Friday, August 5, 2022

I have not been dead, it just looks that way...

I am so embarrassed at how long it's been since I last posted.  June and July have been the busiest months in years and while I've kept up with the daily painting and the daily Instagram posts, I have sorely neglected my blog.  I guess that proves that, at least for me, making a commitment to daily art works much better than just trying to do something as frequently as possible.  I'll try to catch you up on what I missed telling you about at the time.

So the end of June was a marathon of getting a truckload of art ready to hang in my solo show at PYRO Gallery.  A bit more than half the pieces in the show were new work, made in the last two years.  The rest were older, but mostly never seen locally.  Among the very oldest was this quilt that appeared in the special "I Remember Mama" exhibit at the Houston Quilt Festival in 2003.

Household Textiles, 2003, details below

When I wrote an artist statement for the Houston show, it was pretty sweet -- kind of embarrassing to me as I read it again for the first time in almost 20 years.  I talked about women who "sit with our needles and contemplate our lives as we sew, finding joy, peace, and a brief respite from chores and chaos."

When I gave a couple of gallery talks during the run of my show, I found myself taking a different and darker tone.  I pointed out that household textiles come is two different varieties: as instruments of female drudgery, and sometimes as instruments of female creativity and pleasure.  I noted that the ladies on the quilt (three of them are actual people, including Viola, my mother; two are made-up names given to unidentified photos found in the family box) obviously spent a whole lot more time on drudgery than on creativity...

I was particularly happy that my sister was able to come for the opening of the show, and got to revisit her old wedding dress incorporated into the quilt. 

The marriage didn't last, but the dress sure did.  It was made of that luscious heavy, drapey polyester that was so popular in the early 70s and it will no doubt outlive every other piece of textile on the entire quilt, if not the entire world. You can see in the photo that I stuffed the long sleeve so it rises a good three inches off the surface of the quilt, and I was astounded to see that after 19 years on a shelf, the sleeve is still just as perky and wrinkle-free as it was when I folded up the quilt and stowed it away.   Go, polyester!   (Now, of course, people sneer at polyester, while loving microfiber, which of course is the same thing...) 

On another note of remembrance, I couldn't help but think, many times during the show, of my dear friend Marti Plager, who died a year ago.  She had always loved this quilt and on many occasions urged me to find a way to get it up in public again.  A few times I almost did, and Marti was disappointed when it never happened.

So it finally happened, and I hope Marti got to look down from heaven and see it displayed so nicely.


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Getting ready -- a lot of work...

My new show opens four weeks from yesterday and I'm now in the stage that is probably the least fun.  All the art is made, but it has to be made ready to hang.  I've made about 20 hand-stitched pieces in varying shapes and sizes, most of them pretty small, and to make a cohesive body of work they're all going to be mounted on stretched canvases, covered with black fabric.  

Unfortunately, the black fabric is not tightly woven (I bought the cheapest cotton in the store) so the white canvas shows through when it's tightly stretched.  So I had to paint the outer border of the canvas black first. 

Then to the stretching.  The parts in the middle are easy to do, but the corners are tricky if you want them to be as flat as possible.  (The purchased canvas already has a triangle of three layers at each corner, so perfectly flat isn't going to happen, but by pulling tight you can get them to fold neatly, without bulges.)  

I do this by pulling and pinning and inspecting and pulling some more and repinning everything before putting in the final staples in the corners.  

I sew the embroideries to the canvas,  sometimes with the stitches invisible (time-consuming, but it's almost like magic when you're done) and sometimes visible.  Fortunately it's easy to stitch through the canvas and sometimes I got into a groove, carrying many of the stitching lines off the original fabric and well onto the background.  

I am deliberately avoiding calculating how much time it takes me to get a "finished" embroidery onto a canvas.  If I did, I'd probably realize that I'm paying myself a minimum wage of about 95 cents an hour.  But there are compensations, such as seeing a big stack of canvases, all looking the same, ready to go.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Let them drink beer

This post has nothing to do with fiber art but I'm feeling seriously crabby.

