Many thanks to the vibrant and hardworking students of Kutztown University and their beautifully lit gallery on the main street in Kutztown.
These students are smart and resourceful and work hard to bring art to the community. They wrote and asked if I would be interested in having an exhibit at Eckhaus Gallery in the spring of 2016. I agreed and then they handled everything – all I had to do was show up on the appointed date and they were prepared to hang the show with me. After quickly explaining my required selection and placement of objects they set about measuring and hammering.
The conversation was rewarding and it was interesting to hear what they had to say about art and college and their own plans for their art or careers. We had a lot of fun working together – and they were so willing to assist in every way with carrying work, handling it carefully and with respect, arranging for posters, price lists, photographs, publicity and a signboard. Senior students provide structure and have interns working along side to provide support. Their willingness to lead, listen, support and general good nature is one of the reasons I truly enjoy working with student groups. The evening for the exhibit was March 18th and they provided food and drink, a sign board on the street, and interns were there for support to help collectors and guests with questions.
Danielle Notaro – a poetic collaborator dramatized her poetry while giving a tour of my works that were one display. It was a memorable early spring evening!
Several new series were born as a result of doing small studies this winter. The studies are being shown this weekend as a part of exhibition containing a few watercolors and some significant works in fiber that are eco-dyed, handprinted and hand embroidered. I am an irreverent quilter and don’t follow many rules. Sometimes I experiment with fusible, battings and surface design before I quilt. The purpose of it all is to find the look, I am searching many traditional techniques and then bending them to my own style to get a texture and quality that I am not ready to define yet. I’ll know it when I see it.
Cutting on the bias, using my sewing machine, or working by hand, washing, ripping, tearing, machine thread painting, hand embroidery, framing, binding, not binding, giving structure on wood panels, using bamboo to hang work, vintage silk, found objects, eco-dyeing, tea dyeing and over-dyeing, mono-printing, heliotypes, and beading are a few of the ways I am working with fabric now.
Emerging are what I call Spirit Cloth’s…they are worked in a meditative state and result in a pure form of hand and mind being one and the same, a positive flow of the spirit of the artist.
There are also images born out of my love for the earthiness of tilling and gentle farming of grains and vegetables. The works include deep night skies and are simply stitched by hand.
Its a great time for me and my need to explore what is available to me in fiber and art. Today I am scaling up one of the series and am excited to find new ways to bring the color and stitching to life…
Textiles have memory and can also take on new memory and shape. How we handle textiles, stitching by hand or machine, cutting straight, curvilinear or on the bias (diagonal), sewing curves, surface embroidery, and quilting all disrupt the weave of fabric.
This particular quilt began with a piece of white cotton fabric hand dyed and backed with cotton batting and a muslin quilt back. If I’m not hand sewing, the cotton batting works fine for machine sewing.
I quilted an overall pattern in a medium teal Metrosene thread and then began to add thread painting with shades of silver, graphite, burnt sienna, gold, black and bronze rayon embroidery threads. I added the top grey and bottom rust sections after the majority of the thread painting was underway.
Then the final quilting helped to flatten out the lumpy bumpy hillocks and creases left from heavy but uneven thread painting. Still wonky and now only a series of gentle rolling bumps and lumps the last step is to block before finishing. Photo below shows some of the warping that happens to fabrics that are stressed.
Before binding, the quilt will be dampened and blocked to de-stress the fibers and give it the shape I want it to have.
The blocks are an interlocking grid that can be used many times over. 9 foam blocks come in a pack and can be put together in many configurations. You can purchase double or triple sets if you need them for larger projects. These have a small footprint for storage and last for years. I know you can use large inexpensive insulation board or even a carpet. The insulation board comes in 8′ sheets and a carpet would need to be rolled up for storage. I don’t have that kind of extra room to store bulky objects in my studio. At $24.99 they are a good deal and they store on a shelf.
You’ll need the following:
Blocking grid or mat
T-pins (rust proof stainless)
Spray bottle filled with fresh clean water
I put enough blocks together to make the grid fit the quilt in this case 4 sections work.
Placing the quilt face down I spray generously with water and smooth it out with my hands. I flip the quilt over squarely in the center of the grid and spray the top with water. It should be damp but not soaking wet.
Next the pinning begins. Starting at the center of the top, taking a t-pin, I press it at an angle through the quilt edge into the foam block.
I continue to place a t-pin at each center point along each side–while gently stretching the quilt and smoothing it. Then push a t-pin 3″-4″ apart on each side of the center pins. Again, I gently smooth and stretch the fabric as I go. Repeat on each side until the quilt is fully but gently stretched. See the photo below – pins evenly spaced and sides of quilt look wonky. They will be trimmed after drying.
My home is very dry and if I do this at night by morning the quilt will be dry and flat. The next step will be to trim to the size I like and bind if desired.
Below is the next day – flat and free from ripples:
Note: I do not use an iron or steam unless it is absolutely necessary. I use a mixture of fibers and a hot iron could negatively affect delicate threads or fabrics with a hot iron set on cotton and would flatten the beautiful quilting textures. I also don’t use measuring guides. These are handmade, work of art and meant to meander and have shape and texture. I am not looking for perfection, but want it to hang crisply and neatly.
One photo shows the stitches close up. I am fascinated with Sashiko, a Japanese backstitch style, but I have adapted it to my style. Tradition is good, but Bessesdotter employs non-traditional work because there is a deeper feeling of self expression that makes the art close to me.
