Archive for 2011

IQF photos and a rant

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Dear me. Where does the time go? It’s now been two weeks since I came home from Festival. Since then, my life has been a haze of laundry, small domestic disasters, an endless supply of little boys running amok, and weiner dogs up to no good. Here’s an example of the latter:

Weiner dogs aside, this post is going to focus on portraiture, images of people. The next post will focus on other works I saw at IQF Houston, then there’ll probably be a final post filled with visual navel lint, the odds and ends which don’t belong anywhere else.

At the end of this post are some links to others’ photos and videos. I found that, although I strolled through the Festival several days, I’m still seeing pictures which make me say “Huh? Was that at the show?” Perhaps the people who take photos of every single thing really do have the right idea!

To start things off nicely, here’s some of Maria Elkins’ work:

This is Windblown. It took one of the top eight prizes at the show, the “Fairfield Master Award for Contemporary Artistry.”

I’ve been following Maria’s work for several years, using some of her experiments as departure points for my own. It’s a pleasure to see her hard work rewarded.

A detail of the face. I’m getting a little Art Nouveau feel from this closeup. And, oh my, I do love to spy on how others do things. Look at how she’s rendered the teeth, with a very subtle separation between teeth and gum, and the eyelashes becoming one non-fussy, expressive mass. She’s also stitched some feathers into the woman’s hair, a nice nod to traditional needlework.

A detail of some of the stitching in the sky. Again, very expressive and a nice nod to tradition and the medium.

Here’s another of Elkins’ works, Embrace 1, based on woodblock prints she made a few years ago. I suggest a detour to her blog to see some of the prints. They’re alive with texture and pattern, making it not altogether surprising that she tried a fabric interpretation.

This is a looser, more abstract style than I remember seeing from her, but still very much “her”.

Memories of Gombe, Mary Pal

Mary creates these portraits by manipulating cheesecloth on a dark background. The resulting density and grain direction of the cheesecloth thus capture the nuances of facial expressions and other details, a challenging business indeed. It probably doesn’t hurt that Mary has a great eye for compelling imagery.

Here’s a poorly photographed closeup of one of the eyes from the portrait of Jane Goodall.


Mary is now roaming North America, teaching classes in this technique. Although I’m not interested in working in this mode myself, I’m tempted to look up one of her classes. It’s often the case that when I study under someone who does really wonderful work, I not only gain insights into their work but my own as well. I’ll bet she has some interesting things to say about composition and the nuances of shading and facial expression.

Disclaimer: I can no longer claim to be impartial regarding her or her work. I had the pleasure of meeting both Mary and Betty Busby at the show, and having a supper which was one of the highlights of my trip. I dare say it was a meal the waiter won’t soon forget, either.

God’s Greatest Gift to Me Was Dad, Cindy Garcia

This is a portrait of Garcia’s late father. Garcia has captured the almost-painful sense of fragility we sometimes observe in the elderly. The hunched shoulders and positioning of the head with respect to the shoulder area speak volumes.

She credits Marilyn Belford for the technique, but clearly has made it her own as well.

Mattie, Topher, and Jack, Elizabeth Habich

A nice slice of life. Give kids rocks, sticks and some water – or in this case, rocks holding down a piece of plywood covering a smelly hole – and they’re set. You could plunk this scene down anywhere in the world, and the story would be much the same.

Bukonyan Elder, Virginia Greaves

A portrait of an elderly woman from Bukonya, Rwanda. The planes of her face and positioning of her hands upon the cane are so expressive.

Organic is good for you!, Bodil Gardner

Journeys end in lovers meeting

Her work is always extremely likable.

Woman Waiting I, Pamela Allen

A response to the ghastly experience of her husband’s serious health problems, and endless hours waiting and attending to his recovery.

The next five works are Allen’s as well. I love her work. Can’t get enough of it.

Wonder of Birds

Making Her Exit

I hope Allen will forgive me for copying her entire artist’s statement for this quilt. I think her experiences will resonate with many of us:

“At age 30, I felt it was make or break time, if I was ever going to pursue my dream of becoming an artist. It seemed iffy, but I enrolled in art school and worked at my day job part time to finance it. On graduation, I made an excited move to my new life. Instead of the sameness of my former career, I have enjoyed a life of infinite choices, chances, and changes for 30 years. I can hardly believe I was ever that other person!”

I spent my twenties shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long tube and smacking them together to see what would fly out. (Imagine driving two cars toward at each other at high speed, and crashing them so you could have a look at their components. Hey! A piece we’ve never seen before! I think I’ll call it … Carburetorum. Now gimme my Nobel Prize!) It was interesting work. It was also work I wasn’t well suited to, and at some point I too felt it was make or break time. I’m glad I made some changes, and I’m sure my former coworkers are as well. Like Allen, I can hardly believe I was ever that other person.

A Very Stingy Tooth Fairy

Cold Canadians

The Dionnes at Quintland

From Allen’s artist’s statement, “I looked at Picasso to develop the strained and stressed faces of the children.”

Sakura Sakura, Hiroko Miyama

A joyous portrait not only of the artist’s grandchild, but of the dog.

She had at least one other grandchild/dog image in the show, Natsumi & Sumire. I’m annoyed with myself for not getting a shot of it. It would have been nice to be able to compare the compositions, the rendering of the child and the dog.

