Friday, 30 October 2015

Studio Series: work in progress

Mennonite material culture series in progress © Karen Thiessen, 2015
While I've been moving my Poetic Memory series forward (well over 200 tags are complete!), another series has been almost making itself. Yup, Mennonite elves toil away in the studio when I'm not looking. Well, it seems that way. 

Each body of work that I make has its own rhythm and personality. Some are neat and tidy and emerge on schedule, like a small miracle. One was stubborn and had its own sense of time (the Shadow series). I started playing with making a Mennonite series about fifteen years ago. It wasn't ready. While I was working long hours for my 2013 solo show Unit(y), naturally the Menno series started elbowing its way into my awareness. It's a sneaky beast. 

Above is a random selection of 41 of the Mennonite material culture tags that I've made so far. They aren't optimally arranged or installed. The series needs a better title and I need to triple the amount of work before I have a sense of what it wants to be and where it wants to go. With this series it seems that as long as I'm working on something else, it gets made. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Quotes: William Van Dusen Wishard

"Vision is seeing beyond the immediacy of the day. It is understanding the temper of the times, the outlines of the future, and how to move from one to the other.

Vision is seeing where life is headed, and how to make the transition from here to there most effectively.

Vision is seeing what life could be like while dealing with life as it is. Vision is having some sense of the inner impulse of the Age.

It is sensing what is felt, yet unarticulated, in the public soul and then giving it voice. Vision is seeing the potential purpose that's hidden in the chaos of the moment, yet which could bring to birth new possibilities for a people." –– William Van Dusen Wishard, American author (Source: via an old inspiration file)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


I've been a bit quiet here in blogland. Real life has been rather busy with studio work, my printmaking class, a visiting artist talk and critique of student work at McMaster University School of the Arts, and more. My parents are in the process of down-sizing, so I now have an old copper boiler and a iron pot that I am dyeing fabrics in and with (pot as mordant). An ancient roll-top desk has taken up residence in my studio. The desk is a magical space that ignites my imagination. My mom also passed on some old family textiles and other family keepsakes (like my great-grandparents' notebooks and passports!!).

Monday, 19 October 2015

Quotes: Peter James Field and Daniel Kluge

Quotes via Richard Brereton's Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators, and Creatives, 2009.

"I was using drawing to digest and give meaning to the outside world. ... Sometimes I feel that in keeping sketchbooks I'm documenting the world as I see it, like a kind of archivist, often using my sketches to search for connections in the small things that would otherwise be lost and forgotten." –– Peter James Field, U.K. artist and illustrator, p. 108

"A sketchbook is like a valve, a pressure release system. Instead of weighing things up in my head, I give them a place in my sketchbook. ... [My] sketchbook is a reflection of my inner world, without complaints, worries or private problems." –– Daniel Kluge, German graphic designer, p. 178.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Quotes: Agnes de Mille

"Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark." –– Agnes de Mille (1905-1993), American dancer and choreographer

Friday, 9 October 2015

Studio Series: Chortitza Oak Leaves prints

Chortitza Oak leaves prints © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Happy days are here again: my printmaking class has resumed for the fall! I'm screen printing as usual, and I'm printing with found materials. My personal leaves of significance project continues in new ways. This summer I visited several Chortitza oak descendants (Quercus robur) here in Southern Ontario and gathered leaves: some to take rubbings from and some to print. To preserve the leaves, I soaked them in a glycerin, water, and surfactant concoction (1 part glycerin to two parts water, plus 3 to 4 drops of castile soap to act as a surfactant) for a week. Once the leaves were preserved, I inked some up with a brayer with black Akua ink and then ran them through a press. In the above photo, you'll see prints on abaca (a.k.a. tea bags), Japanese kozo paper, and old German book pages. My thanks to Christine Mauersberger for the idea to preserve the leaves and then print with them! In the near future, I plan to print with preserved mulberry leaves and birch leaves from the tree that shelters my late-brother's grave, although I'm certain that the birch leaves will be too fine to print with. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Judy Martin: Mended World @ Homer Watson House & Gallery 3

Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Judy Martin's Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project at Homer Watson House and Gallery in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada has come and gone but its memory still burns bright. I've followed Martin's documentation of the Circle project on her blog for several years. One textile that I especially wanted to see in person was Layers of Time
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
When I saw this central panel of dense eyelet stitches (a.k.a. buttonhole wheels, according to The Embroidery Stitch Bible) I gasped audibly. Just this section alone is a considerable investment of time and care. In our world of instantaneity and diminished attention spans, the lavish stitching in Layers of Time defies modern logic.
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Do you see what I mean? I wonder how long each eyelet took to make. There appear to be several hundred. Layers of Time is the last of the four liturgical panels that were made by Martin with assistance from the volunteers with the Manitoulin Circle Project.
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
I was intrigued to see layers of lace doilies repurposed. Their colouration is as they were donated: yellowed with time and not over-dyed. Here is an element of "anonymous time": the women who crocheted the donated doilies, many likely long dead, unknowingly contributed to this quilt too. The quilt is mostly monochromatic, with the exception of a hint of blue outlining the inner circle. 
Judy Martin Layers of Time, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Background squares of wool blanket contrast with the central circle motifs.

