Archive for the ‘SAQA’ Category

Pulling Out Too Soon

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

One thing I’ve learned: if you create innovative, thought-provoking work, at some point somebody’s going to crap all over it. They’ll say things like “This is ugly; I want to see pretty” or “Somebody sure had a lot of time on their hands” or “You couldn’t pay me enough money to have that in my house.” It doesn’t matter how objectively good the work is. You can make a piece showing how people were transported on slave ships during the rum trade era, and somebody will whine about it because it made them think for a split second and their brains couldn’t handle it. I’ve seen it happen.

Works with nudity really get this treatment. If a piece includes nudity, real or imagined, somebody will have an apoplectic fit while they’re crapping on it. Sometimes, if the work is exhibited in a show, they’ll have their little fit all the way to the show’s organizers, then maybe hang out and wait for a TV news crew so they can be offended on camera. If they’re really good at being manipulative, they can scare the show’s organizers into taking the work down.



A few months back, I wrote an article on this type of thing. I interviewed Annabel Rainbow, Randall Cook, Kathy Nida, and a couple of other people who didn’t wish to be identified. Their stories of censorship are truly chilling.

The piece appears in Issue 122 of Textile Fibre Forum. I recommend checking it out, not only for their stories, but because TFF is a nice, crisp, high-quality publication. That issue also includes articles on the work of Grayson Perry, Charlotte Kruk, and others. Electronic back copies can be purchased on iTunes or via PocketMags.



I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket, © Kathy Nida

Alas, censorship has reared its hysterical, pearl-clutching head again. One of my friends, Kathy Nida, just had work pulled from AQS Grand Rapids because a viewer THOUGHT she saw a penis in it. Here’s her blog entry. ***

I happen to know that the visitor didn’t see a penis. She didn’t see a penis, because there isn’t one. I’m posting a photo of the work for yourself, so you can verify that there is, in fact, no penis in it. That’s right. We’ve reached a new level of censorship – having work censored for something that isn’t there!

Based on this event, I think there’s some confusion about what a penis looks like. This worries me a little, because about half of all mammals have them. Chances are, no matter how sheltered you are, you’ve seen a penis. Dogs and horses don’t exactly walk around in tighty-whities, and most women have had husbands, boyfriends, or at least changed the occasional diaper.

However, I will concede that it’s possible this woman had never seen one, given the state of sex ed in Michigan’s school systems. Apparently it’s optional, and is given to things like pro-abstinence speakers.  Therefore, let’s have a little chat about what a penis looks like.


Mr. Happy

Here is a representative penis. I call it “Mr. Happy”. It’s a nice, non-threatening toilet paper holder and Kleenex dispenser that I made it for an art show a few years ago. I thought it was apt because it’s rendered in fiber. Maybe the AQS visitor was confused about what a penis looked like because she was looking at fiber-based artwork.

Mr. Happy depicts some of the standard characteristics of a real penis, such as being longer than it is wide and getting shorter and longer. (One adds and removes rolls of toilet paper to achieve that effect.) It even has furry testicles. I will admit, though, that the eyes are not true to life. If I saw eyes on a real penis, I’d probably flee as fast as my legs would carry me.

I hope that helps clarify things a little.


Show organizers, your censoring of works has gotten old. Real old. Even if the woman had seen a penis in Kathy’s artwork, so what? There’s been nudity in artwork for the past 50,000 years or so.

You know what I do when I see a piece I don’t like? I move those funny pink blobs at the bottoms of my legs and I walk past it. Personally, I found the picaninny quilt that was exhibited at PIQF a few years ago deeply offensive. And it won a prize. (Evidently it was a kit quilt, too – what a marvelous world we live in, when you can buy your very own kit for making racist quilts!)

Show organizers, you need to get clear on a few things.

What type of show are you running? 

Are you holding what’s essentially a bigger version of a county fair exhibit, where people gather and look at patchwork and say things like “Look, Paw! That shore is some plum purty stitchin’!”? Or are you going to support the growth of the medium into an art form? *

What type of work do you allow in your show?

Do you allow in artwork? Can the artwork include nudity, or just stuff like kitty-cats popping their heads out of pumpkins? How about you get real clear on your policy, and be up front with exhibitors like SAQA and the rest? **

What is your policy on pulling work out of the show? 

If it’s met your openly stated standards for being exhibited, are you going to do that? Are you going to pull work if someone complains about something imaginary? Are you going to deprive the rest of the paying visitors the right to see a piece of artwork simply because somebody else didn’t like it and didn’t have the self-control to walk by?

Allowing in artwork, then getting scared and pulling it when someone blanches and clutches at her pearls, isn’t working out. It’s bad for all of us.

Also, the next time someone threatens not to come back to your shows because of some damned thing she imagined, maybe just say “I’m sorry to hear that,” politely wish her well, and consider yourself lucky to not see her again.


* Edit: I now see that this paragraph implies that patchwork can’t be art, which isn’t true. However, I’ll let it stand, since that’s the way the majority of people have seen the post.

One of commenters also made a good point about my using “country speak” in a ridiculing manner. She’s right. Probably I shouldn’t have done that. On the other hand, “country speak” comes natural when you’re a first generation descendent of hillbillies and rednecks, and have used an outhouse more than a few times when visiting grandparents.

** Another clarification: I don’t want to revile AQS or any other show if they really don’t want to get in the business of displaying art. If art-lovers aren’t a key part of their business, so be it. But clearer guidelines would be useful for everyone.

*** Kathy has written a second blog entry which shows some of her base drawings and analyzes a variety of things which could be construed as penises. I think that from now on, whenever she has an umbilical cord in her work, I’m going to squint at it and refer to it as a penis.


Update as of Monday, 8/17: Per Kathy, “So AQS made the decision to pull my quilt I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket with the nonexistent penis from QuiltWeek in Chattanooga and Des Moines. They are now considering whether my other piece, Fully Medicated, which has zero complaints, should also be pulled (still no penis). Please let them know how you feel about either decision at the link below.

I am so disappointed and frustrated by their actions…please share this if you think it will help. I appreciate all your support…”

Here’s AQS’ contact form.


Paths for the Auction

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

SAQA’s benefit auction begins Monday, September 10. This is my contribution, Paths.

