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Sacred Stones by Denise Labadie

Craftsmanship turns to creativity

Dun Aengus by Denise Labadie, 71H x 63W Inishowen (Aran Islands), Co. Galway, Ireland, Quilt National 2007 People's Choice Award Quilt National 2007 McCarthy Memorial Award for Craftsmanship

Dun Aengus by Denise Labadie, 71H x 63W
Inishowen (Aran Islands), Co. Galway, Ireland, Quilt National 2007 People’s Choice Award, Quilt National 2007 McCarthy Memorial Award for Craftsmanship

I make contemporary art quilts about non-contemporary objects – megalithic stones and ruins.

I started off as a professional seamstress making custom women’s and children’s clothing. Not all that challenging after a time ­– the work was more focused on extreme craftsmanship than creativity. It certainly helped pay the bills. But it didn’t ever satisfy my lifelong desire to move into art.

This desire to become an artist is still difficult to explain – per Goodbye Again (John Denver): “other voices beckon me,” “there’s just something that’s inside of me,” “it’s anyone who’ll listen to me sing.”

My many years as a seamstress, starting in 4H, gave me a love of working with fabric, it was a natural transition that my art be fabric-based. It’s what I wanted. It also let me focus on my images and messaging instead of having to worry about the actual mechanics and nuances of production. This very early and continuing focus on sewing technique resulted in a 2007 Quilt National McCarthy Memorial Award for Craftsmanship.

Irish Stone Fort Ruin by Denise Labadie, 48H x 40W, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Irish Stone Fort Ruin by Denise Labadie, 48H x 40W, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Art quilt inspirations

Those “other voices that beckon me” are those of (primarily Celtic) prehistoric stone monoliths – dolmens, standing stones and circles, and the like – or more recent monastic ruins, plus their landscapes.

The stones are both immensely powerful and profoundly peaceful; they communicate age, belonging, permanency, the fervor of their creators. When around the stones, I feel an intense presence, a strength and timelessness not found elsewhere. And art quilts seem to be the perfect medium to communicate these many messages and emotions.

 My greatest reward is the often deeply emotional reactions people have to my quilts. This to me is the essence of art.

I had no prior background in art. Knowing that I needed art-specific training, I developed and followed a deliberate plan to acquire this necessary knowledge. I attended design and art classes, primarily drawing and painting, along with classes in color, composition, and perspective (shadowing and perspective having always been my biggest artistic challenges). I also took classes in quilt making. I continue to take additional classes as needed.

Realism vs. Abstraction

Although my stones are as realistic as possible, my landscapes and skies are deliberately abstract – this to provide needed context and a sense of place, while ensuring that the stones remain the focal point. Staying with the abstract also is more reflective of the intimacy, softness of light, and “near horizon” of the Irish landscape.

I also focus on anything that helps create texture, including the use of my own fabrics and the couching of yarns, silks, and the like. My favorite techniques include fabric painting and the aggressive use of stripping (for my landscapes, and sometimes skies). Both of these techniques create unique blending of color and texture not otherwise achievable. And the finished product looks like Ireland!

"Monastic Ruin at Glendalough" by Denise Labadie, 78H x 60W, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Monastic Ruin at Glendalough by Denise Labadie, 78H x 60W,
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Achieving success

My biggest achievements include winning two Quilt National awards (including People’s Choice in 2007), and being successfully represented for the past five years by a top fine art gallery (which is not otherwise focused on quilting or fiber art) on Martha’s Vineyard.

Finally, my mentors – first and foremost, above all others, has been my design group, including Patty Hawkins and Judith Trager as key long-time participants and influences. To me, honest and embraced criticism by artists from diverse media is a key element for artistic growth.

I’m not yet done with the quilting of my stonescapes – through my stones, I’ll continue to convey deeply emotional images of a human past largely forgotten.


Denise Labadie

Denise Labadie

Denise is a contemporary art quilter, teacher, and lecturer. Her works are interpreted visions of either megalithic Celtic stone circles or standing stones, or more recent monastic ruins. She is currently represented by the Shaw Cramer Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard; her work can also be seen on her web site (www.labadiefiberart.com). She lives outside of Boulder, Colorado, and focuses on her quilting full-time.

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Lorie McCown in Quilting Arts Magazine

The artist profile in Quilting Arts (October/November 2014)

The artist profile in the current issue of Quilting Arts (October/November 2014) features Lorie McCown.

Lorie McCown is interviewed and featured in Quilting Arts Magazine latest issue. A five page article with many examples of her latest work is included. The article features the latest series she is working on and discusses processes, context and influences on her work. Lorie discusses the pieces meanings, messages, inspirations and iconography.

The issue is on newsstands now.

Lorie McCown’s work was included in Quilt National 2013.

