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.

November 7, 2008

New Work - Big Root Geranium

Today's feature is the second of three new works that I've added to my website. Big Root Geranium, in contrast to yesterday's feature Sycamore, came together fairly quickly. I had just finished the quilting on Sycamore, and was restless and itchy to start something new and different.
I made the cyanotypes in May of this year, when the plants were blooming. I was especially pleased at how well the delicacy of the blossoms showed up in the prints:

The top just fell together in a few days. I used a variety of fabrics, including many that I handpainted, that looked like unlikely combinations at first but really glowed when once I had them arranged.

I posted about this one frequently when it was in progress--click Big Root Geranium at right under "Labels" to track back and read the full story.

November 6, 2008

New Work - Sycamore

Over the next three days I'm going to be unveiling three new major works I completed earlier this year. (For a sneak peek at all three, go to my website, )

Today I am featuring Sycamore. I'm a sucker for large leaves, and make prints of them at any opportunity. This quilt has two cyanotypes printed on cotton on the right, and a heliographic print on the left. I made these prints back in 2005. I like to keep a hand embroidery project around for spare moments while watching tv or waiting around for something, so I worked on embroidering the leaf veins on the three prints from time to time.

In 2007 I had another spasm of inspiration and cut and sewed the Seminole patchwork strips that ended up on both sides of the quilt, after painting some fabrics in the colors I wanted. A little later I made digital prints from an original photo, then made transparencies of the photos and did some small cyanotypes on silk. I also found some raw silk yardage in bright acid green and hot pink that made me very happy.

At this point I had gathered all of what I think of as the components for the work. I didn't have a definite design in mind, I just knew it was important that I have these particular parts for it. I set aside a weekend and worked obsessively putting the top together. That is the really exciting part--I am always a bit surprised at how it turns out, but simultaneously satisfied that this was the only possible configuration.

From here you can track back on the work in progress by clicking on Sycamore under Labels on the right. This is a fairly large quilt--69" wide by 45" high--so the quilting and finish work took some time and effort. The beadwork especially was extensive and time consuming, but very worthwhile. I think it effectively conveys the textural feel I wanted to evoke. I used a lot of large scale, chunky beads made from semi-precious stones and shells, as well as a variety of glass beads.

No matter what my original intentions--here I was going for stately--or my frame of mind while working, my quilts always seem to end up looking very cheerful and encouraging, and this one is no exception.

November 1, 2008

A Sunny Day

The cyanotype gods smiled upon me again today. It was sunny, calm, and very warm for November, so I took advantage of it and made some prints--I might not get another chance for quite a while.

I've been thinking a lot lately about all the pictures I've taken of the renovation of the Watt & Shand building, and how I work with them. (If you are new here, you can follow the saga by clicking on Watt & Shand under Labels on the right.) I'm not ready to commit to a large scale work just yet, but I'm excited about playing around with some of the images. I made transparencies of several of the photos and printed with them in a small size. I plan on using them for postcards and/or collage work while I think further about this project.

It was fun to do some studio work. For the past month or so I've been busy with a few quick trips and a LOT of yard work. I've torn down some deteriorating split rail fence along both sides of the property, and done some heavy renewal pruning. I enjoy heavy labor--it exercises the body while freeing the mind, and I'm full of ideas and inspiration.

There's been some light frost, but there's still a few plants hanging in there. The nasturtiums are bit tattered but still lovely:

Same thing for the Swiss Chard:

Japanese Anemones are one of my favorite perennials. The graceful foliage and pristine blossoms would be welcome anytime of year, but they are especially appreciated in October and November: