Tuesday, October 21, 2014

High School Confidential

High school.

 I bet everyone who reads this is someone who has gone, or is going, to high school.

 I went to high school at Sacred Heart Academy, in Hamden, Connecticut, which was, and is, a girls' school.  I graduated in 1967.  

Here I am, in my high school yearbook, in all the loveliness of  my loveliness.  I was 16, soon to be 17, when this photo was taken.

My sister Linda went there too, graduating in 1957.  Linda went on to become a member of the order of sisters who run the school, who were at that time called the Missionary Zelatrices of the Sacred Heart.

Have you ever heard of a zelatrice?  I've never heard the word in any other context.  My best educated guess is that a zelatrice is a female zealot.  The word comes from the Italian:  the Zelatrices (who have since changed their name to the Apostles of the Sacred Heart) were founded by an Italian woman, Mother Clelia Merloni:

Mother Clelia is said to have wrestled with the devil in her stateroom on her voyage from Italy to the United States.  In honor of Mother Clelia, the high school yearbook is called the Clelian, and the school gym/auditorium is called Clelian Hall.

Under Mother Clelia's leadership, the order was able to construct its foothold in the United States, buying an estate called Cherry Hill, in Hamden, and erecting their Provincial House there:

This  provincial house, so-called because it's the home of the Apostles' United States presence, is where my sister Linda went when she joined the convent.  My high school, Sacred Heart Academy, wasn't even built yet when this photo was taken.

Here's what it looks like now.  Sacred Heart Academy is the building on the right, and the provincial house, where the nuns live, is on the left.  See the right hand window in the top row?  That was where I studied chemistry with Sister Imelda. 

While I was in Sr. Imelda's chemistry class, from time to time, my boyfriend Kevin would drive up to the school in his Mustang, drive around the circular driveway just under the windows (you can't see it in the photo), throw out a cherry bomb (POW!), and speed away.  Yeah.  That made my day.

Yesterday, October 20,2014, I was invited back to Sacred Heart to speak to a mixed media art class about my art.  

Here's the art room before the girls showed up:
I brought several of my completed art pieces, and some hands-on supplies, like felting equipment.  I talked about myself and my journey as an artist, and I showed them some techniques.  They especially took to the felting. I'm sorry I didn't take a photo of the girls experimenting with my wool carders and needle felting.  Here's a felted piece that one of the girls created while I was talking:

This girl, whose name I did not catch, but who is on the right in the photo below, gave me this piece to take home and remember her by:

The girls liked the felting so much that their teacher, Teresa Delvecchio, decided that they would do a fiber project--possibly needle felting?--next on their agenda.  How about that?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blog Hop.

Blog Hop.

My buddy Diane Wright, with whom I've shared many a display wall, invited me on this blog hop, a means for participants to celebrate our own and each other's work.  So if you go to Diane's blog at this link, http://dianewrightquilts.blogspot.com/ , you can see what she's up to in her art quilting.  Please check her out because her work is exciting and vital.

Meanwhile, if you stick around here, you can take a look at the projects I'm working on right now.

So.  There's the Crazy Quilt.  I'm making this one for the Nontraditional Challenge, currently taking place among the members of Women Against the Grain, an art quilt group of which I'm a member.  This challenge asks participants to choose a traditional quilt block or style, then reinterpret it as her own.  I chose the Victorian Crazy Quilt style, so called because its pieces aren't  regular or even, and are sewn together in what appears to be haphazard fashion.  My take on the Crazy Quilt style is to use the quilt as a vehicle for exploring the borderland between brilliance and madness.  To make this point, each patch is embellished with words that delve into that territory.

The center patch says Crazy Quilt:  Where Madness Meets Genius.  Each of the other blocks looks at the issue in a different way.  One block, for example, focuses on saints and mystics.  Here's a photo of that block, and I'm sorry it's not easier to read:

The different strips of fabric on this block state the names of saints or mystics and the phenomena they experienced:  Mohammed, for example, the founder of Islam, had clairaudience.  That means he heard things, and specifically, he is said to have heard the Koran dictated to him.  Or St. Francis of Assisi, who had visions and experienced the wounds of Christ, called stigmata.  Or Hildegarde of Bingen, the polymath (musician, physician, botanist, theologian, abbess, artist) whose visions, which which began when she was only five, and which she later rendered in pigment while living in a convent on the Rhine River in Germany, stun viewers to this day.
Here's All Beings Celebrate Creation, Hildegard's ecstatic view of the choirs of angels.

People who look at Hildegard's work now say that her images, in their angularity, are typical of those of a migraine sufferer.  What would happen to Hildegard if she were living today? Would she be medicated, and if so, what would happen to her visions?

