Sunday, August 28, 2016

What Are You Working On?

What the world doesn't know about me is that I am secretly crazy when it comes to my work. I think all artists have a touch of the crazies. We crawl into a stitch in time or some safe little pocket of unconsciousness and do our thing. I usually have about five projects that I am working on at one time. One project is pressing for the next deadline, another one is my long term- five year project, then there is the commissioned project, or the one that I have been dreaming about but have only collected a stack of fabric, and the one that is hanging on the design wall because I am stuck.

So when someone asks me, "What are you working on?" I am stumped for an answer. My mind races around my studio glancing at each project. I ask myself what am I going to say? I weigh the situation all in a half second. If it is a long time quilter I say that I am working a project that has me trying to figure out which way to go. I'm hoping they have some suggestions. If it is a person that I don't know I say I have a project that is due next week and I am putting the finishing touches on it.

I don't dare say I have a long term project that I like to pull out every now and then that is going to take me about five years to finish. A five year project seems to agitate people. When they see me working on it after a year or so, they say, "You haven't finished that quilt yet?" 

Today I want to answer that question with a commission that has proven to be a lot of fun. First of all I made this quilt for an exhibit highlighting recycling and re-using. My brother passed and I acquired the Crown Royal bags he had saved over a period of time. I thought right a way that they would be just the thing to make a quilt out of and show recycling and re-use. Friends teased me about having drank a lot of Crown Royal.

My nephew overheard a man saying that he would love to find someone to make a quilt from his Crown Royal bags. He had been saving them for 20 years. My nephew told him that he knew just the person.

Long story short- I am working on a queen-sized quilt from a big bag of Crown Royal bags. Of course that is not the only thing I am working on. The man also wanted a wall hanging quilt from his bags. I have the top of the queen-sized quilt almost finished. I still have to put those crowns on the empty bags that were originally the back of the bag. I will be quilting it after I put the crowns on it.

In the meantime I have started on the wall hanging. It is coming along well. It is ready to go on the quilting machine. I thought I would be able keep it simple but once I got to this point, I realized that I am going to do a lot of quilting on that gold background.  I want to do some stippling and make the dancers stand out. I will post the finished product next week. 
I used his special Crown Royal bags in this wall hanging. Got to get back to work. This is what I am working on.
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Sunday, August 21, 2016


I had the wonderful experience of attending another Trunk Show by Dawn Boyd-Williams yesterday. I am always so impressed with the things that motivate her to do what she does. Her work is so thoughtful. She says, "I read a lot, listen to a lot of music, watch people, and study all kinds of cultures." She set me to thinking. What is my impetus? I do all of those things and the impressions hit me differently. That is the beauty of individuality. The spectrum of light can come from the same source but be perceived by each person as a different color. So Dawn and I both read a lot, listen to a lot of music, watch all kinds of people, and study all kinds of cultures. She sees red when I see blue.

 I have had so many requests for quilts about the President and the First Lady that I want to tell you what motivated me to make several of the quilts.  This piece is called "Elegance." It is the first one I made a couple of years after the first inauguration around 2010. I had this idea of portraying the First Lady in a red dress (although she wore white at the inaugural ball) to show that she had a powerful and forceful spirit. I also had an idea of  a couple dancing and enjoying the dance. I thought it was symbolic of the dance they would have to do to survive in the white house. I made them with really big smiles as I could see them sidestepping political BS. It was early on in my work with faces so I can now look back and see some things I could have done differently (better). I also wanted to have the 3-D effect, so I made his bow tie and the bottom of her dress stand out. I purposely chose the light background because I wanted them to stand out. 

Then I was asked to do a portrait workshop and I had this idea that a picture of the president would be a portrait that most of the class members would like to make. So I created the "44th President" quilt for that class. The class never happened but this was the preparation. Either I seem to like him in a blue suit or I have seen a lot of pictures of him in a blue suit. I can say that I made this face twice for this quilt. The first time I made it, I used the wrong color brown fabric. It looked like somebody but not the President.

When Barack Obama won the Presidency the first time, we were overwhelmed with emotions. Pride was one of the most prominent of the emotions. Mrs. Mattie Pittman asked me to make her a quilt for the bed with a picture of President Obama on it. I said yes but had no idea how it would look. So I threw it n the back of mind and tossed it around for a few years. Then her daughter said she wanted a quilt for her mother. She said, "she likes big hats and I was thinking of a quilt with a lady in a hat." I remembered that she had previously asked for an Obama quilt and now her daughter wanted a lady with a hat. The light bulb turned on in my head and I heard the ancestors sing. I'll combine the two requests and make a quilt with the President and the First Lady and I'll make the First Lady with a hat on. Not just any old hat but a big church hat like Mrs. Pittman would wear. I made the First Lady's face first. After that, I found a hat that I wanted and designed a dress to go with the hat. I wanted a big 3-D flower to place on the hat, but how would I make it and keep it light so as not to weigh the quilt down. I decided to go with ruching. Ruching is a French word which means to plait. It is a very ancient technique. A strip of fabric or ribbon is gathered in a repeat pattern and as the gathering thread is drawn up the strip forms scallops or petals.

