Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fresh Fruit

January 31, 2009

Twelve years is a long time. That’s both how long I’ve been in Bloomington and how long it’s been since we had a snowfall this large. I remember my first winter in town, a fresh face from Canada. I felt right at home helping people free their cars from the snow as I walked in to work. This week we had two big snowfalls that closed the school for three and a third days (a two hour delay for Friday). That meant I had some boisterous company as I worked all week, so not much weaving in the art studio was done. Between hearing about Pokemon character evolutions I did get to bring my felted fruit to colorful fruition (see the January 10th post for the 1950s black and white version). I was really pleased with how the watermelons, oranges, grapes and cherries turned out! Some of my boys play pals were pretending to eat them, but I knew my son wasn’t fooled, even as he chomped—he’d never eat a watermelon with seeds in it. The other exciting thing was that the oranges gave me a great idea for another weaving. I’m envisioning a piece called ‘Sangria’, a pitcher of cold fruit in wine for a hot summer afternoon. The color for the oranges I made was a blend of five wools to get the flesh right, and I used big organic navel oranges from Bloomingfoods as a model. And then I ate them! The watermelon rind is made of wool from New Zealand that a friend brought back for me, and the light green that fades into the rind was a special find. It comes from a dyeing project this summer when I was making verdant greens and I had a tiny bit of a pale green solution left. I dyed and saved the fleece, but I wondered what I would ever use that fleece for. When I needed a perfect light green this week I had it!
This morning I’m packing up my latest projects to show at a felting workshop today. It’s for the AEIA (Art Educators of Indiana Association), organized by Gladys Newsom, and we’re going to make felted hearts. Valentine’s day is coming, and that means love and wool is in the air. For me, anyway—for my husband it’s love and chocolate, and chocolate for the rest of the year.

Until next week…

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This week things warmed up all around. After frozen pipes and a few days of huddling inside as the furnace struggled to keep us above sixty, I finally got out and about this week to work on my Great Blue Heron project.

This story dates back to last winter, when Aerin Sentgeorge asked me to participate in Wonderlab’s “Science of Art” program. I did a weaving project with green yarns of all descriptions, and I let the kids feel the textures and incorporate the yarn into a shared project. This year is “The Science of Sculpture”, and I decided it was time to try making a Great Blue Heron. We see these magnificent birds when we go to Lake Monroe on collecting or fishing trips. When I sit fishing with my family at the shore, sometimes I feel like a Great Blue Heron, watching the bobbers for bites, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting fish for dinner.

So where does one start to make a free standing, slightly larger-than-life Great Blue Heron? Where every great project starts—the recycle center, Kleindorfer’s Hardware and Grandma and Grandpa’s back yard in Michigan. I started with a hunk of a Michigan willow tree that has been curing in the basement for two years. Things dry out pretty well there if you keep them above flood level when the power to the sump pump fails. I picked up an iron rod (and a bolt cutter!—I love tools!) from Kleindorfer’s for the support leg. I enhanced the thickness of the rod with lanyards I found in a bag at the recycle center, then wrapped the whole thing with yarn. The other leg, neck claws and the beak are supported with baling wire that I also found at the recycle center. Birds can’t have too much metal if they want to fly, so I say: “more fiber, less metal!” The body, which looks like a very sad frozen turkey right now, is built from wet felted balls of wool that are needle felted together. I’m planning to create the wing and tail feathers using a wet felting technique I recently learned at a workshop at Pam Kinneman’s Wee Sheep Farms studio. That was a terrific opportunity to learn a new technique, and I made a scarf I’m proud of that I’ll talk about on another cold weekend.

So then it’s just a matter of putting it all together! Maybe you can picture me sitting outside on the very warm day from last week, picking the bark off the willow base to look for worm trails on the surface of the wood. I was bonding with the woodpecker I heard looking for lunch on a nearby tree. My lunch wasn’t so fresh, but at least it was warm. I also had to laugh at myself as I needle felted (repeated poked with a needle) the crotch of the poor heron while both heron legs were flopped over my shoulders. That’s a visual image you can keep if things get hectic for you this week!