Self Portrait, Joan Sowada

This depicts Sowada at various life stages, with projections into the future based on an elderly aunt. I’m particularly fond of the section of the portrait with her hand resting on the back of the chair. It reflects her vibrance of personality.

Sowada is a neat person. She had work in Quilt National this year, during which I had the pleasure of meeting her. She’s one of the few people there I wasn’t too gutless to converse with.

Holy Cow, Jennifer Day

Based on a photo of best friends in a cow pasture at Day’s ranch. She has covered a printed surface with dense, dense free motion embroidery, somewhat reminiscent of Carol Shinn’s work. This piece won the Spirit of Texas Award.

Here’s Megan Farkas with her work, Sakura I: Hanaogi Views the Cherry Blossoms, for which she won the Future of Quilting Award.

Farkas may LOOK radiant, but make no mistake, that’s a look of sheer terror on her face. Justifiably so, if you ask me. The lot of one of those top prize winners isn’t an easy one. Like rare zoo animals, they’re put on display in a little habitat which looks attractive, but is cunningly designed to prevent escape.

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Yes. The scene doesn’t seem so benign now, does it?

Do you see how she has her legs up in what looks like a ladylike fashion? That’s because she’s tied to the seat, which is at a potential of 5 kV. If she so much as brushes a foot against the floor, she’ll complete a circuit to ground and – ZAP! – that’ll be it for her.

Or, you know, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe she really is having the time of her life. It’s a hard call.

Checks & Balances, Caryl Bryer Fallert

It’s always neat to see what Fallert is up to. This quilt may reflect some of her enchantment with dancing, shades of the self-portrait she made a couple of years back.

A closeup so we can admire the figures which are rendered in stitch.

A closeup highlighting some of her precise, intricate stitching.

Dance (Panels 1 and 5), Randall Cook

He’s rendered these figures with Shibori, which lends an organic effect.

Here’s a detail shot of the figure on the right; it gives a little better sense of the organic quality of Cook’s painting and stitching.

Fractured Self

Fractured Self. That’s an intriguing title, even more so when one considers that the subject’s genitalia have quite literally been splintered away.

Intrigued by Cook’s work, I looked at his website. He’s done a number of nudes, studies of the finely muscled male form. Aside from their artistic merit, they’re aesthetically preferable to the images which would result from my doing honest self-portraits revealing my lumpy, post-baby body. (Perhaps I could display such work with a special tool with which people could put out their eyes after viewing?)

However, there is – ahem – a notable absence in each of them. I am of course referring to the Big P, the penis. Now, this may very well be an artistic decision on Cook’s part. If one includes that anatomy, there’s the question of how to arrange it, so to speak, the implications of which could be fodder for an entire paper, not to mention tittering and pearl clutching by some.

That said, I suspect – but don’t know – that in order to display at many shows, he has to literally emasculate the males in his images. That, or the models are discreetly posed with their nether regions off the canvas, below water, coyly hidden behind a thigh. We can cope with any number of other body parts, it seems, but not the Big P. Alas, I’m left with the same feeling I had as a child, when I’d curiously peer beneath the waistband of a friend’s Ken doll: there was no there there! Surely this wasn’t the correct state of things?

I have heard any number of arguments against depicting nudity – particularly male nudity – in artwork. Many seem to center around decency, keeping privates private, prurience, not wanting to see dangly bits, or Thinking Of The Children (approximately 50% of whom possess the anatomy under discussion). Please indulge me while I go on a brief verbal rabbit trail.

In the merchandise area of Festival, I saw campy fabric featuring muscular, generously proportioned cowboys. “Lookit them bulges!” I heard a woman crow. There were also ironing board covers festooned with attractive towel-draped males; when ironed, the towel would disappear.

Why is this sort of leering, winking depiction of people okay, but honest nudity in artwork isn’t?

While at Festival, I was subjected to some unbelievably personal conversations, most of which I wasn’t able to politely escape. From the two women behind me in the coffee line, I learned about Cousin Fenster’s testicular tumors. Another pair discussed having to fold up drooping breasts in order to get them in a bra, and the thinning out of pubic hair as one ages. On the bus to the hotel, a woman indulged in a loud extended speech about having her dress blow up over her head, exposing her flesh-colored Spanx before a busload of people. That is a dose of humiliation most of us can sympathize with, I think. But then she continued in that vein, pondering ways she could embellish the Spanx so she wouldn’t look naked, lest the issue reoccur in front of, say, a busload of men heading to Minute Maid Park. (“I dreamed a busload of men saw me in my Maidenform Bra,” I thought to myself.)

Yes, it’s true; I’m a weirdo magnet. However, these weren’t just isolated incidents. I heard conversations of this nature every day. At the end of the Spanx soliloquy, I thought “Okay, all of these things are universal human issues, but they’re rather personal. Why is it okay for these people to discuss these matters in front of strangers, but it isn’t okay for Cook to have even a discrete, innocuous penis on his work?” Because I know in my heart, artistic decision or no, that it wouldn’t be okay.

We all do what we have to, I guess.

On a more cheerful note, I’d like to suggest that Cook’s works don’t have to be permanently emasculated. I know an artist who crochets body parts. (Link NSFW) For a suitable fee, I’ll bet she’d be delighted to fix him up with something that he can pin on his quilts when they’re lolling about his studio, then remove when they go off to shows. And, Spanx woman? You were wondering about a suitable embellishment for your flesh-colored undergarments? I think my friend can also help you out.

