Saturday, May 27, 2017

Folding Chairs and Another Fiber Vessel of Ancestors

 (Above:  Four vintage, wooden folding chairs covered in fabric on which family photos have been transferred.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I have several on going art series.  I can't help myself.  I will probably always collect and tag keys, wrap old rusted nails, zigzag stitch yarn into fiber vessels, make crayon grave rubbings, and add to my Anonymous Ancestors installation.  In addition to dragging home antique frames to fill with altered old photos, I find other things at my local audition house.  When these four old, wooden folding chairs went up for sale, I bid.  Amazingly, no one gave $12.50.  I got them for my $10 bid and knew exactly what I was going to do with them.  After all, the installation only had one arm chair and one rocker. 

(Above:  One of the folding chairs ... featuring black-and-white images from my Grandma Lenz's photo album on pictures of old clock faces.)

Now the installation has more seating.  This is important. The space is to reflect a nostalgic interior, someplace that looks comfortable and appropriate for a collection of family photos ... like a universal grandmother's sitting room.  Chairs are a really good and obvious way to transform a gallery into such a space ... but the chairs have to be special!

(Above:  One of the folding chairs ... featuring color images from my Grandma Lenz's photo album on pictures of old clock faces.)

These folding chairs do the trick (and they'll be easy to transport with everything else since they fold flat!)  I scanned my Grandma Lenz's photo album months and months ago but hadn't used the images.  It's a lot of work to take the scanned pages (which include several photos) and create individual files, color and contrast correct each one, and then create the unique fabric ... but it was worth it.

(Above:  One of the folding chairs ... featuring black-and-white images from my Grandma Lenz's photo album on pictures of old clock faces.)

The background for these photos were taken at another auction, one held well over three years ago.  It was a very special sale of clocks and watches, gears and other parts, and all the tools once used by a timepiece repair man. There were boxes and boxes of dials, clock cases, wrist bands, weights, springs, and more.  I bid on nothing but I took nearly one-hundred photos.  I had no idea whether I'd use any of them or not ... but they sure came in handy this past week.
 
(Above:  One of the folding chairs ... featuring black-and-white images from my Grandma Lenz's photo album on pictures of old clock faces.)

Each seat is quilted.  The old black vinyl upholstery was ripped off and the new fabric was easily stapled into place.  My husband Steve likes them so much that they are still open and sitting in our framing shop ... right where the first photo was taken.

 (Above:  Fiber vessel filled with wrapped-and-stitched wooden thread spools that include thumbnail family photos on both ends.)

After working with the original scans, I was then ready to use the images for a new batch of wooden spools.  I have hundreds and hundreds of these things ... but until last week, all the images were from my mother's parents.  I have scans from my Grandma Baker's photo album and images from all the slides my Grandpa Baker took.  Yet, there's more to my family than that!  I've always wanted to add my Dad's side ... plus my husband's family photos.

(Above:  Detail of the wrapped-and-stitched wooden thread spools.)

My in-laws died several years ago.  My husband Steve inherited what family photos they had.  He scanned them for me and I used some for the upholstery on the arm chair for Anonymous Ancestors.  But, I never used any on the wooden spools.  So now I have a collection from two families that certainly never knew one another.  To be honest, I don't know most of the people in my Grandma's album and Steve hasn't the faintest idea who most of the people are in his mother's photos.  It doesn't matter.  This is how a family is ... mixed up, half forgotten, estranged, and often so far part of the past that the coming generations will never know their stories.  I like that.  I like these spools.  I like making them and will probably always be making more!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

To Be Seen and Not Heard

(Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard.  Mixed Media art quilt.  30 1/2" x 23" unframed; 33" x 25 3/4" framed.  Assorted 19th century copper-plate and steel engravings on heavy watercolor paper with hand-stitched shirt buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

My button obsession continues!  When rummaging through some of the antiquarian prints that I still own, I found a stack of idealized women.  Many were illustrations from books of poetry, including, Lords Alfred Tennyson and  George Bryon.  Others came from various Shakespearean plays.  Some were from unknown sources because almost every engraving came into my possession from a severely damaged old book that might not have included a title page or even a cover.

 (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard.  Detail.)

