Tag Archives: gratitude

Visit to the Allentown Art Museum 5/30/21

Our weather has been chill and pouring rain and clouds and more rain for this weekend. But my husband and I knew what to do – visit the museum. Off we went to the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, PA, on this date.

Two new exhibits have just opened and both were of interest to me. I’ll do a quick rundown and then show you how I participated myself into an exhibit. Sort of. Kind of. If you stretch the definition…

But I digress. Let’s go.

The first we viewed exhibit is called Roots. It focuses on art or craft made by community artists and what happens when the mainstream art world discovers it and appropriates it or redefines it.

The exhibit contained quilts, furniture, sculpture, beadwork, and imagery. Pieces made by the community artists were shown along with works inspired by or derived from, or in some cases made by the community artists to fit the tastes of the mainstream art world.

Upon entering the room I imediately saw the quilts at the opposite end and I knew right away what I was looking at – Gee’s Bend works.

It’s the first time I was ever able to see a Gee’s Bend quilt in person and I took plenty of time to examine the artworks from the standpoint of how they were put together, to their composition, to just enjoying the look of them.

Coincidentally, not long ago I used the Gee’s Bend quilt community’s works, as well as a set of Allentown rowhouses, as my inspiration for a painting. Look here for the post, and here is the painting:

The accompanying mainstream works were prints made by professionals in conjunction with the original artists. They did not compare to the quilts, hands down.

The rest of the exhibit was equally absorbing. Shaker furniture compared to works of Nakashima and Esherick. Native American works compared to work produced by these same artists for tourists, or, in an interesting extrapolation, designs taken from Native American works and popular motifs of the time and printed on fabric by outside designers.

It was a thought-provoking exhibit and an interesting juxtaposition of items connected in a way we do not often think of them – how one can lead to another and what does that process mean to all involved?

More photos:

Next we went to this exhibit.

This gallery featured bedcoverings of all kinds and from all over the world, as close as the Allentown area and as far away as Asia. Various time periods from the past were also represented, as were techniques: weaving, printing, embroidery, quilting, and applique stitching.

The exhibit made the point that in the past, especially before the mechanical weaving of cloth was possible, bedcoverings were costly and a family’s wealth could have a significant portion invested in bedcovers and assorted linens and accessories. Take a look:

I was especially taken by this tiny “bedcovering” for a baby, made by a Hmong artist. It’s meant to be a baby carrier (according to the placard long sashes would have been sewed to the top to wrap up and around the baby and secure her to her mother – and I am envisioning my granddaughter in this item, as you can see).

According to the information, the extremely precise and exquisite embroidery and applique pattern was deliberately made to be complicated and elaborate so that evil spirits could not find the baby in all the distractions of the wrapping cloth. Additionally, the pompoms at the head were to make the spirits think the baby was a flower and thus camouflaged she would be left alone.

I found this touching. I resolved that when I next make a garment or item for my granddaughter I will consider these factors in my design. It can’t hurt.

Finally we took a quick trip up to the kids’ area. Since we were at the museum so early, the area had just opened and no kids had arrived yet. We had never been in here since it has always been so busy in the past.

The ramp up into the space has a display of fiber art – Cocoons. There was also a display of felted vegetation-like forms inside the kids’ area. I hear they are having a workshop later on featuring the making of such items. Hmmmm…

What a great spot for kids and families to make art and reflect on what they might have seen in the displays by creating something themselves.

That’s not a man sitting over there, it is a statue. Yes.

On our way out, my husband called me back to look at the…bathrooms. Right. Well, they are a treat. The Mens’ and Ladies’ both feature murals incorporating some of the museum’s well-known works. I saw some friends in each room.

And…here is where I became part of the exhibit myself. Kind of. Look and see if you can find me.

Sure you can! And my husband, too.

Well, that’s it for the visit. I hope to return and take another look at both of these displays this summer.

In Which I Punch Some Fabric and Then What Happened Next Surprised Me

A while back I signed up for an online class at Contemporary Craft , an arts organization in Pittsburgh, PA. Some years ago our family visited there (in person) in their previous building while we were on a visit to our son, who was living in the city at the time. I’ve never forgotten the experience and when I was looking around for virtual classes to attend this winter, I took a look at their site.