Links to others’ images and videos:
I’ll see if I can find more before my next post.

Maria Elkins has run a series on IQF people and portrait quilts. I suggest starting at the first one, then paging through to find the successive entries.

A nicely produced video, courtesy of Bonnie McCaffery.

Another video, with some fun interspersed interviews with visitors.

Luana Rubin’s Flickr set.

Luana Rubin’s page of videos, including a tour of the warehouse, first prize winners, and top cash prizewinners.

IQF Houston Winners’ Circle

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

This post will include some dreadful photos taken during the IQA winner’s circle in Houston last week. If the whole gushing-about-awards thing turns you off, come back tomorrow or the next day for some shots taken on the show floor. I took around 400 pictures of other people’s work, so it may take a couple of days’ worth of posts to go through them.

“Oh boy! The 2011 Fall IQA Winners Circle! Will I get an award? Will I will I will I? Gosh, I hope nobody forgot my award! I hope it’s not all a mistake!”

A shot of the audience. My goodness – such a wild crowd! The last time I saw a scene of such debauchery, it was at an Ozzie Osbourne concert!

(Just kidding. I’ve never been to a rock concert.)

The cool ceiling treatment, comprised of swirling lights with colored filters/gobos and long swaths of fabric hung from the rigging. I spent a great deal of time studying it, for reasons I’ll explain in just a bit.

I didn’t take any photos during the actual ceremony, but for the sake of this narrative, let’s pretend I did and that this is one of them. “The third place winnah, Art Pictorial, is …”

If you want more authentic photos, see these. There’s also a complete list of the award winners here, and I’m sure IQA will soon have CDs with photos of the award-winning quilts for sale on their website.

After the ceremony, with people admiring the top award winners. If you peer really carefully, you may be able to spot black draperies above each of the works. These covered the works until each announcement, when a battalion of invisible elves would raise them. A few of the cables squeaked as they were pulled, a fact which gave me perverse delight.

Now, not long before the ceremony, I’d piled off an airplane. I was coated with an invisible noxious layer of airplane sweat and stranger germs, the latter from the male who’d sat beside me and attempted to vivisect me with his elbow. I was also ravenous, having been reduced to chewing my tongue and pretending it was a Slim Jim. A quick shower took care of the first issue. To address my hunger, I grabbed a packaged salad from a food cart.

Rarely has a salad been greeted with such gusto! It was a miracle in a pressed cardboard bowl, a small mountain of shredded cabbage, almonds, pepper slices and fruit, all topped with a zesty jalapeno dressing. Enough fiber, I hazard to guess, to weave a poncho for an elephant. After devouring it I felt wonderful. Swell, in fact.

About 45 minutes into the awards ceremony, my abdomen also felt swell – as though it was swelling up, to be precise. I grew concerned that the salad might not want to stay put, that I might emit a noise like a duck being stepped on when it was my turn to step across the stage. Should I step outside to address the issue? But no, I could be called at any time. How ghastly it would be to travel halfway across the country and be felled by cabbage, just at the moment I’d longed for and never thought would come.

There was nothing to do but concentrate on the patterns made by the pretty swirling lights on the ceiling and clamp my legs together like the proverbial chaste maiden holding an aspirin between her knees. Bits of the ceremony seeped into my brain, award-winners overwhelmed with emotion and choking back tears. When the top eight award winners were being called, I could see some of them bouncing in their seats, getting increasingly excited when they weren’t called: they knew the top award would be called last. The part of me that wasn’t focussed on containing my salad felt a burst of affection for the show’s organizers and sponsors. What a nice thing they’d done, giving these people a venue to exhibit work and an opportunity to be recognized. Because of their actions, that teary first place winner in the next row was having a night she’d never forget.

I experienced something similar to the top eight during the painted surface awards, expecting to be called for honorable mention or third place. At some point I realized that not being called must mean that I was in second or first place: Oh! Well, that was nice! Much better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. In the end I walked away with second place, inanely telling Ricky Tims “Howdy!” when he handed me the nice white envelope with the check inside. First place went to Mardal and Hougs, whose work I have long admired. As I waddled back to my seat, knees resolutely clamped together, I reflected on the fact that there are far worse fates than being beaten by Mardal and Hougs.

Here’s Flooded, my submission, on display with its ribbon. Now, it’s hard to tell from this photo, where I’ve adjusted the white balance in Photoshop, but it didn’t show particularly well. On the show floor, it looked washed out, desaturated and yellow, and suffered from comparison with the works on each side of it, which were alive with color. This was a bit of a shock, given how lively it had looked in my studio. Indeed, when I’d painted it, I was concerned that I might be making the colors too saturated and contrasty.

A photographer friend who was on the scene suggested that part of the issue might have been tungsten lights on the show floor. Indeed, when he adjusted the white balance on his camera, I could see the colors in his photos become more pure. However, it may also be the case that I need to increase the dynamic range of future work, bumping up the contrast and allowing for issues like yellowing tungsten lights. So if you’re also displaying your work, allow for unpredictable lighting and backgrounds.

Needless to say, after seeing my own work and others’ wonderful work on the show floor, I was even more grateful that the judges had given Flooded an award.

Here is my ribbon, a very nice ribbon indeed. (The last one I received, way back in the third grade, was a piece of satin which had been shoved through a typewriter.) I took a photo of it because I won’t see it again for six or seven months; Flooded, the ribbon, and others’ prize-winning quilts will be going on tour.

