Glimpses Into Appalachia

There’s a better way to explore West Virginia’s mountainous beauty and hear about the people living in Appalachia than you have been presented with recently. We are telling our story with art exhibits, serial podcasts and several books.

Fine art and Spoken word collections coordinated by Women of Appalachia Project have opened in Morgantown, WV. (Check the WOAP blue link for schedule of other venues).

As a textile artist I was happy to see several works incorporating fiber were selected along with photography, printmaking, oils, watercolors, ceramics and jewelry. Up through October 29 at the Monongalia Art Center, 107 High Street, Morgantown the project is celebrating 10 years. All women living in or with strong ties to any of the the 420 counties in Appalachia can enter. Their motto reads “ We believe that all women are capable, courageous, creative and inspired. We tell our stories through our art.”

Two of the artists I met told me a bit of their stories. Nancy L Abrams documents life through photographs. Her journalism career lead to The Climb from Salt Lick, a memoir of Appalachia, published this past spring by WVU Press.

Cheryl Ryan Harshman works in clay monoprints, fabric collage, and is an author. An award winning artist she is listed in Tamarack Foundation’s Creative Network. . Our discussion included the process of making clay prints, a medium with wonderful unexpected results.

Marc Harshman is West Virginia’s  poet laureate and married to Cheryl. I have heard his voice on WVPublic Radio reading work and now enjoyed his warm smile and artistic interests in person.

For those of you who can not visit the state soon, tune in and read reports from 100 Days in Appalachia which was born the day after the 2016 election. “Weary of the influx of bus tours and parachuting journalists seeking insights into rural America, we launched 100 Days to push back on the national narratives that had reduced our region to a handful of narrow stories.”

I have promoted the podcast series Inside Appalachia to studio artists in Alaska and Maine because the interviews by host Jessica Lilly bring the neighbors right into your home. On October 20 there will be a live taping of Inside Appalachia at the Raleigh Playhouse and Tavern, Beckley, WV. Two videos featuring broom maker James Shaffer and millman Larry Mustain will be shown and the gentlemen interviewed. I was invited to open an exhibit at the Raleigh through November 12, I have themed “Glimpses Inside Appalachia“. Two dozen of my pieces ranging from views around our home to environmental and social issues will be hung. Looking forward to meeting Jessica and the team and talking about art.

WVPublic Broadcasting has a lineup of podcasts from decades of Mountain Stage to the new Us and Them. Check them out and subscribe.

To finish out our stories here are some more books. Real page turners that you sit with and meet people while exploring the mountains.  Hippie Homesteaders, Carter Taylor Seaton introduces us to the influx of youth in the 60’s and 70’s who came to drop out and learned hand-crafts and life skills. “Forget what you know about West Virginia. Hippie Homesteaders isn’t about coal or hillbillies or moonshine or poverty. It is the story of why West Virginia was—and still is—a kind of heaven to so many.”

The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book, Alfred Allan Lewis is out of print but worth searching for the stories of how a cooperative of marketing women and traditional sewers created contemporary fashion.

The soothing voice of All Things Considered’s, Noah Adams traces the New River from its origins to joining with the Gauley as the Kanawha River heading to Ohio in Far Appalachia. Legends and locals fill the pages as he travels slowly along and often on the river.


I expect you will think of the people and places of West Virginia, and Appalachia with a deeper appreciation after listening and reading. Remember we are “Almost Heaven”. Check out WVTourism.

 

 

 

 

Shapes as Symbols

Seeing the long, green, 36″ round gasline pipes stacked on trucks slowly climbing the mountains of our state on a daily basis has raised my tension level. When I feel unable to control or change an event or action I create. Slowly a design nudges my consciousness. The visual concept begins to evolve on paper. With a few adjustments the story I want to tell appears as a cartoon (line drawing). My energy changes from lethargic to accelerated and materials are gathered, or made in the dye pots. Pulling loops and stitching with needle and thread, slowly I talk to myself. When finished I can talk to you.

Pipes for gas line

The natural gas-lines, proposed and begun, crisscross West Virginia as they travel East. There are stockpiles in what were hay fields, in abandoned parking lots, even in newly excavated spaces along highways and back roads. They are not hidden from view. The workers migrate from job to job across state lines and take up the hotel rooms built for tourism and business travelers supporting our long term economy.