Once upon a time, I framed such engravings and sold them through antique malls.  That market dried up years ago.  Unfortunately, the entire stack of eighty-nine engravings would likely not bring a $20 bid at my local auction house.  Minus a commission, the stack wouldn't net me much at all.  The fact of the matter is, the matte medium used to create this collage cost more than the antiquarian prints.  In one sense, this is sad.  In another sense, I happen to have great material with which to work!  I cut all eighty-nine engravings and collaged them to heavy watercolor paper.

 (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

I knew from the start that I would stitch buttons to each mouth.  After all, these ladies came from a time when "a true woman" was virtuous.  Her most important characteristics were to be pious, submissive, chaste and firmly grounded in domesticity.  Her place was in the home where she was dependent on her husband for both financial security and social status. The lives of upper- and middle-class women were limited to marriage and motherhood or spinsterhood (both of which are dependent on domesticity).  Even those lucky enough to attend seminaries and colleges for girls found the curriculum restricted to religious instruction, books to assist in educating children, and etiquette manuals. Popular periodically, like Godey's Magazine, stressed devotion to fashion and beauty.  Fiction was overly sentimental and filled with female characters that were delicate, prone to fainting, and always submissive to their husband's superiority.        

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

Feminism has its roots in these bygone days but wasn't a term in the English language and certainly not a widely embraced concept.  Working women were considered "unnatural".  Intellectual women, like Margaret Fuller, were considered "unfeminine".  Most women simply didn't have a voice.  They were to be seen and not heard.

 (Above:  Work in progress ... sitting atop my dry mount press.)

After cutting all the ladies from their background and collaging them to a piece of heavy-weight watercolor paper, I fused the piece to fabric.  I did this using a custom picture framing product called Fusion 4000.  Under 28 pounds of pressure per square inch set at 180 degrees, my dry mount press permanently attached the fabric to the back of the watercolor paper.  I probably didn't need to do this.  Why?  Well, the overlapping layers of engravings, the amount gel medium from the collaging, and the thickness of the watercolor paper would have been more than enough support to hold the buttons.  By adding the denim-weight fabric, I really made the task of stitching buttons difficult.  I used a pair of pliers in order to get the perle cotton threaded chenille needle through all these layers.  It took several evenings ... but it was worth it.

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

Because there is quite a bit of matte medium over the entire surface of the paper, I knew I didn't have to frame the piece under glass.  I wanted to use a "floater" frame.  This is a unique presentation usually done for gallery wrapped canvases.

(Above:  A floater ... with one side not attached in order to show how a canvas fits into it.)

A floater frame does not cover any of the surface of the artwork.  Instead, the canvas is attached with screws that go through the bottom of the floater frame and up into the wooden stretcher bars.  From the front, the artwork appears to "float" inside the frame.  So ... how did I manage this?

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

I cut a piece of mat board just 1/8" smaller than the piece and coated it with matte medium.  I sealed the fabric on the reverse of the artwork with Golden's GAC 400, an acrylic fabric stiffener. I allowed both the dry overnight.  I then applied more matte medium to the mat board and attached the artwork.  The "sandwich" was put under weights.  Acrylics bond to acrylics.  They work like conservation-grade glue.  The artwork was now even thicker.  The mat board became the new back.  Finally, I glued a stretcher bar to the mat board.  Once dry, I installed the piece as if it were a canvas on stretcher bars.  It's good to be a custom picture framer!
  
  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail.)

I'm really pleased with the piece and it has led to new ideas.  I am now in search of people willing to provide a close-up, relatively high resolution image of just their mouth ... smile or no smile!  With luck, I'll use the images to create two pieces tentatively called Her Secrets and His Secrets.  In my mind, I see lots of larger, red buttons!  So ... if you are reading and willing, my email address is mouse_house@prodigy.net.  Send me your mouth!

  (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail showing lower right corner and floater frame against an interior wall.)

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.