As the ribbon notes, the painted surface awards were provided by Ricky Tims, Inc.. I hope to find out more of the story behind that. When one tots up the painted surface awards, it’s an outlay of at least $2,000 for prizes, and there may be further costs I’m not aware of. I suppose one could chalk the generosity up to good advertising and hope he gets a return on the investment, but I suspect that there’s more to the story than that. Perhaps he’s trying to give back a little, or help further the industry. But why the painted surface category? Tims is noted for his hand dyed fabrics and popular quilt-designing techniques, including Convergence, Rhapsody and Kaleidoscope. (Be sure to look for his books on Amazon or other places fine books are sold!)

It’s somewhat mysterious, but much appreciated.

I will close this entry with a gratuitous unrelated image of a pumpkin, which I’d failed to dispose of before leaving for Houston. I’ll get some photos from the show floor posted during the next few days after I cull through them – and yes, after I get rid of the moldering pumpkin and encourage its resident to move on.

PIQF 2011

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Last week I visited PIQF, the Pacific International Quilt Festival, held in Santa Clara, CA. PIQF is a quilt show, with all that that implies: crowded, noisy, enthusiastic. The work encompassed a wide stylistic range, from traditional/intricate bed coverings to art quilts to art’s junior sibling, “and crafts.” There was work by masters and by novices, work from people inside and outside the United States. There was also an exhibit of wearable art.

An extensive merchandise area occupied about half of the floor space. On some level, that’s what the show is really about: selling things. If it didn’t pull in money, the exhibit of quilts wouldn’t occur. One can feel bemused by the juxtaposition of one’s laboriously stitched masterpiece with the EZ-Scraper 3000 booth or simply go with it, appreciating the fact that people have a place to share their work.

I only took photos of a fraction of the quilts on exhibit. I did see people walking up and down the aisles, doggedly (and perhaps blindly) click-clicking away at each quilt. I’ve done the same thing in previous years and have discovered that I never refer back to those photos. Never. Thus, this year I just focussed on a few things which caught my eye.

I attended the show with a couple of friends and discovered that their tastes are different than mine – quite different! Friend #1 was fond of symmetrical or geometric compositions, often featuring circles or op art themes. Friend #2 seemed drawn to more traditional works which showcased meticulous stitching. As for me, I like whatever I like, often for disparate reasons.

I learned that it’s literally the case that three different people will see three different shows. I also noticed different things each time I visited the show. Perhaps the true value of different people’s blog entries, then, is not so much seeing a complete catalog of show entries as it is seeing what different people are drawn to and why. Accordingly, at the end of this entry I’ll post some links to others’ blogs. Someone else’s notes may reveal a gem I didn’t mention.

Rift, Sue Dennis, 52.5 x 63″

There’s a certain emotional impact which comes with large works. I turned a corner and there it was, glowing against the dark backdrop curtain of the exhibit, containing intertwined and somehow mysterious symbols. I found it both incomprehensible and fascinating.

I’m glad to be receptive to this piece, to be able to admire it. For many years I loathed yellow and orange, as they were indelibly associated with a toxic relationship. Thus, Dennis’ artist’s statement seems on point: “Reflecting on numerous situations has led me explore family relationships, the underpinnings of these and the emotions inherent in families. The seed pods represent people.”

The Many and the Few, Sue Dennis, 23.5 x 41.5″

A composition in Eucalyptus and Kurrajong leaves. This was made in 2006, perhaps four or five years before Rift. It’s interesting to see the changes in her work.

Time – Timeless, Tana LaDuke, 71.25 x 42″

This is a particularly subtle, textural composition. She’s used rust dyeing, which artfully supports the concept of time passing. Her stitching is elegant, reminiscent of the weathered carving one might see on an ancient monuments. The vertical column of text is a passage from Ecclesiastes, the one famously rearranged and beaten to death by the Byrds in their song Turn! Turn! Turn!

Works like this one make me consider fabricating my own award ribbons and stealthily pinning them beside things I admire. I’ll be the Banksy of fiber arts shows, adding ribbons where there were none or anonymously mailing them to artists. (Gosh, no. That won’t creep anyone out.)

On a related note, as I go through shows, I frequently ask myself “Why did this need to be a quilt?” I mean that in the most non-critical way possible – really, it’s sufficient that the person wanted to make a particular thing out of fiber. However, in terms of improving our art, if that’s what we want to do, would there have been a better medium for executing a specific project? Does a particular piece take advantage of the unique qualities of fiber, or would it have been fine rendered as, say, a poster or a collage? When pondering this I often look at the stitching and whether it seems to support/reinforce the surface image or appears to be an afterthought. I also look at the texture which results from stitching. Does it contribute anything to the piece?

In this case, I believe the answer is yes. This needed to be done in fiber. LaDuke could have executed this as, say, a poster, using ink to draw what are presently stitching lines. However, the end result would have lost the richness which results from light playing across its surface variations.

Swan Lake de los Muertos, Nancy Arseneault, 67 x 78″

It’s strange. I like that. If you ask me, there aren’t enough dancing skeletons in the world, particularly ones wearing tutus.

Arseneault has designed a number of quilts with a Day of the Dead theme. Here’s a Quilter’s Newsletter blurb on her beauty parlor-themed quilt, with appropriately ghoulish customers.

Flam & Menco, Charlotte Kruk & Carol Traumiller

This is created from M&M candy packaging and embellished here and there with sequins and beads. It’s a marvel, isn’t it?

