Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My birthday present

My sons took me out last week for a birthday celebration, perfectly calibrated to the things I love to do, and none of the things I don't.  First off, sushi for lunch.

Next, two store visits, in which  the guys would buy me anything I wanted -- the restaurant supply store and Harbor Freight, that cheap-crap extravaganza where you can buy the low-end Chinese version of any tool you might ever want.  Ah yes, they know me well -- I don't do well in fancy stores but show me stuff for $1.99 and I am happy.

In each of the stores we walked every one of the aisles, discussing all the things for sale -- what you might use them for, what makes them so expensive (or so cheap).  Stories of kitchen and shop mishaps of the past abounded.  A few legitimate needs were answered, plus a bunch of impulse buys, but of course the conversation and the companionship were the best parts of the afternoon.

Here are some of my new toys:

a sheath for my good Wusthof knife

an array of clamps, magnets, wire brushes and a little tape measure with a carabiner to hook onto your belt

and best of all, a little pull saw.  For years I've been working with a little electric saw that cuts nice and clean until the last 1/16th of an inch, at which point the wood breaks off in a splinter (lots of sandpaper used in my shop).  And for years I've been bemoaning the lack of a decent vise to hold the wood while I cut it.

The new saw solves both problems.  Because it cuts on the pull stroke, you don't need a vise, just a piece of wood clamped to the bench.  Nestle your dowel or whatever against the lip, hold the saw horizontally and saw against the edge of the wood till the teeth just graze the surface of the bench.  Just a bit of guidance from your left hand to hold the other end of the dowel against the wood lip, while the action of the saw holds the business end firmly in place with each stroke.

A wonderful birthday celebration!  We sure raised a couple of great kids.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My favorite things 29

My parents were great travelers in their later years, just as happy on a cargo ship as on an ocean liner or driving across the Canadian plains.  But as they hit the high 80s they realized that their usual intrepid travel M.O was getting more difficult.  So Ken and I decided to help them out with one last hurrah.  The four of us went to Norway in 1999 to take the famous Hurtigruten cruise, originally the route of the mail boats that carried mail, cargo and passengers along the coast, serving communities that might not have road connections to the rest of the country.

Today the ships still leave Bergen every afternoon, headed for Kirkenes at the Russian border, and take 13 days on the round trip, stopping at 26 ports along the way.  In the big town of Trondheim the stop is six hours; in some of the tiny places it might be ten minutes, perhaps in the middle of the night.  The ships still carry cargo -- our favorite was the one-meter-cubes of salted cod, shrinkwrapped on pallets and left on the dock to be loaded on the next vessel -- but there are as many tourists as locals on the voyage.

Ken and I humped the baggage -- eight big bags among the four of us -- on and off planes, trains, buses, cabs and ships, while Mom and Dad enjoyed the trip.  It was their last big expedition.

I bought only one souvenir on the trip: a reindeer horn which I bought at an outdoor market at one of the towns in Lapland.  Others in my family didn't think much of this purchase, unwieldy to pack in a suitcase, and besides, what did I need with a reindeer horn?  They were right on both counts, but it called to me.  Not only was it unwieldy to bring home, but it has been unwieldy for 18 years.  It currently lives in my office, hooked over the window crank handle.  Inconvenient when I want to open the window, but it still calls to me, saying "I'm so glad you brought me here."

On the way home we changed planes in Reykjavik and Mom bought me these three little ceramic pieces at the airport gift shop.  They're small, the hallmark of a great souvenir, and adorable.  The church is 2 1/2 inches tall, and they're all about 3/4 inch deep and a bit wonky.  Something about the simple but jaunty structures always reminds me of that trip, a glimpse of a calmer, less complex time and place.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cleaning up the slut dolls

Being the kind of grandmother who doesn't buy toys for the kids, I had been blissfully ignorant of slut dolls -- the modern-day Barbies that present their own warped vision of women, except even worse.  I was too old to play with Barbies as a kid but have certainly read reams of commentary about their figures, their wardrobes, their roles in society, mostly agreeing that Barbie is no friend to feminists.  Now that bad vibe has morphed into slut dolls, those that look like hookers on the stroll, complete with collagen-fat lips, too much eye makeup, stilettos and waistband-length skirts.

But my friend Denise has discovered a way to repurpose slut dolls into lovely little girls with no makeup, appropriate clothing and a nice, innocent look, and giving them to her 7-year-old granddaughter.  It all started when she happened upon the work of an Australian artist and mom, Sonia Singh, who has created a little empire of Tree Change Dolls.  Apparently you can buy them on eBay, but Denise was drawn to the directions for DIY.

It's simple -- rescue doll from thrift store, remove the painted face with acetone, then paint on age-appropriate features.  Strip off the hookerwear and make better clothes.  Cut and restyle hair as needed.  Slice down the feet.

