At the end of September I had the rare opportunity to travel to Boston. While my husband attended meetings for 2 1/2 days, I gave myself the gift of much needed alone time, like a 6-hour date with myself at the Museum of Fine Arts, another date with myself at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and a good hard wander through the gallery at the Society of Arts and Crafts. Did I mention we flew a grandma to Alaska to be with children so this could happen? So many moving parts. So hard to get away.
But the highlight of the trip was driving to Lowell on Saturday morning with the Director of the New England Quilt Museum, Nora Burchfield, to visit their current exhibition "Gilding the Lily: Embroidery in Quilts Past & Present." I was invited to exhibit 8 works for this show in my own "pocket" gallery. In the image below, you can see "Reliquary #8: Scroll through the entryway.
This exhibition will be installed until December 30, 2017. It's beautiful.
It was an incredible honor to be surrounded by 200 years of embroidered quilts in a city known for its long textile history, and have the prestige of representing a facet of this art form's contemporary turn. Work from both the Reliquary and Girl Story series are on display.
I didn't photograph everything in the exhibition, but below are a few broad strokes encompassing historic and contemporary work.
I recommend a good hard wander if you're out that way. You, too, might have a whole new shiny outlook.
I also had the opportunity to talk about my work while Caroline Gallagher created a video of this. I haven't seen it yet, but will link to when it's on You Tube.
Thank you Caroline and Nora for coordinating the effort.
Above is a rare reverse view of the suspended work, "Inheritance," featuring doilies used as "batting" between two layers of silk organza. The "quilting" is done with crewel embroidery wool and a darning stitch.
But enough about my work.
Kelly Cline, Lawrence KS "Champagene & Caviar," 2016. Cotton, silk. Hand embroidered vintage textile, hand-guided long arm quilting (left). Rhonda Dort, Houston TX, 2014. "Second Chances," Cottons, vintage linens, trims & doilies, crocheted pieces, buttons, beads, lace & pearls. Hand embroidery, applique, pieced & quilted. Macine embellished and embroidered.
Also, this happened: I ran into fellow Alaskan artist, Beth Blankenship, who happened to be in the museum on the same day, while visiting her daughter in Boston. Must've been the magnetic north pulling us toward one another, even when far from home.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
Three years ago on this blog:
About a year ago, a curator and artist from Pakistan named Samina Islam emailed to ask if I'd be interested in participating in a fiber art exhibition -- the first of its kind -- in Karachi at the VM Art Gallery. It was easy to find information on the gallery -- a non profit, in operation since 1987, with a stated intention that aligns with my own:
"Arts and crafts have always been a significant part of any culture and society around the world and artists are integral to its well being, creativity, diversity as well as innovations of any community; artists are people who make a contribution not only to the world’s cultural heritage but also to their country."
But I still had questions, not about sending my work to Pakistan, specifically, but about sending my work overseas in general. This was my first international invitation and I wanted to ensure my decision to participate wasn't clouded by my own giddiness. Luckily, I have a Pakistani friend here in Anchorage, Shehla Anjum*, who I've known for over 13 years. We met in the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and our paths have woven like a braided river ever since. When I was first contacted by Samina, my friend Shehla happened to be in Pakistan visiting family.
What are the chances?
"This show is meant to introduce the public to a variety of ways textile and fiber can be used to produce works that go beyond their aesthetics and raise a voice to incite a discourse on a range of issues effectively – a strengthened position that may not have had equal impact through other media.
Shehla wasn't able to meet face-to-face with Samina, but they spoke on the phone in Karachi and discovered they have a mutual friend, Masuma Halai Khwaja, also an artist, and this was probably how my name was thrown into the global mix. Shehla indicated that Samina's enthusiasm for the curatorial effort was contagious and she passed that confidence on to me.
I'm honored to be included in such company, some of whom I've followed for years, such as Sue Stone, and others whose names have more recently been appearing in various publications, such as Richard McVetis, or illustrator Manica Musil, who will soon publish her textile illustrated children's book with Oxford University Press, Pakistan in English and Urdu because of this opportunity. Other contributing artists have reached out to me, across oceans, across cultures, and now we're connected in this small way.