 (Above:  (When Women Were) To Be Seen and Not Heard. Detail showing upper right corner while the work leaned again a window.  I try different locations for their different lighting!)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Button as Art

 (Above:  The Button as Art I, 13" x 17" unframed; 20" x 24" matted.  Photogravure from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893: Art and Architecture published in 1894 by George Barrie fused to fabric and altered with hand stitched assorted vintage buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Once upon a time, my husband Steve Dingman and I bought and sold antiquarian prints.  We weren't high end dealers.  We were what other, better dealers referred to a "bottom feeders", people who purchased the dregs at specialized book auctions.  We bought the books with broken spines, stained covers, missing plates, and otherwise damaged pages.  Some dealers bought pristine volumes, cut out the engravings, and sold them separately.  We didn't.  Some dealers broke perfectly good atlases too.  We would never!  In fact, we have never broken a "fine book" or a "very good" one or even a "good" one.  (Yes, there is a very specific vocabulary for describing the condition of old books and antiquarian prints.) 

Years ago we came across several sections of the World's Columbian Exposition 1893: Art and Architecture.  Originally this was a series of eleven books.  We didn't get half of them.  What we bought was in lousy condition and many of the engravings had already been removed.  We had no problem "breaking" these books for the engravings that were left.  Many were framed and sold at Terrace Oaks Antique Mall outside Charleston, South Carolina.  We rented several walls there for over twenty years ... but we moved out almost a decade ago.   

(Above:  The Button as Art II, 13" x 17" unframed; 20" x 24" matted.)

In order to make room for all the artwork I create, we got rid of most of our antiquarian prints about four years ago.  Evenso, we still have several of the engravings from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893: Art and Architecture, including Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth which was engraved by Gaston Albert Manchon after the 1889 oil painting by John Singer Sargent that now hangs in room 1840 of the Tate in London.

 (Above:  Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, an engraving after John Singer Sargent's oil painting.)

Yet, this painting once hung in Chicago ... at the World's Exposition ... and was included in the photogravure now called The Button as Art II ... in the very middle on which I stitched three buttons.

 (Above:  The Button as Art III, 13" x 17" unframed; 20" x 24" matted.)

These four photogravures were first fused to an upholstery fabric.  Many other textile artist might think I'm using Pellon's WonderUnder or another company's iron-on fusible, but that's not the case. I use a framing industry product called Fusion 4000 in my 36" x 48" dry mount press.  Fusion 4000 is acid-free and considered a conservation grade product.  Inside the press, it fuses paper to fabric ... permanently.  It takes just five minutes at 180 degrees with a perfectly even 28 pounds per square inch of pressure.  It works like a charm, every time.  I love this machine!
  
(Above:  The Button as Art IV, 13" x 17" unframed; 20" x 24" matted.)

I also really enjoyed selecting the buttons to fill the depicted picture frames.  Conceptually, the buttons are presented as legitimate art in a proper gallery hung in a salon-style.  I added letters clipped from other vintage sources to the top of each page.  The Button as Art.  Black buttons complete the works.  Finally, I matted the four pieces ... using a black beaded wooden insert between the mat and the image.  This is called "a fillet".  It also raises the surface of the mat up and away from the image ... giving space for the buttons.

While looking for these engravings, I also came across another collection of antiquarian prints that just seemed to scream for me to use with even more buttons.  I'm almost finished with it and will blog it soon.  Definitely, I'm button obsessed! 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Installation-in-progress, Week Two ... The Comet!

 (Above:  Me and my comet ... before melting holes and cutting it out with a soldering iron.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

A week ago I wrote a blog post called "Circles ... a Public Installation in Progress".  It talked about how I needed a "big wall" on which to create an installation of circles for my upcoming solo show at Waterworks Visual Arts Center, a museum located in Salisbury, North Carolina.  I needed the ability to stand back and see just how many circles I'd need, how close together they ought to hang, and whether larger and/or smaller orbs would improve the arrangement.  CMFA (Columbia Music Festival Association) at 914 Pulaski Street partnered with me!  They provided temporary white walls in their lobby.  Last Monday, I hung the circles I'd created.  Immediately, I knew that my installation really did look like a celestial field of twinkling stars and that I really wanted to make one, giant comet!  So ... this week I made a comet!

 (Above:  Sketching out the design for the comet.)

Most often, I don't sketch my designs.  I map out the finished size (which is generally a rectangle) and work within the set boundary.  A comet is different!  It's not rectangular ... plus I envisioned a star shape.  Amazingly, I own a protractor and remembered enough geometry to end up with the appropriate shape.  I sketched out the tail and used my paper outline to cut large pieces of polyester stretch velvet to form the comet.  It was lots of fun!  I got to use some of the most hideous crushed velvets imaginable (including neon orange, shockingly bright lemon yellow, red with a glitter design, and a lime green zebra print with holographic sequins).  It is always hilarious to see these garish colors turn into something wonderful!