Paths is a metaphor for life, in particular my life. There are many paths we can travel through life. Some are straight and clear, with well defined beginnings and destinations:

Others meander pleasantly, or take off in odd directions:

When I was young, there was a boyfriend. I loved him. I was pressured to not date him. Harsh, cruel things were said about both me and his character. Nasty accusations were hurled.

In the end, I dumped him in a rather cruel fashion. I spent years regretting it and following dysfunctional, unhealthy paths. Nineteen years later, I finally got up the guts to contact him and apologize.

It was as though our friendship had never ended. This hibiscus was in front of the place we met after all of those years. We’ve been back together over ten years now. Some paths lead to good places, if we have the guts and wits to follow them.

I wish I’d had the guts to follow my own path from the very beginning.

Paths and pieces from many other artists can be perused immediately and bid on at SAQA’s website, starting Monday September 10.

Why not?

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

I’ve just gotten back from the Big Island. It’s a horrible place … waterfalls, volcanos, exquisite beaches and pastures. While I was gone, a good article on the No Place to Call Home! exhibit appeared in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

The Loveland Museum/Gallery is possibly/probably the last appearance of this thoughtful show which highlights the condition of homelessness. The article provides a nice coda to the exhibit and the efforts of Curator Kathleen McCabe and the various artists, including me.

The show will be at the Foote Gallery of the Loveland Museum through September 16. If you’re in the area, please check it out.

I almost always get a thrill out of participating in group shows, and this one is no exception. While a solo show may provide insights into the work of a particular artist, a group show is an opportunity for a group of people to create something which is, potentially, greater than any one of them could alone. There are different perspectives, styles, messages.

Case in point: here are some shots from the Artist as Quiltmaker exhibit, which is running now through July 29 in Oberlin, OH.

This gallery is a lovely, crisp space for exhibiting and browsing through artwork. The Museum’s Curator, Ruta Marino, and the exhibit staff have used it to advantage.

Here’s a shot which includes my Siesta (the raccoon) juxtaposed with works which are very stylistically different. I think I actually appreciate my work and all of the others more because of this contrast.

Alas, I don’t get to participate in SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) sponsored group exhibits such as No Place to Call Home! as often as I’d like. They just don’t mesh well with the way I work. At present it takes me several months to create one piece. In practice, that means that I make a schedule of the pieces I’m going to create and the shows to which I’ll submit a year in advance. That requires far more advance notice than SAQA-affiliated exhibits can provide. Once in awhile I manage to slip in a piece such as Leaving, which is smaller, more designerly and required less intense painting and threadwork than most of my work. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule.


For example, I really wanted to submit a piece to SAQA’s I’m Not Crazy exhibit. I had in mind an illustration based on the old rhyme:

Ding, dong, bell,
Pussy’s in the well.
Who put her in?
Little Johnny Green.
Who pulled her out?
Little Tommy Stout.
What a naughty boy was that,
To try to drown poor pussy cat,
Who ne’er did him any harm,
But killed all the mice in the farmer’s barn.

Ah, yes. That budding young sociopath Johnny Green. Even when I was a kid, something didn’t hit me quite right about that rhyme.

This idea came to me at about the time the news articles on child sociopaths were prominent. I made all sorts of sketches of the young man tossing a hapless kitty down a well. The most promising was looking up from the bottom of the deep dark well so one could see the cat twisting desperately in midair and the expression of detached curiosity on the boy’s face.

In the end, though, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The subject matter was gruesome and I didn’t want to demonize children who lack empathy. Not all of them become practicing sociopaths or societal scourges, after all; a fairly large percentage internalize rules of behavior. What do I know of being the parent of one of these kids? Would my work increase our understanding of the condition or merely take advantage of the horror of severe cases so as to shock people? Could I execute the work with any degree of quality in the short amount of time I had?

The answer to all of those questions was no. Unfortunately, that’s how most SAQA exhibit opportunities end up for me – toying with some ideas, a series of abortive sketches, then concluding that I can’t do the topic justice in the time allotted, not without giving up some other project which is dear to my heart. Instead, I usually create and submit work to exhibits whose deadlines are known about a year in advance.

One such show is Quilt National, whose deadline is coming up in a month or so. Recently Kathy Nida has written several meditations on the nature of rejection and strategies for applying to that particular show, this being the time of year one thinks about such things.

I’m in a different place from her, so naturally my approach is different. One school of thought says that one should maximize one’s chances of getting in a high profile show such as Quilt National by submitting the maximum number of pieces. That just isn’t happening for me right now, not with each piece taking several months to create. My personal philosophy is simply to always, always do my best work (“best” being a moving target), submit it, have a backup plan in case it’s rejected, and to immediately move on to creating the next piece.

Another school of thought says that one should submit several pieces so as to “give (the jurors) a good idea of your work.” I’m not sure that’s a factor in the case of Quilt National. The jurors have a massive number of works to get through multiple times during the course of a couple of days. During the first round, the jurors are simply sifting through 1000-1400 works as quickly as they can with no discussion. Yes. No. Maybe. Yes. Bam. Bam. Bam. I’m picturing a scene much like the one in Clockwork Orange in which Malcolm McDowell’s character has his eyelids propped open. Initially jurors have ten seconds per image in which to decide whether a work grabs them and they want to see it during the next round. It’s grueling gut-level work and, in the words of Quilt National Director Kathleen Dawson, “That does not allow them time to wonder about what they are seeing.” Maybe under other circumstances the jurors could contemplate the scope of one’s work, but that probably isn’t the case here.

We can also try to get inside the heads of the jurors by reading about them and their backgrounds. Personally, I’ve found that technique a waste of time. Based on researching the jurors for Quilt National ’11 and reviewing the content of previous shows, I thought my work had a snowball’s chance of getting in. I submitted it anyhow, using the deadline as a spur to get work done, and struck it lucky. Bottom line: we just don’t know. We can create work which we think jurors might like or make ourselves work abstract rather than figurative because “figurative work doesn’t get in that show”. We can take our work out in the driveway, throw on a bucket of paint, and drive across it a few times in a desperate attempt to be high concept and innovative. Maybe that works for some, but not me. I simply have to do the work I’m driven to do, do it the best I can, and take some chances.

