Monday, August 21, 2017

Grandchildren and fiber art 3

Several weeks ago I posted a photo of Vivian asleep while I crocheted.  At the time, she had spent practically all of her time with us asleep, a source of frustration to grandparents who wanted to play with her.  But I predicted that pretty soon she'd be up and about.

And sure enough, she's now awake.  My dear friend Uta Lenk from Germany, whom I met years ago at a quilt workshop and have been close with ever since, is visiting the States this month and brought her knitting along.  We noticed that Vivian seemed transfixed by watching Uta knit -- was it the click of the needles, the light reflecting from them, or just the repetitive motion?  Whatever, she watched Uta intently all evening.

Uta promised to come back and teach Vivian to knit when she's old enough.  Uta learned when she was six, taught by her grandmother who rewound balls of yarn to include coins and little toys, an incentive to keep going.  What a great idea!  Only five and a half years till we can try it with another little girl.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My favorite things 34

My parents traveled frequently to South America and brought home various souvenirs that my siblings and I now own.  One of my favorites is this fragment of weaving from Peru, made by the Nasca people in about 1500 A.D.

It's not the oldest thing I own, but is by far the oldest textile, and is well preserved; the dry climate of the coastal deserts west of the Andes has kept lots of cloth in excellent condition over many centuries.  It has the traditional birds, steps and spirals of ancient Peruvian textiles, and its red and gold colors are still relatively bright.

After I'd owned this for many years, I bought a contemporary piece of embroidery that shares the pre-Columbian sensibility, a small piece by my very good friend Bette Levy.  It has four mask/faces painstakingly executed in couched metallic threads, onto a frayed linen background that looks a whole lot like the real antique.

(My apologies for the reflections and glare in all the images, because both textiles are framed under glass.  I know that glass protects fragile art, both from dust and flying objects and from UV light, but I always wish that textiles would be open so they can be better seen and appreciated.)

Of course the two pieces had to be hung together, and that's how they have been for a decade, keeping one another company across the centuries.

Friday, August 18, 2017

At the State Fair 2

Today was opening day at the Kentucky State Fair and I was in attendance, which I haven't done in several years.  Yes, I would go out three days in advance to judge the textiles, but not show up for the actual festivities.  This year reminded me of what I have been missing, and I loved my favorite pastimes of watching the border collies herd ducks, observing the animal judging and eating a pork chop sandwich.

Towards the end of a long day, I didn't have the stamina to look at every quilt on display, but I was surprised to see that they've added a new category since I used to enter.  This one is called "Quilt Top" and is described: "The quilt top may be hand and/or machine pieced, no serger.  This class is for a quilt top only -- the back will be displayed.  This class is to show the skill of the quilter in constructing a quilt top."

I guess this is the natural culmination of the quilt police mentality that has always reigned at state fairs and similar venues -- not only will the QP judge you on the number of quilt stitches per inch and whether you sewed your mitered corners shut, but now they want to see inside!  I think it's sadly appropriate that in this class you get to see more of the back than you do of the front.  After all, who cares about design, composition, color or artistic vision as long as those seams are beautifully pressed in the right direction?

Here's the first place quilt, of which I would have liked to see a lot more of the front and a lot less of the back:

And a couple of more in the same category, all beautifully pressed.

And here's one that you can probably deduce wasn't going to get a ribbon:

If you want my opinion, the skill of the quilter in constructing a quilt top is pretty damn evident from looking at the finished quilt.  When that one just above is quilted, for instance, you're going to detect lumps where the seam allowance flipped from one direction to another.  You don't need a separate category in which people are going to be obsessing over trimming the fraying edges off the back of the quilt (the big difference I could see between the blue ribbon winner and the also-rans).

Because what good is it to trim the fraying edges out of the inside of your quilt?  Other than winning a ribbon, that is?  I'd much rather the state fair encouraged people to obsess over important things like how the quilt looks when it's made up and hanging on the wall or lying on the bed.

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: