Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Beads & Fibers ~ What a Combo!!!

Hello Everyone ~ Sorry about the lapse in posting. Preparations for three back-to-back teaching gigs take soooo much time.

Hand-dyed fibers for spinning, by Janel
I just returned from teaching at the first of these gigs, a wonderful conference in Visalia, CA (new place for me... one of the gateway cities to Death Valley, Yosemite, and the Giant Sequoias). Sponsored by the Association of Southern California Handweavers, the conference included an amazing showcase, a lively fashion show, many classes, and an inspirational presentation by Margaret Roach Wheeler of some of her most loved contemporary woven garments based on traditional Native American costumes. These were awesome. At a later time I want to show some pictures of them. A couple of them brought tears to my eyes... a spiritual, almost mystical element about them.

Unfortunately I arrived at the conference with no checks in my checkbook and a nearly dead camera battery. So, I only have a few pictures to share.

silk jacket, shoulder detail
This is a detail shot (shoulder) of my favorite garment in the fashion show. It is a hand-dyed silk chiffon coat with added woven texture by Brecia. Lovely!

Awesome colors - yarns, fibers, beads were everywhere! I loved everything, but most of all, I loved two felted vessels made by Una and Janel in a three-day pre-conference workshop taught by Sharon Costello.

felt vessel by Una
Here is Una's vessel. She's just beginning to embellish it with beads, as you can see in the detail shot below. These pictures are click-to-enlarge, and worth it (in my opinion)!

felt vessel by Una, detail

felt vessel by Una, detail
Here's another detail of Una's vessel. I love her use of color and the flow of the design.

felt vessel by Janel
And here is one side of Janel's vessel. If you go to her website, you'll get a hint of why she has chosen the figure of a chameleon for her piece.

felt vessel by Janel
The other side of Janel's vessel is a graceful tree. Like Una, she's just beginning to get the beads on it.

felt purse by Una, beaded button by Una, beaded buttons by students
This is a felted purse made by Una, who took my beaded button class and made a closure button for it. The other three buttons were made by other students in my class.

lampworked pendant
Finally, I want to show you this fabulous bead. I'm in love with it. I don't know who made it as yet, but D'Elin, who made the necklace (sorry that's when my camera battery konked out, so you don't get to see the whole necklace) is going to get the name of the lampworker for me. I'll post it when she does.

I could write pages about all the things I saw and people I met... but I only have one day before I leave again to teach at the Bellingham Bead Festival, and the "to do" list is very long.

Please don't give up on me during this busy teaching time... I check your blogs when I can, but don't always have time to comment.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Have You Ever Seen a Bead Quilt?

Group bead quilts, made as memory pieces or fundraisers, are a fascinating development in current beading trends. This post takes a look at some of my favorites, including “A Bear of a Different Color” made as a fundraiser by the Mat-Su Valley Bead Society of Alaska.

bead quilt, Bear of a Different Color, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
The idea of combining quilt blocks and beadwork may have been the original brain child of Andrea Adams of Washington state.

Grieving our national tragedy of 9-11, 2001, Andrea needed to express her feelings with her beads. Reading various bead lists and forums, she noticed many others with the same need and posted her budding idea as follows: "I would like to do something with my beadwork, as that's how I process my emotions. Maybe a large beaded quilt, with "squares" from many different beadworkers? I don't know, I haven't really thought it through ... but the idea came to me, and I'm wondering if anyone else would have interest in some sort of project like this...? As I said before, I believe that creating beadwork can be a healing process, and I like to think that the results of that creative energy can have some healing effects as well."

Quickly beaders around the country (and in several foreign countries) took up their needles and beads to create 3 x 3 inch squares. As the squares started pouring in, so did the volunteer offers of help. A team of 27 women formed to coordinate this project, the first and largest of its kind, before or since. By email and telephone, they spread the invitation to make squares, gathered finished squares, organized work parties to assemble the quilt panels, photographed the squares, developed a website, and sought exhibition opportunities and permanent homes for the three finished quilts. I am so awed by what they accomplished and the enormity of the gift given to a grieving nation by so many compassionate beaders.

bead embroidery, Missing Towers, by Robin Atkins for 9-11 Bead Quilt
There are 573 squares pictured on the official Bead Quilt website. Some are bead embroidery; some are woven; all are amazing. It’s worth the time to go through all 24 pages of squares; click on any that especially appeal to you to see an enlarged image. The ages of the participants range from 8 - 80. Skill level ranges from "famous" teachers and authors to folks who chose this as their very 1st beading project. My square is the one with the missing towers, shown above. Also I volunteered with the Seattle group (below) to assemble the blocks from our region.

