March 24, 2012

New Work - Ginger

I’m excited to unveil my latest major work, “Ginger”.  It’s a response to my experiences visiting and living in India. I was inspired by the colors, the diverse culture, and the energy of this complex country that I love.  It’s a place where chaos and order can both exist seemingly simultaneously in time and space.

The center image is a cyanotype print on silk of Hedychium coronarium, the ornamental white ginger, which is native to India and grown widely around the world.  The piecework is done entirely in silks woven in Mysore state, and brought back on various trips taken by myself, my husband, and my daughter.  It’s magnificent silk, mostly woven in the “shot” technique where the warp and weft are different colors.  It shimmers and shines and the colors shift depending on your point of view.  The intricate stitching I did serves to add a layer of dimension and further accentuate the color shifts. 

I’ve done several posts on this one as a work-in-progress; you can read them here, here, and here.  I started it almost a year ago, proving, as if I needed proof, that this art making thing is not always a linear progression.  I’m glad I took the time, and gave the process the space it needed, for it to turn out just like this.  Now to find a place to exhibit it, for it really needs to be seen in person!  It's larg-ish, at 60" x 60".

If you are new here, I’ve got a series of travelogue posts about my recent travels in India, along with vintage photos from my sojourn in the 70’s, here.  And thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.

March 22, 2012

Esprit Collection at the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum

I had the bittersweet pleasure of viewing all 82 Amish quilts in the Esprit Collection at the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum.  I was taken by surprise when I walked into the main gallery and was uncharacteristically moved to tears by the visual and emotional impact of the display.
Due to economic challenges in this brutal economy, the museum is closing and the collection is going into storage.  They are making the best of a bad situation and establishing an endowment for the preservation of the collection.  You can read more, and contribute if you are inclined, on their website here.  Several of these masterpieces have been deemed National Endowment for the Humanities National Treasures, and justifiably so.  I am cautiously optimistic that at some point an appropriate new home will be found for them.  They deserve to be in a venue where they can be accessible and admired by all.

This parting gift, this (hopefully temporary) last hurrah, displayed the quilts creatively and effectively, including a rotating set in the middle of the gallery.  You can see my short video of the effect here:

These quilts speak to me on several levels.  Their graphic appeal is undeniable.

The sophisticated handling of a limited color palette is superb.  The colors of the cloth used for clothing, and subsequently the quilts, had to be approved by the church bishops. 

But it’s the glimpse into the lives of the women who made them that truly resonates with me.
I was born and raised in a small rural community in central Pennsylvania, originally populated by German and Swiss immigrants who fled religious persecution in the late 1600 and early 1700’s.  They established farms and small villages and proceeded for generations to live a life very similar to the one they left behind.

My people were not Anabaptists, but apart from that subtle distinction their lives were not very different from that of the Amish.  Modern conveniences, when they came, were slow to change the traditional ways of doing things.  Patriarchal family structure, agricultural and tradesmen economies, self reliance, clannishness and the adaptation of the German language -- speaking PA “Dutch”--were more than just cultural vestiges in the years of my childhood.  I was imbued with a tremendously strong work ethic--industriousness has served my people, and myself, very well.


So I understand a bit of what life was like for the women who made these quilts.  It can be a wonderful life, rich and full of nurturing relationships, with the work and the rewards shared by all.  One of the guiding principles of this type of society is the emphasis on being “plain”, of conforming, of subverting the individual ego and its expression to the greater good of the community. It’s a tenet of religious faith as well as a cultural ethos, and the desire to conform to it is deep and meaningful for the devout.  And despite the patriarchal structure, women are valued, cherished, and empowered in their sphere of influence within the home and especially in their role as mothers.
The other side of the coin is that it can be a very constrained life for those who yearn for a broader view of the world not sanctioned by the rules and practices of the closed group.  The opportunities for self expression in this type of society are limited in the same way that the approved color palette is limited.  Women can become great cooks and bakers--food is necessary for life.  They can keep flower gardens, where all can enjoy the beauty of God’s creations in the natural world.  And they can make quilts for the bed, a  household necessity.

We all get on in life as best we can, given our innate talents and abilities and our starting point in our culture.  The individual women who made these quilts may or may not have seen them as significant beyond their role as bed covers.  To me the point is that they did the work, and they did it to the absolute best of their abilities, honing and refining their technical skills along the way.  (The hand quilting on most of these works is minute and exactingly drafted and executed.)  If I can be allowed to mix cultural references, it’s the application of the Buddhist principle of “Right Occupation” carried to a sublime expression.

It’s this expression of the ethos, even more than the color palette or the design work, that has been an influence and a touchstone in my own work.  Spending a few hours admiring and drinking in these quilts was a powerful reminder for me of how important intention is in my studio practice. 

March 8, 2012

Seasonal Palette - Update 5

Making Seminole patchwork strips to use in the Seasonal Palette piece proceeds methodically.  After picking the fabrics, cutting strips, and sewing sets of strips together, the next step is to slice up the strips into short lengths.  The cuts are made either at right angles or a 45 degree angle, depending on the type of patchwork desired.  There’s dozens and dozens of ways to combine and assemble these, but over the years I’ve developed my favorite sets and can proceed with relative confidence as I assemble them.  The short strips are pinned together precisely, two by two, with an offset that will create the pattern, and sewn together.  These pairs are then offset, pinned and precisely stitched, and so on, as I build long strips.
The white fabrics you are seeing in these top two photos are the backs of the silk fabrics I’m using.  I love working with silk, but some of them are lightweight, and all of them are slippery.  One strategy is to fuse them to non-woven stabilizers, but I dislike using fusibles, partly because of concerns about their long term stability, but mostly because they give a flat visual effect to the silk.  So I take the extra step of machine basting the strips of silk onto a cotton muslin beforehand.  It’s fiddly and time consuming, but in the end, after the work has been quilted, the silk will ripple just a bit and have wonderful dimension and sheen, so it’s worthwhile for me.

Once the strips are sewn together, they are pressed and ready to combine with the cyanotype panels on the design wall as I work out the design.  The edges will be trimmed and evened up as I go along. 
I enjoy making and using Seminole patchwork and revisit the technique from time to time.  The concept was originated by the Seminole Indians, who used it for stunningly graphic and wonderful garments, as they made the best of a bad situation.   Here I’ve used it in White Mulberry:
Tall Blue Lettuce:
and Five Days Last Fall:
You can click on the links and read more about each of these quilts on my website.

On another note, my friend and fellow fiber artist Franki Kohler has done me the honor of including me in her post on  the Leibster Blog awards.  Thank you Franki, I really appreciate the recognition and your kind words.  One of the best aspects of blogging is the sense of community it builds, and the friendships that develop between bloggers, and I have been very fortunate in that regard!  As part of the deal I am to pass along the award to five of my favorite blogs--a challenging task, as my blog reader list is extensive and I am continually amazed and inspired by the artists I follow.  While I work on that, you can always see many of my favorites by touring through one of the blog rolls featured in the right side bar.