To see more of her work, and read more about it, please visit www.loriemccown.com or artpluscraft.blogspot.com

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Fabric Collage – Susan Polansky

My art is created through a slow and deliberate process. I strive to make believable atmospheres and images that will evoke emotional response, achieving this through a collage of fabrics and stitching. Often I’ll work spontaneously, but on larger pieces, I will spend more time exploring my concept before I actually embark on the fabric stage. Ideas are like acquaintances I’ve just met. Some are intriguing enough that I want to get to know them better. After I’ve spent some time with them, some fade and others become close friends.

Pastoral Disturbance by Susan Polansky © 2009

Pastoral Disturbance by Susan Polansky © 2009

Craft and composition support fabric collage content

I use photos for reference, and often I use Adobe Photoshop to combine parts of photos. Finding images with similar perspectives can be quite tricky, so sometimes I will round up a collection of images that gives me enough information to draw a synthesis of them.

Previously, I would make everything up as I went along, but I’ve found that preparation before the fabric stage has streamlined my process. I will use an immediate approach for a smaller piece, but if I intend on making a long term commitment, I don’t want to leave the composition to chance.

Earlier pieces experimented with materials and techniques but now my work is more content driven. I can really focus on what I want to say, and draw from all my previous experience to form the vision that I wish for.  I might research authenticity, for example:  “Pastoral Disturbance,” refers to a tragedy that occurred in an Amish schoolhouse, but the women I originally drew wore Mennonite bonnets not worn in Pennsylvania.  In “No One but You,” I needed to find out about accordions, so I did a Google Image search to supply visual information.

The story of “No One but You”

From the start, I was prepared to devote a serious amount of time to “No One but You,” (juried into Quilt National 2013). In fact, it was particularly the knowledge of how long it takes to create my art that provided inspiration for this piece, along with a family vacation photo.  Frozen in time were two dancers sharing a moment amid a bustling background. A fleeting moment caught forever by the quick click of the camera. Would I be able to capture the same feeling with an artistic process so unlike photography?  With this premise, I set out, not knowing it would take three years to reach a conclusion.

"No One but You" by Susan Polansky

“No One but You” by Susan Polansky, currently on view at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles


Why did it take so long? Like many artists, I struggle with the balance of studio and family time, feeling as if I never have enough time with either. I love the times that I’m so engrossed with who I’m with or what I’m doing that all obligations fade away, and there is no pull of “something other.” It was the quiet repose of the dancers that attracted me to the photo that I was working with in the first place. But life (and death) intervened – I lost eleven people in two years. Despite the emotional upheaval, I kept returning to the studio. How could I focus on these little pieces of fabric when there was so much turmoil around me? I knew that if I could make the connection with my art, get lost in it, the background would fade. Outside the studio, I was consumed with managing estates and dealing with other people’s things. I became ever so aware that the things were not crucial to the memory of the deceased. The things I wanted to hold onto were not things at all, but the times I had shared with them. The connections when everything else – the noise, the backgrounds – did not matter. Just the finite, precious time spent with them was what I wanted to freeze in my memory.
         Susan Polansky works with photos in her fabric collage process
“No One but You” began with a photo, but was not a copy of a photo. With the number of tools, like Photoshop, available to artists, copying photos to create realism has become more common. Yet some pieces remain soulless: they are mere copies. I felt the emotion of my piece and really understood the meaning of the work as it evolved. The advice of a teacher to “paint what you know” resonates with me. The success of “No One but You” encourages me to be wholly engaged, and time will become meaningless.

What’s Next

The quilt that I am currently working on required a lot of drawing in preparation. I was so concerned about getting the perspective correct that I took some extreme measures. After my initial sketches disappointed me, I built models out of clay to actually make the scene I had in mind, so that I could “see” how it looked. And then, when my drawings still weren’t quite right, I hired a drawing coach for a few hours to help me figure out why some figures just didn’t look human enough.        

Susan Polansky makes clay models of figues

I’m finding renewed interest in my drawing skills, and have created my current work entirely from my imagination. Creating a large, realistic scene with the kind of detail that interests me, without relying on photo references, is a first for me. It requires confidence that I’ve gained through all my previous work. It’s very exciting, especially now at the stage of the colors going together, materializing into a believable sight! I think of the direction I’m heading as narrative realism, and I’m also intrigued with symbolism. I want my work to be believable, yet not absolute – suggesting, not stating. I’d like to invite the viewer into my constructed world and have them explore a story that is contained within.

Whether the piece gets into Quilt National 2015 or not, I’m anxious to show the next marker of my progress.

