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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Bodil Gardner’s Ladies

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

“I’m just a simple housewife,” she asserts, when I ask Bodil Gardner, if she calls herself a fabric artist or an art quilter. In fact, she is an international star of the quilt world beloved for her disarming, quirky masterpieces. “I just make my pictures, she says.” Her modesty is typically Danish.

As she explains on the website her husband, Peter put together for her, “I have not had any artistic training and was brought up to be the practical one in a creative family, which needed to get the washing-up done. Are my pictures art or not? The question is frequently asked. For me, it doesn’t matter what they are. I make them for my own sake, hoping all the same that you will also like them.”

I have invited myself over, finding myself in her vicinity when the husband and I are visiting our son and his wife in Aarhus, Denmark. My daughter-in-law, Bev, volunteers to drive me over to the suburb of the city, where Bodil and Peter live. “Drive up the road through the garden,” are her emailed instructions, which turn out to be quite the understatement.

As you can tell, Bodil and her husband live up to their surname, Gardner. Like Peter, the garden style is English, transplanted and intermixed with Danish determination. The warmer seasons are mainly for gardening; winter is when Bodil devotes herself to working on “her pictures.” Playing with colors and patterns are the common source of joy.

Bodil doesn’t have a “studio,” and when we visited, we sat at a dining table where she served us homemade apple crumble, with danishes and chocolates and tea. We brought a bottle of red wine, and a packet of various fabric prints. An old, portable sewing machine under its cover sits on the shelf behind the table, and there’s a jumble of fabric scraps on a trunk beside Peter’s computer table. Otherwise, no sign of a work space. Past a large archway, you’re in the sitting room, where appliquéd pillows and patchwork command the lower planes, and books and photos fill the walls from floor to ceiling.

After dessert and far-ranging discussion, Bodil displays some of her pieces the same way she composes them: on the floor.

Lots and lots of delightfully funky portraits. Like Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, Bodil points out, each one has a unique personality. Fabulous hairstyles, flower accents, funky colors. Friends bring her fabric, and she uses what she has. No fusible web for her. She chooses from her assortment of scraps, cuts each piece freehand, assembles elements as she goes on larger background pieces, pins pieces to secure them in place temporarily. Only when she is satisfied with the entire composition does she moves to the sewing machine to satin-stitch over all the raw edges. Quilting and finishing details are minimal. Larger works elaborate on women at home, of generations, taking tea, counting sheep, gentle pets, and children, either confident or shy.

It’s easy to recognize a Bodil Gardner art quilt, isn’t it? And to feel the warmth and friendliness, and yes, a bit of zaniness embodied in each and every one. Far from quilt shops, shows, classes, she retains her own signature style, and doesn’t travel far, so relatively few students can learn from her way of working and her genius for face values, so to speak. Pamela Allen of Canada got her to join the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA), and Peter Gardner encourages his wife to respond to more of their calls for entry. Her work has been showcased in many top-drawer, juried exhibitions, within and outside of Denmark. But in many cases, a juror chooses a cohesive collection of sophisticated abstract and painterly tour-de-forces; Bodil’s pictorials stick out as being too different, and so don’t make the cut. That was the case when Bodil entered the piece below for the SAQA show for which the theme was Tranquility. Her reclining woman with cat, book, and teacup didn’t make it into the exhibit….yet SAQA saw fit to feature the piece on the cover of their magazine.

There’s not a whit of pretentiousness in these portraits of wise, nurturing women. I can easily imagine each one a sort of self-portrait…the alter ego of their maker. There are probably hundreds of them, a treasure trove of joyful folk art, with many more to come from from Bodil Gardner.

Mali Medallion

Monday, August 12th, 2019

It’s my favorite thing: art quilts as advocacy.

So I was quick to answer the call from Quilt for Change and The Advocacy Project. Under the initiative, known as Sister Artists, survivors of gender-based violence created embroidered blocks depicting scenes of their life in Mali. Quilters — mostly American — were invited to choose a block and turn it into an art quilt. The plan is for the quilts to be posted online, exhibited, and auctioned. And then all proceeds will go to support the artists in Mali and Sini Sanuman (“Healthy Tomorrow”), a Malian advocacy program for women’s rights.

That sounded totally worthwhile to me. I especially liked the roundhouses on the block shown at the upper left, and below. For reasons of safety and policy, the young woman, i.e., Sister Artist, may not be named. Nevertheless, my priority was to honor her and her work.

I immediately envisioned the lovely, pictorial embroidery surrounded by geometric designs used in Mali villages. A good friend, artist Janet Goldner, visits Mali quite frequently, and shared pictures she recently took of a house painting festival that takes place once a year in Siby, a village about 30 miles from Bamako (the capital and largest city in the country). Women draw from the local clay colors for their color palette. Wow, right?! So with the embroidery at the heart of my art, I set out to build around it, log-cabin-style.

The embroidery background was not square, so I went with an assymetrical medallion setting, sketched out on graph paper. Now, I invariably depart from my original plan fairly quickly, but this time — surprise, surprise — I basically stuck to it. Oh, I didn’t keep to a specific scale, nor did I measure, cut, and sew precise patchwork or applique circles as dictated by the sketch. Instead, queen of the quick and dirty that I am, I used freehand-cut fused triangles and patterned fabric from my stash of African, batik, and hand dyed and printed fabrics. There was quite a bit of seat-of-the-pants fudging-it as I added rounds of borders. Conveniently, African beads camouflage spots where angles and corners lack sharp points.

I hope my piece does justice to the embroidered block. I hope it calls attention to the need for human rights, justice, and equality in Mali, as they are needed and deserved everywhere in the world. My efforts here are a small show of support, relatively insignificant. If I could, I would pin a medal on each courageous woman anywhere who struggles and strives and supports her sisters. For now, my Mali Medallion will have to do.

My Sanctuary City

Friday, April 26th, 2019
Sanctuary City, detail

Last summer, I took a collage class at QSDS–Quilt & Surface Design–from Deborah Fell.

Standing alongside my design wall in Deborah Fell’s class.

See that sprawling assemblage to the left of my hip? It started as a small abstract composition…abstraction being something I aspire to. But I can’t help myself; my work invariably calls to mind some object or scene, and I’m off to flesh out figurative or landscape designs.

This held true here: I saw buildings and began to recreate my current hometown of Philadelphia. I had a few recognizable buildings, some vague representations, the Schuylkill River on the left, the Delaware River on the right. It came together in stages, and I placed sturdy pieces of canvas or upholstery weight fabric under the expanding areas as foundations for a large, odd-shaped wall hanging.

City between two rivers…

A few months later, I read about a SAQA (Studio Art Quilters Association) call for entry: Forced to Flee. The theme resonated. As a volunteer, I’ve long advocated for compassionate immigration reform and protested against Muslim bans, the Wall, family separations, and inhumane detention centers. I decided to finish my cityscape to express pride that Philadelphia is one among hundreds of sanctuary cities in the U.S. My “city of brotherly love” (sisterly love is implied!) accepts its moral obligation to protect immigrants and refugees. City leaders and activists alike fight against detentions, deportations, family separations, and discrimination. We rise to welcome the stranger, give shelter, secure safe haven for those “forced to flee.”

Knowing the caliber of work submitted to a SAQA show, I thought I’d have less competition for a 3-D piece, and be more likely to get in. So, I traced around an oval trashcan for a pattern — cuz what better to give me elegance than a trashcan? I continued to build my city over thick Pel-tex stabilizer so the vessel would be an upstanding example. Alternately, I worked on the inside surface, using a vintage quilt fragment for its soft, comforting associations, plus emergency mylar thermal blankets of the sort that are given to detainees. I cannot express how much struggling, how much cursing, how many broken needles went into assembling this beast. It stands 28” high. To ensure steadiness without adding weights, I fashioned a spiral pathway with signs and symbols of concern and welcome: bi-lingual expressions, caution tape, keys and safety pins and zippers.

There were further frustrations as I hand-stitched the elements together. Then I had to photograph it to try and meet the demands for pixels, clarity, background, and appropriate depth of field. I managed to submit my information and images 45 minutes before the deadline.

