Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Thread Lines 5 -- separated at birth

One last piece at the Thread Lines exhibit to tell you about.  When I came upon this large piece (45 x 51") I was immediately taken by its calm, subtle palette and tiny markings that invited a closer look.

Drew Shiflett, Untitled #60 (details below)

It's made from handmade paper, cut and torn into small pieces and then reassembled in layers.  There's some cheesecloth in there to help hold the pieces together.  Finally, it's painted with a bazillion thin vertical lines.

I love the rolling, bulging surface and the way it's pasted together haphazardly with a bunch of different patches and splices and irregular edges.  I love the rows of stripes, clearly applied by hand.  So much to look at and find up close, and yet with all this busy-ness, the whole piece is serene.

After I looked at it for a while I realized that it's a conceptual clone of two quilts that I made a couple of years ago.

Kathleen Loomis, Linear A 

Kathleen Loomis, Linear B (detail below)

All of these works are made to the same "recipe" -- an irregular, unstable "tower" of stacked horizontal bars, each constructed of numerous small vertical stripes, in a neutral palette.

No wonder I liked it!

That's all I have to say about Thread Lines, on display at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft through August 6.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

My favorite things 22

It's Memorial Day, and I'm never one to let holidays go by without a bit of theme-reminiscence.  So that brings me to World War II, during which my father served in the Army in Eastern France and into Western Germany.  He didn't bring back a lot of war souvenirs -- no sawed-off Nazi ears, no liberated Kandinskys -- but somehow I have had these little mementos in my jewelry box for decades.

On top, a tiny gold Cross of Lorraine, the two-barred cross that has been the symbol of that province since the 13th century.  During WWII it was the symbol of the French Resistance.  It's so small -- barely a half-inch tall, that I thought it would disappear if worn by itself, so since childhood I've worn it on the same chain as a larger cross.

On the right, a somewhat battered leatherette jewel box, which reads "Souvenir de la Résistance."  The medallion, which is fitted with a pin back, shows a guy sitting on a stone wall, or maybe climbing over it, with a woman behind holding a big rock.  Maybe they're building a barricade to derail a German locomotive.  The initials "F.F.I." stand for Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior) aka the Resistance, known as "fifis."

The medallion is dated 1944.  By the time Dad got to Lorraine, right around New Year's 44-45, the allies had liberated most of France, the fifis were incorporated into the regular army, and life had returned sufficiently to normal that entrepreneurs could manufacture resistance souvenirs.

On the left is a 20 centime coin, made out of some kind of metalloid material with hardly any weight whatsoever.  It's black with age, or maybe it was black to begin with, dated 1945.  It has a faint diagonal stripe across the face where for years it was apparently scotch-taped to a card, but I've always kept it in the same box with the medallion,

Although Dad's unit made it many miles into Germany before the war ended, he found himself on V-E Day in Paris!  Maybe that's where he bought these souvenirs, knowing that it was finally time to celebrate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Thread Lines 4 -- hand stitching extravaganza

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.

Every now and then a small wooden embroidery hoop is mounted over the wall drawing, and that part of the picture leaps into color with intricate hand embroidery over a phototransfer.  So you see three levels of detail: first the simple black-and-white sketch on the wall, then the not-very-brightly-colored photo on the cotton in the hoop, and then the brilliant sections embroidered in tiny, precise stitches.

Mónica Bengoa, One Hundred and Sixty Three Shades of Yellow, Green, Orange, Red, Purple, Brown, Grey and Blue (so far)

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.

I'll have one more post about this show, coming later in the week.  It's up at KMAC through August 6.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Thread Lines exhibition 3 -- hand stitching that I loved

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.

William J. O'Brien, Untitled (detail below)

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.

Jessica Rankin, Untitled (detail below)

It's a big piece, almost 60 inches square, with simple stitching, mostly satin stitch.  It's hung with long sturdy pins along the edges, stretched about an inch away from the wall.

I'm a sucker for maps so I loved the concept and the combination of solidly stitched areas with sketchier outlines.  I was puzzled by the loose threads that occasionally traversed between stitched areas and sometimes drooped limply for a foot or more.  Not sure what this was supposed to make me think -- the map is melting?  we've lost our way?  pedestrians were dragged underneath a bus for a mile?

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

My favorite things 21

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.

In an age of planned obsolescence, perhaps this particular appliance sneaked by quality control.  Surely they didn't expect that an $89 microwave would still be going strong into its fourth decade!

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

Thread Lines exhibition 2 -- do you like patterns?

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).

Ellen Lesperance, December 12, 1983: Standing Beside the Communal Campfire, She Reads Aloud from the Front Page News: "Women at War! 25,000 in Greenham Base Demo" (detail below)

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.

Robert Otto Epstein, Sleeveless Cardigan (detail below)

Here the pattern is rendered in graphite rather than in paint, but same difference.  If this is fiber art, which I'm not entirely sure of, then you might think one example would be plenty in a show with only 15 artists.

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.

 Beryl Korot, Weaver's Notation-Variation 1 (detail below)
At least this one had some actual stitching in it.  But all three left me cold, cold, cold.

Next week: some work in the show that I liked!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Thread Lines exhibition 1 -- the pioneers

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.

Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks

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.

Louise Bourgeois (detail below)

Louise Bourgeois (detail below)

Here's the Lenore Tawney piece, from 1974.  I wasn't following fiber art in those days, but from what I have reconstructed in my reading, this was a quintessential example of those early glory days when fiber briefly was on the verge of acceptance in the mainstream art world, and was all the rage in corporate office buildings to soften the hard edges of marble and concrete.

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.

Lenore Tawney, Union of Water and Fire (detail below)

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 favorite things 20

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.)

But I do love this big bracelet, oh so deco with its big rhinestones and elegant styling.  It's not the sort of thing you wear to the office, but since I'm retired I don't go to an office.  Every now and then I put it on and feel like a diva.

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

Middle-of-the-night problem-solving.

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.

And now that I'm working in the center of the piece, I'm having to walk around the bench with every stitch; stand in front, stick needle through correct hole, walk to back, pull needle through, stick needle back toward front, walk around to front, pull needle through, adjust placement of cord and pull taut.  Good exercise.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Networking and poetry

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:

And this week 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

Good in the studio

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.

It's not yet what many people might call "clean," but it's so beautiful that I can't believe it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

My favorite things 19

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.

You can barely see the armadillo behind the babies.

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

Teaching -- my dilemma

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).

And finally you can work one-on-one with a student; often you're serving more as a mentor than a teacher, but not necessarily.

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 find 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

There's still time!

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.

Not only will this fabulous opportunity to spend two or three or five days with me expire in July, your chance to sign up for a public workshop may expire forever after this particular gig.  I've been wrestling for years with the question of how much and where I should be teaching, and have about decided not to pursue teaching at QBL or the Crow Barn or other venues where individuals can sign up for workshops.  I'll tell you more about my thinking tomorrow.

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.