I'm crabby about the crisis in baby formula.  As a mother who failed at breastfeeding my first time around (as did my mother and my sister) and went straight to the bottle the second time around, I can't imagine what mothers are doing today when they can't find formula in the stores.  And it seems that the only response from the public health establishment is to harangue them: DON'T, DON'T, DON'T make homemade formula.

I was particularly annoyed this afternoon to read my regular email newsletter from Dr. Leana Wen, who writes for the Washington Post.  A reader complained to her: "Why aren't pediatricians sharing these recipes?  Public health authorities keep treating mothers like they are too incompetent to follow simple directions to feed their babies."

Dr. Wen sanctimoniously explained the two reasons why mothers shouldn't make their own formula.  "First, commercial formula is carefully researched through clinical trials to provide the specific nutrients babies need.  Homemade recipes will likely lack these nutrients or contain them in improper amounts."

So how about sharing recipes that contain the right nutrients in the right amounts?  Wouldn't that be better than leaving desperate parents to their own devices?

Dr. Wen continues:  "Second, homemade recipes are rife with bacterial contamination.  There are Internet recipes that call for using unpasteurized raw milk, which is really dangerous for babies."

Again, how about sharing a recipe that doesn't call for unpasteurized raw milk?  Or sharing tips for making sure that homemade formula is protected as much as possible from bacteria?  People are capable of canning tomatoes in sterile jars, and in an emergency -- which we have right now -- they should be able to carefully do the best possible job with baby formula.

Dr. Wen and WaPo are not alone in telling people what not to do but offering no help on what they should do instead.  Here's the New York Times' list of don'ts:  

"If you're running low on formula, don't dilute it or try to stretch it by adding water."  

"Don't buy formula from an online marketplace like Facebook or Craigslist... Always go to a trusted store, pharmacy or directly to the manufacturer."  (in other words, all those places that don't have any formula on the shelves...)

"Don't feed toddler formula to your infant.  (Toddler formula may be OK for an older baby for a few days; check with your doctor.)" 

"Buying imported European formulas, which aren't FDA-approved, has potential risks.  For example, in Europe, a hypoallergenic formula may contain intact proteins, which can cause reactions in babies with allergies."  (apparently the White House missed this memo, because they're already starting to airlift formula from Europe...)

For many reasons, this isn't turning out to be a great year for parents and children.  Perhaps the FDA will eventually get around to approving a covid vaccine for little ones, or perhaps they'll just hope the little ones can survive to age 5.  Perhaps the airlifted formula will be sufficient that the babies can survive long enough to be able to finally drink toddler formula.  

And with any luck, the little ones will survive to adulthood without being shot up in their classrooms.  Our grandson graduated from elementary school today, uneventfully.  Other grandparents sadly are not as fortunate as we in that respect.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Feeling trapped

I've been painting fish for several weeks in my daily art project.  Since fish live in water, and since I am intrigued by the washy effects of wet-into-wet painting, I've been doing a lot of experimenting with making the fish blurry, as though seen through the water.

I've enjoyed this series, although I think it's about to end, because I have other ideas to explore.  But a strange thing happened with the fish this week.

We have been tied up in organizing a family transition, as my sister-in-law is going to move across the country from a single-family home on a multi-acre lot in the exurbs to a senior living center here in Kentucky.  We are her closest family, and it's time for her to come to where we can support and help her.

We visited four, count 'em, four places yesterday, which is at least one too many, if you're planning a similar emdeavor.  But fortunately, we found one that looked pretty good, and this morning we went back for a second look and more gory details.  I think this is going to happen -- as soon as the minor tasks of selling a house and moving across the US can be worked out.  Things will be better for everybody once it's done; just the doing will be hell on wheels.

So back to my fish.

I was going to be the get-it-done, voice of reason on yesterday's expedition.  I was familiar with three of the places we visited, because two dear friends, now dead, had lived there.  I had set foot in these three establishments dozens or scores of times.  I knew that my husband and his sister were emotionally fraught by this task, so I was going to be the one who would guide and evaluate with a slightly more objective and detached view.

But as the day wore on, I found myself un-detached, and unexpectedly feeling trapped and claustrophobic.

The fish told the story -- when I did my painting last night the fish ended up in a box.

And this morning, before we headed out for the second visit to the best place, the fish ended up in a trap.

