January 30, 2008

The Elegant Sycamore

I am an amatuer naturalist, a sort of self-trained botany dilletante. I know a bit about classification, a lot of trivia and fun-facts-to-know-and-tell, and am pretty good at distinguishing what's edible and useful from what's poisonous and not. I can identify many common and some uncommon garden herbaceous plants, native plants, and introduced invasives here in the gardens and woods of Pennsylvania. With trees, it's a bit trickier. When they are in leaf I do well, but in winter, when you need to rely on habitat, size and form, bark, and so forth, I can be at a loss.

I can always spot a sycamore, however, and I suspect most people can. Their branch structure is elegant and unique, but it's the lovely mottled bark that's the dead giveaway. As an added bonus, to my way of thinking, they have large leaves. I'm a sucker for large leaves; I can't resist making heliographic prints of them:

With a big leaf like this, it's important to make the print on a hot sunny day with low humidity, so that the paint wicks out from under the leaf quickly and leaves a good image. You can see I was successful in this instance; the leaf is drying out and lifting up from the fabric, and you can see the outline of it, especially on the right side of the photo.

I'm currently working on a large quilt featuring the sycamore tree, and utilizing the print shown above. Here's the same print as part of the work in progress. The heavier pink lines that define the veining are done with hand embroidery. I do the bulk of my work by machine, but I still enjoy sewing by hand. It's very meditative, and the minute variations from stitch to stitch provide a lot of texture and interest when you get up close to the work.

Postcards and Interviews

The Alliance for American Quilts is a tremendous and wide-ranging resource for all things quilt related. At one point several years ago, I methodically read through all the interviews documented at Quilters Save Our Stories, and learned so much from them, both about the quilts, traditional and contemporary, and about the lives of the quilters. There are now well over 600 interviews, and they are permanently archived at The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

So I am especially pleased and honored to have been interviewed by Karen Musgrave in conjunction with other artists involved in fiber postcard swaps. I was lucky enough to be there at the inception of Art2Mail, as well as Postmark'd Art. I have made hundreds of cards that I have swapped with artists all over the world, collected some astonishingly beautiful small works of art, and formed some wonderful friendships in the process. It's a phenomenon that has grown to become an established feature of the contemporary quilting landscape, and it's wonderful that Karen, who is a member of Postmark'd Art along with her many other accomplishments, is documenting it.

My interview is here; and don't miss the other postcard interviews to date with Franki Kohler, Lynn Chinnis, and Karin McElvein. Enjoy!

January 28, 2008

Birds of a feather

Why did the wild turkeys cross the road? Apparently, to get to the park. This was an unusual sighting here in suburbia a few weeks ago. There's some nice habitat in the park, and I hope they will establish themselves there.

I had another recent close encounter with large birds, this one also involving a recently deceased rabbit. I startled a group of vultures while driving through my neighborhood; I parked nearby and waited, watching them circle. After 5 minutes or so, one landed--they are huge!--and with the Prius in stealth mode I crept up silently and got a picture:

After that, perhaps some charming little songbirds are in order; here's a bit of vintage embroidery:

It's difficult to get a good clear picture of songbirds, but a few years ago I got lucky. I caught a fledgling robin on its first flight from the nest under our deck; it made it to the locust tree, then had to pause and rest and pose for a picture. I was so pleased with the shot I used it as the centerpiece for my piece "The Fledgling". Here's a detail shot:

Squirrels in Love

Years ago I bought a wonderful little book by Marcia Bonta called Appalachian Spring. She is a naturalist and writer who lives in the Pennsylvania woods and is a very keen observer of the natural world. While the calendar and the weather might still say "winter" right now, animals respond to the increasing light and engage in what she calls "spring preliminaries". Gray squirrels are starting their mating behaviour, and I can watch them from my back door. In between raids on my bird feeder, they are chasing each other amorously and with great enthusiasm through the trees.

I collect vintage textiles of all types, but I have a soft spot in my heart for type of embroideries every good housewife used to do on table runners and pillowcases. They were usually done from kits, or patterns found in women's magazines, and the skill of the stitchers and the colors and patterns they chosen reveals a bit about them. I'm not sure why the two courting squirrels in this example are floating on lily pads, but then again, why not? And doesn't it look a bit like the girl squirrel is a brazen hussy, rowing out there to entice her man?

January 27, 2008

The Last Hurrah

For the past three years I've participated in The International Collage Exhibit and Exchange, formerly known as Baker's Dozen, run by Dale Copeland of New Zealand. The concept is simple; you make 13 collages and send them to Dale. One is exhibited physically and is for sale online, one joins a permanent collection (the host museum varies from year to year), and the rest are exchanged with the other participating artists.

The majority of the works are not fiber, but it seems to me more fiber artists participate each year. I've received some wonderful works in the exchanges, and have had a lot of fun with the project. I started working on the 2008 exchange late last fall, when I made a set of heliographic prints I'm calling The Last Hurrah. This is a multipurpose label; I picked the leaves at the end of Indian Summer, with winter knocking at the door, but I was also thinking about the political and environmental climate. I'm hoping it's the last hurrah for the former, and not for the later.

All of my previous collages have dealt loosely with my personal environment and global warming. You can see them at my site, suereno.com, under Collages.

The image above shows some of the prints drying in the sun. The leaves in these are plume poppy and white mulberry, two of my favorites. The colors are very bright, almost garish, but this is just a starting point. Today I got out the prints and started stitching around the leaf shapes. I'm still contemplating what else I will do in their transformation from cloth to finished collage.

January 26, 2008

Mid-Atlantic acceptance

I got good mail yesterday–two of my quilts were accepted into the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, held in Virginia on Feb. 21-24. Both of them were made last summer for my special exhibit, “River Visions”, at PNQE in Harrisburg, Sept. 2007; this is their first time out juried into a show. Here's "Mystery Fern", in full and detail shots:

Here's "Reed Run", named for a small stream with pawpaw trees growing on the banks:

Both of them stem from great experiences I have had hiking in the beautiful woods here in southern Lancaster County, PA.

“Mystery Fern” will be in the Innovative category, and “Reed Run” with the Wall Quilts. I won’t be attending the show, but would be very appreciative of installation shots from anyone who is.

More Fiber Postcards

I made another set of postcards for trading with the Art2Mail group, featuring plume poppy leaves. Plume poppies are a favorite of mine; I have a weakness for big leaves, and these are glaucous to boot. They are reputed to be an invasive plant, but in my garden they pop up unexpectedly only occasionally, and are welcome. The images were done with a heliographic printing process, using Setacolor paints, on cottons and silks. Here they are drying in the sun.

After printing, the fabric was layered with batting and heavily stitched. Once the cards were assembled, I highlighed the leaves with more paint. Here's a card printed on silk:

And one printed on cotton:

A group shot of the plume poppy cards:

New Fiber Postcards

I recently completed some new postcards for trading with the Postmark’d Art group. I was smitten at the local farmer’s market this past fall by a stunning Romanesco cauliflower. I took pictures of it, tweaked them, and printed them on an assortment of silks and cotton. The colors are fairly true to life; this is really how it looked. The quirky topgrowth was a result of a long Indian Summer. After the photo shoot, the cauliflower was featured at dinner, with the trimmings going to the compost pile'

Here's a card featuring a closeup of the great textures and colors.

Here's the funky topgrowth, a sort of mini-me.

And of group shot of the some of the cards.