Show curators and jurors have a vision for each show. It may be to maximize the number of works on display so visitors have lots to look at while they visit what is a glorified fiber flea market. It may be to create a thoughtful show on a particular theme, or to showcase innovative work. One’s work may or many not fit in. The jurors, who are human beings rather than automatons, may have an unconscious loathing for saturated colors or depictions of kids in broad-brimmed hats. It is what it is.

I’ve had a fairly good run for the past few years, and from a purely selfish standpoint I hope it continues. However, the externals won’t change the reasons I create art, why I struggled for years to find a way to make it a viable life option: because I’m driven to do so. The process of creation pushes back the grey. For awhile I feel alive and happy and outside myself. If the resulting work is exhibited or touches someone, that’s a bonus.

The week that was.

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Hey, look what came in the mail! The fall SAQA Journal!

This edition has an article by Kathleen McCabe about some of her experiences curating the No Place to Call Home exhibit. The story has photos of a couple of the pieces in the exhibit, Kathy Nida’s One Paycheck and my Leaving.

Yeah, Kathy Nida posted a photo of this over on her blog first. She also made the excellent point that the article may serve as a warning to other curators.

I won’t delve into that too much, other than to say that I’m a little hurt that nobody bothered to protest my artwork, since at least one person was evidently in the mood to complain about portions of the exhibit. I personally find depictions of violence or its aftermath quite a bit more offensive than simple nudity. I would have totally understood people calling TV stations to complain about my work. In fact, I probably would have sent out press releases about it to take advantage of the publicity. Oh, well. What can you do?

Here’s a larger view of Leaving, and here’s some of the back story about its inspiration, the death of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. Yes, that’s an EKG waveform stitched into the background, decaying and eventually going flat as the person dies.

Leaving is in a more graphic style than most of my work of late, but somehow that seemed a better choice for this particular message. It’s more of a design than an illustration. I don’t think much would have been gained by showing the dying person’s facial expression or other details. (If you’ll send me a dollar, I won’t post additional photos showing how I put the dying man’s head at the center of a golden spiral.)

Anyhow, Kathleen’s article is intelligent and insightful, well worth a read if you’ve ever been curious about how some of these exhibits come together. If you’re a member of SAQA, you should either receive your copy in the mail soon or it can be downloaded from SAQA’s website.

As for me, I’ve been in a funk lately. It happens. I’ve been working on a new series of 5-6 pieces for a year, stuff harking back to my Domestic Goddess character. I wanted to see whether I’m happier working on fairly realistic illustrations or more abstracted pieces, so of course I put myself through an extremely artificial exercise designed to drive myself insane. When I realized that I couldn’t see the series clearly anymore, couldn’t tell whether it was good or purely awful, I had to put it aside.

Off to the closet with you!

Then, when I was looking back at a bunch of my portraiture, it dawned on me that some of the stuff would look great on china plates. You know the plates I’m talking about – they have doggies, kitties, or frolicking angelic children on them, and they aren’t used for eating. In fact, you aren’t even supposed to breathe hard in the same room lest they fall off the wall and break. (Gotta protect that investment, doncha know! They cost $19.95 apiece from the Franklin Mint and are BOUND to appreciate!)

I really don’t mean to be critical of the people who enjoy them – to each her own – but for me, they have indelible associations with cheap panelling, shag carpets encrusted with cigarette smoke, and cut glass dishes full of dusty orange candy slices. That realization plunged me even deeper into the funk.

Well, what can I or anyone else do about a funk? Live with it awhile, then shake things up. Think about someone else’s problems, volunteer at a soup kitchen, travel to Bolivia and help the locals build solar ovens, try some new techniques.

I really didn’t want to spring for a plane ticket to Bolivia and I already volunteer at a local school (much to the annoyance of the teachers and the children), so I delved into a new book. Specifically, James Gurney’s book on visualizing things which don’t exist. It’s full of great tips about building different types of reference models and maquettes, modeling characters on animals, and even drawing the occasional voluptuous mermaid.

Gurney’s book has been great. Sometimes we can tie ourselves into knots worrying about whether something is bad or good, when the important thing is to just work. Find something you care about, work, enjoy the sensation of being alive and working. Do something, and if you don’t like it, do something else. The good and bad thing will keep. Besides, somebody has to make paintings for those darned china plates.

I started thinking about things I’d like to visualize and draw. How about a city? I haven’t done any work with buildings in ages. What a great opportunity to get away from my portraiture rut! And what’s my favorite type of city? The domed ones from science fiction paperbacks! Boy, I used to eat that stuff up when I was a girl. Out came the Pyrex mixing bowls and my kid’s Legos:

Welcome to Luna City!

Okay; the model city is going to need some work, but it’s a fun proof of concept. We can build a rough model, light it, and have a little better idea of how to draw the things in our brains. Food for thought.

From there, I realized that I couldn’t just have the domed city in isolation. Why did we see the city? Who lived there? What was the person’s story? I started doodling. Pretty soon I ended up with a person in the picture:

More portraiture after all. Ah, well. Sometimes you just have to go with it.

Here’s more refined sketch. Based on this, I took some reference photos of a child posing. (“Hey, kid! Would you like a dollar? Sit here and put your foot up on this chair.”) In the next sketches, I’ll probably lose the Star Trek emblem but keep the Starfleet haircut.

I’d probably have a bunch more sketches done if the week hadn’t gone straight to hell. On the other hand, there’s a limit to how much I can complain: I am still alive and in one piece, able to sit at my computer and whine. Some other people are not. And no, that isn’t some kind of sick jest. I mean it quite literally.

(For a quick rundown, google “Shareef Allman” or read the stories at the Mercury News or the Daily Mail. Or not.)

Last Wednesday, around four a.m., some workers were going to the morning meeting at the local quarry. I can imagine it very easily, having attended many, many shift change meetings at midnight or other wee hours: people sitting around a conference table, trying to prop themselves up with coffee. A few congenial hellos exchanged, some thinly concealed yawns. Perhaps a few people thinking longingly of the nice warm beds they’d had to vacate, hating the necessity of working gawdawful hours yet grateful for the job.

Then one of their colleagues came in with guns and began spraying bullets and fear.

After the shooter had killed three of his colleagues and wounded seven others, he headed to the H.P. campus a few miles away. “Time to ditch my car and get another,” he must have thought. “I’ll go here. A campus which isn’t too visible from the road, with commuters trickling in. One of them will have a car for me. Oh, look. There’s a middle-aged woman. She won’t put up a fight.”