9-11 Bead Quilt, assembly group in Seattle
While our emotions were still very raw, in less than 7 months following the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the completed project was exhibited at the Bead Museum in Arizona. Here you can see pictures of the finished quilt panels on exhibition. The image below shows the incredible scope of the project. It is my hope that some day, Andrea and/or other members of the Quilt Team will write a book, or perhaps produce a documentary movie, about this project.

9-11 Bead Quilt, first public display in San Diego
The next bead quilt that I’m aware of was created by the Mat-Su Valley Bead Society in Palmer, Alaska as a gift to the local college for permitting the group to meet there free-of-charge. The designer/finisher is Cheryl Lacy. See the finished quilt, called “Spirit Mask,” below:

bead quilt, Spirit Mask, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
Cheryl’s idea (inspired by an article she saw in a quilting magazine) was to create a line drawing, divide the design into blocks, each of which would have a small portion of the design on it, and pass them out to members of the group to bead. The only rule was that the lines must be beaded with black seed beads. None of the beaders knew what the final design would be. Below is a square by Jeanette Shanigan; can you find it on the finished quilt?

beaded block by Jeanette Shanigan, for Spirit Mask bead quilt
Spirit Mask,” finished in 2004, was so much fun and so well received, that the group decided to make another quilt the next year as a fundraiser. So Cheryl set about to design a second group bead quilt. Using the same process as above, she designed a bear, which she divided into twelve blocks, each 3 inches square. Here it is again, “A Bear of a Different Color!”

bead quilt, Bear of a Different Color, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
This is the one that sucked me in, pulled at my heartstrings, and said, “You’ve GOT to write about this!” Apparently others felt the same way, because after it’s completion, Cheryl and Jeanette developed a power-point presentation about how to make a group quilt of this type. You can read about it here.

One group that found their tutorial helpful was the Great Lakes Beadworkers Guild (GLBG). Five years ago, they lost a long-time, much-loved member, Barb Davis, to breast cancer. They decided to honor Barb’s memory by making a group bead quilt using Cheryl’s process. Liz Thompson (initial idea), Pat Wiley (Program Committee Chair and overseer of the project) and Yvanne Ham (designer) energized the group, dividing Yvanne's image of a flying heart into 84 blocks! The resulting memory quilt, shown below, was completed and displayed this year.

bead quilt by GLBS in memory of Barb Davis
If you go to the GLBG site, here, you can see individual pictures of 66 of the finished blocks. To tempt you, below are a couple of my favorites:

beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
Can you imagine how wonderful it must feel to have the energy of a whole group united and directed toward connection and memory? What a powerful experience it must have been, one that lives on every time the quilt is viewed!

Along the lines of the "Barb Davis Memory Quilt", Jeanette Shanigan (who was also involved in the Bear and Spirit Mask quilts), has combined the ideas of memory, fund raising, and group energy directed toward a cause. Using 1.5 inch beaded squares, each with a butterfly theme, made by volunteers from everywhere (including foreign countries), Jeanette has sewn blocks together, making 5 (so far) quilts which will be auctioned at the Bead & Button Show this year. The money will go to breast cancer research in honor of Jeanette’s mother, who did not survive the disease. I’ve written about this project here. You can see all the individual squares so far here, and the finished quilts here. Below are three blocks made by me (center) and two of my quilting “sisters,” Christy (left) and Lunnette (right).

three beaded squares for breast cancer bead quilt
Sabine, who lives in Bremen, Germany and who frequently comments on my blog, also "got the bug." She sent "Spark" (her butterfly square, shown below) to me so I could see it before sending it to Jeanette along with the three above. It touches my heart that our butterflies will be together in the same bead quilt!

bead embroidery by Sabine Keichel, butterfly square for breast cancer bead quilt
For the last example in this post, I’m returning to Palmer, Alaska, where once again, Cheryl Lacy took on yet another beaded quilt, which incidentally, she calls “Mystery Quilts.” That’s because the beaders don’t know what it will be. This time however, rather than making squares, each participant beaded an eye-shaped piece. Cheryl then designed and made a fabric quilt, and appliquéd each of the pieces on it. Voila! The eye or leaf shaped pieces became feathers. “Birds of a Feather,” shown below, won a ribbon at the Alaska State Fair this year!

bead quilt, Birds of a Feather, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
I find this one particularly compelling because it is more of a “traditional” quilt, but still has a strong element of beadwork. Besides, it just makes me happy to look at it!