That's why another square of the quilt focuses on pathologies.  Vincent Van Gogh, for example, is said to have suffered from psychomotor seizures.  Joan of Arc is thought to have had temporal lobe epilepsy. Inventor Nicola Tesla had bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and many phobias.  In this quilt. I'm inviting people to explore  the connection between brain pathologies and artistic genius, mathematical genius, or ecstatic spirituality. 

Other squares focus on
  • Mental illness advocacy (the Mad Pride movement, for example) http://www.mindfreedom.org/campaign/madpride/madpride-intro
  • People who hear voices
  • Performers and entertainers who were not or are not neurotypical
  • Writers, ditto
  • Scientists and mathematicians, ditto
  • And finally, the idea that these experiences are dangerous gifts or privileged states (shamanism as an example of the latter).
Here's a look at the entire quilt, which is still in the form of three strips and hasn't been sewn together or embellished yet.  One embellishment I'm definitely going to use is a spiderweb, because that's part of the traditional Crazy Quilt style.  I just learned to make a cool kind of spiderweb in a thread painting class I took recently...I'll show you that later.   Meanwhile, I've decided I'm not gonna finish this Crazy Quilt until Push Comes To Shove, and my buddies from Women Against the Grain, who brainstormed this challenge, can tell me more about the timing when and if they get a venue lined up.

Next:  how about this image of a fiery mountainside? 

This image was inspired by a photo in National Geographic, which I almost tore up for a collage.  Its stark beauty stopped my ripping hands on their tear.  To reproduce this image, I began with a sunprint which I made at a play date last summer with the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective.  On that sunprint, I superimposed pieces of painted cheesecloth to create the flames. 

I can't directly copy this image, because it's from a proprietary source, but I can be inspired by it, and I hope my piece is more inspiration than copy.  I'm currently in the process of adding orange beads for the lights (newly started fires?) against the black hillside.  Soon I hope to add some tree outline/images, because now that I've taken a class in thread painting up at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, MA, I know how to do that. 

Another occupant of my design board these days is a nine-patch photo quilt constructed for my friend Danielle, who until she recently moved to Florida was a longtime member of my early morning weight lifting class at West Hartford's Elmwood Community Center.  For this quilt, Japanalia's loss was my gain, for I used silks from the scrap sale held by that late, great Hartford establishment, a manufacturer of designer clothing, when it went out of business.  From my Japanalia scrap bag, I chose taupe and ice blue, colors that I hope will look good anywhere.

Each patch, except the center patch, is a photo of class members.  Here's one:

Yes,  readers, one of our many fun activities in that class was walking down the hall holding heavy-as-you-dare weights in each hand, doing deep knee lunges while also executing bicep curls.  Do we know how to have fun or what?   

Here's the center patch of Danielle's quilt:

How do you like the embellishments I made?  These are called yo-yos, and I've embellished them with beads and other fibers:

The  label I created for the back includes a photo of a Brooklyn laundry establishment called Wing Fat, the name of which Danielle and I found hilarious in its association with the underarm flesh of women of a certain age.

Here's the inscription on the label:

To Danielle
From Diane Cadrain
And the ladies of your Intermediate Weight Training class
At Elmwood Community Center
West Hartford, CT


 Danielle's piece has been bound and only needs the label and sleeve sewn onto the back.  Then it's off to Florida.

Another item on my design board reflects my intense absorption with sand ripples. I've been working on these images pretty steadily lately, and focusing on them brings me back to the light-filled environs that inspired them:

Sand ripples occur every day as the tide washes out to sea, leaving its marks behind.  So there is a sameness to them, yet eternal variation.  They're regular without being repetitive...or repetitive without being regular.  Their wave-sculpted forms speak to me.  

There's something transcendent in these images, and something transporting about working on them, which is why I hope to spend the coming winter doing just that. 

Right now, there are currently two sand ripple images under construction on my sewing and work tables.

I printed out this photo, which I took on Cape Cod, and traced its image onto tracing paper.  I then took the tracing paper to Staples, where I had it enlarged.  The enlarged version became a pattern, and I used my light table to trace it onto a piece of pima cotton.  Then I used Inktense pencils to fill in the colors:

Once I got the color laid down, I layered the pima cotton with a piece of muslin on the underside. Because the piece now had two layers, I was able to create channels by sewing lines on the outlines of all the ripples.  Then I used a tool called a bodkin to draw lengths of chunky wool yarn through the channels, creating dimensionality.  Can you see the raised parts in this image?

 This is what it looks like on the back side, where you can see the channels with the pieces of yarn pulled through them.

The next step for this mini-quilt is to sew down lines of quilting to accentuate the blue shadows.  Once that's done, I may combine this quilt with images from the sky, where I see similar patterns in clouds:

Wouldn't it be cool to use a piece of quilt art to make the connection between the forces that create the clouds and those that create the sand ripples?

