Monday, March 27, 2023

The juror speaks... part 1

Twenty years ago, I was one of a group of four quiltmaker/artists who helped start Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, a juried show that has grown into one of the highly regarded venues in the US.  As a nod to old times, they asked me to serve as a juror again this year.

A lot has changed since those early years when we juried from slides, and then to digital images submitted on disk.  Now it's done through CaFE, an online platform that serves many of the big shows.  I've ranted several times in the past about my frustrations with CaFE as a show entrant, but never had a chance until now to be frustrated with it as a juror. 

Because I didn't wrestle with this particular setup as an entrant, I don't know what they did to confuse so many people, but apparently it worked.  At least a half dozen people were sufficiently confused as to enter two quilts on one entry form, one in the full view field and one in the detail field, and then a few went on to put one of the two into a separate entry form.  I hope nobody got lost in the shuffle with multiple entries (a fair amount of time was spent by jurors and show organizers trying to get those sorted out). 

In addition, many people attached their detail shot where they were supposed to put their full view, and vice versa.  I didn't count how many in the initial pool, but on our "short list" of 139 quilts, ten were switched around, which seems to point to some flaw in the system rather than just random user error.  

Arguably it is no big deal for jurors to see the full view and detail in the wrong order, but I noticed something that I have seen in many other of my jurying experiences:  I frequently liked the detail shot more than the full view!  And when that one came up first in the viewing window, I would think that was the whole quilt -- and then be a little disappointed to find that it wasn't. 

What does that mean?  Sometimes that wide borders and bindings and surrounds are putting too much boring space around the interesting part in the middle.  Sometimes that quilts composed of many versions of a recurring motif get carried away, with lots of smaller motifs distracting from the big, strong one that serves as the focal point.  (You knew that was the strongest part of the quilt, didn't you?  That's why you chose that for the detail shot....)  Sometimes it just means that less is more, that one strong, simple composition can pack a big whammy, especially if it's big. 

I was happy to find so many big quilts in the pool.  In our short list it is common to find quilts 6 feet square or even larger.  I don't remember how many years it's been since FNF did away with a maximum size, but I think the show has greatly benefited from that decision.  Many artists who want to play in the juried show ballpark have apparently decided that it's hard to make an impact with a medium-sized quilt.  I agree, and I found myself checking the sizes of the entries before assigning scores.  If an image looked great on screen (the same size as all the others) but turned out to be on the small side, it had to be really spectacular to get the highest ratings.

I was also happy to find that the artistic quality of realistic, representational quilts was pretty high. No rusty pickup trucks in this batch of entries, only one household pet.  I've always been biased against this genre of quilts, because the subject matter is so often kitschy and cliched, and because I don't think fabric is well suited to making realistic images.  But in this batch, many of the representational pieces had a distinctive artist sensibility, with a degree of abstraction and sophisticated composition that took them steps above the usual faithful rendering of a photograph into fabric; those were the ones that made it to the short list.   

I can't show you images of the quilts now, of course, because we're still jurying.  The show will open on May 11 and I promise to have lots of photos then to support my observations and opinions!  Stay tuned.  Meanwhile, because what's a blog post without a picture, here's Best in Show from FNF 2021.

Karen Schulz, Objects in This Mirror

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Too much excitement -- parts 3 and 4

When I last posted, I was recovering from the double whammy of my husband's near-death cardiac event and the mysterious failure of the big mirror in our front hall.  I was hopeful that the worst was behind us. 

Of course, the worst was behind us -- it's hard to top a near-death event when it comes to comparing hardships.  But the hits just keep on coming.  Later that day we had a terrible storm come through, with wind gusts of almost 80 mph.  Our neighborhood was hard hit, with trees down all over the place, including on the power lines.  

We were without power for 76 hours, during which it was dark and cold much of the time, dark and somewhat warmer the rest of the time.  Outside of one afternoon when we camped out at a son's house, we stayed home and contemplated how boring it is to have no music, no internet, no sewing machine, no fridge, no TV.  We slept a lot, because it was nice and warm in bed even when the temperature in the house got pretty low.  Two afternoons I sat in the car in the driveway, which was nice and warm in the sun, and took naps.  

two blocks from our house

The power returned and to our delight, we didn't even lose the contents of the freezer, which were still covered in ice crystals and thus savable.  We had a couple of days of happiness just to be back in our home with everything working.

But little did we know.

Yesterday morning, prior to a grocery run, we went downstairs to see if we needed toilet paper in the seldom-used guest bathroom.  Well, needing toilet paper was an understatement, because it turns out that sewage was backing up into the toilet, the bathtub, the shower.  Apparently the entire sewer line leading out of our house has clogged up.  Every drop of water that goes down a drain will only raise the water table (or should we say the sewage table) so the house is effectively unlivable.

The plumber said he couldn't do anything without a helper, and that couldn't occur till Monday morning.  He also called the sewer district, just in case the clog is in the area of their responsibility.  They have been out twice and haven't been able to get their sewer-cam in position to inspect.  They're also coming back Monday morning.

So we're holed up in a nice cozy motel for at least another night, feeling sorry for ourselves.  My daily stitching has turned very dark.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Too much excitement

Last week in my house was filled with excitement, the bad kind.  On Friday my husband felt faint, got up from his computer chair, went into the dining room, and passed out, with a monumental crash.  Fortunately I was in the studio, not at the grocery store, and thus was able to summon the ambulance and get him to the hospital.

By that time his heart was slowing down, then stopping for as long as six seconds, then restarting itself to do the same thing over again.  Clearly that was what had happened to cause the fall and the crash, and the remedy was an immediate temporary pacemaker, followed by a permanent pacemaker on Monday.  Now he just has to heal up and he will be considerably better than he was a week ago, no more worries about passing out from slow heartbeat.

I wish I could say the same for the house.  When he fell, he put two spectacular dents in the wall, but fortunately none of the dozen pictures on that wall came down, otherwise we would have had a near-death body covered in shards of glass.

Then two nights later as I was just home from a long day at the hospital, I turned the corner into our front hallway and realized something was wrong.  What was it?  I realized it was the beautiful wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling mirror at the far end.  Instead of being vertical, it was tilted, and my reflection looked like it was going downhill.  

Turns out the mirror had detached itself from the wall and fallen forward for six inches, until it encountered the molding around the front door.  

When my handy sons inspected the scene of the crime the next day, they realized that the mirror had been "secured" only by two little clips at the bottom edge, nothing at the top edge (where there is a half-inch clearance, not a lot but enough to have installed some other kind of fastener).  

Had it been glued to the wall and just this week decided to let loose?  Had my husband stumbled against it on his way to collapsing in the dining room?  Had the EMTs stumbled against it while humping his limp body out the front door?  There were no handprints or smudges anywhere on the mirror, so probably it did its thing without human intervention.   Had it been a disaster waiting to happen ever since the house was built in 1963?

One of the handy sons brought over an industrial-strength tension rod -- think spring-loaded curtain rod, but tightened with a lever handle.  Suitable for jacking up sagging roofs and punching holes in concrete.  He pushed the mirror back against the wall, padded the bulging places on the tension rod with a pool noodle and installed it in front of the mirror.  Now we are safe, I hope, till we can get a guy in to fix the holes in the wall and affix the mirror more securely this time.

Never a dull moment.  By the way, the patient is doing well, although it's going to take a while.