- it's great to see the place clean, sparkling white, extremely well lit, and with art on the walls!

Come visit if you're near Louisville -- our new address is 1006 E. Washington St.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Goodbye to the old bathrooms....

Yesterday the construction workers came to start on our huge bathroom project, in which two small bathrooms are going to be combined into a single beautiful one.  We've lived in this house for 31 years and I've chafed under the poor design ever since, but could never figure out what to do about it.  Finally I hooked up with a bathroom/kitchen guy who took one look and drew up plans that promise to be wonderful.

The smaller of the two bathrooms hasn't been used for its intended purposes in at least a decade, and instead became the garage for cardboard boxes.  Why do you need so many damn cardboard boxes, my husband has continually wanted to know.  But without cardboard boxes how would I ship quilts and other artworks hither and yon?

Now the boxes have taken up residence in one of the guestrooms.  We'll see how many of them survive the project.

My concern is whether construction dust is going to invade the other rooms on that floor, which include my studio.  The contractor assures me he will cover everything with plastic, tape doors shut, etc. and I don't have to worry.  I think I will worry just the same.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My favorite things 36

During the Great Depression my father, like so many other people, had a hard life.  His dad died of cancer, but not before using up the family's savings on hospital bills; he had to drop out of college after two years; he had a bunch of crappy jobs that he hated, including selling Libby's canned goods on the road in central Michigan.  But as things got better, he had a great opportunity, to work at and subsequently buy half of a weekly newspaper in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Frankenmuth was a tiny town settled by German immigrants in the 1840s.  Their plan was to save the heathen Indians not by sending a single missionary but by sending entire villages of people who would set a good example by living in Christian harmony in a community centered on the Lutheran church.

Unfortunately for the missionary effort, when they got to Michigan the Indians were long gone, driven out by loggers and settlers, so the immigrants simply went about their business, living in Christian harmony in a community centered on the Lutheran church.  My great-great grandfather was one of those immigrants, arriving in 1853.

Dad and a bunch of other young men came home from World War 2 determined to breathe new life into the staid old town, where people still spoke German as easily as English.  Dad had a great idea: Frankenmuth should capitalize on its German heritage and go for tourist business.  There were already three hotels in town that had become famous for serving chicken dinners, and people were accustomed to stopping for a meal on their way to and from Detroit.  The guys persuaded the local bank, ready for a new building, to use Bavarian architecture, and from then on other businesses did the same.

Pretty soon Frankenmuth had become a kitschy tourist town famous around the world.  Dad's buddy Wally Bronner opened a year-round Christmas store, selling ornaments, artificial trees, inflatable Santas, every kind of holiday stuff.  The hotels, now remodeled in Bavarian style, cranked out chicken dinners by the bazillion.  Main Street was filled with shops selling Germanic souvenirs.  The town was the first place outside of Germany to get an official imprimatur from Munich to hold a sanctioned Oktoberfest.  For years Frankenmuth was either #1 or #2 in the list of tourist attractions in the state.

When our family moved away from Michigan (I was 9 years old) Dad still kept his half of the paper as an absentee owner.  He always said he was waiting till I got out of journalism school and could take it over.  Privately I thought I would sooner move to Siberia and herd yaks, but didn't say this out loud.  Nevertheless, I was kind of hurt when, in my senior year of college, he sold out to his longtime partner without even discussing it with me.  All for the best, of course.

We buzz Frankenmuth whenever we go back to Michigan, which isn't all that frequently.  We always bring a cooler so we can load up on sausages at Kern's, and of course drink a beer and eat a chicken dinner.  And I always walk by the Frankenmuth News building, which is now the local history museum.  As Oscar Hammerstein wrote, "This nearly was mine."