Category Archives: art quilt

Helix Center Biotech Incubator Commission

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Dark Summer Sky: Mica, Stars & Fireflies, Astrid Hilger Bennett, 175 x 42″. Handpainted, handprinted, stitched fabrics. Photo courtesy of POE, Professional Office Environments.

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Photo courtesy of POE, Professional Office Environments.

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Photo courtesy of POE, Professional Office Environments.

This fall I completed a large commission entitled Dark Summer Sky: Mica, Stars & Fireflies  for permanent installation in the Helix Center Biotech Incubator  in St Louis, MO. This innovative facility created by the St Louis Economic Development Partnership, bills itself as a place for “startup bioscience, technology or plant and life science businesses,” with wet and dry labs, office space, mentoring and more. Currently, I’m told there are close to 40 tenants, and an expansion is planned. A perfect concept that matches my own interests in science and entrepreneurship.

My connection to this project started two years ago. I was contacted by Faith Berger, 652 Moderne Art Consultants about supplying a large textile piece for a shared meeting space. Berger found my work through the Fiber Art Collective website , which led her to my own website. (Ironically, the piece that caught her eye was Two Weeks in Autumn,  a large, 10′ triptych from a commission made for a client who found my work on the Surface Design Association website.)  At first the project was for a 10′ x 6′ piece. Faith particularly liked some of my works, like Pods 1. I supplied some ideas and sent some actual pieces to demonstrate potential textures and colors. I was told that earthy colors (mossy green, dusty rose red, browns) would be a good color palette, and that the piece would be hanging against a wood paneled wall with modernist furniture, necessitating a ceiling hanging device.

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Two Weeks in Autumn, Astrid Hilger Bennett, 2005, 10′

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Pods 1, Astrid Hilger Bennett, 2012

Accommodating a wooden wall as background meant that if I decided to do my usual triptych for this large size format, the wood grain and color would have to figure into the design of the piece. That was not a good fit; I felt the grain would interfere with rather than support the idea. Therefore, I designed this as one long piece.

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Mica 2, Astrid Hilger Bennett

The project went on hiatus for a while, only to be rekindled with a different concept in summer 2014. Project designer/architect Stacey Hudson, Professional Office Environments (POE), liked what she saw in my art quilt, Mica 2, above, taking the project into quite a different direction. This was a piece made in response to an experience I had while teaching at Penland School of Crafts. While walking back to my quarters on a dark summer night, the mica in the ground sparkled, forming one continuum with the stars in the sky and fireflies. Very powerful.

I went back to the drawing board, reworking the concept as well as the size to 15′ x 4′ based on the room elevations. I then submitted several ideas. Mica 2 worked well in the smaller scale in which it was made, but it wasn’t a design layout that lent itself to a larger format, so I had to rethink that. I divided the piece diagonally to provide forward movement and added a complementary color way. Mica 2 is a pleasing, “quiet” piece, nothing too visually challenging. It plays a supporting role to the ambience of the place.

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Approved “sketch” for the new concept, based on Mica 2.

This new design was approved in early August, 2014, for completion around the end of October. I quickly went to work creating fabrics using hand painting and mono printing techniques, always making more than I thought I would need.

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All of my work involves fabrics I paint, monoprint, screen print or dye myself. All start out as white fabric.

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For the Helix Commission, I created all the fabrics in advance, and more than I needed. I started with basic monoprinted shapes, adding hand painting, then more monoprinting. Dyes are Procion MX Fiber reactive dyes (Prochemical & Dye).

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I use paper “stencils” to preserve areas over which I do not want to print.

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A finished fabric before steaming, rinsing and washing.

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Although abstract, many of my pieces are reinforced by drawing from the natural world.

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Rocks from the Great Lakes served as a pattern impetus for the border fabrics. I started with ink drawings, then thickened black dye on fabric, then handpainting and monoprinting.

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The last batch of fabrics before monoprinting.