Wonderful is how the installation-in-progress is coming along.  The two seats are actually there for people visiting CMFA to sit and look at the artwork!  CMFA is open weekdays from 10 - 6.

(Above:  Carolina Ballet's Summer Ballet intensive program flier.)

There will be lots and lots of dancers and their families at CMFA in the coming weeks.  Carolina Ballet holds its summer program there.  So ... if you live in Columbia and have a dancer in the family, there's more than one good reason to visit CMFA!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Good News!

 (Above:  Wall of Ancestors, I Went Off to Make My Fortune and Never Came Back.  Altered anonymous photo in antique frame.  14" x 12", framed.  Click on any image for an enlargement.)

I can't help myself.  I'm still adding to my Wall of Ancestors.  There are now well over two-hundred-and twenty framed pieces.  (The link above shows only the first 127 pieces.)  I don't really need more ... except maybe I do.  Why?  Well, The Wall of Ancestors is part of my solo installation Anonymous Ancestors.  There's no way to know in advance what sort of interior space I might be given by a hosting venue.  It might be really, really BIG.  I might actually need more work.  It couldn't hurt to have "more than enough".  At least that's my excuse!

Well, last January I spent three full days researching southeastern museums and other location to which I could send an exhibition proposal for Anonymous Ancestors.  Mostly, I heard nothing in return.  Occasionally, I got an out-right rejection.  Yet, I have GOOD NEWS!

(Above:  The Wall of Ancestors, Nothing Came Easily.  Altered anonymous photo in antique frame.  17" x 14", framed.)

Anonymous Ancestors has been scheduled for the following solo shows:

The University of South Carolina Upstate's Gallery on Main, 172 E. Main Street, Spartanburg, SC from August 31 - November 4th. Art Walk reception on September 21 from 5 - 8.

Eastern Shore Art Center in Fairhope, AL opening during the "First Friday Art Walk" on Jan. 5 thru Jan. 27, 2018 ... where I'll hopefully be teaching a workshop too!

But, there's more good new!  The Commode was accepted into a Ironic Designs, a juried exhibition at the Gadsden Museum of Art in Gadsden, AL from June 1 - 30, 2017.  It will have an opening reception on Friday, June 2nd from 5-7 and a closing reception on Friday, June 23th from 5-7.  Yet, along with The Commode, a selection of framed pieces from The Wall of Ancestors was also accepted.  Steve and I will be delivering and installing the work on May 31st ... and hopefully be signing a contract for the entire Anonymous Ancestors installation to be shown in the museum during January and February 2019!  Yes, museums generally schedule years in advance!  I am very, very excited! 
 
 (Above:  Wall of Ancestors, The Girl Next Door.  Altered anonymous photo in antique frame.  14" x 12", framed.)
 
While submitting proposals, I sometimes found on-line systems.  Such was the case at the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.  After submitting Anonymous Ancestors, I figured I'd go ahead and submit my older proposal for Last Words.  Believe it or not, Last Words was just accepted for October 5 - November 28, 2018.  Good news indeed!  I love both these bodies of work!

It takes hours to write proposals and days to research locations to which they might be sent.  Thankfully, it was worth it!  By the way, the solo show I have coming up at Waterworks Visual Arts Center was also a result of sending a proposal.  The proposal wasn't accepted but the offer to show other work was given!  Definitely, good news!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Button Ads

(Above:  Button Ad II, detail.  13" x 10"; matted to 24" x 20".  1940s advertisement from Fortune Magazine fused to fabric and covered with buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Okay ... I'm now officially obsessed with buttons!  Like The Typewriter, I already owned a couple of 1940s issues of Fortune Magazine.  Inside, I found several advertisements for typewriters and accounting machines.  I fused three to fabric and started covering them in buttons.

(Above:  Button Ad I thru III ... matted and leaning against my Wall of Keys.)

I love hand-stitching every evening ... especially when the work is so much fun!  Plus, my mind has wandered to even more ideas for buttons.  I have a couple projects in mind and one even underway.

