Lately I've had a series of conversations with art quilters/traditional quilters/textile people, who have far more experience working in this art form than I do, about this semantics business between "textile artists" and "quilters." I distinctly felt the ever-so-slight accusation that "textile artists" were calling themselves this so they wouldn't be associated with "quilters." Now, I've lead a different life up until recently, so call me dense, but I really had no idea that there was cannon fire in this label realm. Meanwhile, here I come stumbling along like an innocent whelp headed to the village well with my bucket, unknowingly crossing the battle field to get there. Ka-boom.
So, is the perception really that if one calls oneself a "textile artist" instead of a "quilter" that this is disrespecting the generations of quilting women who came before, whose fine work paved the way for quilts to be seen as art form? Does "textile artist" sound elitist? What if one does things other than quilt? Are "quilters" linking arms and marching forward, holding the ground for the gallery space they've fought for all this time while subversive textile artists are slinking in through the back door and, quick, nailing their stuff up on the walls? Did I have a clue about any of this when I made my business cards?
Are "traditional quilters" equally pissed off with "art quilters?" (Umm ... why do I get the feeling the answer will be yes?)
I asked: Can't we just make and make well? Can't we all support and respect one another's art forms? But this left me feeling less like a whelp wagging her tail and more like a ... well ... a young whippersnapper.
Perhaps I need to consider my label, here.
So I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading and inner questioning. And I've made a list of the many labels I've received in my life to try and work through my personal choice in the matter. No, don't worry, I won't list them all here.
Oh, heck, of course I will:
Blonde, dumb blonde, smart blonde, expert, hack, shop girl, alterations girl, merchandiser girl (I'm not kidding), helper girl (again, not kidding), sewer, sample sewer, seamstress, pattern maker, pattern faker, production manager, clothing designer, cleaner of the lipstick off the wedding gown, delivery girl (I'm still not kidding), cutter, sales girl (whatever), academic, poser, cook, stuck up broad, first mate, Mistress (so ... right ... let's just say that a certain group of people in a certain large western Canadian city were sorely misinformed. Sorely. Not to mention presumptive. But, wow, that's so a different story and why, yes, it still pisses me off when I think about it), neat freak, organizer, perfectionist, angst-ridden melancholic, grumpy, mean mama, brave lucky woman who had a successful home birth, stupid lucky woman who had a successful home birth, interpreter, happy mama, peace maker, embroiderer, tea drinker, lover of red wine (except now it gives me a headache), felter, gatherer, hoarder, collector, memoirist, dumb-ass woman driver, feminist, 5 am exerciser, coffee drinker, wordsmith, lover of good writing, lover of memoir, lover of young adult fiction, not so much a lover of films because I'm just too damned tired at night, that woman standing in the bathroom stall next to you having a well-deserved cry, daughter, white-headed mule (thank you 3rd-grade nemesis, I'll not forget you), boater, Alaskan, Canadian, Nevadan, Californian,
Swede, sister, mother, wife, creator, editor, anal retentive bitch, grumpy (did I say that already?), brave lucky woman who successfully delivered a frank breech baby naturally in front of about 30 spectators in the hospital, stupid lucky woman who successfully delivered a frank breech baby naturally in front of about 30 spectators in the hospital, painter, neophyte, drawer, sketchbook keeper, cat-ish person, lover of fabrics, lover of thrift stores yet conflicted by the terror of potentially bringing home bed bugs, laundry bleacher, eater of moose, tide pool enthusiast, children's book illustrator, fashion illustrator, good friend,
wiper of counters, confident sweeper of floors, experimenter, yucky food maker, enforcer of the lessons of swimming, library user, doily rescuer, book maker, book lover, Kindle skeptic, new paper smeller, museum enthusiast, recycler, sometimes composter, shy but trying not to be, clothing mender, sock darner, knitter, crocheter, terrible gardener and killer of many plants, word lover.
Quilter. Writer. Textile artist.
Know me yet?
Now don't get me wrong. I love a slick-looking label. It really gives insight into a person -- who they are, what their work is like. It's one of those final touches that makes us all unique. Collectively, my labels don't look a thing like yours, in fact, yours probably look way more polished. I have a feeling that you really know how to generate one in a professional way. Some people fill their labels with false information (but we all know this is a complete waste of time and shake our heads when that choice is made). But of course this isn't a post about labels. It's about labels. And how we need them and fret over them and worry about what other people will think of them -- are they nice enough? do they match? give enough information? too much? are they too small? too big? look crooked? fit my personality? fit the personality of my work? -- and it's about how we somehow have to reach a level of acceptance even if the labels aren't perfect, even if other people don't like them or don't realize how we've created them in the first place. Maybe we need to just get curious about other people's labels, since we all position and affix labels in the way that feels right for us, right now.
Of course, it's good to remain open-minded. Of course removing and changing a label at some point in the future is always an option. Gosh, trust me, you can always change your label.
Unless you've used hot glue.
Do NOT use hot glue.
And yes, I am a whippersnapper. A textile artist lover-and-great-respecter-of-the-quilting-women-who-came-before-me-and-paved-the-way-God-love-and-bless-them-thank-you-thank-you-thank-you-fine-brave-women ... whippersnapper.