During a time of global uncertainty, this exhibition has a fitting title -- when caring for cloth, you often need to unravel the damage before any mending can begin. I know Samina Islam worked incredibly hard to bring all of us together, and she didn't have to.
But she did.
I sent the first "Girl Story" piece. It's won two awards and exhibited widely, so if she gets lost coming back to me, then that's part of the story.
But she won't.
I couldn't attend the opening, so Samina asked for a video. I think I was more nervous about making this than sending work overseas. So here's what I sent, shaky voice and all. Many thanks to my sister, Erica, for putting this one together.
Here is a list of the other contributing artists with links to their sites. I hope you'll seek them out. I hope you'll cross that bridge.
Rosie James (UK)
Richard McVetis (UK)
Sue Stone (UK)
Lyndsey McDougall (Ireland)
Manica Musil (Slovenia)
Samina Islam (Pakistan)
Numair Abbasi (Pakistan)
Roohi Ahmed (Pakistan)
Asad Hussain (Pakistan)
Masuma Halai Khwaja (Pakistan)
You can read critic Rabia S. Akhtar's review of the exhibition in Art Now: Contemporary Art of Pakistan.
*And back to my friend Shehla Anjum -- she was one of the contributors to the Inheritance Project, and you can read about the cloth I inherited from her in the post The 12th boxes of mystery. She is a writer, question asker, world traveler and generous human, and despite calling the US home for decades, she is also feeling the emotional effects of being born in a Muslim country. Connecting Samina and I has become a glimmer of silver, which she recently wrote about in an opinion piece for the Alaska Dispatch News.
If you are interested in other exhibitions, click on the sidebar category Gallery Shows and scroll down since this post will come up first.
My first job in high school began as an internship at a small shop in Nevada that made costumes, wedding gowns and casino uniforms. I fell in love with a Brother single needle industrial machine whose push-button start up and whining motor stood my arm hair on end. I was also smitten with the gravity fed industrial steam iron (I once forgot to turn it off and left it smoldering on the ironing board...overnight). Loading cones and rethreading a 5-thread serger with its zig-zagging internal paths became as navigable as learning to drive a car -- which happened at around the same time -- and for a girl whose father worked with loud equipment and flying sparks all day, yet kept his daughters safe from this, it was a way to harness industrial energy and wield power over a machine at a moment in life when a young woman is vulnerable to dismissing her own capabilities.
That was all the fun stuff (except maybe the casino uniforms), but the bread and butter work in that shop were the alterations. I've hemmed more Carole Little knit pants from Macy's than I care to count, and learned to make way more small talk in a fitting room than any other 17-year old I've ever met (I'm still not great at it, but I can probably still make a half-naked lady feel pretty comfortable. Wow, except that came out wrong).
To rip into another person's worn clothing has an intimacy rivaled by actually making clothing and fitting a person's body. I've found used tissues in pockets (into the garbage), money and jewelry and keys (into the small return baggie) and seams filled with dust, lint and scales of skin. I've been gagged by cologne and perfume and cigarette smoke. A woman once delivered several vests to be copied and remade, only to discover that her male cat had sprayed on them just that morning. She tried to leave them anyway, and when I explained there was no way I could hand them over to the woman who does the alterations (me) before dry cleaning (her), she snorted and craned her neck to see who this picky "alterations girl" in the back room might be.
During the 12 years I was in the clothing industry, doing everything from alterations, to running a commercial cutter, to fitting custom gowns, to sample sewing PVC raincoats/stretch jeans/metallic halter tops for 14-year olds, to marching to the bank to try and deposit paychecks (9 of those bounced at one factory), to making patterns, to crying on the bus, to finally being mentored by a master tailor for 4 years in the '90s (more crying), the constant hum for me was the intimacy of cloth. And the years that this intimacy was absent (factory work), it bothered me that clothing was so disposable. Later in my career, when returning to custom made wedding gowns, I thought I'd be creating garments that would be revered.
Some were. Most of the clients were lovely women. And I try really hard to remember their smiles, vast embraces and impossibly smooth shoulders.