 (Above:  Button Ad I.)

The buttons cover the brand names of the machines ... because that's not the important part!  It's all about the buttons and all these "new" devices have them ... whether advertising accounting features or rhythm touch or a new movie about women in the office.

(Above:  Button Ad II.)

I like these so much that I might even put them in frames.  Right now, they are simply matted to a standard size.


(Above:  Button Ad III.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

More buttons ... The Typewriter and the Flip Phone


(Above:  The Typewriter, 6" x 13" x 13".  Vintage/Antique typewriter (ca. 1930s to 40s) covered in vintage buttons with an insertion of heavyweight interfacing covered in shirt buttons.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last week I received constructive criticism from a local arts administrator who told me that my Button Proposal "romanticized" my material and that I didn't "push the boundaries of my studio art practice".  I was stunned but I also knew the words rung true.

I do romanticize my materials.

In fact, I rely on the public identifying with objects from the past.  I decided this this isn't a problem and responded by creating fourteen, erotic images using buttons.  (CLICK HERE for that earlier post.)


I also knew that I could push the boundaries of my studio art practice further than my proposal suggested.  My mind began to spin with new ideas ... potential art projects I might never had thought of had it not been for last week's experience.  I also started seeing connections with other thoughts running through my mind.  I'd like to share these wonderful, tidbits of wisdom!

First, Kitty Parrott, an antique dealer in Eutawville, SC from whom I've bought a few items, once told me "If you collect intuitively, you will always have what you need".  She's right!  My mind saw an old fashioned typewriter covered with buttons.  Amazingly, I already owned THREE antique typewriters.  One became a weekend project.  Thanks, Kitty!  (By the way, I'm currently stitching buttons onto three 1940s typewriter advertisements ... which I already owned.  I'll blog them later!)


Next, I thought about Ellen Kochansky, a most talented fiber artist and executive director of the Rensing Center.  Back in 2009 with depressed about my local arts community, Ellen told me to forget about the many bumps and bruises, insults and over-sights.  She said to forget, not just say I was forgetting, not just outwardly act like I’d forgotten, but FORGET. She said that when I honestly didn’t care anymore there would be a place in my mind, my heart, my soul that would open up to be filled with everything wonderful and positive.  I've been trying to take this advice ever since.  Last week, I managed to forget about the hurt and focus on the CONSTRUCTIVE part of the criticism.  This is what allowed my mind to spin with all sort of new ideas for new work.  THANK YOU, Ellen.  It works!  My mind is filled with positive directions for even more new work! (Much of this work is already underway!)


Finally, I thought about my recent time in Blacksburg, Virginia where the talented Paula Golden took me to Taubaum Museum of Art in Roanoke where we saw Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark.  When I blogged about it, I wrote: Sonya's dedication to a single concept investigated from every conceivable angle inspires me.

For me, this singular focus is exactly what the arts administrator was talking about ... pushing the boundaries of my studio arts practice.  Now, at the time I saw Sonya's work, I commented to Paula Golden that some of the pieces were less successful than others.  In fact, one of the wall mounted works looked like "fill" to me.  The next day, I received an email from the Society of Contemporary Crafts in Pittsburgh where Oaths and Epithets: Works by Sonya Clark had just opened.  That's TWO museum solo shows going on at the same time.  That's a lot of work.  That's a lot of pushing boundaries, investigating a concept from every possible angle!  This is absolutely proof that I need to push my boundaries, look at buttons from every possible angle ... even if it means that some pieces are less successful than others ... even if some appear as "fill" or receive negative feedback.  As an artists, it is my job to create the work ... not just "the best work" but ALL OF IT!
  

The Button Proposal, though looked upon unfavorably by my local arts administrator, was accepted at Homestead National Monument for a July art residency with the National Park Services.  Now, because of the local feedback, the work I will produce will be better!  So ... thanks for the constructive criticism!  I will continue to make good use of it.

(Above:  Old flip phone altered with buttons.)

In the meantime, I've also altered an old flip phone.  From "romantic buttons" to "technology buttons" to ... who knows where I'll go next! 