Only, she did. She did, and got shot for her efforts, so the shooter gathered up his guns and headed across the road to a residential neighborhood.

My neighborhood. Right down my cross street.

I got up that morning thinking happy thoughts about my new project, and let the dog out to pee. My goodness, there were sure a lot of helicopters around. I do hear helicopters now and then when there’s a traffic accident, but this was different. They were hovering over our neighborhood. Were they searching for someone?

Shot out my back door. Insert many hours of “thup thup thup” noise.

Uneasy, I went to the web to check the news. Hmm. A shooting at the Permanente Cement Plant in Cupertino. “Hoooooneeey???” I screeched to my husband, “There are an awful lot of helicopters. Do you think they have anything to do with the shooting at the cement plant?” He replied that they were probably responding to a traffic accident, and pulled up a website showing various road closures. Oh. Okay.

No more news came in, so we headed out the door to walk the boy to school. Huh. How strange! The street was empty! Normally there’d be all kinds of people out, driving or walking kids to school. We peered down the street and noticed that it was blocked off by a bunch of police cars. Huh. Also strange.

“I wonder what happened?” I muttered out loud. “Something at one of the neighbors’,” theorized my husband, “Something requiring more than one carload of officers.” “Oh, dear,” I replied vacuously, “I do hope no one is hurt. Well, the crossing guard will tell us what happened. She knows everything.” (It’s true. She does.)

Now, at this point, if this blog was the script for a movie, the viewer would be screaming “Turn back! Turn back!” and then an eleven foot tall monster would pop out of the bushes. Happily, one of my son’s friends came down the street instead. “School is closed!” he squealed, “They’re trying to find the bad man!” After tamping down his son’s excitement a bit, the boy’s father informed us that school was indeed closed because there’d been an attempted carjacking. And yes, it was related to the shooting in Cupertino and yes, that’s why we were being graced with helicopters and an impressive police presence.

“School’s closed!” I chirped to my family, “Say, why don’t we all go inside! Let’s do inside things!” We hurried home, only to stay locked inside for the next 24 hours. Our dull, wholesome street no longer seemed quite so dull or wholesome.

The daylight hours which followed were a parade of news reports, keeping my son occupied indoors, and chatter on the neighborhood mailing list.

Here I will pause to recommend that if your neighborhood has a mailing list, you join it. If there isn’t one, start one. Yes, there’s normally a lot of chatter on our list which I could care less about, and I do a lot of deleting. However, it was really nice having that near-instant conduit for information on Wednesday and Thursday, especially given that the neighborhood was on lockdown and the news media either wouldn’t or weren’t able to give us the information we needed.

This photo is the AP’s, not mine.

The thrum of helicopters was constant. There were reports of house-to-house searches, police tanks, SWAT teams. I watched the search from a live helicopter feed, giggling a trifle hysterically when a SWAT team armed to the teeth had to negotiate the underpants hanging from someone’s clothesline. I told my son what to do if he heard gunfire, a task I’d hoped to avoid indefinitely. We hid inside all day. Then, at nightfall, the helicopters went away, although I still heard them in the dishwasher and in the dog’s footsteps. They’d lodged themselves in my brain, the way a catchy song will do.

After all of that work, with LEOs from ten different agencies swarming the neighborhood with tanks, with house-to-house searches with dogs, with bloodhounds brought in and no doubt baying and slobbering down the streets, the shooter hadn’t been found. “Ah, he must have moved on,” we all theorized, “Probably he never was here. He must have made tracks out of the neighborhood right after the carjacking. All the same, let’s leave our yard lights on and lock up tight.”

The next morning, I didn’t feel terribly eager to leave the house, despite having been locked up with a dog and a small child the previous day and not being particularly mentally sound. “Let’s not hurry,” I told my husband. I checked the neighborhood newsgroup over and over again. No news, no news, and then – shots fired! The shooter had revealed himself, and once again the neighbors were faster to report it than the news media.

Sheriffs deputies, keeping an eye on the neighborhood, had spotted him squatting behind a car. He made a “threatening” gesture with his gun and words were exchanged, the sort of thing which is often referred to as “suicide by cop.” Then he lay dead in someone’s driveway, a sad end to a tragic situation. Not five minutes before the shooting, a mother and child had walked by the driveway on their way to school. He could have killed them, but he chose not to.

In many ways, my life was barely affected. I wasn’t shot and I didn’t lose a loved one. I wasn’t a 24-year-old deputy, barely past drinking age, having to gun down a murderer in someone’s driveway. I wasn’t a sheriff or police officer concerned about the possibility of a rampage through a residential area, with more people killed or wounded. I wasn’t even a teacher or the principal at a local school, trying to get facts and keep staff and students safe. My loved ones and I were probably never in danger. All I had to do was stay indoors with my family for a day.

Nevertheless, my nerves have been jangling ever since.

Maybe next week will be better. PIQF is at the end of the week. I’ll try to get some photos posted after it’s over. If you’re interested, please stop by.

Masters: Art Quilts, Volume 2

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Periodically, a lifestyle reporter from a newspaper will stumble upon an exhibit of art quilts, a textile-based form which often shares construction methods with the traditional bed coverings. Like clockwork, an article will then appear with some variation of the phrase “not your grandmother’s quilt.” There may also be some reference to blankets and white-haired ladies plying needles, and feigned astonishment that one can create artwork by stitching fabric. (Don’t believe me? Go Google it right now, “not your grandmother’s quilt” and “not your grandma’s quilt.” I’ll wait for you.)

With the recent publication of Lark’s Masters: Art Quilts, Volume 2, we may be in for another round of comments about grandma’s stitching efforts and how they didn’t look nothin’ like the stuff in this book. It’s true: in the main, they probably didn’t. My grandmothers’ bed quilts, although attractive, were primarily made for utility in an era before insulation and central heating. Self-expression and creating artwork either weren’t on the radar for them or were a far distant goal compared to the need to stay warm for a minimum amount of money.

Today, people still make traditional bed quilts for various reasons. It’s certainly an important part of our cultural tradition, and well worth reading about. One of my favorite books on the topic is A People and Their Quilts, which features a series of interviews with old-school quilters in Tennessee and the Appalachians.

