Monday, September 1, 2014

Quotes: Wayne Muller

"All life has emptiness at its core; it is the quiet hollow reed through which the wind of God blows and makes the music that is our life." – Wayne Muller, American author, minister, therapist 
(Wayne Muller. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, 1999, p. 51)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Studio Series: Intuitive mark-making

Acrylic ink Lent drawing August 2014 © Karen Thiessen, 2014
For those who are new to this blog, I committed to a daily intuitive mark-making practice for Lent 2014: at least 15 minutes of drawing for 46 days. Lent came and went and I continue to make marks every day. It's been over 180 days and it continues to fully engage my imagination and curiosity. Every day I go to the studio to face a blank page and I allow myself to make ugly drawings. Some are, most aren't. The ugly drawings allow me to add layers and layers of marks because, after all, they are already failures. I have nothing to lose. Most of the ugly drawings become things of beauty. It's always a surprise when this happens.

Above is a surprise drawing: it's a sheet of sketch paper that I put down to protect my drafting table from inks.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

And Still We Rise Quilt Exhibition III

Dawn Williams Boyd La Croix de Guerre; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations is an exhibition of contemporary quilts curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi. The quilts were made by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN), a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 by Dr. Mazloomi to promote inclusivity in African American quilt making. And Still We Rise was organized by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. 

La Croix de Guerre (2010) by Dawn Williams Boyd of Atlanta, Georgia measures 70 by 47 inches. 
Materials: Assorted fabric, silk ribbon, found objects
Techniques: Machine piecing, appliqué, hand embroidery, hand embellishment

1918: The United States Army organizes two African American divisions, the 92nd and the 93rd, through which some forty thousand African American soldiers see combat. General John J. Pershing gives to the 16th Division of the French Army the troops of the 93rd Division, including the 369th Infantry Regiment, the "Harlem Hellfighters," under the command of Colonel William Hayward.

The Harlem Hellfighters fight at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. They spend 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit in the war, during which they neither surrender an inch of Allied territory nor lose a soldier to capture. The French government awards the entire regiment, plus 171 men and officers individually, either the Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Merit for their courage and valour.

No African American soldier will receive a World War I Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest award for military heroism.

Boyd's La Croix de Guerre makes a memorable impression. The quilt is a complex, yet coherent, mix of fabrics and techniques. I don't know how Boyd does it: in lesser hands the combination would look like a mish-mash. The quilt is calm with its warm monochromatic colour scheme and has the feel of a sepia-toned photograph.
Dawn Williams Boyd La Croix de Guerre detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Since I saw this quilt in February, I've been thinking of the hand embroidered stars. Do you see what I mean?
Dawn Williams Boyd La Croix de Guerre detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Unlike most of the quilts that I've shared in the previous two posts, the machine quilting is not a prominent feature. Although I admire the phenomenal free-motion quilting of the other quilts, I'm pleased to see the hand embroidery come to the fore in Boyd's La Croix de Guerre. All of these patterns shouldn't work together, but they do with Boyd's careful arrangement.
Dawn Williams Boyd La Croix de Guerre detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
This detail highlights the graphic facial features, the hat... and another view of the stars.
Dawn Williams Boyd La Croix de Guerre detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Normally I'm not a fan of silk ribbon, but it works in this quilt. The stripy piecing with the mattress ticking fabric could be a quilt on its own. Take a close look at the hand embroidered leaves. La Croix de Guerre inspires me on many levels. It's a quilt that I will study closely and learn from.

And Still We Rise Quilt Exhibition at The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio February 2014
Photos taken with permission.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quotes: James Russell Lowell

"Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character." – James Russell Lowell, American poet, critic, and diplomat (1819-1891)

Friday, August 22, 2014

And Still We Rise Quilt Exhibition II

Helen Murrell We Are All Warmed by the Same Sun; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations is an exhibition of contemporary quilts curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi. The quilts were made by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN), a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 by Dr. Mazloomi to promote inclusivity in African American quilt making. And Still We Rise was organized by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. 

We Are All Warmed by the Same Sun (2012) by Helen Murrell of Cleveland Heights, Ohio measures 53.5 by 54 inches. 

Materials: Hand-dyed linen, cotton scrim lining, cotton batting; cotton, linen, polyester and silk threads
Techniques: Hand embroidery, thread painting, free-motion machine quilting
1972: The U.S. Public Health Service's infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which studied 399 African American men in the late stages of syphilis, ends.

The forty-year study is described by news anchor Harry Reasoner as an undertaking that "used human beings as laboratory animals in a long and inefficient study of how long it takes syphilis to kill someone."