I’ll let the organization describe themselves in their own words from their website:

Presenting contemporary art in craft materials by international, national, and regional artists since 1971, Contemporary Craft offers innovative exhibitions focused on multicultural diversity and contemporary art, as well as a range of hands-on workshops, community outreach programs, and a store.

I enter the situation via the workshop option. On their site I had noticed this event:

VIRTUAL: Matisse-Inspired Wall Tapestry with Kirsten Ervin

and was drawn in by the image shown ( I don’t know who to credit for the photo, but I took it from the center’s site).

Tapestry fiber craft workshop - Kristen Ervin - Pittsburgh artist

Wow! I read more and I found out we’d be exploring punch needle art. I was so excited. I’ve been interested in this kind of work, similar to but not the same as rug hooking, for a long time. I’ve looked over quite a few books on the subject over the years, but I’ve never found a class or instruction.

Obviously the time had come. I signed up right away.

Wait a minute, you say. What exactly is punch needle art? Well, it’s a form of embroidery, and it uses a special tool and some kind of fiber, such as yarn, to create work on a fabric background. What we were going to do in this class was design our own image and then make it. Just as simple as that.

*******

Time passed and then, about a week ago, I received the kit of class materials, prepared by the presenter, Kirsten Ervin. Everything I needed was included – the stretched cloth background, yarn in the four colors I had chosen, and the punch needle tool, among other items for our session. I was very impressed by the obvious care and thought that had gone into making up this kit amd I was even more anticipating the class once I saw what I’d be working with.

On February 20 I set up my materials, fired up the Zoom, and arrived virtually in Pittsburgh for the class, ready for a four hour session.

After introductions, we got to work. Kirsten had provided each of us with a couple of pieces of heavy paper. The idea was to take scissors and cut shapes, quickly and freely, and arrange them to fit the @ 9″ x 9″ square that our work would cover.

Here are some of the shapes I cut.

They look pretty good now laid out on my dining room table. In reality, I didn’t use any of them. I kept cutting shapes and revising them and trimming them and they became paper slivers mostly falling to the floor. My head did not wrap itself around this method of composition at this stage of the game, though I think it’s a really good way to go about it.

I think that since I was unsure of how the shapes would translate into the fabric work, I felt confused. And you know that I don’t plan anything in my artwork; I just start in and let things take their course. But…it all worked out. I salvaged a few shapes from the disaster, laid them on my background, and traced around them with a sharpie pen. I drew in some random things. Then we got to work.

We learned how to thread the punch needle. Here is the tool, facing up, in the way that you use it:

And here it is, threaded. You poke the yarn through the eye and then lay it along the slit. You sort of wiggle/yank/pull/push and the yarn goes right into the channel. It’s as if the tool resists for a while and then gives in and settles into being ready to work.

My four yarn colors were orange, blue, black, and white. Since I had no set design, exactly, oops, I would have to figure out things as I went along. Other people did things differently – they had a color scheme planned and marked it on the fabric. It depends on how you like to work – either way can come out fine, I learned.

Since I didn’t take photos of the fabric and frame set-up when they were empty, I will now show you what I made in its final form and explain all the parts. Here is the final image I came up with. It’s about 9″ x 9″ square.

And here is what it looked like as I was working. You can see the fabric background, which is something called monk’s cloth. Its loose weave allows the punch needle to slip between the weave pretty easily.

It’s stretched very tightly on a wood frame because the fabric must be taut for this process to work. Let me show you the back view and you will understand.

Kirsten put the cloth/frame assemblage together for each of us. This took some work, all right, even down to the stitching needed around the edges of the very prone to fraying monk’s cloth. I really appreciated this effort. It was very easy to work with this set up.

OK. Now how about some details of the work process? To do the actual task, it is really pretty easy. Stick the punch needle in up to the hilt, and then pull it out at a 45 degree angle or so. Don’t pull it up away from the fabric; keep it close to the surface, and slide it a short distance in the direction you want to go. Stick it in and pull it out. That’s it!

I started with this orange circle, shown below. I worked from the outside in. I did very many messy stitches. Just because it’s easy to do this, well, that does not mean it is easy to do it well. It took me a lot of time to grasp the beginnings of how far apart to make the stitches (I thought of them as “dives” as I dived below the surface with my needle…), and how not to pull the tool too far away from the fabric on the upstroke, and so on.