However, traditional bed quilts aren’t the focus of the Masters: Art Quilts, Volume 2 any more than a book on oil portraits would showcase house painting techniques. No, one should read Masters: Art Quilts, Volume 2 for a notion of how people are adapting fabric and thread to communicate their personal visions in the form of portraits, abstracts, landscapes, and illustrations. One should settle back in a cozy chair with a cup of tea and thumb through the book for the sheer joy of it.

Now, if you’ve seen any of the other books in Lark’s “500 …” or “Masters of …” series, you already know that this will be a big book with a thoughtful introduction and tons of high quality photos of stunning works. Indeed, this volume weighs in at 414 pages, with profiles of forty artists from around the world and insights into their techniques and inspiration. Although most of the artists are from Western countries, the global focus is particularly compelling; too many books and magazines concentrate solely on artists in the United States.

The introduction by Martha Sielman gives a little overview of the diversity of the artists and their work: “… men and women of different generations and backgrounds with a wide range of ideas, inspirations, and stories.” There are people whose work is informed by classic folk stories, experiences in internment camps, working as circus performers or lawyers. These are artists with distinct styles and voices and well-developed visions, whose works will astonish those with preconceived notions of the medium.

Sielman is particularly well qualified to have curated this volume, given her own background as an art quilter and her leadership role in Studio Art Quilt Associates, a non-profit devoted to the form. For those already familiar with art quilting, the book is a welcome antidote to the tiresome assembly line, paint-by-numbers notions of creating fiber art which one sometimes encounters. Those unfamiliar with the form will find the book a fine introduction to the state of this art, with insightful writing and stimulating visuals. Regardless of one’s tastes, there’s something here to please and intrigue.

Among my personal favorites:

… and many more. Thirty-six more, to be precise. What a pleasure it is to thumb through the volume, learn about an unfamiliar artist (or perhaps be reminded of one I’ve forgotten), then refer to the person’s website for even more details.

It’s a wonderful book. That said, I have one minor complaint, the use of Eplica for the artists’ names and body text:

Eplica is an attractive roman serif typeface whose letter E is rendered as the Greek letter Epsilon. A little individuality can add sparkle to a display face, but it can also grow jarring when used in body copy. So jarring, in some cases, that it begins to interfere with readability. Time after time, I found myself reading happily away, only to bump into that dadgummed Epsilon. What was this character doing in the midst of what was otherwise a very readable serif typeface? Had there been a software malfunction, causing a backwards number 3 to invade the paragraph? The font thus began to draw too much attention to itself, fighting with the photos for attention.

That said, bless the book’s designer(s) for showing restraint by using only two typefaces on a given page, a serif and a sans-serif. This is a refreshing change from a popular art quilting magazine whose pages frequently resemble ransom notes; in one case I recall, a single page featured seven variations of at least four different typefaces. One begins to wonder why the magazine bothers to print artwork; the pages are quite busy enough without it.

Masters: Art Quilts, Volume 2 can be purchased via SAQA, Amazon, and other booksellers.

Artists profiled in the book:

Alice Beasley
Anna Torma
Arturo Alonzo Sandoval
Beatrice Lanter
Bente Vold Klausen
Carolyn Crump
Chunghie Lee
Daniela Dancelli
Dianne Firth
Dirkje van der Horst-Beetsma
Dorothy Caldwell
Eleanor McCain
Elizabeth Busch
Emily Richardson
Fenella Davies
Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade
Geneviève Attinger
Izabella Baykova
Jan Myers-Newbury
Jane Dunnewold
Jim Smoote
Karin Franzen
Laura Wasilowski
Leslie Gabriëlse
Linda MacDonald
Margery Goodall
Maryline Collioud-Robert
Mirjam Pet-Jacobs
Misik Kim
Nelda Warkentin
Pamela Fitzsimons
Patricia Malarcher
Paula Nadelstern
Rachel Brumer
Reiko Nganuma
Risë Nagin
Rosalie Dace
Shulamit Liss
Tafi Brown
Tim Harding

It Came From the Studio

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

There was a bit of flap this week regarding one of the works in SAQA’s No Place to Call Home exhibit, a traveling exhibit highlighting the experience of homelessness around the world. I thought about writing about that, and how it’s a shame when a person chooses to deliberately, purposefully ignore the message of a work, make a scene, and gleefully call up a TV station so she can talk about how very shocked she is on camera. I also considered writing about how bizarre it is when (apparently) the same person goes on message boards and describes the area she finds offensive in great detail, including a few details she has imagined.

However, I won’t do that. Instead, I will emulate another of the artists in that particular show and urge you to have a look at a slideshow of the exhibit.

The show is intended to highlight the plight of the homeless, a situation with global and local implications. We are likely to see this problem accelerate in coming years. That should be the focus of our attention, not the actions of a goofball intent on censorship.


Not long ago, I read a book about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, part of my ongoing effort to catch up on the pop culture which was prominent during my “work until you keel over” years. Petty mentioned that they like to try playing and recording in different rooms of their houses, just to see how the sound quality is affected. That rang a bell! I frequently find myself working in different rooms of my house, chasing different qualities of light or just getting a change of scene. Part of that, though, has been because the studio has been chaotic and unpleasant to work in. What to do? Rip the place apart!

Here’s a shot of the studio during vivisection:

Here’s a shot afterward:

Thanks to the global housewares monolith that is Ikea, I’m now the proud owner of a table which will extend to 108″, making it more straightforward to attack some of my larger projects. I also threw a set of casters on the legs in case I’m in the mood to hold a table race.

It still looks as though an art supply and a hardware store threw a party and were sick all over the room. However, it’s better.

While I was working, I unearthed some sketches. Since there’s been a complete and utter lack of interest in my creative process so many have asked about my creative process, I thought I’d post a few of them.

This is a sketch for the spinning robot/housewife from Agitated. In the final rendering, I cropped off her pointy bottom. The illegible scrawl in the lower right says “I’m a little teapot.” It’s kind of sad that I can draw much better than I can write.

Sketches showing the evolution of the washing machine.

A fairly tight sketch of the whole piece. I later decided that the floor needed to be warped so that it would look unsettling.

