Friday, September 9, 2011

New Beginnings

Summer Palimpsest, detail, ©2011, H.Hunter, 28" x 27"
Every day, like most everyone, I find a flock of e-mails waiting in my in-box. Yesterday, one of them stood out, catching my notice, the words evoked a turning, an awareness that something new might be on the way.

My friend Sara had written a description for a class she calls "Art Makers," a class for people who are curious about the process of being and becoming an artist. The class has been going on for a couple years now and each season, she changes the theme to correspond with her observations on the previous class.

She noted that this fall class would focus on process, "--on taking apart our work and putting it back together, on looking and seeing with "art" awareness, on re-affirming how we work best."

I'm taking those 5 little words "re-affirming how we work best," to heart.

All summer, I've climbed the stairs to my studio, a space where I cocoon myself and spin out my threads, watching them acrete until a small but perfect quilt emerges on the wall.

I like to cut quirky rectangles which can be only be matched up with persistence. When I finish, the last thing I want to do is to quilt the layers together.  I decided to take the pieces to a professional quilter whose work I admire. After they were quilted, I showed them to an artist friend. As I laid them out, she cleared her throat. "Hmm...I think I should just say that I really like to exercise total artistic control. " That small pebble of feedback caused a landslide of insight.

Rather than seeing the quilting as a necessary step that needs to be added to properly finish the process (and God knows why I thought that since I'd already broken a slew of quilter's rules.)--I began to see the stitches on the top as a layer of drawing. That in fact there were four layers: the backing, the batting, the quilted pieces of fabric and the thread quilting on top. I saw it like an architect's model in which layers of drawings were placed on top of each other to convey the finished building.

Artmaking involves skills that can be learned.  The conventional wisdom here is that while "craft" can be taught, "art" remains a magical gift bestowed only by the Gods.  Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. --Art and Fear

While I can't say that I became a sudden convert to this notion of quilting as drawing (in fact I even took the last two quilts, Miss August and Miss September, right back to the pro), I've tucked the knowledge away for a time that doesn't have a limit on it, a time when I can ponder these layers and find a way to connect them in a way that leaves my own mark, one of acceptance.


  1. I've long been fascinated by the stitching of traditional quilts, how they somtimes add another pattern on top of the patterns of cloth. It's an interesting idea to think of it as drawing, as you call it "another layer". In "Summer Palimpsest" the curving stitched lines work almost oppositionally to the geometry of the squares. I wonder where this will take you...

  2. Insights help us step another step on the path. Stiches as drawing - sounds intregueing to me!

  3. Hannah - thank you for this post. It brought to mind some of the process I am going through working with textiles - altering clothing. I got a lot of advice and thinking I didn't really know anything I tried some of it. Luckily I did a test and though it ended up taking me in a new direction, it did not work for my immediate project. It was/is important for me to muddle about in my own exploration at times - often it brings me to a new way of doing/creating/processing that no one else but me can do. It's like journeying through my own dream.

  4. Very interesting! But I agree with your friend, I like having complete control.
    On the flip side I have taken part in some collaborative art.. and on ocassions its quiet liberating to let the control go... and be part of a team.

  5. The beauty of this quilt far outweighs the quilting question. The placement of colors and shapes is remarkable and expresses your vision. I look forward to the next two!

  6. Altoon, it's true that the geometric and curvileanear lines seem to be at odds--when I stand back and look at as a whole--it works by virtue of those paradoxes of vision. I am hooked on the quilting and I look forward to seeing where it takes me when the pressure is off.

    Hi Leslie--yes, it's true isn't it? sometimes that ends up being more valuable than the artwork

    That's interesting Judy--I think we need the feedback at various points in our process, but also the wisdom and time afterwards to "muddle through"--until the way becomes clear.

    Joyita--yes--and the trick is to know when to do what!

    Thank you Blue Sky!

  7. Wow, very timely post for me as I'm going through the same awareness of my creative development. It's a time of waiting and of a deeper kind of growth. I'm looking forward to seeing how your new insight develops.

  8. your final sentence touched me so deeply Hannah...actually the final word--acceptance...can we fully accept the many layers of our art, our selves and see how they integrate, how each part depends on the others to create wholeness. You've given me much to ponder this evening.

  9. Hannah, your posts always give me something to think about. As I look back on the process I just went through to get ready for my show, I see where life would have been a lot easier if I had accepted myself and "my voice". I have read "Art & Fear" before, but that quote you used really spoke to me this time. Thank you so much!

  10. Hi Hannah..Love the quilt by whatever process it's here because of you...that's your voice...and it is consistently aligned with healing and wholeness.
    Whether working alone or in collaboration the voice of the Art/Life uplifts and evolves us all...and with evolution comes acceptance of all our many layers...even the batty ones '-)