Know why there is a black dot in the center of this circle? Because when I was finished with the piece and had used up all my orange yarn, well… oh dear, I noticed that it was as if this circle was balding – I had left too much space and left a bare spot. Voila, a black hairpiece and all was well.

Here is more detail of the work. Lots of irregularity. Well, you know, there is something called “practice” and we have that concept for a reason, right? I will improve if I keep on trying.

I also learned that, if a stitch did not satisfy me, just pull it out and redo it. Because this is not an art where you can say…ooops, look at that way back there in line, and fix it. And it’s very easy to remove stitches. So go ahead and do it.

You may be wondering, how does this whole thing hold together, if it is so easy to just pull it apart? Well, it’s an interesting question. Let’s look at the back for some answers. I don’t think my photos show it too well, but the back is fluffier and there is more yarn cramming itself together. It mimics the pattern on the right side, but is different, too, isn’t it?

You might see it better when I contrast the front and back views.

What makes it work is how tightly the loops are packed in with each other. Yes, grab hold of one and start pulling and things can disintegrate. But you are not going to do that, and so the piece’s elements will work together to stay intact. Interesting, isn’t it?

Last bit of construction information. You might also be wondering how the tail ends of the yarn are managed, the ones left when you start or finish a color or area or whatever. Kirsten told us we could just clip the tail ends right to the surface of the work. I almost could not believe her, because in every other fiber art I’ve done, oh my goodness, you must do knots or weave ends or somehow hide them in the work. Not here. Just get your tiny embroidery scissors and carefully clip. Fantastic!

Let’s look at the final result again, now that you know how it is made.

There are a variety of ways to finish it. I could leave it on the frame, for instance. But I like the idea of carefully cutting it from the frame and then folding the monk’s cloth edges to the rear, then covering it with a hand-sewn backing.

And guess what – there is really no wrong or right side to this work. You can choose the one you like best. I can see how different compositions would favor one side or the other. I guess you could turn it over halfway, too, and work from the opposite side, and then get the effects of both looks? (Get me some paper, I must write that idea down…)

*******

So that’s the story of how I learned to punch needle. I haven’t said anything about the class itself, and I will now. Kirsten was a great teacher; I’ve mentioned her good organization and I appreciated her clear plan for the class. We covered all the topics necessary for us to work on our own. She also showed us examples of her work and of various other rug and tapestry-making tools and materials, all of which were helpful in giving ideas and perspectives on the craft.

Plus, she was just a lot of fun to learn from – she has an obvious enthusiasm for the craft and caught us up in it with her. I also enjoyed seeing the WIP and the conversation with my other classmates – which included participants from Pittsburgh and a college student from her dorm room in the middle of the state, besides me.

I want to say thank you to Kirsten Ervin and to Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA, and to my classmates for such a good class and for a lot of fun. I also want everyone to know that I am getting ready to order some punch needle supplies…you can tell I really enjoyed myself by the fact that I finished up this piece last night, I was so full of enthusiasm! I will be doing more punch needle art, you can count on it.

I Build an Airplane on My Dining Room Table.

Yes, I did build an airplane right here at home. And now I will tell you all about it.

A little while ago I was continuing my search of local museums for online activities or classes. I also wanted to know which ones might be open for visiting. I have found museum visits to be a balm for my nerves and worries in these times.

I arrived at the website of The Delaware Contemporary, located in Wilmington, DE, about an hour from my house. I’ve visited here a couple of times in person before the pandemic and always enjoyed myself.

The Museum was founded in 1979 by a group of artists and collectors, according to its website. A non-collecting museum, it focuses on presenting exhibits, education and outreach for the community, supporting artist growth through exhibits and providing work spaces, and bringing the power of art to the community at large.

I will certainly be visiting here in person. But what I want to talk about here is something I noticed as I wandered through the site: the Art Takeout.

It’s simple: You sign up and for a small fee, each month you get an art project related to a current exhibit plus supporting materials. I’ll show you my first one and you’ll see how it works.

*******

I received a package in the mail and when I opened it I saw this:

Already I liked it. The project is in a real takeout box.

There was some written information about the three aspects of the takeout box. Each month, these three aspects will be covered in the box.

Here is the visual: a print from the exhibit that’s the theme of the box.

The exhibit is called Ridem, by Gene Hracho. (Follow the link to read about the real-life art object at the museum site). And here is the written info I received about it.

So now I had a context for my art activity. I then turned to the pairing item. Each month, a sensory experience related to the exhibit is included. Imagine my surprise when I opened a little bag and found these:

And here is the information I read about these three little bells.

I’ve seen small bells like these before. In fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is a string of similar bells my grandmother had on a cord near the stairs to the lower level of the house. She didn’t like yelling up and down the stairs to get someone’s attention. Instead, we rang the bells. They were surprisingly loud and cut through conversation or TV noise. When it was time for dinner, we jingled the bells good and hard to get everyone to come to the table.

So I gave these bells a tryout. What a good sound they made to my ear!

The cat, though, was of another mind. At the first jingle, he came to alert, looking startled. When I shook them again…he leaped to the floor and slunk away very quickly. I was surprised – I had no idea he didn’t like the sound and I don’t know what it means to him. (Since that day I’ve rung the bells a couple more times and he reacts the same way. So…I will be only trying a jingle here or here when he’s not around, I think.)

All right. Now on to the art activity. I recieved this small kit to make a tiny airplane.

I was very excited about putting this model together. When I was a child I made a couple of model cars, but I haven’t done anything like this in decades.

I opened the box and put the pieces into containers to keep them from getting lost.

The museum had enclosed some additional embellishments. I decided to put the model together and then see if I wanted to use them. I do love the assortment, though – washi tape, wire, beads…

All right. Let’s get started. I pulled out the directions. On one side, the finished plane. OK, I see how it’s going to look.

I turned the paper over. Oh my goodness. The directions are tiny pictures.

Everyone, this project was right up my alley and I knew it as soon as I saw this page. Aside from the fact that my aging eyes do not see details as well as they once did, I love to put things together, and I love figuring out little diagrams like these. It’s a puzzle, rewarding patience and logic. A project like this is calming. There is an answer. The parts will go together and make a whole. I find that idea very satisfying.

I reviewed the parts list at top. Hint: always do this with a model. Often pieces look alike…and then you realize there is a detail that makes them different, and if you choose wrongly, that difference will stop progress.

Then I got to work. At each step I lined up the pieces I needed, like this.

I settled into a pleasantly meditative process. Sort the pieces, line them up, understand the sequence, and put them together. The kit even provided tools.

The process went pretty smoothly. I had to reverse course and take a section apart only one time. And in the course of time, I had created a tiny airplane. Look! Look!

I was so excited, I just can’t tell you. In this one afternoon, I had rediscovered something I had forgotten: I like putting things together like this little guy.

And, I felt calm and focused while I was working on it. I enjoyed the challenge of sorting out how to make the process work; the directions don’t do it for you, even if they are a guide – your hands and your eyes and your mind have to work together.

The plane was perfect just as it was, I decided, so I didn’t add any of the embellishments. I did keep them. Who knows, my next project may be perfect for them.

And now I have this cute little airplane!

Thank you to The Delaware Contemporary for their well-though-out project box that was so rewarding to me. I am really looking forward to the next one.

Now, here is the little plane taxiing before taking off for some adventures!

Classwork: Painting #2

Here is the second painting I did in the class. It’s called We Don’t Judge, and it is 20″ x 16″, painted in acrylics on canvas. Originally, there was a wide swath of yellow at the bottom of the picture. At my teacher’s suggestion, I changed it to this darker color. It really helped in defining the image of the flowers in the pot, gave the picture some weight it needed to make it feel balanced, I think.

Classwork: Painting #1

I took an online class in abstract painting during November/December 2020. I’ve never taken a painting class before and to be honest, in normal times I would never have considered it, after decades of painting and exhibiting/selling my work. I would have just kept on as I was going.

But I’ve retired from selling my art, I want to explore new things in all my art activities, and I was looking for a bit of community. A class seemed a good idea.

The class was structured with a short lecture at the beginning of class covering an abstract painter’s work and using it as a springboard to discuss abstract art principles. Then we students painted at our individual studios.

When we wanted guidance or advice, we emailed a photo of our work to the teacher. He spoke with the student and showed the painting in question on the screen for all to see and hear. In that way we could get feedback on our own work, see what other students were doing, and have some personal involvement as a class.

I really enjoyed this class. I learned and I opened my mind to some new ideas; I enjoyed being in the company of other painters; and the routine of having a set time to settle down and paint was invaluable in adding stability to my life. Thank you to my fellow students and my teacher, Kassem Amoudi.

Here’s a painting that emerged from this classwork. It’s called My Neighbors, it’s 20″ x 16″ on canvas, done with acrylics.

Small Wordless Sketchbook 2020 Pages 8 and 9

In March-June 2020 I created a sketchbook full of art made from odds and ends I had saved. The book has no words, just pictures. I am showing you the whole book, two facing pages at a time. The book was finished in June. I made it to help myself feel better as I passed through the early days of the pandemic.

Here are the project’s specifics.The book is a mixed media sketchbook that’s 5.5″ x 7.5″. I used collage materials including magazine pages and scraps of my own discarded artworks, as well as acrylic paints and inks, India ink, and pens, regular brushes, and bamboo brushes.

Here are pages 8 and 9 as they appear in the book, and below in more detail.

Small Wordless Sketchbook 2020 Pages 6 and 7

In March-June 2020 I created a sketchbook full of art made from odds and ends I had saved. The book has no words, just pictures. I am showing you the whole book, two facing pages at a time. The book was finished in June. I made it to help myself feel better as I passed through the early days of the pandemic.

Here are the project’s specifics.The book is a mixed media sketchbook that’s 5.5″ x 7.5″. I used collage materials including magazine pages and scraps of my own discarded artworks, as well as acrylic paints and inks, India ink, and pens, regular brushes, and bamboo brushes.

Here are pages 6 and 7 as they appear in the book, and below in more detail.

Small Wordless Sketchbook 2020 Pages 4 and 5

In March-June 2020 I created a sketchbook full of art made from odds and ends I had saved. The book has no words, just pictures. I am showing you the whole book, two facing pages at a time. The book was finished in June. I made it to help myself feel better as I passed through the early days of the pandemic.

Here are the project’s specifics.The book is a mixed media sketchbook that’s 5.5″ x 7.5″. I used collage materials including magazine pages and scraps of my own discarded artworks, as well as acrylic paints and inks, India ink, and pens, regular brushes, and bamboo brushes.

Here are pages 4 and 5 as they appear in the book, and below in more detail.

Small Wordless Sketchbook 2020 Pages 2 and 3

In March-June 2020 I created a sketchbook full of art made from odds and ends I had saved. The book has no words, just pictures. I am showing you the whole book, two facing pages at a time. The book was finished in June. I made it to help myself feel better as I passed through the early days of the pandemic.

Here are the project’s specifics.The book is a mixed media sketchbook that’s 5.5″ x 7.5″. I used collage materials including magazine pages and scraps of my own discarded artworks, as well as acrylic paints and inks, India ink, and pens, regular brushes, and bamboo brushes.

Here are pages 2 and 3 as they appear in the book, and below in more detail.

Small Wordless Sketchbook 2020 Page 1

I have made several Artist Sketchbooks in the past few years. I have filled them with drawing, painting, collage, whatever I wanted. In the past I have put art on one page and on the facing page I have written poetry to go with the image.

This book is different. Only pictures, no words, to this book. I figure each viewer can go through it and construct whatever story they like, for each picture alone or as an ongoing narrative or chapter.

As I am getting older, less and less do I want to define the art I do. I just want to do it. That is enough meaning for me. As for you who are looking at it, I’d rather let it do its own talking. Or you can tell your own story to the art and see it reflected back.

Here are the project’s specifics. I used a mixed media sketchbook that’s 5.5″ x 7.5″. I had collected a lot of odds and ends from other projects and kept them in a box. I used up the whole array of those materials in making this book, and then I added whatever touches I felt were needed. I did this work March-June 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. I did this project to make me feel better.

My plan is to show you the pages on a regular schedule until the book is finished, a page spread at a time

Lots of talking. Time to begin the book. Here is page 1. It’s by itself since its page mate is the front cover of the sketchbook.