Here’s the final after being painted on fabric, sandwiched with batting, and stitched. This is probably the fastest thing I’ve ever made, and as a result, I’m not terribly satisfied with it. I was trying to force myself to work quicker, just finish things immediately without leaving them sitting for weeks or months so I could look at them with fresh eyes. Now I know: to be satisfied with my own work, I need that internal review process.

This and the sketch below helped me work out the stitching on Ladies’ Man.

These days, instead of drawing the same thing over and over again, I use an overlay of tracing paper to test quilting schemes.

Here’s the final. I’m glad I put the reflection of the bikini girl in his sunglasses, but can’t say I’m fond of the areas with stippling. We live and we learn.

A concept sketch for what became All the King’s Horses. I knew I wanted to work with the character of Humpty Dumpty and use him as a metaphor for the Earth, but I wasn’t sure of the setting. So, hmmm. How about a castle in the background and some delphiniums?

On second thought, no.

Maybe if I lost the castle and used a stone wall?

How about an inner city setting, with Humpty becoming a homeless guy ignored by the hordes of people in business suits? That kind of worked for me.

Some more thumbnails toying with the idea of a city setting.

A sketch of the Humpty character. The note in the lower right hand corner asks “Magma or crude oil?”

The final. Humpty re-imagined as a metaphor for global climate change, with suits going about their business while he dies of a gut wound. I’m nothing if not subtle.

Tasteless ideas for decorating plastic Easter eggs. I see, hmmm, an airstream trailer, a Frankenbunny, a yard butt egg, and a creature sitting on a toilet. I have no idea why I was doing this, but Easter is coming. If you wish, you’re welcome to use these ideas to amaze and horrify your family.

A businesswoman in full 80’s regalia, crammed inside a box. As in, she’s thinking inside the box. A sketch for something which never was made and has long since faded from memory. I hope you enjoyed it.

Now, what shall I do with these sketches? They’re just paper and graphite. Maybe I’ll shred them and put them in the worm bin.

Sightlines and Tom Petty

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Here are a couple of videos which have tickled my synapses. What’s the connection between them? Nothing. Everything. Who knows? Give me an hour or two and I’ll make up some plausible-sounding lies.

The first features the president of SAQA, an organization dear to my heart, interviewing a few of the artists who created works for the traveling Sightlines exhibit. As the name Sightlines implies, the works are all linked by a “sightline.” They’re wonderful on camera and in print, and are bound to be more impressive in person. I hope I can travel to one of the venues or get my hot little hands on a catalog. Here is a list of the venues.

This film is also remarkable because it shows that elusive creature, the Kathy Nida. Ms. Nida has long seemed similar to Santa Claus in that she sprinkles wonderful things down on exhibits and then disappears into the night, unseen. It is a relief to discover that, unlike, Santa, she actually does exist.

On a completely different note, the following film shows Tom Petty being creepy. Mr. Petty does creepy well, I think. I find the video fascinating, but some will find it offensive. If you think you might fall into the latter category, please don’t watch it.

The character of Alice is played by one Wish Foley. I’d love to know whether this was her professional or her birth name, and whether there’s a story behind it.

PIQF 2010 (Long, DSL-clogging)

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Considering the Pacific International Quilt Festival occurred over a week ago, I’m late in getting these photos posted. However, perhaps a few people will still enjoy seeing them.

I have a particular fondness for PIQF for a number of reasons: it’s a local show, occurring maybe 2-3 miles from my house. This makes it extraordinarily convenient to wander over, pick up my yearly supply of Bo-Nash, and peruse the work on display. It’s also the first fiber art show I ever attended and the first I entered and was juried into. Believe it or not, prior to attending PIQF, I knew naught of the fiberarts or “art quilt” scene; I erroneously assumed that the non-traditional work I was doing existed in a vacuum. Imagine my pleasure when I learned that there were people who were creating exciting work of their own, people wouldn’t think my work strange and say things like “I wouldn’t want that on my bed!”

Now, oftentimes when I look at others’ photos from PIQF, I feel as though we’ve attended different shows. “Really? Was that there?” I’ll ask myself. Given that there are around 1,000 works in the show, perhaps that isn’t too surprising. Different things naturally catch different people’s eyes. It’s also the case that mental and physical fatigue sets in as one wanders up and down the aisles. I’ll often realize that I’m passing things which are quite remarkable, simply because I’ve turned into a zombie. Time for a rest and a cup of coffee!

Thus, this post contains photos of a few things I admired, but it is by no means a complete catalog of the work on exhibit. As a side note, I’ve linked to artists’ websites where possible. If you know of a link I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments section. If a particular work is yours and you want it removed, please let me know that as well.

Onward to the artwork!

Pamela Allen, Three Women at the Hilton

Pamela Allen’s work is always a delight, always gives me a lift. It’s furnished with her whimsies and thoughts, as well as the bits and pieces she encounters as she goes through life. Styrofoam fruits, forks and knives. I never know what I’m going to see. It works.

I love the way she’s outlined this character’s breasts with spools of thread.

This one has been treated to breast augmentation with bobbins. This isn’t random: the scene is based on a congenial get-together while at a quilt show. All of the characters sew, so it’s fitting that sewing implements have become part of them. The metaphorical made literal, if you will.

Allen is brilliant. I keep thinking that surely Dragonthreads or some other publisher will produce a catalog of her work. When that happens, I’ll be first in line to buy a copy!

Cindy Andes, Heartfelt Thoughts
This is just plain fun; she has quite literally put her heart into it. I’d love to see more work of hers. Unfortunately, I can’t find a website of hers to link to.

Helga Burkart, Colorful Strips
A school I used to attend or work at had large, multi-story pieces of fiberart displayed in one of the stairwells. Maybe it was Stanford, in one of their libraries.

I can just see an abstract like this one, with its glowing jewel-like colors, displayed in a like manner. Something to intrigue, stimulate, and raise people’s spirits. I had that happen fairly frequently during the show, envisioning environments for people’s art and wanting to go market it for them.

Betty Busby, Welcome to the Jungle
This is one of a series of really awful photos I took of impressive work. In real life, her quilt is crisp and rectangular. I hope the photo will at least inspire people to go to her website and look for decent photos!

People were marveling at this work, partly because of the perfect marriage of quilting-induced texture with the imagery. This snake was particularly admired.

Phyllis Cullen, Lovebirds
Onlookers were much taken with this affectionate portrait of Cullen’s parents. I’m fascinated by her use of non-realistic skin tones – yellows, purples, blues – and how these enliven the portrait rather than detracting from it.