But the fond memories are often overshadowed by mothers telling daughters how fat they looked, or girls bad mouthing the size of an absent friend's ring ("...you know that marriage won't last... "), or bridesmaids who (I'm not kidding) pushed each other out of the way to vie for the mirrored walls, the ruined gowns returned for fixing ("... we got such a great photo in the hotel fountain!"). It's comical now. But for a girl from a small town, brought up to sew and respect the work of the hand, it was devastating. My last boss, a mentor and man I respected and loved like a father, called me "Provincial." The hardest part was realizing my own lack of skill when it came to matching wits with princesses.
For Pete's sake, who even knew that was a thing?
All this to say: alterations don't bother me. Neither does the prospect of incredibly time-consuming work.
(And I steer clear of Princesses).
Girl Story and Girl Story #3 have been accepted into Focus: Fiber 2016 at Kent State University Museum. If you are in Ohio between February 12 and July 3, 2016 I highly encourage you to check out the exhibition (and send pictures please, because I won't get down there for this one, unfortunately).
One of the notations in the exhibition agreement stated, "Velcro is preferred but not mandatory." A few months ago, I met with the textile curator at the Anchorage Museum and she had mentioned this very thing in terms of displaying tapestries and textile work.
So I ripped off the sleeves.
Adding velcro to a piece and the accompanying mounting bar is easily reversible, protects the fabric and will eliminate curling and bulging at the bottom edge once installed by allowing for minuscule adjustments at the top until the piece hangs straight across the bottom.
So while I didn't have to make this alteration to two pieces of artwork before shipping, I chose to.
"When we mount quilts, we use 2" velcro stitched by machine to a muslin strip. The muslin strip is then hand sewn - carefully and lightly - to the quilt backing so that no stitches or muslin show. Put the soft side of the velcro on the strip sewn to the quilt and staple the hard side to a 1" x 2" piece of poplar. 2" velcro gives us a better chance to get the piece hanging straight since most quilts are not perfectly square."
If making clothing for people taught me anything, it's this: there is no one way. Every body is different, every mind is different.
Every show is different.
(But darn it if male cat pee is always the same).
I'd love to hear your comments about successful mounting/hanging techniques. I'd also love to hear what went terribly wrong so we can all learn from each other.
This post is filed under the How To category in the side bar. There are a few other how to posts available there, although I'll never walk you through anything by blah, blah, yaddah-yaddah because there are lots of other verbose bloggers out there breaking sewing steps down. I know you're on your game, so I show you lots of pictures instead.
And I tell some stories.
A few months ago I commandeered my dining room table and assembled a matrix of photocopied show prospectuses, post it notes, paperclips, Sharpies and disgusting felines. Perhaps some of you remember this post and were curious whether any of this effort proved to be fruitful. If so, read on. If you think I'm a gross cat owner and could care less, that's totally fine, too. Just know that it's the cats who are gross, not me. I come fully armed with disinfectant spray.
As of last week, I've applied for 9 juried exhibitions, 2 grants and submitted images to 2 magazines. I still plan to apply for 4 more shows (some deadlines are a ways out) and another project grant (maybe).
So, I heard somewhere that if rejection hurts, you just aren't getting rejected enough and need to submit more work. Callouses are a direct response to irritation, and all that. So, this was my personal experiment. I've never applied this widely, mainly because I've never had the body of work to do so. Would I actually grow a thicker skin if I put myself out there more?
Yes, but probably only because I had some successes:
These two ladies from the Girl Story Series are going to the Kent State University Museum for the Focus: Fiber 2016 National Contemporary Fiber Art Show (Feb. 12, 2016 - July 3, 2016). Anyone going to be in Ohio this spring? I'd seriously love some photos of this exhibition. This museum features one of the largest collections of historic costumes in the US, totaling more than 40,000 pieces. Forget about the textile art, the clothing designer in me wants to snap on the white cotton gloves and flip all that stored vintage couture inside out and check out the seams. There is a lot of history behind the work I'm sending as well, and I'm thrilled it's heading into the world. The first Girl Story traveled within Alaska last year and won a juror's merit award at the All-Alaska XXXV juried show.
Pssst ... maybe she's one of those girls who, you know, gets around.