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber arts.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Circles ... an public installation-in-progress

(Above:  Fiber circles ... for my upcoming solo show at Waterworks Visual Arts in Salisbury, North Carolina.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

About a month ago, I blogged about an exciting in installation for my solo show at Waterworks Visual Center, a regional museum in Salisbury, North Carolina.  (CLICK HERE to read the earlier post.)  Anne Scott Clement, the executive director, challenged me to create new, unframed work using my usual materials and techniques.   

(Above:  The latest batch of circles ... on my living room floor.)

I was a little nervous about it but we corresponded and came up with the idea of CIRCLES.  (Generally, I cut squares and rectangles.)  The more I thought about it, the more excited I got ... especially since I relate to these orbs as part of a celestial sky ... especially since there will be a total solar eclipse on August 21st ... right before the exhibition opens.

Yet, I was still a little nervous.  Why?  Well, I committed to making this installation but really didn't have a big design wall on which to work.  A big design wall would help answer questions like:  How many circles will I need? Should some be larger?  Smaller? Hung closer together? Should I make one, big comet? How will they look in relationship to one another?  

 (Above:  The lobby at CMFA ... Columbia Music Festival Association ... before hanging the circles.)

Then I had a great idea!  If I secure a venue, I could invite the public to watch the installation-in-progress over the coming weeks, and I'd have a nice big wall on which to work.  I'd get feedback and new ideas from people viewing the work in exchange for blogging about the venue, sharing images to Facebook, and bringing new artwork into a public space.  This was envisioned as a "Win-Win" project for everyone.

 (Above:  Hanging the circles.)

Columbia Music Festival Association (know affectionately as CMFA) was actually EAGER to work with me! By the time I arrived as 10:30 AM this morning, temporary white walls were being moved into the lobby.  The width is 20 feet ... just four feet shy of the actual wall at Waterworks Visual Arts Center! 

(Above:  Wall hung with circles ... and also being secured together ... making a very, very nice exhibition space!)

Immediately I had some of the answers to my many questions.  I thought I would need at least eighty circles ... perhaps one-hundred.  I won't need that many!  I thought these circles might look too small; larger ones would be better.  Not true!  I think the sizes are excellent!  Plus, I wasn't sure about making a giant comet.  Now, I can't wait to do it!


 Best of all, I was able to see that the cast shadows are GREAT!  Originally, I thought it might not make a difference.  I was also unsure about the edges.  Would the thin, black lines radiating from some of the circles show up?  Yes, they do!

(Above:  Circles, an installation in progress.)

This is how the installation looks today!  I will be photographing, blogging, and sharing images to Facebook through the summer as the work progresses!  THANK YOU CMFA for partnering with me!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Romantic Buttons


I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn't suffer from low self-esteem.

Okay ... I know there are many people who don't believe the statement above.  They think that because I create a lot of art, travel, have gallery representation, teach workshops, and have solo shows scheduled that I must be full of self confidence.  Funny!  These are generally the things I do and the logic I try to employee in order to "feel good about myself and my artwork."  If the truth be told, I'm propelled by my own fears of inadequacy.  I am in a constant battle to improve ... to be "good enough".
 

So ... last week my Button Proposal was reviewed by a local arts administrator.  Paraphrased, I was told that I romanticize my material and do not push the limits of my studio practice. 


I was stunned.  I cried, of course.  My ego took a plunge ... because I believed it.  Sure, I know that this proposal was much the same as the one accepted at Homestead National Monument for an upcoming art residency with the National Park Services.  Yet, my mind immediately entertained the notion that I am just a middle-aged, white woman who stitches and has nothing worthwhile to say through buttons and vintage household linens.
 
 

My biggest problem was with the word "romanticize".  I do romanticize my materials.  Frankly, I rely on the fact that viewers identify with objects from the past.  So, that critical comment really stung ... again ... because I believed it to be true (which it is) and believed it to be a serious flaw.  But is it?  After the hurt began to subside, I wondered.  What exactly is wrong with romanticizing a button? 
 

I've read too many Internet threads written by art quilters who complain that jurors, judges, museum curators, and others in positions to make value judgments "don't get my art".  It all reads like sour grapes to me ... and if I dismiss the critical evaluation I received, I'd be no better.  Besides, I already assumed the criticism was just and that my work really sucked.  So why not approach buttons from another point of view?  Why not really "romanticize" the button, research the word, and work out my insecurities at the same time?  Why not make art to fly in the face of the hurt?