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Although I have made large pieces before, this was the largest to date and it was not a triptych. Simply creating the design and hanging the final product in one piece was challenging but one I knew I could handle. To assemble the piece, I used both the floor plus a large, end-to-end wall in my 100-year old house. Designing was done on the horizontal wall. When I was satisfied with the layout, I stitched it together. Then I took it apart to create three separate pieces for stitching/quilting. These were laid out on my 10 foot printing table to make the “quilt sandwich”, i.e. with backing and needle punched batting, then pinned. Stitching took place on an ordinary sewing machine, which I always use.

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After steaming and washing the fabrics, time to piece. Just playing on my pin-up wall here.

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Once the designed, I took the fabrics apart to make three distinct pieces for stitching. This was necessary because a 15′ length of fabric would be impossible to manage with an ordinary sewing machine. The trick lay in re-assembling them after stitching, which sometimes shrinks the piece. Here I assemble and pin the layers of the piece, with batting and backing fabrics.

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In progress

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Detail view of Dark Summer Sky: Mica, Stars & Fireflies, by Astrid Hilger Bennett. Photo courtesy of POE, Professional Office Environments.

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Another detail view. Photo courtesy of POE, Professional Office Environments.

When I finished quilting/stitching the three separate pieces, I re-stitched them together. This diagonal seam was a little tricky in that the quilting had shifted and tightened up the fabrics. I had to make sure that the seams were correct, or else the piece would not be square.

During this time, I researched hanging rods. Because of the wood wall, I could not use my usual solution. Since my original intention was to ship the piece, the rods needed to be no longer than six feet. I settled on 3/4 aluminum tubing, which is hollow for added strength. A short length of dowel joined two of the tubes in two places, creating one long hanging device.

My last step was add top and bottom casings and bindings. My original intention was not to use a binding, but simply to finish the edges as they were. With the large size, this was not possible, because the piece needed to be squared up. In its finished form, it measures 175 x 42.”

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The back side. Adding casings.

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In the end, I delivered the piece in person, driving the four hours through autumnal landscapes, wary of the deer in rutting season in early November. Northeastern Missouri, near the Mississippi River, is quite beautiful, and the thinning of vegetation meant that old Prairie family graveyards, ancient trees and southern-style architecture were all in view. Delivery was well worth the drive. It was rewarding to see the piece installed and meet the people involved with this project. And it is a treat to be associated with this facility, the Helix Center, as well as with Faith Berger and 652 Moderne.

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ICON Gallery Exhibit, plus a night in Fairfield


 Contemporary Art Quilts, ICON Gallery

 

Contemporary Art Quilts of Astrid Hilger Bennett, Carol Coohey, BJ Parady and Judy Zoelzer Levine is featured exhibition at ICON Gallery in Fairfield, Iowa. What a wonderful installation: clean, light-filled and spacious, the best installation of my own work I’ve ever come across. This is ICON’s first-ever art quilt exhibition; exhibit dates are October 7 to November 12. ICON is located at 58 Main St. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday noon to 4pm, Saturday 1 – 4pm, and by appointment. For more information, contact ICON Gallery by phone, 641.919.6252.

 “Curators Wendy Read and Karen Harris have brought four of the best contemporary art quilters in the region to ICON Gallery,” says ICON Director Bill Teeple. “If you are used to traditional quilt making in Iowa, this will be an eye opener. It contains the visual and conceptual impact of a contemporary painting exhibit.” My personal opinion is that the Midwest is rich with exceptional art quilters. We appreciate the compliment, and curator Wendy Read, also a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association) Iowa Representative and Karen Harris did a great job balancing styles of work, which makes for a conceptually strong show. What follows are images more from my own section of the exhibit; the work was divided up by artist into different mini-galleries. By the way, Carol Coohey, BJ Parady and Astrid Hilger Bennett, are all members of the Surface Design Association, and all four of us, including Judy Zoelzer Levine, are members of SAQA. For a more detailed look at images in this post, be sure to click on the image and watch it expand.