I used a ribbon made from organza. I really liked how light it was once I finished. I set it aside and kept working on the quilt. Next I did the President's face and his suit. The back ground was next and then the people were sewn onto it. For Mrs. Pittman's quilt I added rows of squares to the center back ground to make it bed sized. Once all pieces were in place, I quilted it on the long arm machine.

I sewed the ribbon flower on to the hat. Made a gazillion french knots to mimic hair on President Obama's head. I added all the final embellishments to finish it off.  I named it "Just Between Us" because the President seemed to be laughing at something whispered between them while the First Lady looks like she held the punch line. It was seven years from the time Mrs. Pittman asked me for the quilt to the time I finally finished it. I spent about five years thinking about the concept. She was so happy when she got the quilt. She laid it on the bed right away and then declared that people could only see the picture of the quilt when they came by. 

There is probably at least one more Obama quilt inside me. Not sure what it will be but it is stirring around somewhere in the back of my head. Like Dawn, I will read something, or someone will say something, or a song will touch me a certain way and the foundation for that next quilt will spring forth from the back of my mind.

I can't wait!

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Celebrating Femininity

In July I launched my new book "Inspired By Her; Celebrating Femininity through Art Quilts" because I realized that about 60% of my quilts were celebrating women. I set out to understand this seeming obsession with creating women doing so many different things.

I ended up with a vast understanding of how so many women have effected my life story. They were not all saints but they were the strongest influences for me. I wanted to thank a lot of people but could not thank them all by name. So I decided to dedicate the book to all my friends' mothers who showed me the way consciously and maybe times when they didn't know I was watching them.
Mrs. Mattie Pittman

Mrs. Mattie Pittman was one of my two best friends mother, She was soft spoken and kind. She could cook anything on a wood burning stove. She amazed me every time she pulled that perfect pound cake out of that oven. I loved visiting her house, so much so that I wanted to stay with them. She kindly told me that I had to go home. 

Mrs. Marion Daniel
Mrs. Marion Daniel was the other of my best friends mother, She always looked at me like I was up to something and I was. She knew. I always felt like she could see through me. She would ask me sharp pointed questions. I would try to answer fast and give as little information as possible. I knew if I kept talking I would give away the real reason we were doing what we were doing or going where we were going. She knew the real reason was - boys, what else did teenagers have to think about. I think her watchful eye kept us on a good path. 
Mrs. Ann McMullen

Mrs. Ann McMullen was a wonderful example of motherhood. She taught me the importance of family staying close. She had a large family and was still a very attentive mother. My girlfriend was feisty and I am sure she got it from her. She called her mother "Hot Rod." I loved visiting with her. She always had a smile and a laugh even after her illness got worse.

Mrs. Marion Cleveland
Mrs. Marion Cleveland was the best at teaching me to ignoring what seemed to be a difficult situation. We all thought her husband was so mean. Whenever we wanted to come over to play with her girls, she would say it was alright but he would look at us with a scowl. She would usher us inside past him and treat us so kind. She seemed to have a kindness that melted his anger. She was strong in her convictions, a friend to other women in the church and a really good mother. You never realize how much you are learning just watching someone's actions. 

Mrs. Dorothy Brown
Mrs. Dorothy Brown was the youngest of all the mothers (or at least she seemed that way). She influenced me most when her daughter and I were little children playing in the yard. I can't think of her without remembering eating fried green tomatoes under the table in her dining room. We were barely in elementary school and still small enough to sit under the table. She talked to us and was understanding. She liked to have a good time and my favorite picture of her is at a nightclub with her husband. I learned that a good time was an important part of life by watching her. 

Mrs. Rosetta Hinton
Mrs. Rosetta Hinton was the mother that I watched from afar. I learned what a stern mother looked like from the things her daughter would say about her. Her daughter and I got in a lot of trouble together. Mrs. Rosetta would always be my measuring stick if we went too far. Yeah we went too far a couple of times. I am sure she never knew it but she disciplined me through her daughter. She was a pillar of strength in the community for me. I was so blessed to have Mrs. Rosetta in my life.