Here's a before-and-after pair.  Denise enlisted our friend Bette to crochet a sweater for this new look doll, who also got a haircut and a lovely new hat.  Fortunately she already owned a pair of full-length jeans, even if the sequins are a bit flashy. New shoes or boots are still to come.

Denise has several dolls in process, a worthy endeavor for any artistic grandmother.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Permission granted -- or maybe not

A couple of years ago I taught a class in fine line piecing in Boston, after which one of the students, G. Wong, made a couple of quite large quilts using that technique.  She wrote me last year to ask permission to enter her quilts in a show, and then wrote again last week to tell me that one of those quilts won three ribbons at the Vermont Quilt Festival in June.

G. Wong, Going on a Trip 2

And she wanted permission again, to enter the Road to California show.  I responded to her email immediately and said "I'd be happy for you to exhibit any of your fine lines quilts at Road to California, or anywhere else.  I don't feel that I own this technique any more than any other teacher "owns" whatever she teaches."

Then I looked up the new show rules and had second thoughts -- not about giving her permission, but about being asked to give permission.  Apparently this big show has changed its rules, redefining categories and including a strict new "copyright release" form.

I'd like to think that these new rules will crack down on the indiscriminate copying of other people's photos or paintings into quilt format, practices which have bothered me in the past.  However, I suspect that for every copycat work that doesn't get entered in Road to California, at least one will come up with enough paperwork to do so anyway.  (I am not so much bothered by copying photos without permission as I am by copying photos period.)

What does bother me about the new rules is not the first paragraph, which reads "If you use the designs, photography, art, pattern or quilt created by another person as the source of your design, you must obtain that individual's written permission....  This applies whether you have copied, altered, or used only a portion of the design."

OK so far -- but then the second paragraph says "This is considered derivative work, which by definition is 'something that is based on another source' and 'imitative of the work of another person.' Designs are considered intellectual property and are covered under the copyright laws of the United States."

Now think for a minute, and show me any painting ever displayed in any museum, or any quilt ever displayed in any quilt show, that isn't "based on another source."

After I thought about this for a while I wrote my student back again and told her "I don't think your quilts in any way infringe on my copyright.  I don't believe that you can copyright an idea, and you certainly have not used my designs, photography, art, pattern or quilt in making yours.  I also don't believe that their definition of derivative work is helpful in this situation, as just about every quilt ever made is based on another source.  I don't consider the fine line piecing technique to be my intellectual property and would never dream of suing you.

In the interests of protecting artists' rights I would prefer that you not sign the copyright release, since I do not believe you are infringing upon my copyright or that I have any potential legal claim.  I think you should check the "maker's original design" box on the form.

I understand you may be hesitant to follow my preference, since the show organizers have defined "copyright" so broadly, in which case feel free to submit my earlier email if you are asked for it.  But if you're feeling feisty then I encourage you to submit this as an original design, which I believe it is."

I wonder what effect these new rules will have on the quality of work in the Road to California show.  Will it cut down on the quilts that simply copy a photo?  Will it cut down on quilts made from patterns or copied from somebody else's quilt?

And I especially wonder how other teachers will respond when their former students or the purchasers of their book ask for permission to enter a quilt made with those ideas.  Will they ask to see a photo of the quilt to see whether it's a slavish copy or just a vague sorta-copy?  Will they deny permission?  (And if so, will they announce that fact far enough in advance for people to not attend the workshop or get their money back?)  Will they charge for permission?  Will they hold their former students and readers in artistic indentured servitude for years or decades?

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic.  And I'm not sure what motivation is behind the new Road to California rules, or what they're trying to weed out.  But I'll check on the winners when they're announced in January and see whether the rules have delivered an excellent crop of work, or just more of the same-old, same-old.

What do you think?  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My favorite things 28

For many years my husband was a prolific gardener, tending huge swaths of flowers in every part of our heaven's-half-acre, and I was the happy recipient of armloads of blooms throughout growing season.  I always had flowers to take to work, and several vases going in the house.  Which meant I needed lots of vases.  And many of the vases took on specialized functions: this one perfect for daffodils, this one for tulips, that one for the single bloom with a two-inch stem.

Our flower production is nowhere what it used to be, thanks to the inexorable growth of the deer population and my husband's desire to spend less time weeding, but we do have gladiolas in the summer, and when there are a whole lot of them, we use this pitcher as a vase.  Tall enough to support tall stems, wide enough at the bottom to provide stability even when the flowers are cantilevered out in space, with a convenient handle for carrying.

It was a wedding present to my grandmother, more than a century ago, Sèvres porcelain, with a dainty design of berries.  As most of our glads these days are in shades of pink, it's color-coordinated as well as beautiful in its own right.