I'm a decade younger than my husband and his sister, so I have known forever that it's likely I'll be the last one standing, the one who does the caregiving and the support at the end of life.  But something about visiting these places made me painfully aware that we're all getting older.

I have sworn that I will never enter an institution when I get old; instead I will die in my own home if it kills me (thus cleverly avoiding the issue of what to do with my studio and my stash and my collections of stuff that I intend to turn into art.  Let my kids deal with that after I'm gone.  And sure enough, just walking into these places -- even the best, most pleasant of them -- reminded me of why I have sworn this oath.

I think the place we have found will be the best solution for my SIL.  It will allow her to easily make friends in a city where she has never lived, thousands of miles away from her present home.  It will give her support and infrastructure so she won't have to lean on us for everything.  It will provide access to dozens of activities and lots of companionship that she could never get in a regular old apartment.  I'm not sure why I'm feeling trapped instead of happy.  (Actually, I guess I'm happy too, but the fish certainly aren't...)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Sanford Biggers at the Speed, part 3

I've written about the Sanford Biggers show in two previous posts.  Time for a wrap-up.

The piece I liked best in the show was a Tumbling Blocks quilt, with a minimum of paint, overlaid with a dramatic horizontal flame of orange-and-black chevron print.  A little bit of black paint made a curvy outline over the old blocks, a sort of half-silhouette of a key shape.

Sanford Biggers, Quilt 17 ( Sugar, Pork, Bourbon) 

My second favorite was a collage of old quilts, plus a section of curvy stripes made from sequins on a black painted background.

Sanford Biggers, Transition

I liked these quilts because they thoughtfully used large patterned shapes to contrast with and complement the smaller patterns of the vintage pieced quilts.  In both cases there was artistry in the composition and care in the construction.

Sadly, I did not see those features in most of the quilts in the exhibit.  The artspeak at the entrance to the gallery tells us "the quilts signal their original creator's intent as well as the new layers of meaning given to them through Biggers's artistic intervention."  I searched in vain for the new layers of meaning in most of the pieces in the show.

As I mentioned in my first post about this show, I walked in the door as a Biggers skeptic, based on a bit of past knowledge of his work, but would have liked to like this show.  Instead I was surprised at the strength of visceral discomfort that hit me in only the first two rooms of the gallery; all those beautiful antique quilts deliberately messed up with paint and tar to no apparent purpose.  Perhaps it wasn't the defacing per se that bothered me -- I've been known to repurpose old quilt bits myself -- but the slapdash quality of the defacing.  

I went to the museum with two friends, one an artist, one not.  When we compared notes all three of us just wanted to get out of there fast.  I wasn't there long enough to discover exactly what made me so unhappy, and for that I apologize.  

The show will be up through June 26.  I'd love to hear what other people think of it, whether I'm alone in my unease.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Sanford Biggers at the Speed, part 2

More comments about the Sanford Biggers show.  Not everything in the show featured messy paint applications.  One of the quilts, stretched on a wood armature, had dramatic holes, bordered with black organza to give a striking shadow illusion.

Sanford Biggers, Ecclesiastes 1 (KJV)
A similar see-through illusion appeared in an assemblage of six framed quilt sections, with some two-layer areas where the semiopaque frosted plexiglass was cut away to reveal a quilt about a quarter-inch behind.  

Sanford Biggers, Nyabinghi, detail below

Two of the quilts, both Tumbling Blocks, were overlaid with sequins and lame, glittering under the gallery lights.  No paint drips on these, just fabric collage.  

Sanford Biggers, Ooo Oui, detail

Sanford Biggers, Ooo Oui

Several pieces were made by stretching quilt sections into wood-framed constructions.  The first one we saw as we came through the exhibit was intriguing, made in part from American flag-motif quilts. 

Sanford Biggers, Reconstruction, detail below

But the next four or five, the same concept with slightly different construction shapes, all kind of looked alike, and the fact that they were hung too high on the wall to see most of the surfaces made them easy to walk past without stopping to look. 

Maybe I would have liked them better if all the "construction" pieces had been hung together for comparison, but they weren't.

I'll give you the wrap-up report in my next post.