Tuesday, August 15, 2017

At the State Fair 1

This is the third or fourth year that I have been asked to judge the textile entries in the Fine Arts and Crafts division of the Kentucky State Fair, and yesterday was my day to do the deed.  I'm not going to reveal who got the ribbons until later in the week, since the Fair doesn't officially open till Thursday, but I do have some thoughts to share.

One of the five textile categories is for "Traditional Textile Techniques, Non-Textile Materials."  It's a category that every year I think should bring forth exciting and exotic works of art, and every year doesn't.  No different this year.

When I contemplate this category I think of many memorable artworks that I've seen in other shows; here are several from the Surface Design Association show at Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center last year.  The show was called "Transgressing Traditions" and a lot of the entries would have fit nicely into my category.

Eszter Bornemisza, Next Page (detail) -- X-ray films sewed into a huge, spectacular tapestry

Emily Dvorin, Urban Ephemeral -- basket made of plastic tubing, cable ties, wire and other stuff

Roz Ritter, The Great Unknown (detail) -- hand embroidery on paper

Christine Holtz, Ten Second Rule (detail) -- junk food wrappers sewed together

There are a lot of fine fiber artists in our part of the world, many of whom like to enter the State Fair, and I don't know why there's this blank spot when it comes to non-textile materials.

Perhaps it's simply because fiber artists love working with fibers -- drawn to the material rather than to the technique.  Using one's knitting skills, say, with wire instead of yarn, may seem too conceptual or arid.  (Also it may hurt the hands.)

But I'd still love to see more work like this, to push the boundaries of what we think of as fiber art, to be a little more edgy, to take a few more risks.  Maybe next year.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My favorite things 33

Many years ago, the League of Women Voters saved my life.  I was back from three years living in Germany, but feeling like a stranger in the city we had returned to; instead of a young single woman working at an exciting career, I was a slightly less young married woman with an almost-two-year-old, no job and precious little to fill the day besides library books, grocery shopping and changing diapers.  Life seemed not particularly rewarding, it didn't look like that was going to change any time soon, and I was feeling desperate.

My friend Dot Ridings, called me up one day and ordered me to come to a League meeting next week.  The next thing I knew, I had a job doing the newsletter and was thrilled to be able to spend several hours each week with adults talking -- and doing something -- about affairs of substance.

Dot went on to a distinguished run as national president of the League of Women Voters and several other high-power posts in journalism and non-profits, but at the time she too was a young mother, on leave from her own career and searching for something meaningful to fill the gap.  She told me the League had saved her life, and if would save my life, and she was right.

The League became so important to me that after my second child was born, we detoured on the way from the hospital to visit the office before he even got home.  The first child remembers fondly being a brat on camera while I was being interviewed by a TV reporter about voting procedures.  Both children remember stopping off at the polls on the way to or from school so they could be lifted up to "help" me vote; sometimes the whole carpool got to "help."  The League had a little dummy voting machine, about the size of a ream of paper, that I would take to school for demonstrations as election days approached.

Eventually I held practically every job there was on the local board, including president, and when we had a major remodeling job, I rescued this sign from the dumpster, and now it hangs outside my office.  It had hung over the back door of the League building for decades, inviting women to come in and put their formidable, but so often underutilized, talents to work for the public good.  It's hard to remember how quickly society's expectations have changed, how within my own adulthood the majority of educated women did not have paid employment, did not have that many outlets for their energies and intelligence and ambition.

For so many other women, as well as myself, the League -- and other volunteer organizations focused on social change and good works -- was indeed an ENTRANCE to a world in which our skills and energies were developed and appreciated.  I treasure those years of volunteer work and the organization that was, and is, almost always on the right side of every issue.  Would that today's political scene still valued the informed participation of citizens in government.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What's the opposite of an artist?

So often a day late and a dollar short, I just saw among the "most read features" in the New York Times one called "What Is Your Opposite Job?"  Somebody thought to tap into the Labor Department's breakdown of the skills and tasks required for every job, and make an interactive feature where you can enter your job and learn the "polar opposite."

Not sure why you would want to know this, although the article suggests that "breaking a job into its component parts helps us look beyond the obvious and think clearly about the things that people actually do."

So I typed "quilter" into the box, and got no results.  Apparently nothing starting with Q is on the Labor Department's list of occupations.  Typed "sewing" in and chose "sewing machine operator" and when I selected that, my opposite job popped up -- chief executive!  Ouch!  So perhaps that explains why my corporate career stopped three levels away from CEO -- it was because my sewist's "ability to quickly and precisely adjust controls on a machine" is hardly ever used by CEOs.  (Maybe that's why my personal CEO always had to holler for his secretary to retrieve his voice mail.)

Intrigued, I tried "fine artist, including painter, sculptor and illustrator"  and "craft artist" -- and the opposite job for each of these was physicist.  Apparently "thinking creatively," "originality," "visualization" and "fluency of ideas," all skills that artists allegedly use the most, mean nothing in physics.  (Tell that to Einstein.)

But then I scrolled back to the top of the article and found these teasers:  "The opposite job of a kindergarten teacher is a physicist."  "The opposite job of a chief executive is an agricultural grader (whatever that is)."

So following the rules of logic, if this algorithm has any substance to it, you would expect that "fine artist," "craft artist" and "kindergarten teacher" all have the same skill set, and that "sewing machine operator" and "agricultural grader (whatever that is)" have the same skill set.  Hmmm.  Actually when you look at the skill lists, artists and teachers have zero items in common.  Kindergarten teachers, for instance, apparently have "geography" and "philosophy and theology" among their top ten skills, whereas you may have noticed most artists don't.