When I first acquired this pitcher, from my mother's downsized collection, it was dedicated to lemonade; a big can of frozen lemonade just about filled the pitcher when I doctored it up with more water and more lemon juice.  But somewhere along the line it transmogrified from pitcher to vase, and changed its allegiance from lemonade to glads.  I think it's happier this way.  I know I am.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Grandchildren and fiber art 2

We have this new grandchild, two months old today, who lives only two miles up the road, and we get to see her quite frequently.  The only problem is that almost every time we see her she's asleep.

Her parents will call us and say "She just woke up, and we just fed her, and she's all bouncy and wide awake, how about if we bring her over right now?"  But when they arrive, fifteen minutes later, she's back asleep.  We'll take turns holding her, poking her cheek and wiggling her arm and even putting a cold glass against her tummy, but she just dreams on.  It's gotten to be a big joke in the family.

So here's the doting grandma, tired of wake-up games.  Some day the kid will be running around this very living room talking a lot and leaving her toys underfoot.  For now, give me my crocheting and a glass of wine.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Grandchildren and fiber art 1

A couple of years ago when I was teaching at the Crow Barn I brought home three grocery bags full of other people's fabric discards.  Because I was teaching fine line piecing, and Nancy Crow was teaching strip piecing upstairs, there were lots of leftover strips donated to my recycling art.  I've been working with these strips ever since, sorting out and sewing together those that match into little compositions.

By now I'm really down to the dregs, a half bag full of the very last of the scraps.

But there's still some use in them.  The six-year-old roots through the bag when he sews.  Last week he found a couple of bits of strip piecing that became the centerpiece of a hanging he made for his mother.

He added some sew-off squares and some paper circles that were left from one of my projects in which I made holes in cards.

One of the things that I love about sewing with children is that they make you think twice about what can't or shouldn't be done.  I had pulled out a couple of sew-off squares and set them by the machine, thinking that he might want to sew off the edge.  He decided to sew them into the composition instead.  My first thought was oh no, those aren't for your hanging, they're for sewing off the edge.  Fortunately, I held my tongue.

Similarly, my first response, when he asked whether he could use the paper circles, was no -- I had just put in a brand new needle after a couple of days of sewing on paper.  But quickly enough I thought why not, and replaced the new needle with the old dull one, which had conveniently been set aside, pinned into a piece of paper to signify its low caste.

The sew-offs and the circles do enliven the work a lot, even though I probably wouldn't have thought to use them if I had been the artist.  Maybe the moral of this story is to pretend you're working with a six-year-old even when you're just working with yourself.  When your first reaction is no, I can't do that, stop for a minute and say why not?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My favorite things 27

Faithful readers of this blog may know that I am a flag junkie so you can imagine how exciting it was for us to buy a 20-foot flagpole for our front yard six years ago this week.  And what a nifty flagpole it is.

Instead of raising the flag with a rope, the traditional method, with this model you raise the flagpole!  It telescopes into five-foot sections, so you start with a very short pole, hook your flag onto rings with clasps, and then raise each section one by one.  When each section gets fully extended, you turn the pole an inch and it drops down into a groove that keeps everything in place.

Our house is set back from the street and the street numbers, although they're six inches tall, are affixed to the wall and unless you know where to look you could easily miss them.  So it's nice now to be able to tell people "we're the house with the big flagpole."

After we got the flagpole and wore out our first 3x5-foot flag I upgraded to 4x6, and when that wore out I wanted an even bigger one, but was told that the wind forces up that high are too strong for a bigger flag, which would apparently fill like a sail and float our entire yard away in a gale.  Didn't want that to happen, so we're making do.

Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Mile-o'-handwork 3 -- the installation

The wall of the gallery that the mile-o'-handwork had to occupy is a strange one: it's pierced by two windows that connect the back room show gallery to the front room sales gallery.  The show committee arranged five of my cakes and three much larger ones of Debby's at the base of the wall, and unrolled enough to make several vertical drapes up and down in front of the windows and on the wall.

I was happy to see the strips on display, but not happy with the overall effect.  I keep thinking I wandered into the janitor's closet and found a bunch of mops, buckets and vacuum cleaners standing there, with their hoses and handles inexplicably reaching up to the ceiling.  I think I'll embargo this project until I get a whole lot more work made, and when it does come out again in public I think I'll keep way more of the cakes rolled up and a lot fewer strips stretched out across space.  So all in all, a valuable experiment, and lots of ideas for the future!

By the way, here's a close-up of Debby's knitted strips.

And here's a close-up of my crochet.