A shot of the skirt.

I was delighted to see it, on a very personal level. A few years ago, I saw Kruk’s “Traje de Luces,” a matador’s suit of lights constructed entirely of M&M wrapper refuse. The artist’s statement mentioned something about a “Cease & Desist” letter from M&M/Mars.

“There has to be a story behind this,” I thought, so I went and Googled it. According to articles such as this one, back in 2001, M&M/Mars had gotten wind of her making dresses from refuse candy wrappers. Quoting from this story, “They ordered her to ‘immediately turn over for destruction’ the pieces she had made from their packaging.” Oh dear.

A number of letters were exchanged, that being the way of attorneys: they have little to lose by dashing off lists of demands. If all goes well, at least from the viewpoint of the corporate legal department, the recipient will be frightened into compliance. The matter will then have been resolved cheaply, without having to go to court. If matters don’t go well, they can have a junior person in the vast corporate legal department continue sending letters and perhaps, eventually, take more definite legal action.

It must have been extraordinarily unpleasant to be in Kruk’s shoes. It’s one thing to know you have a right to repurposes your own trash to create art; it’s quite another to stand your ground against an organization with virtually inexhaustible resources. One could quite literally get dunned into bankruptcy simply by paying one’s own lawyer to write letters in response.

I don’t know M&M/Mars’ side of the story, but I can guess. They may have gotten wind of Kruk creating or selling something made with their packaging or corporate marks, then ritualistically sent out a Cease & Desist letter in anticipation of a trademark or other violation. It’s a shame that other courses of action weren’t pursued after the situation was clarified, such as M&M/Mars using the garments in a publicity campaign. As it is, they did get publicity – just not of a positive nature. To this day, if I have a choice between buying two candy bars, I won’t purchase the one made by M&M/Mars.

Homeless Love, Mary Pal, 34x 24″
Part of SAQA’s Layers of Memory exhibit

Pal has created a series of portraits by manipulating cheesecloth on a painted buckram background. She shades areas by layering or otherwise manipulating the cheesecloth to create different densities. She also gives areas a sense of texture/direction by the orientation in which she lays the material down.

Since this technique has yielded such striking results in Pal’s hands, I suspect that it’s destined to become popular and much imitated. There will be workshops and books: if Pal doesn’t offer them herself, someone else will. In six months to a year, we’re bound to start seeing shows flooded with cheesecloth portraiture, much the way we’ve seen portraits à la Esterita Austin and landscapes à la Noriko Endo.

Shattered, Betty Busby, 42 x 36″
Part of SAQA’s Layers of Memory exhibit.

I had an amusing experience at the show. Now and then someone’s work would catch my eye and – what do you know? – it was created by Betty Busby! That happened frequently enough that I’m going to have to see if it occurs at other shows, perhaps give the phenomenon its own name. Something with a hyphen and lots of syllables, shades of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Maybe the Busby-Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

She really does have a remarkable sense of design. She also appears to be quite prolific.

Raptor II, Betty Busby, 49 x 33″

I was charmed by this, with its monster-sized bite mark out of the corner. If you ask me, there isn’t enough artwork around which has been chomped by a dinosaur.

Coral Sea, Betty Busby, 56 x 48″


Dreaming of the Northern Lights, Helen Granville, 37 x 57″

A closeup.

Sometimes I look at other people’s work and think about who might buy it, or to whom one might market it. When I saw this, I thought “I could see that in a CEO’s office.” It’s lovely, of course, but also the type of art which would work well in a corporate setting: abstract and contemporary. Open to study, but also not likely to offend or make demands.

Garden of Haiti, Susan Shie, 69 x 82″

It’s always a pleasure to see one of Shie’s works. They’re instantly recognizable, with their vivid images on whole cloth and stream-of-consciousness writing rendered with an airpen.

A closer view, showing some of the writing.

The stitching is an interesting choice, a loose grid meandering across the whole quilt. I’m guessing that it’s a challenge to devise quilting which won’t fight for attention with the writing. It’s also a pretty ghastly, laborious task wrestling a quilt this large through a sewing machine. However, this is one of those times when I wonder whether a particular design would have fared equally well as a mural or a painting on canvas.

I can think of at least one practical argument for going the fiber route: shipping. Part of the reason Shie’s works pack so much visual punch is their size; this particular work weighs in at 69 x 82″. If it had been rendered on, say, stretched canvas, the cost and hassle of shipping probably would have grown prohibitive. I’m picturing a huge, custom-built crate and a costly cross-country ride on a freight truck, plus a small army of strong backs to haul the crate around.

As matters stand, she can fold a particular work up, place it in a (large) box, and we have the pleasure of seeing it in a show. Shipping is no doubt still expensive, but hopefully doesn’t require that she take out a loan.

Mistaken Identity, 48 x 68.1, Susan Wessels

This is one of those designs which grabbed me when I walked around a corner.

From Wessels’ artist’s statement, “As we try to make sense of what we see and experience, we identify, categorize and label. Do you see caricature or king, stiff-necked or soft-spoken, open-minded or scatter-brained, alien or familiar?”

I have no idea. I just know that I like it.

Grounded Spheres, Enid Viljoen, 65.7 x 59.1″

A closer view.

Rich, lively and joyous. It makes one eye the yarn ends and scraps in one’s drawers with newfound respect, doesn’t it?