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Looking towards the gallery with Judy Zoelzer Levine's Body of Evidence, Contemporary Art Quilts, ICON Gallery

more from Judy Zoelzer Levine's Body of Evidence, ICON Art Gallery

left to right: BJ Parady, Carol Coohey, Astrid Hilger Bennett & Director Bill Teeple in front of a work by Coohey, ICON Art Gallery

Carol Coohey's arresting images of art quilts, ICON Gallery.

Carol Coohey is a newer, talented fiber artist living in Coralville, Iowa,  who has recently really found her own voice. This collection of work, entitled Voices, is powerful and was developed using many surface design techniques inclduing drawing, discharge, screenprinting and painting before quilting. Carol explains, “My most recent work focuses on the rights of girls and women, especially in the Middle East.  To make my collage paintings, I use un-gessoed cloth as the foundation.  I draw, paint and print on cloth with dye, discharge paste, ink and acrylic paint.   I spend half my time teaching and conducting research on violence at a university and half of my time creating art.  The themes in my research often carry over into my artwork.  Earlier in my career, I worked as a graphic artist and an art therapist.  

The impetus for this series began when I saw on TV Nedā Āġā Soltān shot and killed during the protests that followed the 2009 Iranian elections.  In Persian, Nedā (ندا) means “voice.”  Hence, the name of my series.  In the Voices Series, I focus on how policy and culture affect the lives of women and girls living in the Middle East.  I explore universal themes, such as the right to an education and the influence of culture on girl’s and women’s decision-making. Stylistically, I’ve drawn on graffiti street art which has become a form of political protest in the Middle East during recent years.”

Illinois artist BJ Parady works primarily on silk and recyled fabrics, creating smaller pieces where marks made by stitching are important. She interprets Midwestern landscape. “My art reflects the microcosm in which I live—where the tall grass prairie used to be. I am inspired daily by the big skies, the reflection of light on water, the remaining remnants of native plants. I have come to embrace the idea of abstraction—capturing the essence of a moment rather than a literal depiction of a scene that could just as easily be photographed.”

Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence series is composed of 25 art quilts interpreting the female human form. A Wisconsin artist, Levine created these works over a span of many years.

Astrid Hilger Bennett approaches her pieces as she would a piece of music, using painting, monoprinting, screenprinting and other techniques to make largescale, abstract wall art. For more information on  her work, please check out the gallery and other pages on this website.

the contemplative view: Autumn Narrative (right) and other artquilts by Astrid Hilger Bennett at ICON Art Gallery

ICON Gallery is an acronym for Iowa Contemporary Art and is the brainchild of Bill Teeple, a devoted artist, arts advocate and educator who teaches 9 classes a week in the center, which also houses a small sales area of artists’ supplies. With only 10,000 residents, Fairfield seems an unlikely setting for a gallery that would easily fit into any urban environment. However, Fairfield is a magnet for cultural aficionados, in part from the presence of Maharishi University, which attracts students and residents from around the world interested in Auyervedic principles. In fact, when we drove up to attend the opening reception, we were greeted with tents selling brats, beer, hotdogs and pop, not what I was expecting! Oktoberfest on First Fridays, a draw for county residents of persuasions. The festival included a parade of draft horses all duded up, plus a polka band on a flatbed truck. I will post about this separately. The exhibit and exhibitors at ICON are not associated with Maharishi University.


 

Iowa SDA-SAQA-IA Artquilters Meeting

Iowa is a big state with a small population, smaller than the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Our Surface Design Association (SDA) and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) are small enough that it makes sense to pool our resources and meet together in different locations in central and eastern Iowa. I held an earlier meeting last February at my home, and this time Carol Coohey shared her home and inspiring studio with us. Nineteen women attended from the Des Moines area, Elkader, Grinnell, Guernsey, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City/Coralville.