Until next week…

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad

The end of the past week was cold in Bloomington Indiana. Chuck Lofton said that it was the coldest day in five years, and the temperatures dropped to the wrong side of -10F. Even for a Canadian that’s cold. Our old house took notice, though. An inaccessible pipe to the upstairs froze Thursday night, cutting off the shower and flooding us with worries of broken pipes. Fortunately, I have a very large hammer and no fear of drywall! A few swift whacks and I found the offending pipe and had my trusty hairdryer on the job, full heat. My male relatives discouraged my use of a blowtorch and soldering iron, which really slowed me down. (Don’t worry; I don’t even have a blowtorch).

That leads me into the activity that you’ll find me doing most of my free time—needle felting. I do it at meetings, while my loving spouse drives the family around town, and while the boys do their Tae Kwon Do at the Monroe County Martial Arts center with Mr. or Mrs. Scott. With time on my hands and the hair dryer in place I was working on this weeks weaving project, a piece called ‘Fruit Salad’. How can you not dream of summer when it’s 14 below zero and your pipes are frozen? So I was making slices of fruit for the piece, which you can see in an unfinished form in the image I included. You’ll see unfinished apples, cherries, watermelon, strawberries and orange slices.

The inspiration for the piece really came last summer when I was dyeing wool using Kool Aid with my kids. I remember pulling fleece out of the dye pot and thinking that the color looked just like watermelon. Then the ‘I love a challenge’ part of me kicked in and I started imagining which fruits I would needle felt, and what the composition might be for a weaving. I decided to make a piece along the lines of ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’ or ‘Some Like it Hot’, my pieces based on tomatoes and peppers. But now I was thinking about picking blueberries at Brays (by the Crane Naval Station), eating apples from Musgrave Orchard that come over several weeks in the Core Farms CSA baskets, and improving the cherry harvest at Grandpa’s house by removing the ones that come ripe a little too soon.

So off I went! I have home-dyed wool from Sheep Street and the Farmer’s Market and a season full of memories of fresh fruits. I have a mental image of the chef (Auguste Gusteau) and the rat (Remy) in the movie ‘Ratatouille’ who liked to blend flavors into new taste experiences. Of course the challenge is to transform a mouthful of wool into a mouthwatering slice of summer. It’s also an attempt to blend the flavors of the fruit and the harvesting seasons across summer and fall into one piece.

Until next week…

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Felted Hearts

I’ve always liked a challenge. When the Bloomington Area Arts Council assembled ‘Small’, showing pieces of less than a square foot, I had to try. As you likely know, most of my pieces are three-dimensional wall hangings, but in the last two years I started making Christmas ornaments. I’ve also made a number of needle felted-creatures to live in my weavings so I set out to try something new and make small pieces. The theme was ‘Shhh… the trees are sleeping’, and I tried to imagine what trees were thinking in the long winter months. The frames and the background are needle-felted and the trees that emerge are wool wrapped around flexible copper wire from the Recycle Center. The show is up at the Bloomington Bagel Company through January if you’d like to see the collection on display.

This week a new challenge crept onto my schedule. Gladys Newsom, an art teacher at University Elementary School, contacted me and asked me about teaching a felting workshop at the end of January for the District 5 art teachers. I met Gladys at a recycled materials weaving workshop I taught at the Teacher’s Warehouse in Bloomington and I was eager to help. As a theme she suggested making hearts, with Valentine’s Day coming up. My first response, though, could be best summarized as ‘eeyewww’. This sounded too cutesy and I started thinking about alternatives. Then the side of me that likes a challenge set in and I set off to try to make a nice heart.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I came up with idea of making a three dimensional heart. I started with two walnut-sized wet felted balls and joined them by needle felting with raw wool to create the heart shapes. I coated these with bright red and very soft Merino wool from Sheep Street in Morgantown. I embellished my hearts with scroll patterns, swirls and polka dots and I was pleased with how they turned out! I scanned one to post that gives you an idea of what they look like.

Until next week…