You Can’t Put Hole Where a Hole Where a Hole Don’t Belong, Irene MacWilliam, 39 x 39″

A closeup.

This is comprised of multiple layers, with facings lining each of the holes. It’s named after a song by Bernard Gribbens. I am personally reminded of the Sea of Holes in Yellow Submarine, and expect a miniature Paul or Ringo to pop out at any moment.

Branch-Lines at Matlaske, Katherine College, 24 x 60″

This composition is subtle and elegant. She even has area where a fictional branch may have been pruned away and stitched it accordingly. I wish I’d photographed a closeup of that area. Such details can really bring work to life.

Block-a-Day Therapy, Griet Lombard, 51.5 x 51.5″

A closeup.

Hand pieced, appliquéd and quilted. The saturated colors and irregular edges lend a festive quality, don’t they? She says “the repetitive movement of hand stitching incorporating subtle differences calms the soul and creates space in the mind for introspection.” Perhaps this is her equivalent of creating a Buddhist sand painting, an act of meditation.

Much as I admire her work, I loathe hand sewing myself and I can’t imagine how she does it. There’s a sort of mythology about writers and private detectives keeping a bottle of Jack Daniels in their desk drawers, taking occasional nips when the going gets frustrating. Personally, I think the booze would be better reserved for hand stitching. Since I find whisky disgusting, that’s saying a lot.

Introspection, Maya Chaimovich, 48 x 57″

This is lovely, somehow melding softness and intensity. Sometimes I admire someone’s work all the more if it is alien to me on some level, something I couldn’t imagine creating myself. My mind just doesn’t work this way.

Here’s a bit more about Chaimovich.

Persephone Rising, Marilyn Belford, 82 x 67″

Belford has created a number of these portraits in her Women of Legend series. I hope she’ll continue making them. I’d love to see a solo exhibit.

Homage to the Ailing Pacific Madrone, Patty Mitchell, 37 x 27.5″

This has a tidily pieced background, then applique forming the vegetation and some of the background details. When I first saw this, I was reminded of Gloria Loughman’s work. Nope. Bad guess. Mitchell credits Kathy McNeil for her landscape workshop and for encouragement.

This may be a good example of how several people are using a similar technique – forming naturescapes with pieced backgrounds and appliqued details – and are putting their own stamp on it.

Fern Pool, Gloria Loughman, 80 x 70″

If you ever have the opportunity to see Loughman or her work in person, do so. Both are delightful.

The Tsar’s Decree, Megan Farkas, 41 x 52:

If you had to make a quick guess, which cultural tradition would you say inspired this quilt? If your guess is something along the lines of “Japan, perhaps an homage to the tsunami woodcut prints of Hiroshige or Hokusai,” you’re mistaken. You also have company, because that was my guess too.

This was actually inspired by “a 1905 Russian fairy tale illustration by Ivan Bilibin,” in which “the Tsar’s wife and son (in the barrel) have called on the waves to bring them safely ashore …”

For the sake of comparison, here’s a picture of Bilibin’s original illustration.

Now, was Ivan Bilibin himself inspired by Japanese woodcut prints? I have no idea. This matter will need additional research.

Crazy in Black & White, Geraldine Nall

A closeup of the central motif.

This quilt is small, perhaps a foot on each side. From the artist’s statement, “It has 6,300 pieces and consists of 140 1.5″ and 2.5″ square pineapple blocks.” I’ll bet that if we chatted with Nall, she’d modestly murmur something about finding the work “relaxing and meditative.” I’ll also bet that her house is far tidier than mine.

Just Doodling, Loretta Armstrong, Pat Dicker and Sandra Harrington, 42 x 42″

A closeup of the lower lefthand block. Notice the extensive but subtle beading.

This group project was inspired by Zentangle® designs. In my opinion, it’s remarkable for the fact that there’s good size/quality continuity between the panels. Often when I view group projects, such continuity has suffered.

This is Why I Pre-Wash, Joni Strother

This is comprised of the Shout Color Catchers Joni had included in her laundry when pre-washing loads of batiks. A cautionary if humorous tale, one might say. It also forms a nice stitch sampler.

It Came from Beneath the Sea, Roberta DeLuz

I was suckered in, if you’ll forgive the turn of phrase, when I saw the tentacle wrapped around the clock tower. DeLuz states “This is a tribute to my father, who instilled a love of classic monster movies in me.”

I greatly admire the use of sequins as suckers.

San Francisco Presidio Pet Cemetery, Judy Mathieson, 36 x 45″

Some quilts just plain have a good heart. This is one of them, a memory quilt based on the pet cemetery in the Presidio, near the Golden Gate Bridge. Hundreds of military pets are interred there, people’s beloved and good dogs, cats, rats, or even iguanas. Their days in the sun came and went, and it’s good to remember them.

I also had a quilt in the show, Siesta (or, as I like to think of it, Raccoon with Mange). Here’s a shot of people looking at it as well as admiring Betty Busby’s quilt, Raptor II.

I’m going to end this post with some links to others’ PIQF posts. Notice how diverse everyone’s picks are. It really is the case that we all admire and enjoy slightly different things:

Sue Dennis – she has a number of entries on her blog. The October archive seems to include them all.

Christine Thresh


CTPubs Gallery of photos

Lemon Tree Tales – Another archive with multiple entries

Told You Sew!

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.