It is summer and the rhythms of farming continue too. Large round hay rolls cast their shadows in early morning and late afternoon light. Yellow dried grasses are rolled up revealing the fresh new greens of regrowth. This is a sustaining cycle humans developed which truthfully also is destructive and abusive of the soils and land. But that is another visual story. Today I look at haying season as nostalgic which is calming.

My intent in using traditional rug hooking as a medium is to honor the utilitarian purpose of past generations and present my work to a new audience when shown on the wall as visual art. The two pieces were designed as large floor rugs for these reasons and because big gets attention.

Simplifying the landscape images into shapes let me convey the repeating patterns and tension I felt. Circles of the pipe ends viewed by following those trucks and driving past the stockpiles and the innocent hayrolls lined up in rows are surrounded by dark and light depict the feelings I have driving past each subject.  The companion piece is Lines: logging, haying and pipes. Using the same wool fabrics as in the Circles piece, with additional pieces for value changes, the logging industry is added to our state’s human impact on nature.

The two partners – Circles: pipes and hay rolls and Lines: logging, haying and pipes were completed in 2018. Ready for exhibit.

A morning in Lowell then on the road

Reasons to visit Lowell, MA : 1. Interested in history of industrial revolution and manufacturing impact on communities, economies.  2. Explore the roots of unions and establishment of child labor laws, realistic work hours. 3. The seeds of suffragette movement, and women’s rights. 4. Textile heritage portrayed through one of the first urban National Parks featuring the architecture, lifestyle, and today the craft at New England Quilt Museum, along with the mills in the park. 5. Today’s lively arts and cultural heritage celebrated in festivals, concerts and shops. #LikeLowell   likelowell.com/ 

Climate Change how we can help

 

The signage at the Visitors Center included a display about Climate Change.

 

 

 

The New England Quilt Museum on Shattuck Street near the Visitors Center for the park has a gift shop on the first floor and rotating exhibits on the second along with a reference library. The shows currently include collaborative work from the beginnings of Art Quilts (the early 1970’s). A collection worked by two close friends Molly Upton and Susan Hoffman which are stunning in their simplicity yet rhythmic combination of materials and shapes. Quilted Canvas II

The second exhibit Migrant Quilts of the Southern Arizona Borderlands is a series of quilts using materials found, names of lost people, and chronicling the deaths by years. (a panel for each year)

I only had a morning to spend in the city but look forward to returning with some textile friends to share the emotional experiences I had, discuss the many topics of mutual interest, and support this community.

On the road again heading north, with NO more major cities there was minimal traffic. Montpelier is my home for the upcoming week. The state capital for Vermont, with two major streets : State and Main. You can definitely “park your car” and walk around visiting shops, eating farm to table, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Skinny Pancakes, at the New England Culinary School, pizza, gelato, 802 Coffee, or steak at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

I am here for the Green Mountain Rug Hooking School (in its 37th year). There are two four day sessions lead by instructors from the US and Canada. Check out this year’s schedule and consider attending in 2019. The listing of classes will be online after this session ends.

My students in Contemporary Celtic Design explored the making of their patterns to be able to colorplan the knots, twists and turns. It is challenging and rewarding to see the lines become shapes.

The next post will drop in on more classes and aspects of the school.

 

Traveling in New England

Started the day off feeding the chickens in my work boots and forgot to change into traveling shoes until Jim called out…”Do you want your sandals?” I do drive better in the sandals. The Bobs and Jim will watch the grass grow on the farm as I travel to explore teach and network with fellow fiber enthusiasts.

Day 1 up and off by 6:00 am heading for Lowell, MA to explore the Historical National Park of Textile Mills and the New England Quilt Museum. A nine hour trip according to GPS.  But with wind damage reported in Wilkes-Barre, PA I decided to go east into NJ on I78 until there was a back up around Allentown, PA where I took Rt22 on into NJ and finally I80 to 287N over the Newburgh bridge crossing the Hudson and into CT. There is a lot of money being spent on roadwork through the cities of Danbury and Hartford. AND lots of traffic. No rerouting via GPS so in the end 9 hours became 13.

