The Fabric Workshop: A Philadelphia Treasure


 

I recently had the opportunity to see an exhibit at the new home of the Fabric Workshop and Museum .  It’s a roomy, comfortable space that takes up several buildings on Arch Street in Philadelphia.   You no longer have to climb flights of stairs to get to the exhibits and it’s conveniently located on across the street from the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The current exhibit, New American Voices II showcases the work of  four invitational artists-in-residence: Bill Smith, Jiha Moon, Robert Pruitt and Jim Drain.    New American Voices II was definitely not the visual version of a string quartet; it was the work of four soloists, each of whom chose different media and themes to express a unique point of view.   The FMW  tries to showcase artists from across the United States with varied backgrounds and perspectives and encourages them to work with materials they might not have used before.  From what I saw the FMW accomplished its mission and it looks like the artists enjoyed the process.  The exhibition had so much to offer that I can only hit the highlights  in this post.  To get the full flavor, you must see it for yourself.

 

South Korean-born Jiha Moon’s mixed media wall pieces combine collage, sewing, painting, and screen printing with an Asian color aesthetic.   She makes  plentiful  use of Asian and American popular culture symbols and much of her work reminds me of traditional Asian embroidery, not because of any needlework she might usem, but because the designs are expansive and flowing.  Much of her work consists of fanciful pieces that incorporate images from folklore and advertising , but she showed her serious side in a work that appeared to explore the tensions between North and South Korea.     The piece below, which is a little different from the others, features pin cushions, ribbons and beads.

                                       

Jiha Moon

Jim Drain’s huge (and I mean XXXXXL) colorful  machine-knitted dolmen sleeve sweaters remind me of  the big suit David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense, and fantastic Noh costumes.  I suppose they could be worn, but they were displayed on stands that let the viewer examine every nuance of the designs.  A two-dimensional picture cannot convey the surprises that jump out as you circle the sweaters.  The colors shift and there are lots of subtle details and embellishments.   At first, the color choices appear to be mostly random but on further examination, you realize that every skein and thread works with everything else in the sweater.  Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

 

Jim Drain

What fascinated me most about Robert Pruitt’s work was his use of period cameras to photograph members of a fictional African-American family to depict ancestors from years past like you’d see in a family album.  Now that’s attention to detail and real dedication.  For me the most powerful photograph was one of a young woman wearing a grass skirt and what appears to be a European colonial officer’s dress uniform jacket.  The golden shoulder cord is replaced by rope that appeared to be a noose.   Pruitt also uses  traditional African symbols and imagery pulled from contemporary urban America.   I found his work  disturbing and compelling.

Robert Pruitt

Bill Smith’s mechanical sculptures meld engineering and art in a way that any fan of Jules Verne or Nicola Tesla would admire, but his inclusion of organic objects like Emu eggs and feathers along with organic looking plastic forms that resemble jellyfish or brain synapses takes his work out of the realm of Steampunk into another world that seems really strange (or is it strangely real?)  Along with Emu eggs, he takes water, magnets,  quirky copper wire, electronics and computers to fashion  several interactive contraptions that manage to look organic, old-fashioned and futuristic all at once.    When walked up to one sculpture,  the Emu egg started to spin, the wires started to sway and the room  filled with a low humming sound.  Then projectors started flashing images onto the white walls of the gallery.  Amazing.   Here’s a video of a similar device he designed and built.

New American Voices II runs until the Spring.  Admission is only $3.00 but you can  donate more if you like.    Treat yourself to this exhibit and the ones planned for the future.  We are so lucky to have a venue like the FMW in Philadelphia.  Let’s support it.

For more pictures of the artists’ work, press here, here, here, and here.

Make Mine Mosaic Too!

As promised, here are pictures of my finished counter that I posted about in July. I attached the pieces to the counter, grouted them with sanded grout and sealed the grout after it dried. This project was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but I like the results. I don’t use this counter for food preparation; it’s just a bright place between the dining room and the kitchen.

Real Steampunk

     The Steampunk  genre (or more correctly, sub-genre) encompasses moviesclothingartfiction,  jewelrysculpture and more.  It draws heavily from old fashioned technology and appeals to those of  us  interested in technology, fantasy, and exploring mixing materials from different times and places. 

     I never really thought about why Steampunk is called Steampunk (as opposed to Technopunk for example) until I visited the Treadgar Iron Works in Richmond Virginia.  Tredgar churned out ammunition for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also manufactured steam locomotives and other new inventions of the Industrial Revolution.   The  perfection of the steam engine changed everything and took large parts of the Western World from an Agrarian to an Industrial Economy.  Hey-sometimes it takes me a long time to see the obvious, and then I see it everywhere.

     Here are some pictures I took of the old machinery at Tredgar.

 

     The first museum exhibition of Steampunk design will take place at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University later this year.   This is appropriate in so many ways.  Be sure to check out the blog devoted to the exhibit.