Susan Polansky

Susan Polansky

About Susan Polansky

My creative passion is stitched fabric collage. I create credible images from small bits of commercially printed fabrics held together with fusible web (a type of iron-on glue) and stitching. I dabble with painting and crafts for fun, read and garden, and love to travel. I’ve got three great kids and have been married to my best friend for 27 years. Currently I am working on a completely new website. Meanwhile, www.susanpolansky.com remains up and running, so please visit.

 

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Susan Shie shares her story

One of the quilts showing in Quilt National 2013 at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles is the delightful Dragon Sushi: 9 of Pyrex Cups in the Kitchen Tarot by Susan Shie. This story is an excerpt from her website where Susan shares some of the inspirations for her piece.
Dragon Sushi: 9 of Pyrex Cups in the Kitchen Tarot, ©Susan Shie 2012. 60"h x 86.5"w

Dragon Sushi: 9 of Pyrex Cups in the Kitchen Tarot, ©Susan Shie 2012. 60″h x 86.5″w

On June 14, 2012 I randomly drew the minor tarot card the 9 of Cups from the Sakki-Sakki Tarot deck (which is my favorite, besides the Kitchen Tarot). This card, described as the Wishing Card, would become my piece about my trip to Girona, Spain, a city north of Barcelona in the Catalan part of Spain, near the Costa Brava.

The piece chronicles my trip to the Interquilt 2012 show in Girona (where I had a solo exhibition and taught classes) and includes many of the wonderful people I met there. Girona was a wonderful experience, and I am in love with the city and cherish my time there and all the great people I met there.

I started painting on July 31, using my airbrush like I normally do. The piece was challenging because I wanted to include ALL the cool people I met in Girona and be able to tell stories about them. I painted the old part of the city, which has an amazingly rich mixture of cultures which took turns ruling this trade city over the centuries.

I worried that the piece could easily get too detailed and muddled, if I tried to write a lot, after all the little vignettes of groups of people that I put in. So I decided to make part of the writing with fabric markers in colors, instead of doing it all with my airpen and black fabric paint. This gave the piece a way of staying lighter and less mushy, but I also had to abbreviate my stories a lot.

Detail of the quilt, including gelato

Detail of the quilt, including gelato

Gelato was my favorite food in Girona, because it was so hot, and we often carried heavy loads in all our walking. But my second favorite food there was from the Sushi Bar. Honest! It was in the big Plaza, and sitting inside, you could see the big Cathedral of Girona across the river, behind the beautiful tall, narrow houses that were built with nothing between them, and right up to the riverbanks, for a long way north and south along the pretty Onyar River.

I put the Cathedral and the big Church of St Feliu along the wall at the top of my piece, and I drew the Holy Grail there, too. I had joked that Girona felt so magical, maybe the Holy Grail was hidden there! Then, after I came home from Spain, I read a book by Patrice Chaplin, City of Secrets, all about the Holy Grail being there in Girona.

What’s in a name?

Detail of sushi

Detail of sushi

So, you wonder where I got the title for this piece Dragon Sushi, right? Well, in my free time, I made up a story to explain how come the Sushi Bar restaurant is lined up perfectly to see the Cathedral out of its windows. I had a vision: St George, aka Jordi in Catalan, slew the Dragon where the Cathedral is now, right there in Girona. Then, because he had all that dragon meat, he invented Sushi right there on the spot, and he had them build the Cathedral right where it all had happened, in honor of both slaying the dragon and inventing sushi. AND considering that this is the Year of the Dragon, my vision is very timely, as well!

Detail: Susan Shie self portrait in her Dragon Sushi quilt.

Detail: Susan Shie self portrait in her Dragon Sushi quilt.

There’s a large head of a woman beside the Eiffel Bridge arm of Xevi, and it’s MY head. On it I wrote a saying I saw on Facebook, a poster that quotes Sen. Joe McCarthy from the 1950s. It says:

Beware of artists, for they mix with all classes of society, and are therefore the most dangerous. – Sen. Joe McCarthy

I really like that. Too bad old Joe damaged and ruined so many Americans’ lives by accusing them of being Communist sympathizers and having them either banned from their careers or thrown into prison. I pray we never have that level of fanatic reactionism in our country again.

Most of the stories in this piece are about the Girona trip, with very little about current events, which I mostly squeezed into the writing on the border. I got the part about Todd Akin’s explanation about how we don’t need abortions for rape victims, because you probably can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” And I included some Eva visit stuff and Hurricane Issac, which had flooded and taken the electric out of Haiti and Cuba, and after hitting lower Florida, was on its way to hit New Orleans, exactly 7 years after Hurricane Katrina. OH, and I write a little about the Republican Convention, like how there was a billboard there that said” Welcome to Tampa, where the mayor and all city council members are Democrats. Enjoy your stay!”

If you’d like to learn even more about the people I included in this piece, please visit my website.

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