I'll show you some of the other work in the show next week.  Unfortunately the show comes down today so it's too late for me to urge you to drop in.  Had I not been out of town I would have gotten there earlier in the run.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mile-o'-handwork 2 -- how to display it

When Debby and I first talked about the mile-o'-handwork we thought it would be a nifty idea to stretch our strips out across the Big Four Bridge, a pedestrian bridge across the Ohio River that we are fond of walking on.  The length of the bridge walk is one mile, so that would make a perfect installation.  This idea lasted for a while until I realized that I liked the look of my rolled-up cakes more than I liked the look of the crochet extended.  And besides, if I stretched the work out on the bridge it would get dirty.

So my thinking was that I would like to display the work -- if that ever became a possibility -- mostly rolled up, with just enough of the strips unrolled so people could see what the cakes were made of.  This thought process was academic, as I had no possible venues for display, and besides, I would like this hypothetical installation to be much bigger.  So I kept crocheting.

Meanwhile Debby was knitting, and one day she had an inspiration, which was to use her long strips to make writing on the ground.  When we were at our art retreat this spring she wrote out her favorite catchphrase from the Wizard of Oz on the back lawn.

Two very different ideas for what to do with the project, which showed no signs of ever getting finished.

But then the proposition!

Our local fiber and textile art group was having a juried show in a small gallery.  Because of the size of the gallery, there was a size limit: 24 inches wide.  Perhaps because of the size limit, or some other twist of the rules, we didn't get a whole lot of entries, and of course the entries that were selected were pretty small.

The show committee went from worrying that we would overflow the gallery to worrying that we wouldn't be able to fill it adequately.  And somebody had an idea: why not have a small display of the mile-o'-handwork!  Everybody in the group knew about our project, because both Debby and I had been working on it during meetings for years.

So I delivered one box of cakes to the gallery early this month with the directions "do whatever you think is best."  And finally this week I got out to see the installation (not a moment too soon, because the show closes tomorrow).  I'll show it to you tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mile-o'-handwork 1 -- genesis

Several years ago my art-and-walking pal Debby Levine, who is a master knitter, had a brilliant idea -- she would make a mile of knitting.  We talked about this idea over a period of weeks as we walked.  The more we kicked the tires, the more we realized how big a task that would be.  She revised her plans to make the knitting narrower, but it was still daunting. Then in a moment of temporary insanity I said to her "You make a half mile of knitting and I'll make a half mile of crochet."

I thought this would be a good way to use up those bits and pieces of yarn left over from afghans, and for a while that was going great, until I used up all my bits and pieces.  Then I started grabbing all the yarns from grab bag and crocheting them.  My crochet is about four inches wide, most happy when I'm working with low-rent acrylic yarn.  I roll the finished strip into a jellyroll until it gets wide enough to fit into a banker's box.

My grandson thinks these bundles look like cakes, so that's what I call them.  At any given moment I have several going, one in a bag in the car to take with me to meetings or other public events, one in the studio, a couple on the sofa where I watch TV, one in the living room to work on if company comes.

I tried to resolve that I would never buy any yarn for this project but simply use leftovers.  But about a year ago I got desperate for raw materials and bent my principles enough to go to the Good Garbage Store's going-out-of-business sale, where I got about 50 skeins of yarn for about 35 cents each.

I have five or six boxes so far, five cakes to a box.  A couple of years ago I took everything I had finished over to the house of a friend with a really long room, and we unrolled and measured all the cakes.  It seemed that I was maybe 20% of the way to my half mile, which didn't seem like all that much progress for all the time I was putting in.  But I am not discouraged.  I will keep crocheting, and I trust that the Lord will provide yarn like manna in the wilderness.  And someday I will display the work.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My favorite things 26

Sequoyah, the great Cherokee leader, born around 1776, fought in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson against the British.  He and his fellow Cherokee soldiers realized during the war that their inability to read and write was a serious problem: they could not write letters home, read military orders, or keep records.  After the war he resolved to create a system to write the Cherokee language.

He ended up with 85 symbols that represented syllables, and thousands of Cherokees learned to read and write the new alphabet.  By 1825 the Bible and many hymns had been translated into Cherokee, and Sequoyah began publishing a newspaper in 1828 using type produced by a Boston foundry.

After the Cherokees were driven from their homeland by their former commander, Jackson, Sequoyah had to abandon his printshop in New Echota, GA.  In 1958 archaeologists unearthed it and the type was cleaned up and used to print this proof sheet, which ended up in my father's possession and then in my own.  (This is just a display of all the characters in the font, not made into words.)

I am amazed at how tiny the characters are -- about the size of the stock market listings in the Wall Street Journal -- and how keen the eyes of the printer and his readers must have been to distinguish so many very similar characters.  Here's a contemporary version of the alphabet:

My dad acquired all kinds of strange and wonderful things in his long life and extensive travels, many of them related to printing, and they are among my most treasured possessions.  Although the technology of printing has changed dramatically within my own lifetime -- even within my own professional lifetime -- I am always inspired by reminders of the way it used to be.  One guy with a printing press, a font of type, and a vision can truly change the world.