Vicki David and Terry Breazeale, Pandora
A lovely exercise in symmetry, pattern, and texture.

Marcia DeCamp, Blocks #5
There weren’t a huge number of abstracts at PIQF. This one, and the work below, made a nice contrast to many of the more literal works.

Jet Trails #6
I admire her use of color. She’s combined hues I would shy away from, and they’ve strengthened each other.

Linda Evans, Garden Party
This sprightly piece enlivened the area it was hung in.

Gloria Loughman
There was an exhibit of Loughman’s work at the festival. It was wonderful. I’m only posting snapshots of a couple of her pieces; better photos of all of her works are available in her books.

I would like to note, though, that sometimes it’s difficult to gauge the size of a work from a photo in a book or on a website. This quilt is on the cover of one of her books, Quilted Symphonies. In real life, it isn’t terribly larger than the book’s cover.

By contrast, this work, Kimberly Mystique, weighs in at 200 cm x 220 cm, or about 79 x 87″. It really has a presence, a quality which is difficult to assess from a photo in a book or on a website. One of the things I take away from her work is her use of contrasts, subtlety and light. The range of blues and yellows in her sky is subtle, even muted.

I attended one of her lectures. She’s every bit as delightful as her work.

Meta MacLean, Cirque 2: Bird’s Eye View
Well, my goodness. What a fascinating work this is, and what a hash my photo has made of it!

Her artist’s statement says in part “With the help of a magnifying glass I hand appliqued my images to my hand painted and shadowed background. My experience as a potter allowed me to make hands and faces from fimo clay.”

Her sculpting experience is apparent in the figures, such as this one. Look at its knowing, almost creepy expression! That isn’t an insult, by the way – I think she’s done an outstanding job of capturing a certain tawdriness that often accompanies glitz.

This figure reminds me of certain fin de siècle Latrec works. With those long eyelashes and dyed locks, she’s become a caricature of herself. A “woman of easy virtue”, perhaps.

Kathy McNeill, Natural Wonders Yikes. I’m getting seasick. Unfortunately, I think that has more to do with my having the picture tilted than it does with this work’s striking sense of realism.

This work is remarkable for its sense of depth, detail and light. It isn’t uncommon for people to create seascapes or landscapes using novelty prints. Often they’ll use sea prints and snip out the little animals, wad up bits of cheesecloth for seaweed, or what-have-you. The result is often charming, if not overly realistic.

By contrast, this scene has been created purely with the laborious snipping of fifty jillion different types of fabric, a sample of which we can see above.

Terry Grant, Verdant
Wouldn’t it have been nice if I hadn’t chopped off a corner of the picture? I suppose it makes a nice change from merely tilting the camera.

This piece is really satisfying, with the greens and the landscape stretching away before our eyes.

She’s included this barn, which gives us a nice sense of scale.

Here I wax philosophical and perhaps a tad snarky. Sometimes, when I look at my own or other people’s work, I think “why?” As in, “Why did this need to be rendered in textiles?” Would the piece have been better or just as good if rendered as a poster or a fabric collage? Does the person simply enjoy using cloth? Is this a “just because” exercise so the person can prove that a world map/giant copy of the Magna Carta/picture of a fork can be rendered in fabric?

And so forth. That’s particularly the case when I see a 60 x 60″ quilt with maybe five stitches in it, and those five stitches add no sense of texture or depth or decorative nuances. There’s nothing wrong with rendering one’s ideas in fabric, especially if the person enjoys the exercise. However, I think it’s important to remember that they don’t HAVE to be.

With this piece, there is no “why”. It’s the metaphorical made literal, fields made as a quilt, with the stitching creating a palpable sense of depth. It could have been created in some other medium, but it really does benefit from being rendered in fiber. From my viewpoint, that makes it even more satisfactory.

Here’s a bit of a non-sequitur, people taking in SAQA’s No Place to Call Home exhibit. The exhibit is traveling the country, focusing on various artists’ statements or reactions to homelessness.

I had a tongue-biting moment when one passerby caught sight of one of the quilts and cooed something like “Oh Hortense! Come here – isn’t that cute?”

The work in question showed a raggedly-dressed woman sitting on the pavement among drifts of garbage.

Mmmm. Okay. We all have our own experiences of things. Biting tongue.

Chris Kenna, Green Fire
This work is an accomplishment on the order of one of those really complex Buddhist sand paintings. That’s a polite way of saying that I admire it and I’d sooner pull out all of the hairs on my head one at a time than attempt anything like it.

The quilt measures 77 x 76″, and it’s full of individually appliqued pieces like these. Holy cow. She must be made of stern stuff.

Yoshiko Miyamoto, Deep Bali, Drawn into the Gamelan’s Sound
A really striking combination of piecing and painting.

In this view, we can see that the figure is painted. The rays of light in the background are rendered in thread.

Patti Morris, H1N1
Brilliant. She’s taken something serious and potentially deadly, abstracted it, and made it beautiful.

Kathy Nida, Here
A really visceral portrayal of breast cancer.

A closeup showing the marauding snakes, a creepy and clever touch.

Kathy Nida, One Paycheck.
This was part of SAQA’s “No Place to Call Home” exhibit.

I haven’t queried Kathy about it, but I’m getting some undertones of prostitution here, as though selling her body is the last option this lady has left. If so, that unfortunately wouldn’t be unusual.

Sylvia Pippen, Sealife Sashiko Sampler
Thank you, Sylvia Pippen, for this demonstration that sashiko can be sophisticated and designerly. No doubt I’m displaying my ignorance, but I’d only ever seen sashiko used in a purely decorative fashion.

A closeup of one of the figures.

Jan Reed, Sea Section
I fell in love with this abstraction of nature.

Not only is her shading subtle and stitching masterful, but her use of beads is organic, enhancing the work. I have a personal bias against beads, so that’s a major admission on my part.

Lyn Sandberg, Saint or Sinner
Oh, okay. I admire the beads and other embellishments in this work, too.

It’s so exuberant, and so different than anything I could ever imagine creating. I enjoy that.

Marianne Williamson, Life is Like Swimming Upstream
Williamson was well represented at the show. I lost count of the number of her pieces I saw, but there were many. Her style is really distinctive.