The Phone Call

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Earlier in the week, I received a phone call from Houston: Flooded has won an award at the upcoming International Quilt Festival in Houston. NOT one of the top eight award winners, but a nice surprise and much appreciated. The folks at IQA do such a nice job of making the entrants and award winners feel honored.

I think the last time I received a prize of any kind was in YMCA day camp, back in the third or fourth grade. My hard-working mother had enrolled me, trying to provide me with experiences she hadn’t had. (My opinion on whether I wished to go was, as always, not required or desired.)

Day camp seemed to involve a lot of walking around smelly lakes filled with water moccasins, a choice of Mr. Pibb or Mountain Dew at lunch, and watching the older counselors/teenagers flirt. I found the whole experience bewildering and, sadly, I don’t think I expressed even a token degree of appreciation to my mother.

However, there were crafts. That was nice. Sometimes one’s crafts even won a prize. My particular prize was a wonderfully oversized Swiss Army knife knockoff with every conceivable blade and implement a kid could need: Screwdrivers! Corkscrew! A fork and spoon! Ah, those halcyon days when little kids could have pocket knives – nay, knives so large they required their own satchel! – with which to stab the foo out of stuff.

What had I done to earn this amazing accolade? Why, I created the most wonderful scarecrow in the entire history of mankind, a Frankenstein’s Monster head scribbled on a paper bag! Here is a simulation:


It’s true. I’ve lost absolutely none of my artistic talent since then.

Now, getting back to IQF Houston, it’s delightful getting that phone call. At last! Someone has recognized my brilliance! That, or they had a screaming migraine and their contacts were dirty the day the judging took place. (Either way, I’ll take it.) But then there’s that little touch of envy for the top eight award winners. I forget all the spiffs the top eight get, if I ever knew. They may or may not include award ribbons the size of a prize county fair steer, having their work festooned with roses, a paid luxury suite with all the green M&Ms one can eat, and a Waterford vase containing a genie. So, is the envy about those things? Maybe. Probably. But mostly, it’s about the giant check.

Look at this photo, over on the IQA site. There’s Mark Hyland of Handi Quilter and there’s Sharon Schamber, last year’s Mondo Mega Award Winner. What’s in Hyland’s hands? A giant freaking check! That thing must be three feet tall by six feet wide! Isn’t it awesome? Just imagine what you could do with a check like that. For starters, you’d have to get it its own seat on the airplane home. After that, you could take it into the bank, try to deposit it, and watch the clerks stutter:

Security guard: “Ma’am? You can’t bring that into the bank.”
Person with check: “But this is a CHECK! I wish to deposit it!”
Security guard: “You’re going to have to leave. Now.”

After being escorted out of the bank by guards and told to never return – and that’s really the best case scenario – you could then put the check on display in your home. Say, over your mantelpiece or anywhere else visitors might be forced to see it when entering your home:

Visitor: “Oh! What’s that?”
Person with check: “That? Oh, that’s just my giant check. I got it for being awesome. Don’t you have one?”

Or – here’s one of my personal favorites – you could make a coffee table the same size as the check, then top the check with a protective sheet of glass. Really, what can’t you do with a giant check? So very versatile!

That brings me to the topic of home decorating. Last week, I attended a local Surface Design Association meeting. It was held at the home of Judith Content. Do you know what I learned at that meeting? Judith Content is a genius. If you ever get a chance to visit her home, and you aren’t some lousy jerk of a burglar, do go. She’s a wonderful host and her home is simply amazing. It has been drenched with color, artwork, good taste, and pixie dust. Also, I learned that I’m a crappy decorator.

I took a few photos while visiting Judith’s home and studio. I won’t post them all here, because I kind of don’t want to violate her privacy. Isn’t it bad enough having a total stranger snapping off photos of your home without having them posted? Also, she should make money off that sort of thing. Her home is the sort of place you see in decorating and studio porn magazines. However, I will post a few bits and pieces.

The view from Content’s studio. My studio has a view of the fence four feet away. I can also see some weeds growing through the fence. I find them quite stimulating.

Judith Content’s charming shed. I have a shed too. It is made of plastic.

Here is the view from Judith Content’s sink, an exquisite collection of bottles and blossoms. The view from my sink includes food debris and dead plant cuttings. Would you like to see them?

Some of Content’s amazing beads. I had beads. The dog ate them. After that, I didn’t want them.

A lovely basket with some of her many innovative masking materials.

Even her tomatoes are more interesting than mine. Although, to be fair to myself, that may be because I didn’t grow tomatoes this year.

When I returned to my own home, I was startled at how flat and downright ugly it was in comparison. I decided that I really need to try harder to create a stimulating environment. After all, don’t my family and I deserve it?

One of the key things I learned from Content’s amazing, gracious home is that you can add a great deal of personality and whimsy to an environment by proudly displaying your personal collections. For example, she grouped differently-sized wooden clogs along a table. The effect was utterly charming. It made me think: what if I used some of the many shoes we have on hand to create my own elegant dining table arrangement?

Sometimes the right textile can really set off a collection, as with this grouping of utility lights on a polyester Chinese knockoff.

People often fold dinner napkins in fancy shapes. Why not use one’s whoopee cushions instead? Because, I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of whoopee cushions and very few dinner napkins.

I may not have freshly cut flowers, but I do have socks! Can’t I achieve the same over-abundant, flowing look by grouping mismatched socks in a silver ewer?

Well, maybe not.