PS Happy birthday, Dad!  I bet they have good newspapers in Heaven.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thoughts on judging 3

One more response to a comment left on my post about judging.  Charlotte wrote that there's a difference between "shows" and "exhibits" -- that shows are composed of a bunch of different things while exhibits are curated around some kind of theme or concept -- and that exhibits need to be cohesive but shows don't.  I think that's a very good distinction, except I'd add that exhibits don't even necessarily need to be cohesive.  The only reason I even mentioned the C-word is that so frequently you hear it in statements like "don't be hurt if your work if rejected from a show; it's probably perfectly wonderful but it just didn't fit in with the jurors' vision of a cohesive show."  I've always taken such statements to be (a) untrue (b) patronizing and (c) smarmy.

She also commented that talking things over with others helps you develop your ideas, and she always gets more out of a show by going with a friend and discussing the art.  I would agree 100 percent -- if you're talking about simply looking at art.  Indeed, that may be the subject of a whole different post next week!

But that's a different context than jurying and judging.  I would hope that people invited to be jurors or judges have already developed their own ideas pretty well.  As a juror or judge, your job is to look at the artwork and make critical decisions -- and they should be your own decisions.

I am not totally against discussion in the jurying or judging process, because sometimes I have found it to be helpful in reaching a consensus.  Some shows have multiple jurors for selecting which quilts get into the show, but then have just one judge choose the prizewinners.  This may be a good compromise approach.  (At the 2014 Quilts = Art = Quilts show at the Schweinfurth Art Center, I served on the selection jury and then was the sole prize judge.  I can testify that making the decisions all by yourself is a lot harder than doing it as a group!)

Kit Vincent, Chaos: the butterfly effect -- I chose this quilt as best in show at  Q=A=Q 2014

I'm not sure I would like to have totally blind judging.  But I can testify to the danger of being swayed by the strong personality in the room.

I once was on a jury that got together the afternoon before a show opened to look at the quilts in person and award the prizes.  We circled the room and looked closely at all the quilts.  Then we sat down to make the decision.  The show sponsor gave us a list of six or seven awards to give out.

One of the jurors was way higher on the food chain than the others and spoke first.  She wanted to start at the bottom of the list -- first we'd choose who got the honorable mentions, then who got the special awards, then choose third, second, and finally best in show.

I thought this was a really strange approach and said I didn't think that was the best way to go.  No, no, that was the way she wanted to do it!!  But how is that going to work out?  No, no, that was the way she wanted to do it!!  I couldn't talk her down, and the other juror sat there without saying anything, so I gave up.

Sure enough, after we gave out all the minor awards we ended up with arguably the two best quilts in contention for best in show.  We argued.  Eventually we chose one and the other one, instead of getting second prize, got nothing!  I felt guilty, even though the quilt I liked got the prize, because I thought we had shafted the other person, simply because of the weird process.  But two of us weren't able to overrule the big-cheese juror on an issue that she really wanted to win.

Would blind judging lead to better shows and better art?  I have no idea.  But it's interesting to contemplate.  What do you think?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thoughts on judging 2

After I wrote about judging earlier this week, several readers left interesting comments -- rather than reply in the comment section, which people might not go back to, I thought it deserved a full post.

Irene commented that judges often focus on workmanship over design.  I think that may be true for shows that bill themselves primarily as quilt shows -- for instance, Houston and Paducah --  but less so for those purporting to have an art focus -- for instance, Quilt National and Art Quilt Elements.  At least I would like to think so.  I am continually amazed by the awards given at Houston in the categories labeled "art quilts" -- usually slavish copies of other people's paintings or photos get the big prizes.  Yes, that's good workmanship, but the task is simply one of accurately translating an image from some other medium into fabric.  It may take a lot of skill, but I don't think that skill deserves a $5,000 award.

Helen commented that judges are given way too little time to look at each quilt and don't seem to realize what they're all about.  That's true certainly for huge unjuried shows such as the state fair -- I've had occasion several times to be passing by during the quilt judging at the Kentucky State Fair, and they do whip through them pretty quickly (from the conversations I've overheard, they tend to zoom in on the quality of mitered corners and stitch length and then quickly move on to the next one).

In juried shows with a lot of entries there may be a tendency to zip through the early rounds too quickly.  I don't know if Quilt National has changed its procedures, but the first time I was accepted into that show (2003) there was much hoo-ha about their first-round system.  Each slide was put up on the screen for three seconds or so, and jurors had to vote yes or no.  Unless you got two votes you were out immediately. They were so proud of this system that they had a TV set over in the corner of the exhibit that was running a loop of about 25 actual entries, three seconds a pop, and visitors were invited to make their own judgments.  Some of the quilts shown had been accepted into the show and some had been rejected.  I remember this vividly because my quilt was one of the 25 in the guinea pig loop.  I have always wondered whether other people besides the jurors chose it on its three-second audition.