Judging by the density of this stitching, she must keep the thread and sewing machine companies in business by herself.

Suanne Summers, Goddess of Introspection
Alas, I was unable to find a website of hers to link to.

Is anyone else getting a fun Marlo Thomas/That Girl vibe? Almost forty years have passed, so this character should get along even better in life (assuming she doesn’t have a chiding boyfriend like Don on her back constantly).

Amy Witherow, Teapot Jazz 2
An abstraction of a teapot, drawn with curved rectangles. I would have loved to have seen a grouping of similarly rendered works by this person. My brain just doesn’t work this way, but it’s enjoyable seeing the product of others’ brains.


Friday, September 24th, 2010

Under Cover, Diane Marie Chaudiere

As I write this, Studio Art Quilt Associates’ annual art auction is in progress. The auction is a great opportunity to snag a piece of original art, such as the one above, for your home or office. Proceeds help support SAQA’s exhibitions, catalogs and outreach programs.

A number of us have had fun thinking about our fantasy groupings, provided we were able to purchase all of the pieces we wanted. I’m very fond of the lurking frog above, and how about this robot?

Robot Sapien: Agent 10, Kathy Weaver

There’s huge variety in the offerings, so it’s well worth a look. For details on how the auction works, see this page.


Under the category of “My work travels more than I do” (coined by the incomparable Kathy Nida), several of my creations are out on the road.

Leaving has been traveling with SAQA’s “No Place to Call Home Exhibit.” It was last sighted in Pennsylvania, where Lisa Oneill was kind enough to write about it and a few other works shown in the Pennsylvania Quilt Extravaganza.

The exhibit will also be visiting Mancuso shows in Santa Clara, CA; West Palm Beach, FL; Hampton, VA; Somerset, NJ; and Denver, CO. If you’re in area, please stop by.

Siesta is currently in Houston, TX, awaiting the big IQF show in October.

When I made Siesta, I was focused on the contrast between the sweet, vulnerable, slumbering creature and the hard, cold driftwood it lay on. Sweet creature. Ha!

I have a little water garden in my back yard, you see, and it has some small fish in it to cut down on mosquito larvae. I have had a MONSTROUS time lately with raccoons visiting and wrecking the joint. They wash their nasty little grubs and decomposing grapes and other bits of food and leave the water filthy. They extract fish if they can, and upend plants and soil. The first time this happened, I wondered if a creature of the two-legged variety had deliberately vandalized my water garden. But, no. It’s a four-legged creature with tiny human-like hands, and it has filthy habits.

Well, so be it. Raccoons have to eke out a living too, and it must be difficult in the wasteland that is suburbia. However, next time I’ll be more careful about my subject matter!

The Imp has been accepted into the Pacific International Quilt Festival, so it’ll be shown there in October. Hopefully it will elicit a smile or two. When I feel myself smiling back at a face as I’m working on it, it feels as though the cloth is coming to life; I hope viewers get a sense of that too.

Paisleyfish has permanently left home and will be living with a private collector. May it bring the person joy, or at least the occasional grin.

With a couple of exceptions such as Leaving, I’ve been working on a series of portraits for the last couple of years. They’ve been fairly realistic things, rendered in ink or paint and densely quilted. At some point, I’ll have to post the most recent ones.

It’s been satisfying, but now I’m itching to start a new series. A series with some deranged lunacy.

Stay tuned.

New work: Leaving

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Now and then I tell my husband that if I ever do an exhibit on social or environmental issues, it’ll feature some of the most depressing work imaginable. Famine, plague, baby polar bears drowning as the ice caps melt. The title of the exhibit will be something like “Imagine Despair” or “Imagine Hopelessness,” the antithesis of Hollis Chatelain’s thoughtful “Imagine Hope” exhibit. My latest piece, Leaving, seems to bear that out.

Leaving was inspired by the story of a homeless man, Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. During the early part of 2010, he was stabbed while saving a woman, a stranger to him, from an assailant. Unfortunately, none of the almost 25 people who strolled by as he lay dying on the sidewalk could be troubled to help him. (However, one person did stop to take photos with his cell phone camera.) Thus, the title Leaving refers not only to the figure on the sidewalk, who is gradually leaving his life, but the bystanders who are leaving the scene.

This ghastly event is symptomatic of the plight of homeless people in general: to be homeless is to be invisible and be robbed of one’s humanity. For various reasons, many of us avoid so much as making eye contact with the homeless, avoid acknowledging their existence. Perhaps we fear being approached by strangers, fear getting hit up for money, or we prefer to donate to charity rather than getting involved with individuals. Perhaps, like a former acquaintance, we view the homeless with outright contempt.

The end result is that when we see a homeless person, we mentally make the person invisible. We walk by him (or her) as though he doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, it appears that many of us can blank out a person so thoroughly that he can literally bleed to death on the sidewalk without our realizing or bothering to intervene. What a horror that is.

There is a dual tragedy here, then, beyond the story of the homeless good samaritan who received no help himself. We’re robbing people of their humanity, and when we gain the ability to “unperson” others, we also lose some of our own humanity.

Compositionally, Leaving is a fairly stark piece. The subject matter is so grim that it seemed necessary to get some distance from it, reducing the players to bare outlines and essentials. The figure of the dying man shares some DNA with the chalk outlines of crime scene victims.

It was rendered in watercolor on soy-sized cloth, about which I’ll write another time. Some texture and perhaps another layer of meaning were added by stitching EKG waveforms into the background. As the blood and life ebb out of the person, the nature of the waveform changes, until it flatlines altogether.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank the following people plus a couple of others who declined to be named: Andee Wasson, Charlotte Dehgan, Cynthia Wenslow, Katherine McNeese, and Tobi Hoffman. When I asked the somewhat bizarre question of what a dying person’s EKG waveform might look like, they related information from a professional perspective, as well as personal stories of seeing friends and loved ones die. Any errors in rendering are, of course, mine.

Leaving will be part of SAQA’s exhibit No Place to Call Home, traveling to Mancuso Shows from August 2010 through May 2011. Accompanying twenty works by other artists, it will visit Manchester, NH; Philadelphia, PA, Santa Clara, CA; West Palm Beach, FL; Hampton, VA; Somerset NJ; and Denver, CO. Stay tuned for additional details.