Make Mine Mosaic

My latest project is covering the countertop between my dining room and kitchen with a tile mosaic. I cut lots of glass tiles, tumbled some to get a matte finish and left the others shiny. I have plenty of cut up ceramic tiles, dishes, glass baubles, some fusing failures that still look pretty, lampworked beads that cracked in half before annealing and a bunch of mirror tiles I cut. I got sand colored grout because I thought white would be boring. Much like when I got married, I don’t have a plan. I will wing it and see that I get. I’ll post pix here when I’m finished. Wish me luck!

Amulets, Talismans, Polymer and Wire

There are two new books that will enhance the library of anyone creative.  Both  show you how to elevate non precious material into art imbued with special meaning.

The first one is  Amulets and Talismans by Robert DancikI took Dancik’s class on cold connections last year  and put the book on pre-order as soon as I could.  I was not disappointed.  The book is crammed with information on cold connections techniques,  and full of ideas on how to take ordinary objects and showcase them in original, one of a kind pieces of jewelry that  tell a story that could be about the wearer, maker or materials themselves.

If you are a tool junky like me, you will relish Dancik’s ideas for making custom tools.  He shows a nifty little jump ring cutting gizmo you can make yourself.  I made one.  There are no directions, but one look at it is all you need. (If Truman Capote had met me when he first came to New York, his book would have been entitled Breakfast at Harbor Freight.)

The next gotta have it book is Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry by Ronna Sarvas Weltman.

Weltman’s  designs have an inimitable   primitive sophistication that’s fresh and inspiring.  Her projects and instructions will stoke your creativity and have might change the way you think  about polymer clay and wire.

This time last year

My Blue Heart

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My husband had an extremely difficult 2008- so bad his heart was broken and he finished the year undergoing open heart surgery.    He’s  getting better,  regaining his strength and looking forward to becoming a Grandfather.

I intended to make a totally different piece when I made the heart bezel used in the above pendant.  But my materials told me to take a different course and when I finished,  I had the pendant you see here.   It wasn’t until I showed my it to my  husband  that I realized I had made it for him.

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What I Learned from Susan Lenart Kazmer

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Mike Models Susan’s Bracelet

If you read this Blog last week, you know that I was heading down to Damascus, MD to take a class with Susan Lenart Kazmer at Polymer Clay Express. The two-day class was fantastic. Here’s some of the things I learned:

I learned how to drill a hole in a stone.slk4
I learned how to fabricate a cone out of metal.
I improved my torch enameling skills.
I learned how to make and use different kinds of rivets.
I  learned a cool way to put a red patina on copper.
I  learned how to preserve found items like paper and twigs with resin and incorporate them into my jewelry.
I  saw an ingenious way to make hinges that I’m going to try because now I am more confident in my sawing skills and I think I can do it!
I  saw how to make dapped forms to turn into cool rings and pendants.
I  learned new ways to incorporate fiber with beads and metal.

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Now every day the sidewalk holds more treasure than ever before.

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Thanks Susan for teaching this class and Terri for telling me about it and giving me a ride! 

Appointment in Damascus (Maryland)

I’m off to Polymer Clay Express at The Artway Studio to take a class in Creating Objects and Elements in Jewelry with Susan Lenart Kazmer. If you’re not familiar with Kazmer, she wrote  Making Connections A Handbook of Cold Joins for Jewelers and Mixed-Media Artists.
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I’ll let you know about the class in a later post.   In the meantime, check out Kazmer’s Blog  and her on-line store, Objects and Elements where you can buy her remarkable book, supplies, and watch her great instructional videos.

Make Your Own Clasps!

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It took a long time for this necklace to come together.  My friend Jeanne gave me the amber after her husband died.  I got the coral, turquoise and Balinese beads at an outside art show in Portland, Oregon.  I bought the red disc beads-actually made in Africa from old phonograph records-at a bead show.

The beads spoke to me one day and I put together the necklace below. I couldn’t find the right clasp to save my life, so, with some basic wire skills I learned in a glass from my Beading Yoda Jeri Schatz, I made a clasp.  And then I made more clasps.  And then I wrote an article on how to make clasps which is in the latest edition of Step By Step Wire Jewelry.     n

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Dancik with the Stars

 
 

 Dancik was Riveting

 

I mentioned last week that I took a two day class called Forming Lasting and Meaningful Attachments with Robert Dancik and sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild. We learned all about cold connections in jewelry making including riveting, tabbing, gluing, fold forming, and fastening with miniature hardware. We also learned about different types of resins, epoxies, alternative art materials, and how to use them.

Want to learn more about cold connections? Some of my favorite books on this topic are Wrap, Stitch, Fold & Rivet by Mary Hettmansperger, Making Metal Jewelry by Joanna Gollberg, Making Connections by Susan Lenart Kazmer and a book on the Godfather of cold connections, Alexander Calder, Calder Jewelry by Mark Rosenthal.

And here’s a good illustrated article on how to make rivets by Patty Fleishman.

To see more pictures from the Dancik class, go to the Philly Area Guild’s Flickr site.