Black I -- shown in Quilt National '03

Most shows that I have juried don't have that many entries and thus allow jurors more time.  Now that the internet makes remote viewing easy, I have usually been asked to look at all the entries at home at leisure and send in my initial votes, but the serious discussion and horse-trading happens when everybody gets together, either in person or by phone.

More comments to respond to tomorrow.

(Thanks, as always, to everybody who leaves a comment!  It's much more fun to conduct a blog as a conversation rather than a lecture.)  (And still time to share your thoughts about judging.  Leave a comment after today's post or after the earlier one; I'll read them all.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thoughts on judging

Earlier this month we attended the finals of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, which occurs every four years in Fort Worth TX.  By the time we arrived, the field of 30 contestants, all aged 18-30, had been narrowed to six, and we got to hear each of them twice, once in a long piano quintet (piano plus string quartet) and once in a concerto with full orchestra.

From left: third-place Daniel Hsu, second-place Kenneth Broberg, first-place Yekwon Sunwoo

It was a great week for music but I've also been thinking about the scoring system.  During the whole three weeks of the competition the nine jurors were forbidden to talk to one another about the competitors or anything they played.  When it was time to cut the field of 30 down to 20, each juror was given a piece of paper with 20 blank lines, and wrote down the names of the 20 people he or she wanted to hear again.  A computer program digested the submissions and came up with the results.  At the very end, the jurors chose from among the six finalists by each writing down one name for first place (again, the computer digested the votes), then after the winner was decided, writing down one name for second, and finally one name for third.

The voting method was the subject of much discussion during the week, by spectators and by the jurors themselves.  Several of them, in a panel discussion, echoed the sentiments of the guy who runs the Cliburn, who said he was determined to have a competition without subjective decision-making.  He said too often competition juries make their choices by consensus, and thus the results can easily be swayed by the juror with the biggest reputation, the most forceful personality and/or the most articulate powers of persuasion.

This made me think about jurying in the visual art world.  I've participated in juried quilt, fiber and all-medium shows, both as an entrant and as a juror, and as far as I know, the prevalent model is for the jurors to confer among themselves.  Sometimes jurors look at the submissions independently to begin with, and might even winnow down the field with secret ballot voting in the early rounds, but the usual approach is for a lot of discussion and horse-trading towards the end, both in terms of selecting the entrants and awarding the prizes.

Often when there's a jurors' statement included in the show catalog, they will make a big point of how they talked it over for such a long time before they finally came to decision, or how there was much disagreement in choosing the winners.  I know from being a juror in several shows that the end-stage discussion can be heated and even testy.

And I wonder what would happen if art shows adopted the Cliburn method of scoring.  You might get shows with a little less cohesiveness (for instance, the Quilt National '13 that had hardly any pieced quilts!) but more variety, with more quirky outliers.  You might get shows with fewer of the usual suspects, those prominent artists whose work is easily identifiable and whom jurors sometimes seem embarrassed to leave out.  People who aren't on that usual-suspect short list might feel they have a better shot at getting into the show; people who are on the list might be a bit less complacent, a bit more likely to try something different and push themselves into new territory.

Would this make any difference in the world of juried shows?  Would it be better or worse than what we have now?  What do you think?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My favorite things 25

To get into our house you have to climb five steps, whether you use the back door, the front door or come in through the garage.  We've always had a railing on the back steps, which open onto a fairly small stoop.  We installed a railing in the garage about ten years ago so my mother could do those steps more easily.  But the front steps were always naked.

Even as I got older and more decrepit and became an aficionado of railings and grab bars, I never gave much thought to our front steps because we never use them.  When we drive our own cars, we go directly into the garage.  When family members visit, they use the back door.  The only people who ever use the front door are the mailman and our friends, who always seemed to be there smiling when we opened the door, having obviously navigated the steps successfully.

But then I got into a book club where two members had progressive health issues.  It got to the point where they would call me as they hit the driveway, so I could open the garage door and let them use the interior steps with the railing.  But my friend Keith gave me a hard time and told me I really needed to get a decent railing for the front steps.

I took his nagging to heart and went shopping for railings, but everything I saw seemed too fancy-busy for the house.  So I got the idea to commission Dave Caudill, a sculptor and metal artist, to make us a piece of art that would conveniently be usable as a railing.  It looks like a big leafless vine, or perhaps a cobra rearing up out of the bed of hostas, a beautiful curve that provides a sturdy grip.  (And I do mean sturdy -- I watched when Dave installed it, set into a subterranean lump of concrete that's almost two feet deep.)