Once again, I am gobsmacked by the intricacy of the free-motion machine quilting. I hope Murrell had a masseuse on hand to soothe her tired muscles after machine-stitching all those lines. The didactic panel does not indicate whether the fabric was hand-dyed, but I do see evidence of resist-dyeing in the background fabric.
Helen Murrell We Are All Warmed by the Same Sun detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Murrell's hand embroidery is impressive. She has balanced the hand and machine stitching in a pleasing way. Normally machine-stitched lines read as hard and hand-stitched lines read as soft but Murrell has switched this perception around quite brilliantly. The mottled background fabric and the fluid quilted lines probably have something to do with this perceptual switcheroo.
Ife Felix Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed (2012) by Ife Felix of New York, New York measures 49 X 51 inches. 
Materials: Cotton fabric, plastic, cotton string 
Techniques: Machine piecing, machine quilting 


1972: On January 25, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm becomes the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination for president and the first major-party African American candidate for president of the United States.

Felix's graphic quilt of red, whites, blues, and black is a stunner. Chisholm's collar appears to be three-dimensional. Unfortunately, I don't have detail photos to confirm this. Felix has captured Chisholm's power well. I'd vote for her.

Trish Williams And Still I Rise –– A. Philip Randolph; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
And Still I Rise–– A. Philip Randolph (2012) by Trish Williams of Peoria, Illinois measures 51 inches square.
Materials: Hand-dyed cotton fabric, commercial cotton fabric, silk, polyester, fiberglass screen, buttons
Techniques: Machine piecing, machine appliqué, machine quilting

1925: A. Philip Randolph organizes the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful African American trade union.

Williams' use of black and white striped fabric drew me to this quilt and I especially like the binding. The upper left panel with the blue sky is the strongest part of the quilt. Williams could have eliminated the right and lower panels and the buttons without watering down the message.
Patricia Montgomery The Scottsboro Boys –– The Arrest; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The Scottsboro Boys––The Arrest (2012) by Patricia Montgomery of Oakland, California measures 65 X 57.5 inches.
Materials: Batik, commercial cotton fabric, pastel, ink, cotton thread, rayon thread
Techniques: Fused collage, machine quilting


1931: Nine African American youths are indicted in Scottsboro, Alabama, on charges of having raped two white women. The jury sentences them to death on slim evidence.

The Supreme Court overturns the jury's convictions twice. Each time, Alabama retries the youths and finds them guilty.

In a third trial, four of the Scottsboro boys are freed, but five are sentenced to long prison terms.

I'm intrigued by Montgomery's use of pastels and ink in this irregularly shaped quilt. The background jungle pattern juxtaposed against prison uniforms conveys the wildness of the criminal justice system. 
Patricia Montgomery The Scottsboro Boys –– The Arrest detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Montgomery's shading with pastels and scribbly machine-quilting is another strong feature of this quilt.

And Still We Rise Quilt Exhibition at The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio February 2014
Photos taken with permission.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And Still We Rise Quilt Exhibition I

Cynthia H. Catlin The Beginning of Social Justice; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations is an exhibition of contemporary quilts curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi. The quilts were made by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN), a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 by Dr. Mazloomi to promote inclusivity in African American quilt making. And Still We Rise was organized by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. 

The Beginning of Social Justice (2012) by Cynthia Catlin of San Pedro, California is 35.5 X 35 inches. 
Materials: Hand-dyed cotton fabric, suede, wool batting, metallic thread, rayon thread
Techniques: Machine appliqué, machine quilting, free-motion machine quilting, embroidery
1863: President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

Catlin's use of line is astonishing.
Cynthia H. Catlin The Beginning of Social Justice detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The machine quilting is stunning with its complexity. I pity Catlin's neck and shoulders––free-motion machine quilting is not easy on the body.
Sharon Kerry-Harlan United; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
United (2012) by Sharon Kerry-Harlan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin measures 59.5 X 63 inches
Materials: Cotton fabric, cotton batting
Techniques: Discharge dyeing, machine quilting

1909: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded in New York by a group of prominent African American and white intellectuals led by W.E.B. Du Bois.

From my photograph it is difficult to tell whether the quilt is whole cloth or pieced. I suspect that it is pieced, but reads as one cloth. All that pattern works brilliantly with a simple two-colour (discharge) palette. Despite its busyness, the quilt is calm.
Sharon Kerry-Harlan United detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
United has the feel of Kuba cloth.
Valerie C. White Julett Miles at the River's Edge; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Julett Miles at the River's Edge (2008) by Valerie C. White of Denver, Colorado measures 32 X 50 inches.
Materials: Cotton fabric hand-dyed, fabric paint
Techniques: Drawing, hand painting, machine quilting

1858: Kentucky slave Julett Miles tries to escape to freedom by crossing the Ohio River with her five children and four grandchildren. 
Her attempt is discovered and she is sentenced to prison, where she will die in 1860.

I'm guessing that Julett Miles is a whole cloth quilt. White depicts Miles just before she attempts to escape and the tension is palpable. 
Valerie C. White Julett Miles at the River's Edge detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The patterns of the head scarf and dress are delights for the eye.

Why haven't I heard of these quilters before? Have their quilts been featured in Surface Design Journal and the now defunct Fiberarts and I just didn't notice? This work deserves more attention.


And Still We Rise Quilt Exhibition at The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio February 2014
Photos taken with permission.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Quotes: Willa Cather

"Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is." – Willa Cather, Pulitzer prize winning American author (1873-1947)