The critical review included this suggestion:  "Think about alternative uses, displays, content... different ways you could use this traditional material within your craft to translate your meaning to the audience."  Okay, I tried it.  This is what resulted. 


All of these vintage (yes ... in keeping with my usual studio art practice) public domain images are smaller than 10" x 8".  They've been printed on photo paper and fused to fabric.  This allowed me to do a little free motion machine embroidery and add buttons.  They've been matted to 20" x 16" and I consider them "low art" as opposed to "high art" (a distinction that is full of grey lines).


 While creating this work (which was sort of done between cutting mats ... my day job ... and finishing up other artwork ... not as a serious pursuit but as a sort of therapy to eliminate my feelings of inadequacy due to the criticism), I thought about artists whose work I admire.  I thought about how most truly investigate a concept, material, and/or approach.  I thought about my own studio art practice ... and how I might push the boundaries even more than I have in the past.


From words that stung, I found ideas for the future and ways to improve.  I guess that's why I opened myself to the critical review.  I will use the advise for my own advantage.


Now ... were these words truly issued as insight, advise, and wisdom?  No, not completely!  While I'm prone to self-recrimination, I'm also aware of the context and person behind them.  Life is not black-and-white.  Just as there are grey lines with regards to art, romance, sex, and even the politics in my local arts community, the critical review I received is not black-and-white either.  I'm just choosing to use the part that is in my best interest ... and making the work that helped me get over the rest of it. 


Will this week impact my future plans for buttons?  Probably!  Will it make my work better?  Probably! 


After all is said and done, there's nothing really wrong with romanticizing my materials.  After all, I am a middle-aged, white woman, and I do rely on viewer's identifying with an ideal from the past.  That doesn't mean I have nothing to say. Far from it! In fact, I probably should embrace all of this!    


I should dig deeper, speak louder, fight harder, and stand up for myself and my artwork ... while taking the criticism and investigating how it might assist in my efforts for self expression.  Buttons are in my future.  I will be using them in my art residency.  Plus, I welcome critical review of my proposal ... because other ideas might make for even better work.  Below, I've copied and pasted one of the several versions of my proposal.  Have at it!  Send me your ideas, critiques, suggestions, and thoughts!


As a visual artist using found objects, I collect various items intuitively. Among them are nails, keys, wooden spools, skeins of unused yarn, anonymous vintage family photos, embroidered household linens and old thread and buttons. Most have been transformed into artwork expressing the accumulated memory inherent in these discarded things.

Yet, I haven’t done anything with the buttons.

My button stash is embarrassingly large. One might say I collect buttons, but honestly, I just amass them. While it is true that I use some to edge my art quilts, I really haven’t made a dent in the collection. It is high time I do. I propose to use my buttons to surround images transferred to fabric. Some work would take the form of a quilt. Others would be fashioned on stretched canvas or mounted to heavy paper for custom framing. Conceptually, the work will make visible a line from my TEDx talk called “Precious: Making a Plan for Your Precious Possessions.” In that presentation I say:

So … what is precious? Let me give you an example. A young professional wanders into my studio and exclaims, “Oh my gosh! My great aunt had a jar of shirt buttons just like yours!” Well, of course she did. So did mine. (Then addressing the audience). So did yours. This is ordinary … extraordinary. This is precious.

Conceptually, my residency work would focus on images of anonymous but universal figures (everyone’s “great aunt”). The figures would be carefully selected from scans of old photos. They would represent a collective sense of “ancestors” but come from different walks of life, racial backgrounds, social status, and age groups. Buttons would totally surround these fabric images. The work would challenge viewers to consider their own, long gone relatives, the ways ordinary objects are saved or discarded, and the simple objects that occupy everyone’s life.

I am inspired by the words of Peter “Souleo” Wright, curator for New York City’s Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation’s 2016 spring exhibition, The Button Show. Describing the show, Souleo wrote, “I am proud to help highlight the medium of clothing buttons in visual art. Clothing buttons occupy a familiar but seemingly insignificant presence in our lives. Each artist forces us to reimagine this everyday object as a viable tool for communication and self-expression through visual art. In these works, buttons become signifiers of issues of class, politics, race, beauty and personal narratives in ways that are visually stimulating and highly engaging.”