In a similar vein, I'm also working on this second image of sand ripples:

I like this one so much I used it for the background on my personal Facebook page. 

 For this piece, I used a similar process of tracing the image, enlarging the tracing, then using the enlargement as a pattern.
I'm so obsessed with sand ripples that, last weekend, when I traveled to Williamsburg, MA, to take a class in thread painting at a place called Snow Farm, http://www.snowfarm.org/, one of the first images I tried to create was one of sand ripples.

Thread painting is a technique involving use of a threaded sewing machine needle as if it were a colored pencil, laying down thread in pictorial style.  My teacher was Susan Levi Goerlich.  Here's a look at her work:


 and here's a look at the members of the class:
That's me on the right, next to teacher Susan Levi-Goerlich.

Susan started us out getting used to the feel of the sewing machine when it's in thread painting mode:

Once I got used to that, I tried to use the machine to create sand ripples...of course.

The result was not a pretty sight.  In no way did my work come close to the feel of the image I was using:

I was pretty disappointed not to be able to use my new skill on the image that excites me the most.

After being bummed for a while, I went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. I came back with a fresh mind and a decision to spend time learning what other things I could do with thread painting.  Like this little freeform exercise in paisley shapes:

Or this creation--a spider web?

I'm going to make more of these, in a coppery color, to put on my Crazy Quilt.  It's gonna be crazy!

Susan, the teacher, pointed out that thread painting would be an excellent means of rendering the grasses in the background on these sand ripple shots:

And for that reason, I'm thrilled, because I want to spend the coming months on reproducing those images by as many means as I can.  The sky and the light are going to get me through the winter.  I can hardly wait to start...either that or move to Cape Cod.

Meanwhile, though, because I'm a social animal, and because I belong to four quilting groups, I still immerse myself in challenges from those groups, like the Crazy Quilt, which came from my membership in Women Against the Grain.

The next project on my work table is another group challenge, this one from, the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective. http://www.ctfac.blogspot.com/ It's for an exhibit at Hartford Public Library, centering on a theme of civil rights, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and offered in conjunction with the library's recent loan/acquisition of two large collage murals by African-American artist Romare Bearden.  To honor Bearden, we're encouraged to make quilts in a collage style.

Here's a look at the murals and their transportation to the library:  http://blogs.hplct.org/?p=823

So:  the theme for this quilt exhibit is to be civil rights. What better way to show interracial cooperation and harmony than the image of a pair of black hands working with a pair of white hands?  This stunning image is currently on my light table, with a piece of tracing paper over it, waiting to be traced. I received permission to use it from Dani Abrams, the photographer who took it.  I approached Dani via her mom, basketmaker Jackie Abrams, whose hands are on the right in the photo, and who taught basketry at Snow Farm, where I went to learn the art of thread painting. 


Part of my stay at Snow Farm included a slide show by all the teachers who were teaching that weekend, and Jackie Abrams was among them. I didn't think I was interested in the art of basketry until I looked at Jackie's work, which you can see on her blog:  http://www.jackieabrams.com/

As part of her slide show, Jackie talked about teaching the art of basket weaving in Africa, and one souvenir of that experience was this photo taken by her daughter Dani, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia at the time:

I had gone to Snow Farm primed for synchronicity:  the experience of being open to possibility and potentials that weren't there unless you'd been primed for ...something.  It's a concept described in depth in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, http://juliacameronlive.com/the-artists-way/  which I am reading for the umpteenth time with an Artist's Way group at my religious congregation, the Unitarian Society of Hartford.

So after Jackie gave her talk, I stuck my neck out and went up to her and asked her whether I could use her daughter's image, thinking that it would be perfect for an art quilt with a civil rights theme, and that seeing and asking for it would be a perfect experience of synchronicity.  Jackie said she would ask her daughter, the photographer, and after a few days, I had Dani Abrams' permission, to my great delight. I plan to re-create the image in the style of Susan Carlson, a quilt artist who works in the collage style and who happens to be coming to Hartford in a week. 
Here's a look at her collage-type style:http://www.susancarlson.com/Welcome.html

Jackie herself suggested that I look to the work of quilter Deidre Scherer for examples of hands.  Good advice.  Look at these examples of her work:

Susan Carlson will be here to address the Greater Hartford Quilt Guild, but because she'll be in town, another of my quilt groups, the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective, has snagged her for an extra day.  She'll give us a coaching lesson in her style, but to meet her halfway, each of us will have an image traced onto a background and ready to get collaged.  Because her style is collage, this coaching will be perfect for pieces for our Romare Bearden show.

And that's what I'm working on today...from Bearden through neurodiversity to wing fat. What a range.

If you stuck with me all the way through, thank you and your stars.