December 31, 2008

Chiques Rock Base Hike

I bundled up and ventured out for a hike recently on the Heritage Trail at the base of Chiques Rock. Back in March I featured some of the spectacular views from the top of the Rock--you can read about it here.

The views from the base are equally dramatic, and I took a lot of detail shots of the rocky outcroppings:

A bit further down the trail is the site of the former Henry Clay Furnace, built in 1845 and abandoned in 1889. It was a bustling industrial site in its day, burning anthracite coal to process locally mined iron ore. Transportation was provided by a canal running alongside the Susquehanna river, and there were buildings to house the workers as well as a tavern. The ruins are impressive:

Here's a detail shot of the interior of the wall:

Further still down the trail is the Point Rock Tunnel, which was carved through 180 feet of solid rock. You can read a fascinating article about abandoned railroad tunnels in Pennsylvania here.

I hiked back up to the Breezyview Overlook just in time to watch the sunset over the Susquehanna. You can see the modern Rt. 30 bridge that is just upriver from the The Old Bridge, as featured in View From The Old Bridge.

December 14, 2008

Order out of Chaos

I had another glorious day of uninterrupted time in the studio to work on the Watt & Shand project. (If you are new here, you can track it back by clicking on "Watt & Shand" under Labels in the right sidebar.) I spent quite a lot of time doing detailed stitching on some of the printed images.

There's a wealth of detail in these images, which is one of the things I love about them, but it makes it challenging when it's time to stitch. I can't possibly stitch everything, partly because I'd go slightly insane, but mostly because if everything is defined, nothing is emphasized. So it's a judgement call, made on the fly because its impossible to preplan except in a general way. I just pick a spot and start stitching. It's very anxiety-inducing at first--so many choices, and what if I mess up--but then, miraculously, I get into a zen zone and it all works out.

This is the first I've done this much architectural work, with all the straight lines and angles, so that took a bit of getting used to as well. I'm more experienced with the fluid shapes of nature, as in the water in The Old Bridge:

Or the trees and bushes in View from Pinnacle Point:

There's a little more latitude for invention there, so I'm glad to have done those first. But I'm pleased with the way the stitching went today, and am getting more and more excited about the possibilities of this emerging series.

I also worked on making strip sets that will be cut up and reassembled into these quilt(s). Here the opposite is required; instead of making order out of chaos, as I did when I picked which lines to stitch, I'm trying to NOT be orderly. It's human nature to want to arrange things into patterns, but that makes for boring strip sets. So the goal here is to arrange things so that they flow, but don't repeat. It's harder than you might think--I have to recognize when I'm falling into a pattern, then rearrange to make more chaos. Here's the results so far:

I'm pleased with this as well. I'm closing in on having all the elements, or building blocks, I need for this quilt(s) ready to go. The next challenge will be finding another block of uninterrupted time to design and assemble them.

December 13, 2008

Don't Try This at Home

I violated just about every guideline for making cyanotype prints this afternoon. This close to the winter solstice, the sun is very low in the sky, even at midday. The temperature was just above freezing. There was some light cloud cover, further diluting the weak sunlight. And the only treated fabric I had left after a season of making prints was bits and pieces, some of them "old", having been treated many moons ago.

Nonetheless, I was jonesing to make some prints of specific images for the Watt & Shand quilt(s), so I gave it my best shot. Judging exposure times under those conditions was tricky at best, but I have a lot of experience at printing in less-than-optimal conditions I( I get impatient, or have plant material that won't keep), and on the whole I was rather pleased with the outcome.

I spent most of the day in the studio, and I am on a bit of a roll. I've been collecting and ruminating over these images for so long, it's really exciting to be working with them and stitching on them.

There's still time --until Dec. 20th--to hop over to the Sue Reno Studio Sale and shop for affordably priced artwork. Why not treat yourself or a friend?

December 9, 2008

The Pequea Silver Mine

Despite the chilly weather, I got out for a hike at the site of the Pequea Silver Mine.  The site is  a township park, with easy walking trails through woods, open areas, and along the Pequea Creek. (You can see where the Pequea Creek meets the Susquehanna River in my previous post here.)