The five liturgical panels in the Mended World exhibition are prominently displayed in the sanctuary of the Little Current United Church when they are not travelling. At this point, the final exhibition of the liturgical panels is set for June 2016 in North Bay, Ontario. This month they head to a Newfoundland fibre conference for a meditation panel workshop that Martin is teaching. 

Judy Martin Layers of Time: vintage wool blankets & lace doilies, recycled linen damask, silk, beads, cotton threads, hand pieced, layered, embroidered, and quilted, made with community assistance. 92" X 92" (228.6 X 228.6 cm) Collection of Little Current United Church, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada.

Judy Martin Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project 
at Homer Watson House and Gallery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada 
May 9 to June 14, 2015

All photographs were taken with permission from the artist.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Quotes: Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

"Hope is a tease designed to prevent us from accepting reality." –– character Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (actress Maggie Smith)
Source: Downton Abbey, episode 5.4

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Judy Martin: Mended World @ Homer Watson House & Gallery 2

Judy Martin, Mended World, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
My photo of the Mended World liturgical panel does not do the textile justice. Along with TrinityMended World is of the quieter of the five large liturgical panels: all circles within squares. Mended World is one of the four textiles that Judy Martin designed and then made with assistance from over 100 volunteers, all part of the Manitoulin Circle Project (hereafter MCP). The MCP ran from 2009 to 2013. Every Thursday, Martin and a random assortment of community members, usually a dozen or so, would gather at the Little Current United Church from 10 am to 6 pm. The volunteers came with a range of sewing experience. They gathered even when Martin was away due to travel commitments or otherwise.
Judy Martin, Mended World, 2012 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
What happens when community members work together toward a common goal for four years? The MCP participants were a circle of people meeting in what was most likely a square or rectangular building and they made liturgical textiles of circles within squares: the gatherings mirrored the textile designs. While working together on textiles, heads are down and hands are busy, allowing conversation interspersed with moments of silence; this is a great way for introverts and extroverts to work together.
Judy Martin, Mended World, 2012 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Had a sociologist been present during the four years of the MCP, he/she may have witnessed the gradual building of deeper social cohesion, especially among community members who would not normally connect. Did the Manitoulin Circle Project bind the community together and create an open and fluid circle of belonging and welcome?

Mended World is strip-pieced. Note the flecks of blue within the central circle and the shimmer of the repurposed table linens. It is a quiet, elegant liturgical panel.

Mended World completed in 2012 was hand and machine stitched, and made of recycled linen and cotton damask, and silk. The size is 243.8 X 243.8 cm.
Judy Martin, Precious Water, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
Precious Water is a double circle with a horizon line bisecting the textile. The design and colours echo Earth Ark. It is hand-stitched and made with recycled linen and cotton damask, silk, and linen. The dimensions are 218.4 X 218.4 cm. I'm gobsmacked that the entire liturgical textile was pieced without the assistance of a sewing machine. The double-circle reads as a protective zone surrounding an island and its sky.
Judy Martin, Precious Water, 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
The lower section of the textile is composed of circles within squares, reinforcing the theme. The ruched blue section was made with a special backing fabric that shrinks when exposed to heat. Once the grid of blues and off-whites were stitched to the backing, a heat gun shrunk the backing fabric. The colours are harmonious, but I am not convinced by the ruched texture. It feels gimmicky in relation to the rest of the liturgical panel.
Judy Martin, Precious Water 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
The dots were expertly formed using the satin stitch.
Judy Martin, Precious Water 2013 detail; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2015
The circles within squares of the lower section were created with reverse appliqué, a time-consuming process that requires skill and practice. Martin and the Manitoulin Circle Project volunteers poured a high level of care, detail, and time into Precious Water

Judy Martin Mended World: an exhibition of the Manitoulin Community Circle Project 
at Homer Watson House and Gallery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada 
May 9 to June 14, 2015

All photographs were taken with permission from the artist.