Karin Gundlach explored the issue of what kind of finishing presentation is most appropriate to art quilts and fiber art in general, especially smaller pieces. She posed several questions in an online SAQA forum and received a wealth of technical responses, from mounting on a protruding cloth-covered or painted “frame,” to shadow box framing, to armatures. In general the consensus was that framing or mounting of some kind helps to set these pieces off and relate them to their environment. Some participants shared pieces in which presentation was discussed.

Kris Grover shares her ideas for studio design (above), with Amanda Murphy discussing lighting (below)

Kris Grover, former University of Iowa space planner and mixed media artist then shared her Studio Design Challenge, where she converts a small 10 x 10′ bedroom-type space into a functional studio. She shared drafts of this presentation, done on her laptop with many images included. This was a very interesting presentation that we could have spent more time on; Kris had many ideas for finding simple storage units at janitor supply shops and places like Cabellas. One idea was installing a simple overhead bike rack to hang three dimensional works from while they’re in progress. Then
Amanda Murphy, a lighting consultant for Light Expressions and a mixed media artist working three dimensionally with concrete and felt, shared ideas and answered questions for adequate lighting.

Lastly, we had a tour of Carol Coohey‘s impressive studio space. Not grungy like mine, but airy and clean. She does deconstructed screen printing in the way that Kerr Grabowski does, but adds her own spin and has recently started doing regular screen printing. One look at her extensive wall of fabrics, all hanging from a cork strip rail, and one can’t help but admire her grasp of this process.

Carol Coohey with her wall of deconstructed screen printed fabrics

After the meeting, participants split up, some attending Dianne Day’s show at Arbor Gallery, some going to central Iowa City to visit Home Ec Workshop, Prairie Lights Books and Iowa Artisans Gallery, and some home. An interesting, enlightening time.

Out and about: meetings & presentations

Last Thursday evening I had the pleasure of speaking to the Jewel Box Quilt Guild in Grinnell, Iowa, so named because of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Jewel Box Bank Building in that community. This year I’ve given my powerpoint presentation four times: at the IQS Quilt Show in Chicago (April); a morning and evening session at Northeast Iowa Quilt Guild, and the most recent one in Grinnell. Previous presentations included guilds in Iowa City (130 attendees) and Waverly, Iowa.

My presentations usually start with an introduction and a few questions to gauge my audience. How many have tried dyeing? printing? I show some actual art quilts, explaining that I use only my own fabrics and that all my pieces start out as white fabrics. After explaining a few technical things about dyes, silk screens and monoprint vinyl, I launch into my power point, which is a visual tour of the part of my art career devoted to art quilts. I start with a few recent pieces, move to images of techniques, then launch into a chronology of how I came to make these and what has been influential over the years. When the chronology is done, I show some studio shots. Then I have a series of “mark making” photographs gleaned from travels and changes in landscape. I finish with a series of teaching images taken during workshops. Usually I bring books, magazines, Surface Design Association materials (yes, I am on the Board), tools and a big basket of sample fabrics which I circulate among the audience early on. Always there are questions, which I encourage and answer as needed. It’s really a lot of fun. And yes, I do charge for these presentations. There is this thing, needing to earn a living.

I also teach workshops and find that most participants enjoy starting with basics. I pack in a lot of information, hopefully not too much, but my aim is to give participants a rich immersion into the wonders of painting and printing with dyes and fabric paints. What do I enjoy the most? Watching participants slide into the pure joy of process, of expression, color and creation. I always tell them, don’t focus on the end product- you will need to practice! But enjoy the ride…

Artquilts at the MacNider Art Museum

Summer is the perfect time for a road trip. If you’re in the neighborhood, check out the Charles MacNider Art Museum in Mason City (home to Meredith Wilson, creator of the Music Man). The MacNider is a charming regional museum with a nice collection of American art as well as Bill Baird’s puppets. Baird was the creator of the marionettes in The Sound of Music. You’ll also see an exhibit of my work, on view until September 4. The exhibit is the result of being awarded Best in Show in the Iowa Craft exhibition last November. Here are some photos from the installation.