Here's an old lime kiln on the property, where limestone was burned to make quicklime for mortar:

The stonework is gorgeous:

Here's the entrance to the actual mine, now bricked over and gated for safety reasons. There's a shot of it before it was gated, along with all a wealth of geological and historical information, here.

Even in winter, there's lots of interesting things to be seen if you keep a sharp eye out. I found this mullein rosette covered with tiny ice crystals, probably from dew freezing on the fine hairs covering the leaves:

Here's the distinctive seed pod of Jimson weed:

I came across something I'd never seen before. A huge tree burl was weeping sap, and the sap had formed a large icicle. I love this picture, with the burl, the sap-cicle, the blue lichen on the lower part of the tree trunk, and the creek in the background:

Here's a closer view:

And the extreme closeup, where it looks a bit like pulled taffy. It was slightly sticky to the touch.

December 3, 2008

Picking colors, Inate Ability, and Talent

I had a lovely time this morning picking fabrics and colors to use in the Watt & Shand work(s) in progress. (If you are new here, you can track back by clicking on Watt & Shand under "labels" in the right sidebar.) Not all of these will make it into the final work; there will be additions and subtractions as I go along, but I'm happy that I've established the basic color palette. It looks a bit muted, perhaps, laid out like this, but rest assured that it will evolve into something more energetic. That's the potential downside of showing work in progress--I know where it's headed, but it might not look like much to you. I'm willing to take that risk in the hope that it's still interesting watching the process unfold.

I work very hard at what I do, both in terms of time put in and effort expended; I take this job very seriously. But picking colors is so much fun because it's not hard at all. It's clear and obvious what's needed, and thrilling when I find it in the stash, or paint or print it to fit. I am lucky in that I was born with a good color sense, just like some people are born with perfect musical pitch. I can take no credit for developing it, it's just there.

I once walked into a fabric store and got all excited (yes, I'm easily amused) at finding an acid green and hot pink solid cotton in hues I hadn't seen in commercial fabrics for a long time. It reminded me of a print dress I had sewn for myself way back in the late sixties. When I dug the scraps out of my mother's attic it was a perfect match for the newly acquired solids, and I learned that my color memory accurately goes back for decades. Here's a bit of the print:

And a small quilt it inspired, called "Painted Daisy", with a cyanotype on cotton. I used the print scraps for the backing of the quilt, which is now residing in Scotland.

But I digress.....and I'll wander a bit further before bringing it back around. I know a man who is a natural with dogs; they admire him and want to please and obey him. When he is out and about, dogs show up from who-knows-where to keep him company and do his bidding. I, on the other hand, despite being a great admirer of the canine race, was not born with the ability to command their respect, and it was a source of discontent and inconvenience to me. With my last dog, I made a concerted effort to be the leader of the pack, working on changing my voice and cadence, my stance and the non-verbal cues so important to dogs, and even my expectations of obedience. It was a long process, but eventually I gained the skills I needed. I am probably prouder of getting a dog to take me seriously and "sit", than I am of being able to go fabric shopping without swatches.
So. Which is more valuable, an innate skill, or a laboriously acquired one? Which is more meaningful? Which type of skill is more likely to drive one to create and excel? Is it better to be the musician who practices every day and faces down stage fright each night, or the one who takes their talent so much for granted they squander it?
Ideally, of course, we balance the talents that come easily with the ones we had to work for to make a harmonious whole, but that's easier said than done. Personally, I have a tendency to work with such focus I forget to have fun. Picking out fabrics today was fun.

December 1, 2008

Sue Reno Studio Sale

I've started a companion blog at Sue Reno Studio Sale. I'm offering a wide assortment of affordably priced fiberart work at sale prices for a limited time. Everything is a one-of-a-kind original made here in my home studio, featuring some of my favorite botanical subjects. I hope you will take a look, and find something just right as a gift or a special treat for yourself.

And please pass the link along to anyone who might be interested. Thanks!