I didn’t get in to the Forced to Flee show. I get it. Jurors receive hundreds of submissions and usually curate down to under 50 — for a cohesive, high-quality exhibit at venues with limited spaces. Perhaps my piece was too discombobulated and did not appeal to the judge. Perhaps there were no other 3-D pieces and this would have been odd man out. And perhaps my photos weren’t up to what SAQA demands for not only the judging, but also the catalog.

Rejection gave me several advantages: I really wasn’t satisfied with the piece, and was now free to make significant changes. Another SAQA call for entry beckoned: 3-D expressions. I had time to revise and polish the composition from all sides and the inside. New construction and embellishment strengthened the overall aesthetic and referenced more Philly iconography. I added more vintage mini-blocks and doilies to the inside, and crocheted an oval rug to cozy up the “inner sanctum.” I want those who see the piece to take time to walk around it and peer inside. And yeah, I’m tempted to throw in little stuffed heart-shaped pillows, additional keys, and poems of welcome…but mostly because I don’t know when to stop. What do you think? More secrets and treasures? Or enough already?!?

Happier with the piece, I took the time to hire an expert photographer — Gary Grissom — and set it up in a better-lit niche. Now I felt more confident submitting it to the other show.

More time and attention to detail and good workmanship, along with professional shots, did the trick. I got in!

Icing on this cake is the impressive decision-maker, an art professor and gallery director who is one of the finest modern fiber curators in the world. (Oh, and he’s a Philadelphian.!) SAQA’s website states, “The wide variety of pieces selected by juror Bruce Hoffman include vessels, wearables, wall-pieces, and sculptural artworks. This cutting-edge exhibition shows how textile art can expand both into the third dimension and into the future.”

This exhibition, 3-D Expression, will premiere at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan in September 2019. I am angling to see while it’s there. Aside from the honor of having my work included, I would be thrilled to study all the other works in the only way they can truly be appreciated: by walking around them and checking them out from every angle.

Meanwhile, I’m back to making essentially 2-D art quilts for a while. Oh, and shopping for a workhorse of a sewing machine that may allow for thick, sculptural work in the months to come.

Shelter

Friday, September 7th, 2018

A fascinating exhibit opened this week at the Da Vinci Art Alliance here in Philly, and it i. a collaborative exhibition with Philadelphia Sculptors. Sculpture–or at least 3-D media of any kind was the requirement, addressing the theme of “shelter.” The theme of refugees and immigration resonated with many of the artists, and a number of them used their work to present a shared desire to create a safe haven for people fleeing unsafe environments. Perfectly appropriate for a show in Philadelphia, a sanctuary city with an ongoing battle against Immigration and Customs Enforcers, or ICE.

Nothing in the show was quilted in the traditional sense, but there was a lot of soft sculpture as homey, enveloping, forgiving, resilient. Well, then again, there was this quilted bathrobe, a vintage piece augmented with text in felt, thread, and paint by Carole Loeffler.

 

  

The largest piece was “Buddha’s Sustainable Shelter” by Chanthaphone Rajavong, who stands beside his tower. He gave me a peek into the underlying structure–all recycled cardboard. Can I say how much I covet a dress with a woven newsprint bodice and tiers of plastic bags? But I only committed to getting on my hands and knees to photograph the painted pillow inside this shelter.

Artist Cindy Lu also used recyclables for her pieces: emergency mylar blankets. She poses in front of her very large beaded map, called, simply, “Home.” Opposite that work is an intimate patchwork and crochet grouping, called “Play.”

   

On the very small-scale front were two groupings by Chelsea Nader. They are intaglio prints on linen. ” Where she told me” features a miniature living room vignette, and “Open your doors and take down your walls” has two doors.

   

Gotta admit, my favorite pieces–and the hubby’s as well, were by Dumpster Diver Ellen Benson. Her “Friendship Circle Divas” (at the top of this post and below, with Benson) and her “For Every Bird a Nest” take the idea of shelter straight to the personal and endearing.

As I mentioned, none of these works are quilts in any traditional sense. Nevertheless, the use of fabric and thread, of layers and soft, tactile textures and dimensionality does hie back to quilts as a part of our heritage and legacy as bedcovers, as security blankets, as protection against the cold. How does your work fit the theme shelter?