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

Happy to be here.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

The People’s Choice award for Quilt National was announced today. It went to Kate Themel for her very nice Dandelion.

Four others were in the running as well including my piece, Farmer Brown. I believe SAQA was well represented, as always.

So, how does it feel to be a loser? (Not that anyone is asking.) Pretty good. I was delighted to be included in the event, and flattered to have my work with the likes of the others. Being in the running for the award means that my work gave someone, several someones, a moment of pleasure and they were kind enough to say so. I really appreciate it.

It was such a pleasure attending Quilt National earlier this year and seeing Brimelow’s immense quilted strip, Rook Road, with its playful cartographic imagery. Then there’s Jayne Gaskins’ piece, whose densely stitched backpack literally leaps off the quilt/canvas. And yes, although I shouldn’t admit it, I spent a goodly amount of time staring at Kim Shearrow’s Sunrise, trying to find the Maxipad covers she’d sandwiched into her piece. I admire these pieces immensely, and the people who created them. I’m so lucky to have gotten to see these in person and to have met a few of the artists.

It’s been a good year.


Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

I do some woodworking now and then – or, more accurately, wood butchery. Sometimes when I do a project like this:

I end up with a lot of these:

Offcuts. Pieces of wood which seem too small to do anything useful, but too big to throw away. If you do only one project a year, even if you plan carefully, you’ll end up with enough offcuts to sink a battleship. You can use some of them as building blocks for the kids or grandkids, of course, but what then? Doorstops? A kid only needs so many building blocks, and a household only needs a handful of doorstops. No, sometimes it’s nice to have some variety.

Here’s one thing I made with them: a colorful abstract art mirror, which coordinates nicely with the Miros and so forth in my house. (Someone please stop me before I extend that thought to its sad conclusion and say that I like the Miros because they match my couch.)

For this project, I used a Malma mirror from Ikea as a base, then glued on small painted offcuts. These particular mirrors have a pretty wide frame, which undoubtedly makes them popular with the gluing-stuff-on-other-stuff crafting contingent. They also cost a pittance. ($3 as of this writing.) With a little acrylic paint and some wood glue, one is good to go. This particular project might also be fun with unpainted wood. Either way, it’s a good afternoon project for kids as well as adults.

Here’s another thing I made, a bench for the garden:

It isn’t the sort of large, generous bench which invites lolling about with a book and a cold drink, but it adds a bit of whimsy and makes a nice place to perch. All it took was some threaded rod, which I hacksawed to length, and a handful of nuts and washers. Drill holes through all of the blocks, thread them on the rod, and voila – a rickety bench!

If I ever do this project again, I may make the bench deeper or shape and paint the wood blocks to look like stacks of books. Long carriage bolts would have made nice improvement over the threaded rod, as well. If you use rod, you have to be careful to countersink the holes in the top board so the end of the rod won’t poke somebody:

Unfortunately, these projects didn’t make much of a dent in my collection of offcuts. Guess I’ll have to think of some more projects.

See ya in hell, “art” quilt!

Friday, July 15th, 2011

I made this thing in 1985. It was my second piece of “art quilting,” which I didn’t know then was called “art quilting.” It was also my last piece of “art quilting” before taking a twenty year break from the medium. Take a good look at it. Unless you hurry to the local dump with a shovel, you’ll never see it again.

Yep, I threw it out. It had about 1001 lousy memories associated with it, including:

  1. Horrible, abusive marriage.
  2. Pompous ass I was married to telling me the seagulls looked like bats.
  3. Pretty profound sexual harassment at work.
  4. Not knowing how to deal with the sexual harassment at work.
  5. Pompous ass I was married to interrogating me over what I’d done to deserve the sexual harassment at work.
  6. Quilting teacher assuring me that I couldn’t possibly be getting harassed at work, because her husband worked there too, and they just didn’t do things like that there. (I asked her for advice because I felt I had nowhere else to turn.)
  7. Pompous ass gaslighting me.

On top of all that, it just isn’t any good. I’m sure that at the time I thought it was great – “Lookie! I used a round frame so it’ll be like the porthole on a ship!” Beyond that, though, there isn’t much to recommend it. It uses polyester batting, for heaven’s sakes! Why on earth did I keep it around for 21 years?

It isn’t a bat, damn it.

So here’s my challenge to you. Look around your house. Look for that thing … maybe you have one … the thing you really don’t need, which brings back only bad memories. Get rid of it this instant! Keep only the things which you need, which make you feel good, or which fit into the kind of life you want.

Art Quilting Studio

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Happy news: Art Quilting Studio, a Stampington publication, has been relaunched. It was a great magazine in the past, thick and chock full of galleries and artists’ profiles. I look forward to seeing it on the newsstands and purchasing future editions. These are challenging economic times for individuals and businesses alike – witness the sad demise of Fiberarts – so it’s especially important to support publications we care about.

Of course, I’m biased. Some of my own work is on page 124.

I do get a charge out of having my work published or exhibited. When you get to have work in a group environment, whether it’s in an exhibit, a book, or a magazine, it’s a lovely thing. Your work, and by extension you, get to be a part of something larger. Take the example of the No Place to Call Home exhibit, a slideshow of which is here. There are works by different people with different styles and takes on the phenomenon of homelessness. I like to think that I contributed something of interest to the discussion, but there are a good many ideas I never would have thought of, and the exhibit is much richer as a result.

Bless the curators, authors, and editors whose visions make these exhibits possible!