Fellow artist Connie Roberts (above), a wooden whistle sculptor, accompanied me
a lovely modern addition to the MacNider houses a special exhibition space plus this area for contemporary ceramics
We also visited Clear Lake, 11 miles west of Mason City. It was also the day for a Bicycle, Blues & Barbecue Festival, looked and smelled great…

Reinvention, Return…


Studio tours in Emeryville

“Reinvention” Conference at San Francisco State University, March 17-19, 2010. Sponsored by the Surface Design Association (SDA) and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). This regional conference attracted primarily California artists, but also SDA and SAQA Board members, state representatives and members from adjoining and other states. A blog is a poor substitute for active participation and listening, but it is a start.

Months ago, when I first read through the lineup of conference presenters, I thought, hmm, a very academic approach. But no, this was something more. Unlike most conferences involving textile artists, this one did not have much in the way of hands-on and technique-oriented sessions. I’m sure that this aggravated some attendees. Instead, this was a textiles homecoming, a conference that took a detailed look at the handmade textile scene— now, then and future. It dealt with legacy. With long-running artist careers still fired up and ongoing. With younger, collaborative and socially-conscious work. With the interface between hand made art and museums. With the current explorations by two prominent magazines, Fiber Arts and American Craft.

California is the state with the most Surface Design Association members. Northern California alone has 363 members, more than some of the multi-state regions. Southern California, 160 members. Contemporary fiber art got its foothold in the Bay Area, with the now-defunct, once-thriving Fiberworks that trained so many. It still has a depth of talent and long-term career commitment unparalleled elsewhere. And we got a taste of some of this.

Day 1: The contemporary scene
Keynote speaker Marci McDade, Editor of Fiberarts Magazine pointed out a number of innovative fiber artists in her talk Reinvention: Transforming the Face of Fiber. McDade mentioned the trend in museums to invite artists into their collections, from which they might make works based on that experience, where both the museum piece and the contemporary interpretation would be hung side by side. Other notes: the Design Center at Philadelphia University had a 150’ long chain link fence patterned after the traditional lace housed in their collection. Lace motifs were also used to stencil found metal in some of the Center’s garden settings. McDade also mentioned other innovative fiber projects, including Slash: Paper under the Knife at the Museum of Arts + Design in NYC; Anne Wilson’s Wind/Rewind/Weave community weaving project at the Knoxville Museum of Art. In this, Anne invited 60 weavers to do an “exquisite corpse” type of weaving, one day for each weaver. Each segment was divided by black thread. McDade also mentioned Craftweek 2.0’s New Household Tactics, a conceptual show where a paper towel dispenser was filled with handmade papers, etc. (McDade admitted to not really understanding fashion. —since many of our artists do wearables, this seemed an unfortunate slip in what was otherwise a great lineup of information.)

Jane Przybysz, Executive Director of the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, discussed What Makes Fiber Art? plus the challenges of running a nonprofit museum focused on textile arts, with the “emotional logic” versus the “financial logic” of an organizational mission statement. She said, “those who identify with media rather than the art or idea are not artists.” Not all agree with this. She mentioned the provocative book, String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art & Craft in American Art by Elissa Auther. Przybysz noted three communities where fiber art has currency: #1 the fiber art community; #2 Post-Conceptualist artists (Rauschenberg, Eva Hess), who used fiber as “non-art” to contest the hierarchy of art and craft; and #3 the feminist art community.

Stefan Catalani of the Bellevue Arts Museum showcased interesting examples of crossover art/textile artists. The Bellevue has no collections of its own, just organizes rotating exhibitions. Truly notable are works by Dinh Q. Le, and Ed Pien’s papercuttings, as well as Mandy Greer.

Jill D’Alessandro discussed exhibitions of historic and ethnic textiles at the de Young Museum. All of these presenters appeared on a panel exploring the issue of what kind of work gets promoted in their institutions.