Rooftop Renderings

Monday, July 30th, 2018

A1

Using patterns traced from my blown-up photo [see previous two posts], I chose
colors fairly reminiscent of the scene. Fabric pieces were backed with fusible web, and adhered to a dark brown fabric. In a freer mood/mode of working, I repeated the design with some bolder, more contemporary choices of fabric, more to my liking.

B1

I cut out the rooftop silhouette leaving a slim margin showing, and then I was ready to audition some skies and windowpanes. Aimed to jazz up my milder rendering:

A2

A3

A4

A5

And then, I dressed/addressed my wilder version…

B2

 

B3

B4

Gonna sleep on these before committing. Always thrilled to get YOUR reactions…What’s working from your point of view?

Rooftop in Riga

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

You voted, so I devoted myself to working from this photo, the view around 9:30 p.m. outside our apartment in Riga’s Old Town. First, I gotta get my left brain in gear. Yup, at this point, I’ll try to stay true to the photo…And then, we’ll see what happens…

To make a pattern, I print the photo full page, first in color, then in black and white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cut out the main area of design. Go over the lines in pencil. Blow up each quadrant 400% and tape the pieces together.

I’ll letter each shape, and cut out a duplicate shape, for a template. Tonight I’ll go through my stash of fabrics and pick my palette…Stay tuned!

Cityscapes!

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Just returned from a trip to Prague (Czech Republic), Riga (Latvia), Tallin (Estonia), and Helsinki (Finland). Yes, the husband and our son, who joined us, like to see it all, do it all, czech it all off. I found the old cities, pattern-play of rooftops, and angled light and shadows well past 9 p.m. captivating. Here are the photos, city by city, that may inspire quilt art to come!

Prague:

A.

Riga, out our apartment window, with a close-up (only slightly photo-edited!) as the sun set:

B.

C.

D.

E.

F.

Tallin:

G.

H.

I.

Helsinki:

J.

K.

L.

Which photo, A-L, should I choose for my next composition? If you vote, I’ll start building!

I Fell for Collage

Friday, June 8th, 2018

Took a class with Deborah Fell from Monday to Friday last week at Quilt & Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) at the Columbus College of Art and Design. It was divine. A return to a community of artists who get off on fabric, who are passionate about purposeful creativity, generous in sharing what they know and what they have in their stash.

Deborah calls this 5-day class “Three Sisters”–Raw edge applique, foundation piecing (which isn’t piecing at all, it’s collage on a foundation fabric), and mark-making, i.e., slow, hand-stitching or quilting. My goals were to get away from the large opus magna I’ve been laboring over, and free myself up with a less is more approach. I also sought freedom from high concept, but aspired to put ambiguity into my work, so viewers might enjoy interpreting my work as they wish.

Above was my board by the end of the day Monday. Below, that’s me showing my work on Friday…as you may be able to tell, I had worked on each “textile sketch” with varying degrees of success.

No matter. I stretched, I grew, I stayed up late working in the classroom, I met my goals…some of the time, at least. Oh, and I had so much fun, with the best broads, who gave me support, interesting scraps, the loan of key tools, and unbelievably rewarding friendship, sharing their life and art stories.

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom Deborah Fell dispensed:

Embrace imperfiction.

I can quilt 10 stitches to the inch, but I don’t want to.

I was normal once. I didn’t like it.

Doubt is part of the creative process.

Think outside the block.

Plus, favorite quotes she included:

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.–Pablo Picasso

Textiles have been a form of art, communication, survival, seduction, spirituality, expression, and community throughout history for all humankind on Planet Earth. — Elaine Lipson

Now for some close-ups of my work. Each one is still in process, and most vary from 15″-20″ on the longest side:

  

Hope to complete them all this summer, in among more pressing demands. Criticism always welcome!

 

 

 

From Painting to Quilting, and Black

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

Back home in the bosom of my family for the Passover seder, I took the opportunity to see an art quilt exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art that’s been getting a lot of great press, which it richly deserves. It’s comprised of new work by Stephen Towns, trained as a painter, self-taught to quilt — for this body of work in particular. BTW, you can see it in the cloth if you get to the BMA before Sept. 2.

The piece above and below, titled “Birth of a Nation,” is the star of the show. A black mammy, tenderly suckling a white baby against the backdrop of an American flag of 1777, puts slavery and white supremacy in tension with each other. A coffee and tea-dyed dress, patched with toile prints and barely clearing the bed of dirt below the quilt evokes the humble status of the Madonna-like figure.

