This is our wee little home in Greensboro. Just doing a little computer housekeeping and I needed to update the blog information. I'm looking for a media specialist job and doing a play at the Broach Theater. Sewing has more or less been limited to utility stuff--curtains, upholstery, and two baby quilts. My studio is much smaller in this house, but I really like the cosy aspects of this house and I'm in love with one floor. I'd never go back to more than one level. Hopefully, I can get back to making art soon.
An address to the Sugar Creek Quilters
January 15, 2007
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
I started quilting back in the early 1970’s while working in the professional theater. Because I could sew, I was able to pick up extra money making costumes and I had a brisk business selling patchwork Western shirts. One of the fellows I’d made a shirt for asked me if I would make a quilt for him. Not knowing any better, I agreed. Long story short, the most important lessons I learned were: never use anything but 100% cotton when piecing with an old Singer and, for heaven sakes, don’t try to quilt it on that same machine.
That first quilt got me interested and I had to work really hard to learn more. These were pre-Bicentennial days and there was very little out there. I married and we moved to Crawfordsville in 1978 where I learned some great lessons from experienced quilters like Bette Hudson at Spin-a-Yarn, Dene Roberts, Ruth Black and the other diocesan quilt makers at St. John’s Church, Dottie Sperry, Ellen Swift, Mary Lou Mielke, and other Wabash Women’s Sewing Group quilters, and especially, Anita Hardwick, Chris Schaefer and the Sugar Creek Quilters.
From the beginning I wasn’t content to make reproductions of old quilts or slavishly follow directions in magazines and books. I flexed my creative muscles in small ways and longed for something more. Then in the mid-1980’s, two events intersected to create what Julia Cameron calls synchronicity. Judy Chicago’s art installation, The Dinner Party, went on display in Chicago and I came across Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The table runners created for The Dinner Party proved to me that quilts could be art. While old quilts were being displayed at major museums, they hadn’t been intended as wall pieces. Judy Chicago showed us that women’s crafts could indeed be used to create art. Before reading Edwards’ book, I was one of those people who said, “I can’t draw.” Working through her book convinced me otherwise and I began taking drawing and design classes at Purdue University—all the time holding quilts in the back of my mind.
Then in 1988, our son, Dan, had a terrible accident. While he was still in the hospital, I started the drawings for the piece that would become my first art quilt, “Danny’s Left Arm.” It was an attempt literally to sew my little boy back together. I was inspired by Judy Chicago’s quote, “The spirit of art is always affirming, even when it deals with painful realities, for the act of making an image transforms that pain into something beautiful.”
Very soon after that, I saw Nancy Crow’s quilts for the first time. In 1991, I took my first class with her at Arrowmont School of the Arts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. She and her work have had a profound influence on me. For me, she is the model of artist, wife, mother, and fulfilled woman.
Thanks in large part to Nancy’s thoughtful criticism, I discovered early that producing art for me was a conflict between images that represented strong emotions but were just too literal and just making designs that had no emotional content. Another area of conflict in my work in general was that I had two distinct types of work—utility or craft items and art quilts. One of my goals with my last one-woman show at the Crawfordsville District Public Library was to try and marry these two distinct types of work into one.
I have always been an avid reader so it’s not surprising that books have helped me in my journey as an artist. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci have been very important to me. Cameron’s book helped me discover what my creative process was. For example, I have a very productive period followed by fallow time. She teaches the reader ways to refuel creatively and techniques for working through problems and artistic blocks. Gelb’s book helped me to see that one can be creative in every area of one’s life—cooking, homemaking, personal relationships, and so on.
I would encourage you to try to make your work personal. Start small--make your own fabric choices, design your own block, make your own challenge quilt. To encourage your own creativity:
Spend time with yourself and by yourself. (Julia Cameron calls this an artist date.) Look at art. Go to the Eiteljorg or the IMA in Indianapolis. Take the train to Chicago and spend the day at the Art Institute. Check art books out of the public library or the Wabash Library that has an incredible collection. This is a wonderful way to refuel creatively.
Quilting, along with other crafts, has become big business. We are told what’s hot and what we should like by magazines, TV shows, and craft and quilt stores. Get to know what you like and try to ignore all the hype.
Investigate your creative process. Divide your stash by color and then look at the kinds of fabrics you buy (solids, stripes, conversation prints, small scale designs, large scale designs, etc.). What do you favor most? What have you been avoiding? Go to the fabric store and just look at fabric without having a project in mind. Sometimes, just looking at a pile of fabrics will give me an idea. We learn from our mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make them when you are making quilts. Let everything speak to you. Inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve kept a commonplace book for nearly 40 years in which I keep writing that I want to remember. Once in a while I will leaf through it and find a quote that really jumps out to me. Andrea Dworkin’s quote inspired me to make “For Peanuts and Schroeder.”
“I have no patience with the untorn, anyone who hasn't weathered rough weather, fallen apart, been ripped to pieces, put herself back together, big stitches, jagged cuts, nothing nice. Then something shines out.”
Thank you for inviting me to talk to you. In summary, I’ll leave you with a quote from Jackson Pollack:
“Art is coming face to face with yourself.” Get out there, meet the creative being that is you, and make what you do personal.