Monday, January 31, 2011

Baby story

I've written before about my practice of making newborn quilts out of black and white fabrics only.  Because babies' ability to distinguish colors doesn't develop for several weeks, they can't focus properly on multicolored objects, but love black and white.

The latest newborn in our family is Kate, who arrived last week and is now home.  Her father reports:  "When we showed her the quilt Kate stopped squirming, stopped sucking on her pacifier and... it looks like she's reading it."  So far every baby we've tried this out on has had the same response, which warms my heart.  Never too early to get those kids reading!

If you have a new baby on the way, try making a black and white quilt.  It doesn't have to be big -- mine are all about 16 inches square -- and it buys you lots of time before you have to actually deliver on a regulation baby quilt.  (And it lets you wait till the baby has a name, so you can sew that into the quilt.)

Photo du jour

on the dock

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pre-Columbian textiles

All fiber artists, no matter how contemporary their sensibilities and leanings, must have soft spots in their hearts for the magnificent ancient textiles that have survived, against all the odds, across the centuries in a few fortunate spots on the globe.  I had the pleasure of seeing a treasure trove of such textiles recently in Santiago, Chile, at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.

Curiously, the museum has gathered artifacts from all the South and Central American civilizations, not just from the Andes.  But most of the textiles were from Peru and Chile.  I don't know enough about the various peoples and empires that succeeded each other in the pre-Columbian eras to distinguish among them, so I'll dispense with the geographical identifications and just tell you the dates.

Much of the Andes mountains is desert, and the low humidity has contributed to the remarkable longevity of these textiles.  Considering how enthusiastically my jeans fray and disintegrate at the hem and how frequently I encounter a rotten piece of cloth in a flea market or old box, I am always amazed to see fabrics and garments that have hung on for millenia.  Perhaps because the Inca didn't treat their yarns with formaldehyde for wrinkle-resistance.

I don't know enough about weaving to appreciate the nuances of technique, but I can savor the richness of the colors, the uniformity of the weave, the intricacy of the pattern.  My photos may be marred by reflections from the glass, but I think you'll share my wonder and delight at these specimens.

the classic Peruvian motifs 900-1470 AD

painted onto plain-weave cotton  900-700 BC

more classic patterns; cotton/llama yarns 400-600 AD

 funeral cloth, llama yarn  500-700 AD

shirt border band  cotton/llama  600-800 AD

cotton/llama  200-400 AD

weft-face tapestry, shirt fragment


and my favorite -- yes, it's tie-dye!

Photo du jour

on the dock

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Jane Dunnewold extravaganza -- part 1

Arguably the best place in the world for a fiber art lover this week is Louisville, where Jane Dunnewold is halfway through a weeklong stint of teaching, lecturing and exhibiting.  I'll write more about the others later, but today I want to write about her solo show, "Etudes: A Daily Practice," at the University of Louisville School of Art, through February 13.  It consists of a stunning 48 pieces of art that she made in a six-week marathon of daily work.

I've seen many substantial solo shows, in various mediums and art practices, but never one so unified in theme and appearance.  Jane explained in an informal gallery talk how she came to make this work.  She wanted to choose a subdued palette after making many brilliantly colored works for an earlier show (all of the new works are made of pale gray silk, with a very limited appearance of the occasional color).  She wanted to work in a horizontal format (most of the works are between 9 and 15 inches tall, and between 34 and 64 inches wide). 

She had inherited a lot of silk yardage from a friend who gave up on surface design, and used a different kind each week.  She wanted to explore three specific techniques: devore, paper lamination and sand printing.  And she chose a small number of visual images that all were linked in some way to music.

If you know anything about Jane's work, you know that her thing is the repeated use of visual images in multiple layers of surface design.  The pieces in this show shared several visual themes: old garments, dress pattern pieces, birds, sheet music, Bible pages, counting by cross-hatched groups of five, checkerboards, leaves.  Sometimes she took a single screened image and printed it in four or five different ways in the same piece. 

Frequently the last touch to a piece was a small bit of hand-stitching, sometimes in a color.  Several of the pieces incorporated tiny bits of an old crazy quilt, its hand-stitched seams foreshadowing Jane's own stitches. 

All the photos in this post are detail shots; my camera isn't up to the task of properly depicting these short, wide, almost monochromatic compositions.  Besides, I know that if I did, you would want me to zoom in for the closeups of the images and techniques.

The works are similar in the long view, as you look around the gallery, but it is the close views that reveal the subtle variations on Jane's themes.  As a whole, the pieces give a powerful reminder of time, of growth, of deterioration, and amid it all, the endurance of the spirit.

I am in awe of this body of work and if you're anywhere within shooting distance of Louisville I would strongly urge you to find a way to see this show.  It even rated a good review and glowing story about Jane in the local newspaper, and you know what a rare treat that is.

Photo du jour

in suspension

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Photo du jour

sign of the week

Art in Antarctica -- sort of

One of the payoffs to reading your art history and paying attention at the museum is the delicious thrill you get when you suddenly find the doppelganger of the famous work of art just sitting there in real life.

Earlier this month I had a moment like that in Antarctica, of all places, when we visited Deception Island, the site of an old British whaling station and later scientific research base, which was abandoned in the late 1950s after it had the misfortune of being erupted upon by a volcano, not once but three times.

The beach at Deception Island, inside the caldera of the volcano, is dominated by the remains of many rusty tanks, once used to store whale oil but now falling apart.  The instant I saw them I thought "Richard Serra!" 

Serra, one of the great minimalist sculptors, first became famous when his vast work "Tilted Arc" was installed in Federal Plaza in New York City in 1981.  The piece, made of Cor-Ten steel, which rusts beautifully, was 120 feet long and 12 feet high.  Many people thought it was magnificent, but the philistines yelled loudest.  It was too expensive, and it was ugly, and people put graffiti on it, and worst of all, you had to walk a few steps out of your way to get around the arc and enter the federal building.  Although twice as many people testified at the eventual public hearing that they liked it, compared to those who hated it, the bureaucrats in charge voted to dismantle the sculpture in 1989.

Richard Serra, Tilted Arc

I never saw the sculpture, although I did go to New York on business many times during those years, which I regret (missing the Arc, not going to New York on business).  Mea culpa.  I wasn't as plugged in to art as I am now, silly me.  But I have seen many pictures, and have seen many other Serra works in person.

Serra still loves Cor-Ten steel, and in this decade he has extended his arc concept to make huge, room-sized spirals and enclosures of rusty steel.  I saw a lovely one at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art last year.

Richard Serra, Band

So imagine my surprise to find the psychic twins of these great works of art on the deserted beach of an island at the far end of the world.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Passing it on!

I had a treat earlier this week when I learned that Janet Bottomley, a quilter and teacher from the UK, has nominated me for the Liebster Award, a kind of moveable feast in the low end of the blog world.  The idea is to give a little appreciation to smaller blogs (those with fewer than 300 followers) that you particularly enjoy.  (I believe that it started in Germany, hence the name, which means "favorite.")

So first, my thanks to Janet, who blogs about her quilts and her studies for the City and Guilds continuing education program.  I think it's marvelous that the internet makes it possible to have friends on other continents, and that we so often realize how much we have in common with people so far away geographically but so close in terms of everything important.

But now the hard part -- who will I pass this honor along to?  I have many blogs that I read religiously, often to the detriment of actually going into my studio to make art.  It was hard to choose just three.

First on my list has to be Thru Linda's Eyes, in which Linda McLaughlin posts a photograph every day.  First, because that's the blog I read first every morning when I sit down at the computer.  I've written about how Linda has been a role model for my own similar project and how I suspect we are twins separated at birth. 

Second is Margaret Cooter, another Brit, whose blog I have become addicted to in the last six months or so.  Margaret has been particularly prolific and productive since she enrolled in a course on book arts.  As a typophile myself I have loved watching the nifty projects she's making when she's not doing fiber art or photography.

Third is Terry Jarrard-Dimond, whom I have the pleasure of knowing because like me, she is a repeat offender at Nancy Crow's classes.  Terry has written extensively about her experiments with surface design, complete with tutorials that have inspired lots of readers to try flour resist and other exotic techniques.  But I really love her thoughts on art in general, and her insights gleaned from many decades in the art world (I'm always jealous of people who went to art school the first time around and have been doing it for their whole careers, in contrast to latecomers like myself).

I could suggest many more blogs worthy of honor but I'll stick with the rules for now.  Thanks, Janet, and my thanks also to Linda, Margaret and Terry who have given me so many hours of good reading and thinking.

Photo du jour


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photo du jour


Parts / wholes

So here's my ethical dilemma for the day, which I will happily share with you.

I have had the honor and pleasure of being associated with an endeavor that is nearing completion but can't yet be fully revealed.  A woman I know who has been involved in quilting for decades is the lead player in making a documentary series about quilts, covering the wide range from antiques to contemporary art.  She has interviewed many quilters (including me) and gotten hundreds of images of quilts of all sorts.

The first two episodes of the documentary are ready for rough screening, and one of the few people who has seen them had a big problem.  Seems that some of the quilts were shown in detail, not in full view.  The unhappy viewer thought that the artists would be upset (even though all the images were submitted voluntarily by the artists, who granted unlimited permission to use them). 

The auteur/producer called me last night for an opinion, since she knows I have submitted several images of my own quilts for the project (don't know whether she has used them or not).  I asked her what steps she's taking to give public credit to the artists, whether full shots or details were used.

She said that the film will run a credit listing the name of each artist whose work was shown in the episode, plus a reference to the project website for more details.  The website will list the name of the artist; the title, measurements, date, materials and techniques for each quilt pictured in the episode; plus an image of the full quilt.  Written materials for the project will also direct people to the website for more details.

My opinion was that as an artist I would be thrilled to have my work shown in this documentary, whether in full view or detail.  I also pointed out that much of my work actually looks better in detail than in full view (as you will see from the right-hand column of this blog!).  I said that this project has several objectives, such as education, entertainment and promotion, but it does NOT intend to be a catalog raisonne or a scholarly treatise.  I thought it was important to have the full info available online, but not crucial to put it in the actual movie.