November 30, 2008

On the Design Wall

I'm getting more actively engaged in working with the Watt & Shand images. (If you are new here, you can track back by clicking on the Watt & Shand label to the right.) I have a LOT of pictures of the building renovation in all stages. I spend some time today organizing and reviewing them, and picked out some to edit in Paint Shop and print onto cotton fabric.

I put them up on the design wall, along with some of the cyanotypes I did earlier, and pulled a few fabrics to audition--there's a brilliant orange silk, an orange hand dye that Mary Manahan gave me, a handwoven brown with a lot of texture, a piece of raw silk I handpainted in blue and ochre, and some commercial fabrics.

There's no rhyme or reason to the arrangement just yet; I'm just putting things up so I can look at them at length and think about the possibilities. It is becoming clear that this will probably be a series, not a single work, as I have so many fantastic images to work with. This opens up a lot of possibilities, but also raises a lot of questions about how the individual works should relate to each other (if at all). Should I tell a story? Do I want to capture individual moments? Should I focus just on image and not worry about content?

This is a very anxious moment for me, albeit in a good way. The difficulties and the potential will inform my waking and sleeping mind, until I solve the puzzles and it becomes clear to me how to proceed. I am more of a process person than a product person, so this is all an enormous amount of fun!

November 21, 2008

The Ashley & Bailey Silk Mill

I recently stumbled upon the site of the former Ashley & Bailey Silk Mill in Columbia (PA), built in 1889, and it took my breath away. I am enthralled with architectural ruins where you can see blue sky through the windows. That's what originally piqued my interest in the Watt & Shand renovations (if you are new here, you can follow that saga by clicking on Watt & Shand under Labels, on the left, or go here for the first post and a great blue sky picture.)

Silk mills were once a huge industry in this area, and a place where many women first found employment away from the farm. This one later became the Schwarzenbach-Huber mill, then the Tidy Products sewing factory, before it fell into disuse and disrepair.

I got as close as I could to the equally decaying barbed wire fencing and took a lot of pictures. There are areas where even the window framing is gone and it has a very open feel.

Parts of the roof structure have collapsed as well.

This building has been in the news lately as the proposed site for an interactive tourist attraction for Turkey Hill Dairy, to be called The Turkey Hill Experience. It would feature the usual gift shop and restaurant, but also have facilities to learn about dairy farming and make your own ice cream. You can read the details here. It would be a huge change in the neighborhood--I wonder, would the neighbors prefer to look at a magnificent ruin, or a tourist attraction?

It's well sited for tourism, right off an exit of Rt. 30, near the Visitor's Center, and smack dab next to a Burger King. The actual dairy is not amenable to tourist traffic; it's spread out on the farm where it originated, deep in the hills of southern Lancaster County. There's a nice hiking trail close to it, with a view of the Susquehanna River, and the basis for my work "View from Turkey Hill":

November 16, 2008

Hard Times and Dandelions

Above is a picture of my maternal grandmother, Gertie. She lived on a farm in Pennsylvania and gave birth to 15 children; 13 of them lived to adulthood. She died when I was a baby and I have no memory of her, but I have a good idea of what her life was like. She would have tended a large garden, kept chickens, cooked and baked from scratch with a wood/coal range, canned hundreds of jars of tomatoes and fruits, helped with the butchering and made sausage, scrapple and cured bacon and hams, sewed clothing with a treadle machine, made quilts and comforters to keep her family warm, and done the washing and ironing and the general housekeeping, all while often pregnant and caring for children. She's in her sixties in this picture, and looks happy but worn out.

Her family had hard times during the depression, but on a fertile farm, with lots of hard work, frugality, determination and some luck, they got by. My mother said she and her brothers and sisters were always proud of the fact that when they packed their school lunch pails, they had sandwiches with bread and meat. They felt a bit superior to the really poor kids whose sandwiches were bread and ketchup, or bread and (shudder) lard.

I have a very few concrete objects from her life--a china plate, and a small stack of feedsacks. The feedsacks are just the plain white cotton kind, no prints. One of my aunts had them, and then they got passed on to me because I was a quilter and would be likely to use them.