I'm excited for people who fall in love with soulmates online, finally meet, get married, have babies and great lives together and I have firmly decided that this sounds terrifying and is not for me. However, I've made good artist friends online, and have it in me to think, Someday I'm going to walk into a gallery, meet these people for real, give big hugs and not feel completely freaked out.
One of these people is Paula Kovarik. I first saw her work in the 2013 Quilt National publication (her artwork was used for the end pages...insert big high five here) and I contacted her not long ago to ask if I could use some of her images for a blog post; we've had a couple of online discussions since about the world of textile art (mostly she is answering my neophyte questions) and someday I will spend about 4 hours with this lady drinking tea or perhaps something stronger.
She asked me to participate in this World Wide Blog Hop, which started in Europe and has since hopped all over, so I'm super excited to be included. Here is the link to her Blog Hop post, and below are the 4 questions that I now get to answer:
1. What am I working on?
I'm working on figuring out how best to work. My children are young and they still have many micro needs, one of which is Mama's full attention when they aren't in school. This is the biggest challenge, and I work from home so I feel like my brain never shuts down -- but because my textile work and writing is so informed by family, I have to remind myself to constantly listen, to not be bitter about interruptions (I'd be bitter all the time) and to rise to the challenge of being portable. This means a lot more handwork than I'd ever intended and the need to double check that seat pocket in front of me. Then check it again.
I received an Individual Artist Fellowship grant this year from the Rasmuson Foundation, which is allowing me to take risks (Oh, beautiful patron!). I'm working on several projects that consider various ways to house found objects within the quilt form, all of which focus either on the body or fear or loss (or all three). One series, "Girl Story," explores menarche through the use of heavy embroidery and vintage textiles. It's brave and scary for me to put it all out there. Lastly, I've started this blog, because ever since I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing 10 years ago, I've been a writer who wasn't writing and I was sick of hearing myself whine about all that.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I'm not the only textile artist who incorporates language, but let's just say we aren't lined up around the block banging down the gallery door. We're sort of a petite group. The impetus to use text in my work comes from writing memoir, but it also comes from a need to go deeper into a visual narrative. I can't help but feel like the the pieces I've completed that don't incorporate text feel unfinished, or are lacking a layer. Litany is an important component for me because it's what I hear in my mind constantly, and is a way to approach an idea from every possible angle.
I'm also dark and stuck in my head and intense and think using the quilt form as a vehicle for a story is just really compelling.
3. Why do I do what I do?
Because I'm dark and stuck in my head and intense and (no, wait, I said that already).
I do this work because, like any other artist, if I don't then I'm suppressing my voice, I'm not being brave and I'm not taking risks. Does it bother me that each piece takes hours and hours and hours? Ummm ... yes. Do I care if anyone likes it? Oh my God, of course ... I want everybody to like me. I want everybody to want to be my friend. I want to make everybody happy because it's my nature to avoid conflict and to change topic to keep it so. Will a personality like this tuck my work into a safe cozy place? It could and has before. But I'm practicing the fine art of sticking my fingers in my ears (la-la-la-la-la) and not listening to myself. I've had enough people reach out (mostly women, but an interesting number of men) to know that I'm creating imagery that stays in their minds. People are saying thank you for doing the work. I never expected that.
(Sideways glances and total avoidance maybe, but never a thank you).
4. How does my process work?
I'm a sketchbook person, except that other artists' sketchbooks look fabulous and mine look like crap. My junk drawer also looks like crap, so at some point I made the very freeing decision that my sketchbook should also be a junk drawer, as in: What do I do with this idea? I have no place for this, it's garbage but I can't throw it away -- what if I need it someday? Chuck it in, slam it shut and deal with it later. No ideas are precious, but they're all useful and just so close to having been sucked into the central vacuuming system and lost forever.
I also: work on the wall, hoard fabric, cut apart clothing, allow an entire week to read the Sunday edition of the New York Times, add to/edit my highly curated Pinterest boards (sorry, no recipes), scour thrift stores for fabric, talk to my mother on the phone, avoid cooking dinner ("No, it's not the same leftover soup, this soup has rice in it now!"), periodically go through the house like a dervish and send everything to good will and feel intensely wonderful about this, spend a lot of time studying what other artists are doing, then spend even more time talking myself off the ledge when it's obvious I'm not doing what they're doing and feel intensely horrible about this, then I shut my studio door and work and work and work. And when I can't move my neck I hobble into my chiropractor's office and he says, "What have you been DOING?"
And then I write about it, which has become an equally important component to the work, because it's through the distillation of voice that I find the essence of what I'm trying to achieve. Often, I don't realize what the visual work means until I explore its literary component.
Oh, and I listen to my kids, because sometimes they ask little things like, "Mama, what in this house can catch on fire?" about a million times and it's so freaking brilliant I just have to write it down.
So that's me.
Now for something completely different.
Up for next week (October 18 -- mark your calendars), these same 4 questions will be answered by the two artists I've chosen: Kate Bowles and Jonathan Bower.
And if anyone else out there has participated in this Blog Hop, please leave the link to your blog post in the comment section so we can all see how you answered the questions and hop over to the artists you chose, too.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.