If you know any folks who participated in making these quilts, please pass along my compliments and total respect for their huge accomplishments. Please also give them the link to this post, so they can take a look at my brief story about bead quilts. If you know of one I’ve overlooked, please write to tell me about it. Also, if anyone knows how to reach Andrea Adams, please tell me.. the old email address I have for her doesn't work anymore.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Creating Art in Series ~ Visual & Inner Benefits

The reason for this post, is because recently I’ve been enjoying the work of several bloggers who are working in series with great results. I respect and admire their work. As you follow the links below, see if you notice a trend toward excellence and feel a compelling connection to both the artist and their art.

Kudos to Liz, who recently finished the fourth in a series of bead embroideries depicting religious icons. You can see the first four here. Ganesha, pictured below is her most recent piece.

Ganesha, bead embroidery by Liz Thompson
Kudos to Linda, who is working on a series of embellished, fabric ATCs. Notice how they have a unique style, and how each one develops one aspect of the same theme. Aren’t they great? My favorite of them, so far, is pictured below. You can see other cards in this series here and here and here and here.

Smile, ATC by Linda Frost
Kudos to BeadBabe, who is in the process of making a series of 44 beaded squares on the theme of 17th Century Japanese poet, Bashō. This is not her first series. Read about the impact of working in series during her 16 years of beading here and here and here. Each of the series became a new milestone in her development as an artist. To me, this is fascinating stuff! Below is a bead-embroidered depiction of a friend’s hand, one of 13, “a beaders dozen.”

Beaded Artist's Hand by Bobbi Kirk
Kudos to Juju, whose work inspires me in many ways. She paints, draws, collages, sews, beads, and quilts… all of them beautifully. Recently she’s been making a series of fabric bags. With each one, she refines the technical process and develops embellishment variations. You can see some of them here and here and here. I particularly lust for the one shown below because of her fabric choices.

Fortune Bag by Juju Vail

So, What Are Some of The Benefits of Working in Series?

For the past two months I’ve been creating a series of small bead embroideries, each an example of a different technique. So far, I’ve done 18 of them. I’m not quite ready to post pictures of them yet, because they are examples for my new book. (And, I’d like to get a little closer to the print date before I spill the beans about it.) But working on them is clearly beneficial in several ways.

One interesting thing about this process is noticing rapid improvements. If I were to graph the out-of-the-box factor for these 18 pieces, the line might have little dips, but in general I perceive a nice upward slant. Ditto for technical proficiency and design complexity factors.

Part of this phenomenon may be explained by the adage “practice makes perfect.” However, I believe working in series, making several to many pieces with some elements in common, one after another, increases the depth of expression and speeds the journey to excellence.

Let’s say, for example, that you set yourself the task of making 100 drawings of a tree.

What would that be like? Can you imagine that by the 10th drawing you might start seeing something new about that tree? By the 40th drawing, might the distinct personality of that particular tree be revealed? What about drawing number 75? Maybe by then you’d be drawing the inside of the tree, or perhaps the whole life of the tree on one page. Would your drawing eventually become the tree? Might you and the tree, through your drawing process, develop a profound inner connection?

Yes, I believe working in series promotes a deep spiritual relationship between artist and art, one that can be life changing, healing, and extremely satisfying. By creating many variations on a theme, we can get under the mundane and trite to a place where we can explore and embrace the depth of a subject, and the process of creation itself. Beyond that there is a place where we can find peace and self-acceptance.

The memory doll, pictured below, is a good example. When my Dad died last July, I was devastated and stuck in my grief. Using the fabric from his neckties, I began making a series of memory dolls, one for each member of the family. By the end of the three months it took to make the dolls, the repetitions and the process brought me through my self-pity to a serene feeling of affinity with my Dad. If you missed my post on this subject, you can look here.

Remembering Dad, spirit doll, memory doll by Robin Atkins

What about you? Have you attempted this journey in your work? What did you notice about yourself and your art during the process?

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On a different note... do you know about this????

Bellingham Bead Festival - 5 stars - check it out here
When - March 30 through April 1, 2007
Where - Semiahmoo Resort on beautiful Birch Bay (north of Bellingham, Washington)
Classes - 5 stars - new event, small classes, great teachers, an Ott light provided for every student!
Vendors - open Saturday and Sunday - workshop students get free admission to show!

This is the first annual bead conference in the NW corner of Washington state, a location easily accessible to Canadians from the Vancouver area. It is sponsored by the Puget Sound Bead Festival.

Because it's a new event, classes are not filling as they do at more established events. This is your chance to take workshops from me, Tracy Stanley, Mark Lareu, Kriss Silva, Jeannette Cook and others in an intimate atmosphere, where you can receive lots of individual attention.

Even if you can't attend this year, please help me spread the word... this is a great opportunity!