Archive | June, 2014

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, remains up and running, so please visit.


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Art quilts in history – Gerald Roy

Like all other arts and crafts forms, the aesthetic value of an individual work is determined by the viewer. Beginning in the Victorian era with crazy quilts, art quilts have been appreciated by many. Gerald Roy continues his thoughts on the progression of art quilts in history in this article.

The Victorian era (1837–1901) (see, Art Quilt Phenomenon article) would soon be followed by 36 of the most tumultuous years in American history. World War I began in 1914 and Prohibition in 1919.  Wall Street crashed in 1929 and was followed by The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 and drew the United States into World War II through 1945, when it dropped of two atomic bombs. Five years of peace ended with the Korean War in 1950.

When men went to war, women took on their jobs as well as their own. Women who left their homes for factories and cities to pursue professions usually abandoned their previous way of life, even if their husbands did return from war. Being paid and having a career leaves little chance that women will return to the home or the farm. Time-consuming activities are abandoned in favor of labor-saving devices and products that are mass produced in factories rather than one-of-a-kind ones made at home. Quilting was just one of the many activities that suffered.

Yet, quilt making was passed onto the succeeding generations where it was still important to the economy of a region or where it was deeply embedded in the heritage and tradition of a family or community. This was how many rural areas were especially influential in enabling many of our nation’s early crafts to survive times until there was renewed interest in them. Pride and appreciation in traditional American art, crafts, architecture and just about all things American was later reinforced by the positive attitudes and activities established during and between the World Wars when private, public, and governmental agencies got people back to work.

The quilt which won prizes at the World Fair in Chicago is presented to Mrs. Roosevelt by E.J. Condon. L.T. Conway views the ceremony. Both men are connected with a merchandising concern doing business on a nationwiide scale. The prize winning quilt was made by Margaret Rogers Caden of Lexington, KY

E.J. Condon presents the winning quilt to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. L.T. Conway views the ceremony. Both men were connected with Sears, Roebuck & Co.. The prize winning quilt was made by Margaret Rogers Caden of Lexington, KY. – photo from the Library of Congress.

We saw this occur in 1939 when the Work Progress Administration (WPA) employed 8.5 million workers, not only to construct buildings, roads, bridges, and tunnels, but also to create music, paintings, and literary works for public purposes. No wonder the WPA was responsible for the founding of The National Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The popularity of quilt making was accelerated when government, private, and corporate interests recognized the power of quilts to attract and engage huge audiences. With all the financial problems facing the country, the revival of quilt making and many other crafts was seen as a way of stimulating an economy that has suffered during the wars, and the depression.

Quilt by Aurora See Dyer for 1933 Sears National Quilt Contest

Quilt by Aurora See Dyer for 1933 Sears National Quilt Contest – photo courtesy of Merikay Waldvogel

By the late nineteenth century, country fairs across the nation included quilt contests and exhibits. A National Quilting Bee Contest was launched in 1911.  Little is known about the entries or the results.   The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of professionally designed patterns and quilt kits advertised and distributed nationally.  Companies such as Stearns & Foster Co., maker of Mountain Mist batting, suggested quilt shows and competitions to promote and encourage quiltmaking.  In 1932, The Eastern States Exposition at Storrowton, Massachusetts held the first national quilt contest. In 1933, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. organized a national quilt contest in conjunction with Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  Over 25,000 quilts were judged at local and regional levels.  At the final national round held at the Sears Pavilion, of 30 regional winners, a traditional quilt entered by Margaret Caden of Kentucky won the $1000 grand prize as well as the honor of the quilt being given to Eleanor Roosevelt. Then in 1939 and 1940, over $3,000 in prize money was awarded at contests organized in conjunction with the New York World’s Fair sponsored by department stores and Good Housekeeping Magazine.

Competition had always been a part of the history of quilt making; however, prize money of this proportion brought a whole new dimension to the effort.

These events changed the complexion of quilt making forever. Professional designers and artists from other disciplines adopted quilt making as their media of expression. Quilt making became a full-time career for many with an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the quilts from this early contest era maintained their sizes so their intended use was still assumed to be as practical bedcovers. However, this idea soon faded when their intent was clearly recognized and they were intended to be seen as art.

Gerald E. Roy at Pilgrim/Roy

Gerald Roy

Gerald Roy is an educator, painter, quilt maker and author. He is a quilt appraiser certified by the National Quilters Society and an administrator of the AQS Quilt Appraisal Certification Program. His This Old Quilt column is featured in the Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine. He currently serves on the following boards: New England Quilt Museum Lowell, Mass. – Acquisitions Board and the National Quilt Museum Paducah, Kentucky – Executive Board of Directors, National Advisory Board and Chair / Acquisitions Committee. He is the curator for Quilts & Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection opening at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston on April 6. To learn more, visit his website, Pilgrim/Roy Antiques and Interiors

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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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