Mrs. Nellie McKibben
Last but certainly not least was Mrs. Nellie Ruth McKibben. She was Mama to me. She let me be one of her children. I came and went as if I were a sister to her daughters. She taught me to cook some of her best dishes. I am still trying to perfect her Caramel Cake. I ate way too much of her food on Sunday. She seemed to be a very independent married women. She had her own money. She went to her meetings and had friends. I learned that balance was good in marriage from her and so much more. She always had a smile and kind words. She also did not hesitate to put me in place when I was out. I felt her love and am so grateful for that.

Most of them were really young women when we were growing up. We didn't realize that. They all let me call them by their first names (except Mrs. Rosetta), which I would never do today. I think it was because they were still real young ladies and their own mothers were still in their lives. Their mothers were the Mrs. not them. Most of all they were kind to me. I don't know why that meant so much to me then but I try to follow their example and be kind to people.

I guess that is some of the  inspiration for my art, my life and my marriage. I can truly say that I was inspired by HER!

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

National African American Quilt Convention

"The African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy will host the first ever National African American Quilt Conference, a city wide event in celebration of the history and legacy of African Americans in Lawrence, the African American quilting tradition, and contemporary art in various mediums of African American artists. Plans for the Conference include keynote speaker Faith Ringgold, exhibition and demonstration in various art forms in the Cultural District, including the Lawrence  Public Library, Watkins Museum, and the Spencer Museum of Art, educational programs for children and adults, plus historical walks and tours."
I am extremely excited about the fact that this is happening. It is the first of its kind in the United States. I know many people are asking why an African American Quilt Conference when there are so many quilt conferences and conventions already in existence. My daughter told me of an African student asking her why African Americans have HBCU's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). She said they don't have "historically white colleges and universities." My brother-in-law used to say "what is understood does not need to be explained." Well for some strange reason pro-black strikes fear in the heart of many and conjures up images of anti-white. Pro-black is not Anti-white just as pro-white is not necessarily anti-black, however, pro-white is another one of those understood things that doesn't need to be explained. The entire country is pro-white. It goes without saying. Everything was originally built for white people so there is no need to say it is white-that is understood.
Our situation, experience, mental state and our pain in this country is so complex that most of us don't realize the extent of it. When we were brought to this country we were strategically positioned outside of the society and all of its functions. Sadly, we are still strategically positioned outside of many functions in this society whether consciously or unconsciously.
I have had the experience of being the only African American person (or one of two) at many quilt shows, exhibits and conferences. I pretended not to see the stares that said, "how dare you be here or who let her in the show." I have also had the experience of my art being totally misunderstood because it did not conform to the European standards of art currently accepted as correct. Consequently, we call ourselves out-the-box-artists since we don't fit into the neatly packaged box of perfectly straight seams; we don't follow symmetry; we don't always follow the color combination rules; and we want to express our different experience. We like catty-wampas, slanted, tilted, and syncopated. So when we do compete beside other groups of people, our difference is not acknowledged, understood or accepted. We often leave those exhibits feeling like we have done something wrong.
Don't get me wrong because there are African American quilters that do beautiful traditional work- perfect stitches-all points match and the works. Sometimes their work gets lost in the stacks and stacks of other quilters doing the same. We want to celebrate them as well.
We need a conference that we can share our ideas about our style of work, where we can share our concepts and our techniques, where we can show each other love and respect. We need a conference that will hold up the leaders among us (African American Quilters) and they can in turn share there knowledge and experience.
We want to look up to Faith Ringgold, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi and the many many other African American quilt innovators and pray that some of their magic rubs off on us. We want a place where we can let our hair down and be comfortable with ourselves, crooked stitches-loud colors-calm colors-cowryshell hair and the like.
We can hardly wait to hear our story told by Dr, Daniel Atkinson, Marla A, Jackson, Denise Valentine, and Phyllis Lawson. This conference brings together some of the awesome artists such as Rachel Clark, Lola Jenkins, Bisa Butler, and myself  (who is just glad to be mentioned in such outstanding company) to share what they do. There is also a genealogist and historical researcher who will share with us techniques and venues for finding our own family history. We  also need some time to just love on each other. We need time to talk face to face, to touch and to hug. We need that 
special time set aside just to say to each other from all parts of the country that "We hear you." 
Of course everyone is invited to attend. And I am sure we will enjoy people from many different races learning side by side with us as we have done at so many other conventions and conferences. 
In closing let me say that there is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself. There is nothing wrong with singing your own song even if others think you are loud and out of tune.
The great philosopher Russell Simmons said, "DO YOU!" It is time that we "Do Us" at the National African American Quilt Conference. Please join us. and check out the website for more information.