October 31, 2009

Today's Feature: Skunk Cabbage and Possum

In honor of Halloween, today I am featuring my quilt with the skull imagery, "Skunk Cabbage and Possum". It's one of the dozen major works that will be exhibited in my solo show at the Isadore Gallery in Lancaster, PA next month, opening on the 5th, with the reception on Friday, November 6th from 5-9.
I'm being a bit misleading to tie this in with Halloween, as it's not meant to be scary or macabre. I think of it as a optimistic work, about rebirth and regeneration. The artifacts in the cyanotype prints, a skunk cabbage leafs and a possum skull, were found on a hike in very early spring. Skunk cabbage leaves are some of the first to emerge in the woods, growing in damp spots near a source of water. As for the skull, I like to think that the possum had a long and happy sojourn on this earth until it was its time to shuffle off the mortal coil, and that its descendants are now shuffling about the same paths and climbing the same trees and eating pawpaws when they can find them.
For this work, I first photographed the skull, from the top and from the inside, and the leaf, and after some digital manipulation I printed the images onto transparency sheets. I then used the transparencies as photo negatives in making the prints onto a silk/cotton blend. This process captures a lot of the detail in the artifacts. I used very close echo quilting to emphasize the edges.

For the top panel, I repurposed a vintage embroidered table runner, cutting, rearranging, painting, and beading it. There are vintage fabrics in the piecing as well, including that nifty fabric with the white ground and the rows of green motifs (positioned above the main prints) that was the leftovers from a house dress my mother made for herself in the 50's.
"Skunk Cabbage and Possum" has been exhibited in both art venues and quilt shows, including Sacred Threads.

October 30, 2009

Today's Feature: Margarita

I am back in the garden today with "Margarita", named for the variety of ornamental sweet potato it features. It will be one the art quilts in my show at Isadore Gallery next month. I grow ornamental sweet potatoes in a planter on the front porch in the summer, and I am partial to Margarita, with its bright lime green leaves and enthusiastic sprawling habit. I made a cyanotype of the leaves and vines for the top panel, and a heliographic print for the bottom panel. I pieced it in a very straightforward way, to contrast with the sinuous vines, using Seminole patchwork in vivid colors. I used the quilting lines to add more vines, spilling out into the borders, then further highlighted it with paints.

Sweet potato vines are prone to attack by the Golden Tortoise Beetle, a fascinating little insect commonly called "goldbeetle"; their larvae have a unique protection method. They seldom decimate a plant, but leave a scattering of neat little round holes in the foliage, a form of patterning I find delightful and was able to capture in the prints.
"Margarita" has been exhibited in several quilt shows, including "Quilts, A World of Beauty" at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.

October 29, 2009

Today's Feature: The Organic Garden

For today's feature, part of the lead-in to my show at Isadore Gallery, we are leaving the woods and retreating to the pleasures of "The Organic Garden". One of my earliest memories as a very small child is of helping to plant peas by carefully dropping them one by one into the hoed rows. I've been gardening, in one form or another, almost continuously since then, and my efforts have always been carried out organically. Organic practices are fun, easy, economical, deeply satisfying, and allow me to accommodate the local wildlife of all sizes and persuasions. (The only drawback to this benevolent and inclusive attitude is the presence of a very large and destructive groundhog, but that's a story for another day.)
Late one summer I was in the mood to celebrate the bounty, and went to the garden to harvest plants for cyanotype prints. The long print on the left side is a scarlet runner bean; top middle is seed heads from fennel; bottom middle is a volunteer cherry tomato; top right is more runner beans; and the bottom right is flat leaf Italian parsley. I echo-quilted the prints to give them some vibratory energy: The runner bean prints turned out especially nice, you can see the translucence of the flowers and the delicacy of the tendrils and baby beans. It's always a bonus for me when a leaf shows a bit of insect damage, although luckily the birds had kept the majority of the bean beetles at bay.
I handpainted some fabrics to get the nice tomato reds and leaf greens I wanted, and mixed them with commercial fabrics in Seminole -style patchwork. I really enjoy the process of making Seminole strips, and it can get quite intricate, but here I kept it to simple zig-zag shapes, used to suggest rows and blocks of crops. I also worked in the suggestion of the garden paths, the stakes and the fences, and the permanent straw mulch. (I use a loosely adapted version of the mulch system advocated by Ruth Stout in her seminal "The No-Work Garden Book")
"The Organic Garden" was exhibited in quilt shows and in Images 2007 at the Robeson Gallery, Pennsylvania State University.

October 28, 2009

Today's Feature: Reed Run

While I'm on the subject of pawpaws, I thought I would talk about "Reed Run", which also uses pawpaw leaf images. Pawpaws like to grow in colonies, on hillsides, and near water, and all of these conditions are met along the edges of a small local stream, or "run", that meanders through land preserved by the Lancaster County Conservancy and drains into the Susquehanna River. This quilt is my attempt to interpret with textiles the transcendent experience of hiking the Reed Run trail.
The print on the left is a cyanotype on silk, and the print on the right is a heliographic print, done with textile paints on a heavily textured silk fabric. The heliographic print was enhanced with hand embroidery along the outsides of the leaves. I kept the color palette calm, and used large blocks of fabric for the piecing, to keep the energy level of the piece restful and tranquil. I added interest and movement with the intricate quilting stitching and the beadwork, including my signature cloud shapes at the top of the work.
The bottom of the piece has couched threads to suggest the curving banks of the stream, and more beadwork using large opalescent glass beads and semi-precious stones that stand in for the rocks and rills along the course of Reed Run. As with all fiber work, photographs can approximate but not equal the experience of viewing the work in person--if you are in the Lancaster (PA) area during the month of November, I hope you have the opportunity to stop in at Isadore Gallery and see it for yourself.
Reed Run was exhibited at the Pacific International Quilt Festival, the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, and was at the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza as part of my special exhibit, "River Visions"

October 27, 2009

Today's Feature: November Pawpaw

I'm posting each day leading up to my solo show at Isadore Gallery, and today's feature is "November Pawpaw". Pawpaw trees seem to be a recurring theme in my life lately, and a few weeks ago I fulfilled a decades-long desire by eating my fill of the fruits. I like the trees because of my child-like delight in their huge leaves, their botanical uniqueness in having the largest edible fruit indigenous to the continent, and the interesting way they grow in colonies.
This quilt, like so many others, began with a ramble in the woods. It was a fine day for mid-November, but mid-November nonetheless, and most of the leaves were down. I found a broken twig with leaves still attached, and I loved how tattered they were, showing the evidence of a summer's worth of insect and weather damage:
I hurried home and used the leaves for a cyanotype on silk. The sun was so low in the sky I needed to do a very long exposure, over an hour as I recall, as opposed to the 10 minutes or so it takes in high summer. Timing the cyanotypes is as much art as science, with experience as my guide; this time I was pleasantly surprised to see I had got it just right and the print was crisp and intricate, showing all the glorious degradation in the leaves.
The left panel is the "wrong" side of a textured silk tweed fabric. The bottom panel is a mix of Harris tweeds and corduroy, chosen for their texture and the suggestion of tree bark. The top panel is pieced from handpainted silks and silk/hemp fabric, and is beaded with my signature not-too-subtle cloud shapes. The colors suggest the tonal qualities of the weak November sunshine.
The right panel is really special--it's an overlay of vintage crochet work I found at the flea market at Root's. It started life as a hand-crocheted doily, and what distinguishes it is that there are two different shades of crochet cotton used. I was raised in the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, with a very strong work ethic and thrift ethic, and I can readily imagine what happened here; the maker ran out of the primary thread and used what she had at hand to finish the work. My work on this piece was finished off with some couched yarn and hand application of seed beads, bugle beads, and abalone shell beads.
"November Pawpaw" has been to several quilt shows, and was included in the PA Arts Experience exhibit at the Lynden Gallery.

October 26, 2009

"Nature Quilts" at Isadore Gallery

I am very pleased to announce that "Nature Quilts", a solo show of my botanical works, will be at the Isadore Gallery in Lancaster, PA, from November 5 -28. The show will feature a dozen major works from my series "The Woods" and "The Garden", as well as some smaller framed pieces. There will be an opening reception from 5 till 9 pm on November 6th, in conjunction with First Friday activities in Lancaster. I will be there all evening, and I hope that you will be able to attend as well.

As I was updating the exhibit information on my website, I was struck with how travelled these pieces are--they have been to a wide variety of venues all around the country and even internationally. This is a unique opportunity to see them all hanging side-by-side, in a lovely gallery space in historic downtown Lancaster.

Since the show will consist of twelve pieces, and I have (almost) 12 days until the reception, I would like to spend some time focusing on them individually. Today I am showing "Mystery Fern", which is also on the exhibition postcard. This piece began when I was out rummaging around in the woods and found a patch of ferns I couldn't readily identify. I made some cyanotype and heliographic prints, and adopted Mystery Fern as a working title until such time as I found a positive ID. I never did track it down precisely, but in the process realized that it was OK if it stayed mysterious; there is a lot about the natural world that is beyond facile understanding and classification, and that is part of what draws me back outside again and again.

The green painted panel in the upper left started out as a piece of bridal silk, and has a subtle embroidered pattern on it, and the panel in the lower left is on a silk/hemp blend that has a wonderful rough texture, so the photograph can't quite do justice to its inviting tactile qualities. The fabrics in the patchwork are a blend of a few commercial fabrics and a lot of silks and cottons that I custom painted to get just the right colors and gradations. The small digital prints on cotton are from a photograph I took of the fern fronds while the heliographic prints were drying.

"Mystery Fern" has been exhibited on five different occasions, including "Images 2008", a fine art/fine craft exhibit at Penn State University, where it won the Viewer's Choice award.

October 20, 2009

Watt & Shand #5 and #6 are Underway

I am on track to having my most productive year ever. I've just finished piecing two tops, numbers 5 and 6 in the Watt & Shand series. They feature screen prints made from a photograph I took early in the construction project, when the historic building had been demolished except for the facade. The facade, which became a part of the new hotel/convention center, was supported by an elaborate, and beautiful in its own right, scaffolding. The solidity of the stone facade and the scaffolding was belied by the cavernous void behind it, and way the blue sky shone through the empty windows. I was transfixed, and decided on the spot to make a series of work documenting the project. (If you are new here, you can track back my work so far by clicking on "Watt & Shand" under Labels in the right sidebar.) Number 5 and 6 are meant to be companion pieces, although they could easily stand alone. At present they are roughly 36" x 46", medium sized by my standards. I'm quite happy with the way the design work and the piecing went, and look forward to doing the quilting, as the stitching adds so much dimension. And I'm already thinking about #7, so stay tuned!

October 19, 2009

Arts Orientation Center in Lancaster

A steady stream of visitors and art lovers stopped in at the Arts Orientation Center, the new bricks-and-mortar home of the PA Arts Experience, during Art Walk this past weekend in downtown Lancaster, PA.
It's a wonderful setting for member's art, with galleries on the first and second floor of this beautifully restored building on Gallery Row.

The brick walls discovered during the renovation provide a great backdrop for the art.

Here's the view of the Center from the 3rd floor of the Prince St. Parking garage across the street, with the lights shining in the window. Come and visit, it's your gateway to discovering the thriving local arts community, including: exhibits of work by regional member trail artists; a Concierge service to design your own itinerary; information about member artists, galleries, museums, and other cultural venues; and arts related tours, packages & educational programs. Regular business hours will commence in November.
To add to the buzz, the PA Arts Experience was featured in an article in Sunday's Washington Post--read it here.

October 11, 2009

The Pawpaws were thick on the ground

Twenty years ago I found and ate a wild pawpaw fruit while hiking, and ever since then, without being too fanatical about it, I've been looking to repeat the experience, checking various local pawpaw patches in the autumn. Today I hit the jackpot on the Turkey Hill trail, in a spot where the pawpaws were literally thick on the ground, and in the trees.
The timing was perfect, there were plenty that were ripe and ready to cut open and enjoy.

You scoop out the large seeds and eat the flesh, which should be slightly soft and not tart or bitter. The taste has elements of pineapple, kiwi, and banana, with a hint of honeydew melon. The consistency is even harder to describe; I've seen it called custardy, but it's firmer than custard, yet still melts in the mouth.

I picked a hatful to take home and left the rest for other hikers and the wildlife. Look at the leaves in the above picture--pawpaw leaves are huge and distinctive. I made them the focus of my "November Pawpaw" a few years ago:

We kept hiking to the top of Turkey Hill and enjoyed the views out over the Susquehanna River:

If you live on the east coast of the U.S. you may be familiar with Turkey Hill dairy products (and convenience stores of the same name). This is the area where the original family dairy farm originated and grew into the modern big enterprise.

This is a similar shot to the one I used as a basis for "View from Turkey Hill":

I hope you have a chance to get outside and enjoy the natural world wherever you find yourself, and Happy Trails to you.

October 8, 2009

Watt & Shand #4 is Finished

I've just finished work on Watt & Shand #4. It was a pleasure to work on this one, it went together relatively easily and I'm quite happy with the results now that I can step back and look at it objectively. I'm sharing a few snapshots, above and below, and will do a full reveal once I get the photography done. The shiny bits in the photo above are the silks, they don't glare that much in person, but they do add a subtle shimmer.
I am on a roll right now with this series, and have begun work on several more. Below are two sneak peeks at prints that will be in #5 (or possible #6). I'm excited about the direction these are leading me.

If you are new here, you can track back the Watt & Shand series by clicking on "Watt & Shand" under Labels in the right sidebar.

October 2, 2009

Arts Orientation Center Sneak Peak

Tonight is the "Sneak Peak" opening of the Arts Orientation Center, a bricks-and-mortar home for the Pennsylvania Arts Experience in beautiful downtown Lancaster, PA. It's a stunning space that has just been renovated to showcase the works of local artists, including myself (that's my Fireball on the center left of the card) and provide "a regional hub for the Arts and Culture". Here's the details of tonight's exciting opening:
Unfortunately, I will not be there, except in spirit. I am recovering from the a bout of H1N1, and will be doing my civic duty by continuing my self-imposed quarantine so as not to take a chance of spreading the virus. Happily, my work will be there, so if you have the opportunity to stop by, check out my River Hills Mushrooms:

Here's a detail shot:

Lancaster is becoming a thriving arts community, and there is LOTS to see and experience tonight at the First Friday event. Check it out, have fun, and come back again in two weeks for the fall Artwalk, when I plan to be back in action and at the Arts Orientation Center.