Surrounding this installation are seven smaller story quilts; whether portrait or landscape orientation, each is about a yard along its longest edges. These works depict key moments in the life of Nat Turner’s life and the rebellion he led against slavery in 1831. My favorite one featured another mother and child: Under the cover of night, when plantation work was done, Nat Turner’s mother teaches her young son to read, or schools him in gospel. The composition proves Mr. Towns’ incomparable talent as a portrait painter…just as the materials and techniques give away his seat-of-the-pants sewing and quilting skills. Fabrics are from an old stash (perhaps his mother’s?): those of us sewing and quilting in the ’60s, and ’70s will recognize the calicos, ginghams, and synthetics, and that proud feeling when you think to add translucent tulle and sparkly beads to skies, buttons to clothing.

Titled, “Special Child,” this piece is the first in the cycle, which all show what how the facts known about Nat Turner coalesced into myth and icon: slave, keenly intelligent child, preacher man, leader of an effective slave rebellion. It’s refreshing to have the story, told so often by whites such as William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner), reclaimed by an African-American living and working in the Black Lives Matter era.

Stephen Towns assesses his “framed” portraits of Nat Turner and his wife, Cherry Turner, which accompany the exhibit.

Stars, moons, or suns (plus the occasional butterfly) play a role in each work of art, connecting people with the universe, and with the spirit as creator. Celestial bodies stand in as haloes, symbolizing sainthood or martyrdom. And is the red scroll below an ecclesiastical stole, or a symbol of the bloodshed already committed and also up ahead?

In each work of another series of paintings, the halo is a blue moon behind an enslaved rebel leader who has been caught. A hangman’s noose and a fist figure prominently. Click here to read what happened with these intensely powerful, provocative portraits.

On a lighter note, quilters viewing this blog post may want to look back at the story quilts and note the minimal free-motion quilting in thread that matches the fabrics flattens the backgrounds, so they recede. In contrast, large stitches that most seasoned quilters would decry as “toe-hookers” become strong design lines in Towns’s narratives. Not only do they define important features, they add naivete, the mark of the hand.

As an art-lover, I have so much respect for Towns’s cohesive works within series, for his conceptual underpinnings and iconography–sun, moon, stars, haloes, butterflies, and the gold-leaf that recalls the elaborate frames on medieval religious art (as in the “framing” on Nat and Cherry Turner’s likenesses). The piece below is from yet another series. Each work depicts a child who experienced slavery, and each work bears a title from the Lord’s Prayer.

Riveting. Heart-rending.

And yet one detail resonates most for me as a quilter. Can you guess what that is?

 

Heart-pounding inspiration, biennially

Monday, March 19th, 2018

What a privilege and thrill, every other year, to see the Art Quilt Elements show at the Wayne Art Center.

An even bigger adrenaline rush to be there at the Artists’ Reception, to be able to catch up with many friends and make new connections. To hear the makers talk about their work, is it just coincidence how many works are about the ability or inability to make connections in our country, and in our world?

Transfusion #3, by Catherine W. Smith: Lines of red fabric like a blood transfusion that flows from one body to another.

Seeking A Common Thread, by Karen A. Brown. Sharp pointed forms are filled with loud and destructive words and actions, such as pain, anger, poverty, fear…

Structurally Unsound, by Diane Savona. Assembled from Salvation Army jackets, sweaters, and the clothes of workers, and embedded with construction tools. Expresses a deep concern for our rich, powerful country that does not have the political will to maintain our roads, bridges, and railroads that allow us to connect.

Juxtaposition 1: Crossing Lines, by Karen Schulz. We are taught not to divide our art in half, but Karen achieves a dialogue, one half with the other, and strikes a balance.

Conversation, by Marti Plager. “Is it possible for opposing sides to have a conversation? Is it wishful thinking on my part that the conversation can be a civil one?

This poorly photographed collection of beautiful works and their beautiful makers pushes me to research and save up for a better camera. I only hope it pushes you to get to the Wayne Art Center, in Wayne PA, by April 28, to see these powerful pieces in the cloth!