I am using them; they are lovely to embroider on. I have a batch of blocks that I am embroidering dandelion leaves on; I've been working on them off and on for years, as a filler project when nothing else is pressing. Dandelions are unfairly maligned, in my opinion. They are bright and cheerful. I've eaten the young leaves in the spring, and made excellent wine from the blossoms, and it's a good bet my grandmother did too.

Here's one of the blocks in progress:

My life is much different than my grandmother's, although I have inherited her work ethic. I am grateful that I have the time and resources available that allow me to make art. And while these are challenging economic times, I am still a long way off from lard sandwiches, for which I am profoundly thankful.

November 13, 2008

Materials: Hard & Soft Acceptance

I am very excited to announce that Sumac has been selected by juror Marilyn da Silva to be included in Materials: Hard & Soft , an exhibit sponsored by the Greater Denton Arts Council in Denton, Texas.
To quote their website: "This annual competition and exhibition of contemporary crafts was started in 1987 and is now in its 21st year. Recognized nationally, Materials: Hard & Soft attracts hundreds of entries from every state in the union. Nationally recognized jurors select the show from slides and then award $5,000 in prize money. The juror has always selected the winning pieces on-site. A catalog is printed. Many of the artists seen in the Materials exhibitions have been featured in national publications such as American Crafts." The exhibit runs from January 31 - March 29, 2009

This quilt was inspired by the display the wild sumac puts on each fall in the cul-de-sac at the end of my neighborhood. I wanted to capture the glow it has when the slanting fall sunlight hits it. The center panel is a heliographic print on cotton, and it is bordered with silks and velveteen that add a lot of textural richness. Aside from the texture and the highlights of the beadwork, I kept the design rather restrained, which I think is effective in not diluting the impact of the image. It's one of my personal favorites, and I'm honored it is receiving this recognition.

November 11, 2008

Sam Lewis State Park

The weather was fine this past weekend, and I ventured out and across the mighty Susquehanna River to Sam Lewis State Park in York County. The best feature of the park is the open area of Mt. Pisgah that affords great views of the river and surrounding countryside, but there are also some wooded areas and an aging arboretum that are fun to explore.

A lot of leaves had already fallen, but this patch of pawpaw saplings was still hanging on:

I love the way they get so tattered this late in the season:

Leaves like these were the inspiration for my November Pawpaw:

I spotted other past sources of inspiration, like these sweetgum leaves:

I like the way the sweetgum leaves are so variable from tree to tree, and include a wide range of hues. Here's my Sweetgum in Autumn, where I used Mysore silks from India to get spectrum of colors:
Along the edge of an evergreen forest, I spotted this sumac in full blaze:

And my eponymously named Sumac quilt:

I left Sam Lewis and drove a short distance to the Highpoint Heritage Trail, a new park that was rescued from a planned luxury home development. The walking path goes to a summit with a large inlaid stone compass rose, roughhewn boulder seating, and spectacular 360 degree views. In this shot you can see Rt. 3o bridge crossing the river in the background, and a few arches of the Veteran's Memorial Bridge in the foreground.

I am very fond of this beautiful bridge--you can walk across it--and featured it in The Old Bridge:

November 8, 2008

New Work - Fireball

Here's the third of my featured new works, Fireball. This is a large -76" x 50"- and dramatic quilt named for a large and dramatic plant. The Fireball variety of hardy hibiscus is a completely outrageous plant. It's got purplish cutleaf foliage, which is gorgeous in its own right, and giant red flowers up to 10" across. I've got a landscape full of native plants and beautiful understated elegance, so this shameless floozy of a specimen plant makes quite a splash.
The centerpiece of the quilt is a cyanotype on cotton that printed up very crisply. The two red leaf panels on the sides are heliographic prints on silk. The smaller prints are cyantypes on silk made from transparencies of photos, and digital prints directly from photos. The smaller prints are hand embroidered to emphasize the stamens:

The patchwork is my usual mix of handpainted and commercial fabrics, in cottons and silks. I am very pleased with the energy and movement I was able to put into the design. There's a lot of quilting, but no beading, as it seemed dramatic enough already. This turned out to be a very cheeful work!
You can click on Fireball under "Labels" on the right to see previous posts about the work in progress.