For various reasons it took a long time to get the project accomplished, but finally the big reveal -- book club was going to be at my house!  And at the appointed hour, I got a call from Keith in the driveway wanting me to open the garage door.  "NO! NO!  I now have my fabulous new railing!  You can use the front door!"

But I had failed to realize that the fabulous new railing only got you up three steps to the porch; there were still two steps into the house with nothing to cling to.  So I had Dave make me a handhold next to the door.

I'm embarrassed that it took my friends to shame me into doing what I should have done 31 years ago when we bought the house (and why didn't the builder do it in 1963???) but I'm delighted with my railing.  It's wonderful when art can be useful, and when useful things can be art.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Protesting art, yet again

I guess it's sort of a good sign when people protest art -- at least it shows they are aware of art.  But many protests strike me as wrong-headed.  For instance, I just read about a protest of an artist from Mali who has an installation in Athens as part of Documenta 14, the big international show of contemporary art.

The artist, Aboubakar Fofana, set up natural indigo vats and dunked 54 lambs, turning them various shades of blue, to represent the 54 countries of Africa.  The lambs are grazing in a pasture during the run of the art show.  Sounds fairly benign to me, but animal rights activists have vandalized Fofana's studio and disrupted his opening presentation.

Since indigo is harmless (how many of us have walked around with blue fingers after a dye session and lived to tell the tale?) one might wonder what was so offensive about the stunt.  The vandals helpfully explained in a blog post, "You choose to say nothing about confinement, nor the massive murders of the industry, and you added to the humiliation (by using the sheep) as objects in the spectacle."

Hmmm.  So if I make a piece of art about an elephant, and I choose to say nothing about poaching and the illicit ivory trade, I deserve to have my studio destroyed?  (Did these activists protest when Chris Ofili got famous by incorporating elephant dung into his works?)  What if I make a piece of art about Germany, and I choose to say nothing about Hitler?

I think this installation, as described in my favorite online art newspaper, Hyperallergic, is delightful.  Fofana said, "I want to show something else with this special flock of lambs, and that is beauty.  Wherever African people move, we bring with us our culture and our traditions, and we fuse them with what is local.  And the new places we come to are richer and more beautiful for this fusion.  Out of the necessity of leaving, new cultures and traditions are born, nothing is static and nothing changes without creation.  Indigo itself is something which has travelled throughout and out of Africa along trade routes for thousands of years."

I believe that there's an important place for protest in today's world -- heaven knows there's plenty wrong going on -- and perhaps the industrial practices of the sheep industry belong in that category, although I have so far seen no evidence.  But this protest, and so many others I've read about recently, strike me as purely opportunistic.

It seems there are people with a cause who survey the world solely to identify a key word -- sheep! World War 1!  Ebola!  narcissism! -- and then do their damnedest to write an op-ed or get booked on a talking-head show or launch a Twitter hashtag or vandalize an artist's studio to flog their own cause or plug their new book.  Makes no difference whether the sheep in question is being mistreated or not, whether the new book actually has anything to do with the current event being "commented" upon.

Like so many other innocent bystanders in trainwrecks of various shapes and sizes, art gets trashed as collateral damage.  Oh well.  Only those who care about art are disturbed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Daily art -- I feel good!

When I defined my daily art project for 2017 as "found text," I had an envious eye on the work of Judy Kleinberg, who posts a daily poem on her blog.  I had been following her work for a few months and wondered if I could ever "write" that kind of poetry.  For the first few months of my own project, the answer was no.

I was having a good time with my stuff.  I did a lot of found haiku, a literary form that I have been doing for many years, and I came up with a bunch of new formats that are fun to make, such as theme collections from crossword puzzle definitions, like this:

But I had a surprisingly hard time figuring out how to make compositions that act and sound like real poems.  What I realized was that reading the newspaper and searching for poem-like phrases was different from searching for theme words, such as my book of "early" and "late" references. Searching for poems requires you to not just read the newspaper story, but to be always aware of the words adjacent to it (on the page as printed, not in the text as written) -- perhaps words in the next column, perhaps words above and below.

A few years ago I was doing a lot of found haiku taken from reviews of books and art exhibits.  I set a rule for myself that my haiku had to fairly represent the views of the original critic; if the critic liked the book, I wouldn't assemble phrases that appeared to trash it.  But I have realized that the rules have to be different when you're searching for poems that sound and act like poetry.  In fact, my new rule is that the found phrases should be different from the writer's original meaning.  If all I did was to condense the writer's original message into shorter, pithier lines, that wouldn't involve much magic.