I’m in love with the look of the perle cotton against the ragged eco-dyed muslin. The muslin was a scrap from dressmakers patterns and is being put to good use instead of throwing it away. My golden stitches remind me of a spiders web or perhaps a comet with a tail. The sewing is slow–deliberately slow–but not intentionally placed. It is more of a ‘let the needle find its path’ type of sewing. Nothing is planned here–all is spontaneous working of the threads and fabrics together.
The second photo shows the setup better—I’ve recently acquired a Q-Snap Hoop and an Edmunds standing frame. It is more comfortable to stitch on smaller project like this one which is about 30″ x 18″ piece of muslin.
Like other Melusine’s I’m drawn to the woods, its not just the gloaming, but everything about the forest dwells in my heart.
The death-quiet, a merciless monument that I enter as a noisy intruder that I’m certain the residents resent. I imagine scurrliness messengers warble warnings, Shee-zeer! Shee-zeer! My imagination is more about me than I desire. I wish to be as Sleeping Beauty thinking they are noticing me. But they are more concerned with their tidy lives, made in instinct and lived moment to moment.
Quietly making my way along the tangled trees, brambles, briars and bracken I can pick out favored shelf fungus, crumbling lichens and indian pipes along the paths. There is delight in the decay as the forest makes itself over flourishing its broken down limb littered leaf-decayed floor.
There’s an aroma that lifts from damp leaves, moldy with ashey spots and black rip edges as they catch on my feet. Twining twisted vine twirl about me in a rage at the dying of the season.
A token of love
I bring man-made artificiality to the Nature. Diminutive in stature compared to the Nature, the human makes its mark in creating tawdry and putting a price on it.
We churn it, first in the making, then the marketing, the amassing and finally the discarding. We cannot dig our holes deep enough to contain the baubles. Steady streams run-off products and by-products and the empty worth trailing off into now-nothingness. Land. Ocean. Space. Will fill them all.
Tooth & Claw
An installation and self portrait I created in the woods 2002—Photographed credit: self.
People often ask how I create my watercolors. Next time I perform this process I will make a video but here is a description in the meantime.
I cover the floor with as many pieces of high quality watercolor paper that I have room for. I thoroughly wet the paper(s) with water by either using a spray bottle or large 4″ brush. This wetting is a throwback to a time when I soaked paper for printmaking. Next, I mix the colors I that feel or look good to me at the time. No planning, but I do select color based on how I am feeling at the time. I use the tools at hand, literally my own hands work the large washes along with huge mop brushes, but there are fingerprints, and a sleeve dragged (possibly) through the work during the original throwdown of paint onto paper. The brush does a loose dance and my fingertips direct the magic. I allow the wind, sand, bark or other fragments of the life from Gaia come into the work. Mother Earth has her hand in the painting as she allows a leaf to settle or insect to walk across the paper. Often I find objects or materials to use as resists. Some resists are added supplies from the kitchen–often an experiment and sometimes products that I have used before. Salt is a common additive, but oats might be chosen instead.
I allow the paint to pool in deep rich colors or pale watery shades. Then I leave. I rest and let my creations solidify. Usually, I sleep and dream about what is brewing on the paper, my dreams are strongly connected to the work at hand. I have contemplated how much my dreams direct the paint but it is speculation. My imagination though is given wings to soar from the dreams which in turn helps the creation move further along. Sometimes, at a point of partial drying I check back and add more pigments, squeezing the drops out of the brush and allowing them to fall, gravity does the work. Although I often work in series, every piece has its own method, its own manner of coming into being even though they are pointed simultaneously. They are living creatures that continue to thrive under my guidance. It is an intuitive process. I feel connected to the work and allow the paintings to emerge–letting the melange of images come forward and speak out. But its only the beginning. They need time, to flower, to open: to be interpreted further. After all the paintings are dry they are stacked and weighed to keep them flat until I am ready to proceed with adding ink. In Part 2 I will discuss the next layer – Inkwork.
When I was a kid I drew. And painted. Everywhere. I am born to make things. Kinetic. Creator.
I never thought about where the objects I made would hang. Never cared if they sold. Those concepts never entered my mind. All my life I made art to make it—no choice–more like a compulsion. Last Thursday, I went to the NYC gallery where my painting is on display. Friends and family were with me and that made it more real for me that my work is hanging in NYC. I’ve heard others describe it as a dream they always wanted even from childhood. Odd that it never crossed my mind as being that important although I exhibited a few times in the 80’s because I was invited to do a small show.
Until a few years ago. I turned 49 and was on the upswing to 50 when I made a decision that I would exhibit again. I called it Aurora The Third Act. Aurora is goddess of the dawn and what a dawn this has been these 4 years. I am so pleased to be accepted into NAWA and have work in the annual exhibit. And pleased that I create work that brings pleasure to so many people. Although it can seem like it is about me, the artist, its not. Its about the viewer. You. Its about what you see and how you feel and where it leads you when you view the art I make. Together we make art an experience.
This photo is a picture of my tools and work in front of me. I work at a constant pace on paper and reserve my longer bits of time for larger paintings. The small work gets me through rough patches when time constraints are pushing me to and fro, or space is limited and I am on the go. Much like a knitter takes their work along, I take small paper drawings and pens. This work probably won’t end up in a gallery setting but I make it anyway. I use all my skills to create the best possible work at any given time or using any medium.
Lately, string is pulling me into hours of reverie, inventing images in my mind about what I might make with a crochet hook. I have a painting on an easel at home and one in the studio. Yet I don’t feel inspired to go to work on them. Summer was a series of trips and events that took me from home interspersed with the death of 4 people I know. Their passing has left me feeling very bereft and I think of them several times a day. I can’t see them again and have conversation or ask questions, smile with them, hold their hand. Mortality is rearing its head and I am interested in how that plays out in life and art. Life goes forward. So will the art.