This reliquary is on exhibit at the Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie, NY at the New Directions 2015 Contemporary Art Exhibition until October 31, 2015. Janet Bishop from the San Francisco MoMA was the juror. Again, with the photos. Anyone? I'm in Alaska. I won't make it to upstate New York for this one,
or this one:
Quilts=Art=Quilts at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center opens on Oct. 31, 2015 and runs until Jan. 3 2016. This piece will be there, teeth and all (also a piece with a ton of history behind it).
I won't list the galleries and exhibitions that rejected me, but know that so far there are 3 and I immediately submitted elsewhere, like, the day I received the rejection. I'm delivering one piece for a 2nd round of in-person jurying (it still could get cut, of course), and waiting for rejection/invitations to come this month and next. Are those dates on my calendar? Yes. Am I bummed when museums and galleries don't contact artists on those scheduled dates? Yes. I can't help it. I meet my deadlines and assume that's the way the rest of the world should work, too.
And the magazines? More on that later.
Grants? Hope so. It's expensive to submit and ship art.
Also, I've kept my News page up to date, because it feels good, dammit.
Meanwhile, back to the grind.
"The most important benefit of working in a series is that it helps you learn how to work from your own ideas and discover your own unique voice [...] Become aware of the the work that excites you, intrigues you, and makes you back to look at it again. This is the kind of work you should be making."
If you've considered working in a visual series but aren't sure where to begin, you may want to take a look at Elizabeth Barton's book. Especially if the last series pieces you did were those enormous watercolor nudes in undergrad with the nipples that look strangely like bowler hats, which are a bit too graphic to hang on the wall now that you have small children (note that I am not including a photograph, this is a family blog here, people), and/or also, you feel perhaps like you've forgotten how to create anything in a series other than macaroni and cheese dinner out of a box.
A few months ago, I answered an interview question about one of the three series that I'm engaged in called Girl Story. I'm republishing it here since I'm thinking a lot about this series right now. I've got the fourth Girl Story on the wall and the 5th is waiting in the wings, with perhaps a 6th elbowing her out of the way back there behind the velvet curtain. If I don't attend to these ladies soon, somebody's going to get an eye poked or launched off the stage into the mosh pit.
But maybe that's a good thing.
This is question #4 from Kari Lorenson's interview at Knotwe: The Hub for Fiber, Textiles, Surface Design:
"Girl Story seems like a turning point in your work. When I look at Girl Story, it broaches a subject matter that is not talked about in the public sphere but it is an experience of womanhood. Quilts are interesting forms for art because of their multi-faceted history in the domestic/ private sphere to a unique history almost entirely dominated by women. The history as a social document is a rich history as well and there are many aspects about the quilt as an object that are interesting to explore. Did this piece have an impact on how your process and where your work is now?"
Girl Story, like Spontaneous Combustion, wasn’t so much a turning point as a direct response to where I am as a woman and a mother. If Spontaneous Combustion was the question my son asked repeatedly when he was four and my response to postpartum anxiety and the domestic role in general, then Girl Story and Girl Story #2 are the questions waiting to be asked by my daughter and my internal struggle with how to present a normal life process in a way that honors how menarche could be for her, while still acknowledging how it was for me, my mother, her mother, etc.
Girl Story #3 veers slightly, and came about when I was working on the Reliquary Series. I began the piece assuming it was a Reliquary, but deep into it realized that it was my response to a loved one’s addiction and her inability to be a mother for her three children for a time. It was another Girl Story, another struggle related to womanhood made all the more painful by the fact that for all of us with children there are many moments — some of them fleeting — when we just check out and become unavailable. I think it’s a series I’ll work on for years. My role is evolving, so my work naturally will. This is a deep, deep well.
The fact that these pieces are “quilts” is important to the emotional quality of the work. We approach quilts and embroidery with a certain set of expectations and aren’t necessarily prepared to see embroidered menstrual blood on doilies or hear frightening questions from children. I don’t do this for shock value — I find shock value flaccid and annoying — I do this because they are living questions for me and therefore have value. If they are shocking, that’s secondary and something brought to the piece by the viewer’s own life experience.
Are you working in a series? Have thoughts about this process? We'd love to hear them shared here, so leave a comment. We're all about learning from others around this place.
Also, if you'd like to read more about the Girl Story Series, check out the previous posts "A history of pretty" and "Write a letter to your mother."
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.