On the other hand, it gives me, and perhaps many other sewing machine operators, a certain degree of comfort to know that this is our polar opposite:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Form, Not Function 4 -- more machine quilting

More machine quilting that I liked in the FNF show --

Barbara Nepom, Emergent (detail below)

The contrast of diamond-shaped puffy unquilted areas with perfectly regular straight lines gave some excitement to a calm composition.

Erika Carter, Refresh IV (detail below)

Dense echo quilting in the background, sparser meanders on the flower forms made the flowers stand out.  The quilt won an honorable mention.

Deborah Hyde, Sam in Sunlight (detail below)

For the second year in a row, Deborah's clever technique of letting a portrait emerge from a traditional around-the-world piecing pattern wowed FNF viewers.  The composition alone is worthy of admiration, but more subtle is the use of quilting to complement both pictorial and geometric elements. Contour quilting emphasized the facial features and helped them emerge from the background, while geometric quilting lines flattened the other areas and made them more like a traditional quilt.

Several posts to go before I exhaust the possibilities in this excellent show.  It's on display at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany IN through September 16.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My favorite things 32

I received a Cuisinart for Christmas 1979.  Food processors were relatively new consumer items and I felt like a daring early adopter; didn't take long for the little machine to become an essential part of my life. It also didn't take long for the new models of the machine to start getting "upgraded" with features and gewgaws that I read about in ads and didn't think I would like.

By 1992 I had started to worry that my machine would some day die, and would I then have to buy one of these overpriced, over-accessorized models then on the market?  In particular, I had noticed that the new models were engineered to save me from myself, with convoluted "safety features" that would, for instance, not allow me to push new basil leaves into the machine while it was running, thus doubling the time to make a batch of pesto.

Fortunately my mother was downsizing, and had never loved her Cuisinart (the very same model as mine) enough to take it with her to the retirement community, so I called dibs on it.  Imagine my dismay when she and my sister phoned one afternoon to update me on their packing up the house, and they told me they had taken the Cuisinart to the Goodwill store that morning!  My shriek could have been heard in Virginia without the telephone.  They got in the car, went back to the Goodwill and ransomed the Cuisinart, which made its way to me.

Sure enough, my machine died one day, but I was able to haul Mom's machine out of the closet and set it to work.  I also ended up with two bowls, two tops, four blades and two pushers, which has forever made it easier to work without having to stop and wash up.

But the poor dear Cuisinart is showing its age.  I have no idea what I did to put that horrible burn/melt onto the pusher.  The bowls have ominous striations that look like the plastic wants to shred under stress; some of the little hooks and tabs that lock the bowl and top together have broken off; the spring sometimes sticks in the ON position instead of releasing when I turn the top; one of the plastic blades broke earlier this year; the cord has electrical tape wrapped around where it comes out of the base.  I figured this sort of thing happens in old age, but the Cuisinart, like me, would continue to soldier on despite aches and pains.

But last week something really bad happened.  I affixed the bowl to the base and the machine turned on, even though the bowl hadn't been turned into place to trip the switch.  The little red spot, right above the second I in Cuisinart, is a plastic membrane that protects a switch underneath; the vertical tube on the bowl has a spring-loaded piston that is supposed to depress whatever lies underneath the red membrane.  But it seems that the red membrane has disintegrated into cruddy bits, and that seems to be enough to render the switch permanently ON.

What to do now?  I made pesto the other night by inserting and pulling the plug out of the wall to turn the machine on and off.  Worked OK, but I feel vulnerable, especially when a spark flies upon pulling.  I guess life has really and truly run out for my wonderful machine.  I am too depressed even to start to research what is available in food processor technology these days; I'm afraid it will be just like in the late 80s, way too many protect-you-from-yourself features and way too expensive.  User testimonials welcome.

I do know one thing -- I have to figure out a way to incorporate this machine, or at least some of its parts, into my art.  It's been too close to my heart, too necessary to my life, for almost 40 years to just deposit it in the recycle bin.

Friday, August 4, 2017

QBL leftovers

The last time I taught a multi-day workshop I had the idea to ask my students to each give me a couple of leftover bits from their projects, and I sewed them together into a little souvenir quilt.  I enjoyed that exercise so much that I wanted to do it again at Quilting By the Lake.  But this time instead of asking for contributions, I decided to simply go around and raid the scrap bags at each table.

The last three days of the workshop were fine line piecing, but the scrap bags didn't acquire many bits with fine lines; I think many people packed up everything on their worktables to take home and finish their projects.  So most of the scraps I rescued were simply strips and pieces of solids.

I got a lot of piecing done during the workshop, and by the time I came home I had perhaps two-thirds of this quilt sewed, or in large modules ready to put together.  But scraps breed in the dark, you know, and whenever I thought I was about finished I would realize that there was still quite a bit of fabric there.

You can see how I added several long strips on various edges, expanding from the original center of about eight rectangular modules.

And you can also see how the quilt gained a final border when I found Jayne's scrap bag, which I had stowed in a separate place in my car and didn't come inside until yesterday.  Jayne had pitched a substantial chunk of maroon fabric with fine orange lines, which I cut up to make the dark borders.  There wasn't quite enough to go all the way around, so the top border is quite a bit more random than the other three, not to mention a half-inch narrower.

When I got the quilt this far I had to admit this was the end.  All I had left was a pile of truly miscellaneous scraps, mostly too narrow to accomplish much with.

I sorted through and found a small pile of pieces large enough to do something with, bagged them up neatly and put away.

And then -- yes, I did -- I threw the rest away!!  The old Kathy would have dumped them into a grocery bag and stashed it underneath the worktable, just as I kept three bags of scraps salvaged from other people's throwaways for two and a half years after my last trip to the Crow Barn.  The new Kathy pitched this whole pile (not without a few second thoughts....)