Primarily, the emphasis with all of these presenters was on exceptional work, regardless of art or craft moniker. The challenges of funding when identifying only as a craft institution where brought up. Some attendees were focused on the “Q” word- whether or not to push the term “quilt”. This of course, also brought up conversations about gender-based work. We ended our day with joint openings of exhibits in the SFS textile studios, galleries and other locations.

Day 2: Artists
We started with a panel of emerging artists moderated by Vic de la Rosa, of San Francisco State University. Lacy Jane Roberts (“messy craft” rather than mastery, plastic knitting machines and academic discussions of contemporary craft and gender) and Bren Ahearn (embroidery) discussed their own work plus other issues such as the challenges of living as gay or queer (not identifying as either female or male) artists. Mung Lar Lam had a solid powerpoint of work called “ironings,” ironed, pleated installed works in which she appears in the installation and irons the pieces. Vic de la Rosa commented that as far as the “craft police” are concerned, it’s good to know the rules in order to break them.

The second presentation, Can Art Make a Difference? moderated and curated by Linda Gass focused on four exceptional artists working with environmental issues (Linda McDonald uses humor and fine draftsmanship to focus on forestation issues), Lea Redmond (very interesting conceptual work), Judith Selby Lange (who makes wearables using discarded plastic bags found on a particular beach), and Gass (silk art quilts highlighting mapping and land use concerns).

We then heard from “The Voices of Experience,” four artists with 152 combined years of studio practice between them and who are still actively engaged with their work. This fact-paced, poignant presentation inspired many of us and included work by Michael Rohde (weaver), Carol Westfall (mixed media) and Consuelo Underwood (weaver and political-conceptual artist, #11 of 12 children born into a migrant family) with Joan Schulze moderating. Any of these could have filled an hour-long segment, not just their 20 minutes allotted time.

For the closing remarks, we listened to Janet Koplos’ survey 60+ years of American Craft magazine and how it reflected the thinking and trends of the day. Koplos is a former Acting Editor of the magazine. She showed an image of work by a younger artist named Kathryn Pannepacker, whose murals in Philadelphia echo traditional textiles from around the world. Kathryn was sitting right next to us. And that’s how it went throughout the conference- you never knew who might have something original to contribute.


Karen Livingstone’s dye studio

Day 3: Studio Tours, for those who’d made arrangements
This was the day where everything came together for me. Our group started at Ana Lisa Hedstrom’s shibori studio, with work by Yoshiko Wada and Jeanne Caciedo also on display. These three titans of the fiber arts community were generous with their time and knowledge. We were seduced by Ana Lisa’s clothing. Yoshiko Wada explained that shibori (Japanese resist dyeing using pleating, clamping and tying, are only 150 years old. She has worked to promote the field and preserve knowledge by current Japanese shirbori masters. Then Richard Elliott, head of textiles at CCA, showed pieces incorporating digital printing. Susan Taber Avila is creating wonderful, large-scale layered work using dyeing and machine embroidery. Her studio mate Candace Kling comes from a historic costuming background and had manipulated trims and historic examples throughout her studio. We visited Karen Livingstone’s studio in a former corner grocery, where she does custom dyeing and once did Marian Clayden’s dyeing. And an inspiring tour of the home and gardens of Paul and Robin Cowley, landscape architect and art quilter.


Cameras out: the beautiful landscaping of Paul and Robin Cowley.

That night, some of us went to a fiber artist potluck way up high in the hills of Berkeley. Stunning sunset overlooking the entire Bay area. As I looked around at attendees, I was struck yet again by the sheer concentration of talent in this part of California, and the generosity and dedication of our host.

In addition, the SDA Board met before the conference, spending time on the topic of reinvention. Established in 1976, SDA is doing what any organization of similar age does- reviewing goals, strategy, mission and communications. Things are cooking up well, and we are positioning ourselves for the present and future cyber age.