The opposite trap is to find original text that reads like or quotes poetic language to start with.  As an extreme example, think of a review of a book of poetry that quotes ten lines from one of the poems.  I could cut out one or two of those lines and they would make a Reader's Digest version of the poem that would be truly literary -- but that would be cheating.

After a lot of frustration and some rather lame poems, I think I've finally figured out how to do it right.  For the last couple of weeks I've been finding poems that I'm really happy with!  Here are a few of them, and you can check out all my daily text here.

 the poem reads:

Surrealism takes wing as 

Out here, 
music of the ghosts 

a squall of 
bright sound 
darker than blue

come to life, 

the poem reads:

haunted cry, 
songs to camels, 
goats and camels; 

what most endures, 
big dreams

memory -

the poem reads:

-- she has 
a poet's prose

gives us words for
words for before
from a dream

a cascade of
returns to the past and
of repeated refrains
always saying:

what's there in the snow, in
through the trees."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My favorite things 24

If you have to buy a souvenir from some exotic place, but don't want to add much to your luggage weight or volume, you might look at buttons.

I bought these in 1971 in Copenhagen with my mother.  I don't remember whether it was a fabric store or some other place, but I do remember that we spent some time going through a lot of choices before settling on these iridescent fuchsia numbers, apparently made out of some kind of shell.  They're so reflective that I couldn't get a photo to show them all the same color, which they are in life.

At the time I thought the buttons would look wonderful on a purple wool dress (yes, they would have!) but the wool never got bought, the dress never got made, and the buttons have resided in my button box ever since, carefully wrapped in the same black tissue paper from the store.  Every year or so I take them out of the box, unwrap them, enjoy them, and put them back.  I suspect I've had as many total minutes of bliss from these buttons as if I had put them on a dress.

Then in 1994 I went to Prague with my sister, and this time we found ourselves in a pottery/shop that had a big display of ceramic buttons.  We couldn't restrain ourselves, and each bought several sets of buttons in different sizes, shapes and colors.  When I got home I carefully affixed them to double-sided tape, mounted them on a piece of cardboard and stored them in a plastic bag.

This time I actually did use some of the buttons.  A few ended up on a vest, some more on a dress, and I sewed two big shiny black-and-brown ones to some very plain black microfiber shoes, which looked much better with the addition.

Now that my garment-sewing days are over, I probably should think of something to do with these fabulous souvenirs.  Sew them on store-bought clothing?  Incorporate them into art?

Or is it better just to HAVE them, to take them out of their storage places now and then to look at them, feel them, love them?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

More extreme embroidery

I wrote several weeks ago about a workshop I took with Beth Schnellenberger on "extreme embroidery" -- her name for small, densely stitched pieces.  The one I started in her workshop got sold the first week it was on display at Pyro Gallery.

Desert Eye

I liked the eye motif and decided to start a new piece to continue the series.  Last week I took it to Pyro and it's now in the members' gallery.  It's mounted the same was as Desert Eye, on a 1 1/2-inch canvas that I painted black.

I learned some things between #1 and #2.  Most important, that I wanted a black background instead of a white-background-colored-black-with-a-marker.  I hadn't been happy with the edges of the original piece -- kind of wimpy purplish black -- and had to do remedial work with black paint, so I stitched onto black fabric this time instead of white.

I also realized while working on #1 that if you have high value contrast between background and thread, you have to do a whole lot more stitching to keep the fabric from peeking through!  So for #2 I used dark colors for my background stitching, and the occasional spaces between stitches didn't look bad at all.

Instead of overcasting the edges of the fabric as I did in the first piece, I left an unstitched border by turning the edges over the felt backing and basting them in place before I started stitching.  The basting stitches got covered by the heavy hand stitching


I've already sketched out two more pieces in this series and have started stitching on one of them.  They make a nice tiny bundle, small enough to take along on a trip.  I'll let you know how they progress.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Teri Dryden -- very nice art!

Went out with a friend last week for an art day, and we checked out the new show at B. Deemer Gallery in Louisville, with work by Teri Dryden.  I've been following her art for several years, since first discovering her collage work HERE.

Over the years she's moved more toward painting, first combining it with collage and then doing it pure, with a sensibility that reminds me of Cy Twombly, with smudgy text-like scribbles on dirty white backgrounds.

Teri Dryden, Raw #1

Teri Dryden, Raw #2 (this one is probably my favorite piece in the show)

She also showed several works that were kind of halfway between collage and painting, on irregularly shaped pieces of handmade paper.

Teri Dryden, Pink City

And in a throwback to the book-cover pieces that I fell in love with a long time ago, here were a couple of collages built on book covers:

Teri Dryden, Cherry Blossom #2

Teri Dryden, Cherry Blossom #3

The show will be up through July 5, and if you're anywhere near the Louisville area I'd highly recommend a visit!  Beautiful work.