This of course was the answer she wanted to hear, but we wondered what other art quilters might think.  I'd really appreciate your thoughts, and promise to pass them along.  Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of my own work, where I'd probably rather have the detail on display than the full quilt!

Postage 1: Regatta, 2008

Postage 1 -- detail 

Postage 4: Spaghetti Sauce, 2008

Postage 4 -- detail

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why do I love decrepitude?

On the last night of our Antarctic cruise, we were all invited to submit three of our best photos for a slide show that was going to play during cocktail hour.  You can imagine the glorious photos that would constitute this show -- ice, penguins, killer whales, magnificent scenery.   There were more than a dozen photos of what I called the "poster child" iceberg of the voyage.

Perhaps you can't imagine the sheer overwhelming presence of photography on this expedition.  The lenses, the cameras, the tripods, the laptops on which people downloaded their pictures every night and fussed over getting them in order.  One of the professional photographers on board did a survey of the passengers and extrapolated that collectively we took almost a half million photos on this 10-day cruise!   I don't know whether every single human being on the ship had a camera, but I wouldn't be surprised. 

One day we happened upon a Ross seal on an ice floe.  That probably doesn't impress you any more than it impressed me when our naturalist announced this to our little zodiac boat full of tourists.  But it turns out that the Ross seal is an exceptionally rare species, and this particular one had apparently drifted on its ice floe many hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.  The guys who had spent their lives in the Antarctic were over the moon to have seen and photographed this creature, and we ignorant but happy passengers were pleased to snap away too.  Somebody on the ship commented that this is probably the most-photographed Ross seal in history.

So back to the going-away party.  When I reviewed my photos, I decided to submit one that I figured wasn't going to be submitted by anybody else.  Here it is -- Antarctic graffiti! 

I have realized, after getting home and reviewing my photos on the big screen, that I am particularly fond of my pictures of decrepitude.  There hasn't been much human presence in the Antarctic, and mercifully there aren't many traces of it.  Today tourists and scientists alike are sworn on their mothers' graves to leave no trash behind, take no souvenirs, make no alterations to the landscape.  But here and there we came upon remnants of human habitation, whether a scientific research base or an old whaling station.  (The graffiti was on a tank used decades ago to store whale oil.)  I realized that these places fired up my photographic juices far more than the more conventionally beautiful vistas of wildlife and landscapes.

I like the intersection of nature and mankind, especially where it looks like nature is winning.  That's true at home, when I wander down alleys and shoot decrepit, paint-peeling garage doors, and away, when I find remnants and vestiges of past human activity.  Maybe I'm just a little weird.

Photo du jour

in the ice again

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vacation inspiration

Clearly time for me to get back to real life after my magnificent vacation to the end of the earth.  Since I got home I've mainly been doing laundry, unpacking and reading old newspapers, but the gravitational pull of art is starting to be felt. 

I know from my art history readings that many artists have come home from vacations with new excitement and outlooks that have changed their entire work.  The young Paul Klee, for instance, famously went to Tunisia with two of his lesser-known artist pals, Louis Moilliet and August Macke.  In only a couple of weeks his brilliant watercolor sketches convinced him that color and paint were far more important than drawing, and he came home firmly pointed in the direction of greatness.

Paul Klee, Garden in St. Germain, European Quarter of Tunis, 1914

Unlike Klee, I didn't make sketches on my vacation, just took pictures (would art history have changed if Klee had brought a Brownie with him?).  But I did think occasionally about whether and how the wonderful, exotic scenery of Antarctica is going to affect my art. 

I don't do realism, so that means no adorable penguins, seals or killer whales.  But I have been pondering the icy palette of the polar waters --blue-black ocean, black rock, white snow and ice, gray lines of dirt and rock dust within the glaciers, a huge range of medium and light blues and blue-greens as you get close to floating ice and see the light reflecting back.  

I've never worked with this palette before, even though I've been awed to sail amid glaciers and icebergs on previous vacations.  Is it as simple as realizing the pitfalls of sewing on large expanses of white?  Not only can you see every non-white thread or seam allowance on the back side of your quilt shadowing through to the top, but the quilt gets dirty after you manhandle it for a month or two.

For both those reasons, I wrote last summer about my resolution to never make a pale yellow quilt again, even though I'm pleased to report that it got into Quilt National '11. So would I not only forget my promise but up the ante and go for white this year? Don't know if I'm that dumb. And yet would the polar blues be that evocative without the white to surround and set them off? Probably not.

So I'm going to contemplate ice and what aspect of it might be intriguing enough to work with. I'll let you know when I figure it out!

But meanwhile, I'm interested in your experiences. Have you come home from vacations with ideas that have made major, lasting change in your own art history? Or have you dabbled in souvenir art that faded almost as fast as your suntan? I suspect even world-class artists have had both kinds of responses.

Photo du jour

ramming through the ice

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011