What else? Trails around the hotel followed the bay, had shorebirds, and smelled of salt water. I visited with my high school friend and fellow yearbook co-editor, whom I hadn’t seen since I was 21. On my last day, I checked my bags earlier and headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The building alone is worth the visit, —I especially enjoyed the abstract expressionist galleries. I was surprising to see how large the Diebenkorn paintings are- I had assumed they were half the size. The collection of San Francisco-based artists was excellent quality, with fresh ideas and excellent quality of execution. I also stopped by the exhibit of textiles from Mali at the Museum of International Craft & Folk Art. I was familiar with much of what was presented but found the videos of a contemporary wedding fascinating. And then, on this stunningly beautiful day that even the locals were relishing, I headed back on my friend BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the airport and flew home over snow-capped mountains and pink-tipped clouds.


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Our hotel in South San Francisco, taken from the extensive trails around the bay. My morning walks included the smell of salt water during low tide, with shore birds and blooming succulents, a far cry from the snow banks I’d left behind the week before. When I see this picture, I reminded of the California hills
Wallace Stegner describes in one of my favorite books, Angle of Repose.

A Profile in Quilting Arts Magazine

Quilting Arts Magazine’s February-March issue has arrived, and I am honored to be the featured artist in a really nice 6-page spread with glorious photos. Also included is a piece on what to do with leftover dye (make pillows!) which was based on a blog post I did earlier. Thanks to everyone who’s made this possible. OK, Astrid, before complacency sets in, time to get back to work… I’m enjoying the journey, though.

A New Year’s Story: Embracing Creativity

Reading Lisa Call’s blog entry on completion and finally finishing her studio space reminds me of my own studio metaphor. Studios are not about spending a lot of money- they are about creating even just a tabletop as a designated thinking zone. My workspace has always had a major influence on the scope and size of my work. But first, some background.

My husband John was diagnosed with advanced, aggressive prostate cancer in 2005. We knew from that first doctors’ visit that the outcome would not be good, and in September 2008, he passed away. (Don’t let anyone ever convince you that prostate cancer is not serious; the aggressive forms are debilitating and lethal.)

A few months later, in January 2009, I found myself having posture problems when doing my computer marketing work for Iowa Artisans Gallery, and I decided that John’s desk/table would be the solution to my needs. His desk area was in our bedroom. This was not as simple as switching out a chair or adding a cushion. Adopting his desk was essentially about tackling his most intimate corner, the place where he went to write, to dream, to wrestle with his demons and to organize his day. It was filled with small mementos of the children, of his previous life in California, and of many projects unfulfilled. Not to mention, dust and clutter.

Was this really necessary, now? I asked myself, feeling the intense emotional difficulty of this task. There was no doubt that I needed to be more comfortable doing my paid work, and funds for new purchases were limited. It would need doing soon anyway. So, I plunged ahead. I placed a hand-scrawled note by my telephone with the words “removing impediments,” the first of several. We’d always left messages there, —I’d see it multiple times a day.

I went through everything, throwing anything too difficult into the old leather briefcase that had 40 years of correspondence, and stashed it upstairs for another day. I took photos of the small vignettes- little found scrap metal sculptures, pictures of the kids tacked on the Navajo rugs of his childhood. I adopted his great little work table, which we had found and cleaned up at a local farm auction many years ago. I took down the window shade and had a surprise- this room has much more light than I thought! I cleaned out and moved my filing cabinets to a new space. I gave away the other library table that was too tall; my good friend would use it for photographing her sculptural work. And lastly, I took pictures to show the coziness of this new space. I was done.

Or was I? Suddenly, I realized that one of the benefits of forced change is embracing new options. This room was once my weaving studio, with pin-board “design walls” I made nearly 30 years earlier. We changed that when the family expanded to three kids. I’d worked all over my house and have a wet workspace in the basement for dyeing and painting. Why not re-adopt it as a studio? Why not move my bedroom upstairs? I couldn’t let go of this idea. I knew it would jumpstart my creativity.

Out came the cleaning tools, the storage boxes, the garbage bags once again. But first I had to clear out a space in the three small bedrooms upstairs. Over the past few years, three kids had deposited their stuff there while traveling the world, and John’s university office boxes were there as well. I gave myself a deadline of ASAP and went to work weeding through, saving, donating and discarding. It was January cold winter work. Removing impediments. Finally, I grabbed a couple of friends to help me dismantle my bed and move it upstairs, after first moving the other upstairs beds to new locations.

Or so I thought. In our 1918 home with a narrow stairway that does not meet code, the queen mattress would not fit. Parked the old one on the pool table until disposal (which John had always wanted to play pool and purchased when he learned of his cancer). Bought a new flexible mattress and had it delivered during a snowstorm. Moved the futon into the studio.

Suddenly, open air. Wood floor, new curtains, small area rug. This new studio setup jump-started my creativity at a particularly difficult time. It is wonderful, light-filled, room where I can contemplate pieces in progress, see colors, stash my teaching books. Change my clothes and house my family when needed. Allow the subconscious to process works in progress. Most importantly, it gave credence to a creative side that needs expression even in difficult times. It is simple, but empowering. “Removing Impediments” worked. I’m not going to post a picture of this studio of mine. Remember, it’s all about the physical location that encompasses the more-important psychological space.

And now the task at hand: giving myself permission to choose creative work over the obsession with paid work. Yes, I do that too, but I try not to let it rule my life as it once did. John left this world with several regrets. He did not get to write his novel. I am learning from this. Happy New Year!

Quilt World Tidbits…

item 1:
Last summer during Iowa City’s Iowa Arts Festival, the Old Capitol Quilt Guild held its biennial, two-day exhibit of quilts at the United Methodist Church. A non-traditional quilt show, the quilts were draped over the pews rather than displayed on walls. Well attended and showing a variety of approaches, techniques and skill levels, it made for a worthwhile visit. My own work is a little different from this intensively pieced approach, but I still appreciate the phenomenon that quilting has become.

item 2:
On a rainy day last fall, I was invited to speak at the Friendship Quilters Guild in Waverly, Iowa. Aside from mortifying myself by locking my key in the car for the first time in my life (it all ended well enough), I have fun at Guild meetings. Program Chair Cathy Busch has a great sense of humor and an adept manner of instruction. She spoke about the upcoming “Super Sew” to make quilts for the Cedar Valey Hospice. I didn’t get all the details straight, but basically the “Sew” involves teams of players with rules not unlike football, their pre-game packet of fabric sewn as “Yardage.” Different skill levels of quilt designs reflected different scoring levels. Teams with Team captain had been selected earlier and would be in competition with other Guild teams. A few “free agents” had also been identified. I appreciated the sense of purpose in this communal activity, which for those not familiar with Guild meetings, is pretty typical. Cathy has published articles about her various “game” strategies in Fons & Porter Love of Quilting. The “Super Sew for Charity” article appeared in Sept/Oct 2004. “Quilt Guild Bingo” was in the Sept/Oct 2006 edition and “3-6-9-12 Sew” was in the March/April 2003 edition.

item 3:
Look for an article on my artquilt work and doodle pillows in the February edition of Quilting Arts!

Olson-Larsen Gallery Exhibit & Quilt Walk


Friends, I will be one of four contemporary fiber artists featured in an exhibit at Olson-Larsen Gallery in West Des Moines, Iowa. Probably Iowa’s premier gallery for two dimensional works (paintings, original prints and mixed media), Olson-Larsen is participating in the Quilt Walk in conjunction with the AQS show in Des Moines. The Opening and Quilt Walk for this show takes place from 4-8pm on October 29. The show runs until November 28, 2009. Other fiber artists include Priscilla Sage, Linda Andeberg and Debra Smith. If you’re in the area, stop by!