Booked a room at UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center from an online search of hotels in the area. I am a graduate of UMass Boston so felt an allegiance to the site. Perfect location for my reason to visit. My room overlooks the Pawtucket canal at the waterfalls. Recommend a textile conference at the Inn …. maybe a future ATHA bi-ennial even? Great for touring the park, mills, and history besides location outside of Boston.

Walked around some as the sun was setting, plan to get up early and explore. Day 2 report on the two museums.

The Middlesex Mills was the largest woolen mill in Lowell, built in 1831, shutdown one hundred years ago in 1918 and demolished in 1956, the UMass Inn is built on the original site. Another brick building. This time with more than females working and living inside. I wrote a paper in college about the young women recruited to work in the mills and the work laws that evolved from their long hours, low wages, and living away from home. The park experience is something multi-generations should experience together. Take the canal boat, visit the mill, dormitory housing, and visitors center and try to put yourself in the shoes of those workers.

Middlesex Mill History

 

 

Shapes in Life-Rolls and Pipes

Time to work large, the subject warrants attention and big draws people to look. 

I cut off a piece of linen 60″ x 80″ which leaves a maximum finished size of 54″ x 74″ or two runners 26″ x 74″ (after excess to put on the frame). The size choice will be the first of many design decisions.

The innocent circle shape can be seen along our country roads during haying season as farmers make huge rolls to feed their animals in the winter. The wide open fields are green then turn tan as the grass dries. Rolled, the new grasses grow back and the cycle continues year after year with care from the caretaker of the land-the farmer. I have been inspired by this cycle since youth when the shape was a smaller rectangle but the colors and care the same.

Now there are different objects along many through ways stacked by the thousands waiting to go underground after the trees have been felled, stripped, and piled ready to be sorted for their end use-barbecue brickettes, lumber, paper pulp, firewood. Or they will be connected under the fields scarred by digging, or under the hundreds of waterways that are home to golden trout, endangered hellbenders and many other species besides our nourishment. This manmade project will transport gas extracted from the land more aggressively than in the past. The pipelines going through West Virginia and many other states are not benefiting the residents.  The corporations intimidate our legislature to hold off taxing them so we will be left with roads to repair, lost income to tourism and natural guides yet a wound across our mountains. I have depicted the straight lines for power in Progress into the Mountains. Now comes specifically the pipes and resulting lines.

Coloring comes next, what do I want the viewer to see? Green rings with dark rust centers, tan circles and green background. Will I use the rows alternating the subject? Or twelve inch squares of each pieced like a traditional quilt pattern?

There is a smaller design coming along too using the green plastic straws I save, mixed media is still my favorite studio time.

Do you see shapes, lines or colors daily that could become your visual statement on life?

 

 

 

 

Old and New Studies

McDonald Sisters work mid 1960’s

What a privilege I have been offered to study and mount one of the McDonald Sister’s rugs.

Linking up, through a referral from the State Museum archivist, with the owner of two pieces has lead to hearing stories of the original purchase in the late 1960’s directly from the sisters, the “home life” of these textiles in their family rooms for years and for the past two decades tucked away in guest bedrooms in their summer cottage always on the floor. Come to find out the family had relatives who knew these ladies and even photos with mutual people. All of this adds more bits to the articles and stories I have gathered in researching how the handwork was done, by whom and why techniques were used now almost fifty years after the makers have passed on.

back stitches

New questions arise by looking at the back of this rug. There is an intricate pattern of stitches outlining the motifs. That makes sense, the layers are all attached, stuffed flowers, leaves and stems embroidered with details BUT the threads on the front are colorful and those showing on the back consistently dark? And why are there tiny light blue x’s in thread detailing many large petaled flowers? Those stitches are not seen on the top at all.

layers and stitching

In one area the backing fabric has worn and we see a layer of burlap, with the same stitches covering it. Did the ladies make this repair? Did the owner? I do not think so since they have recently had some wear on the front professionally repaired by a West Virginia quilter (good work matching fabrics and threads).

The steps I go through to mount this rug so its life can continue on the wall will be documented in the next few posts. In the mean time, to catch up with who Otha and Blanche McDonald were and the textile work they created, I invite you to visit the series of pages under the tab at ArtWools.com/McDonalds  .

Research has been supported by funding through a Tamarack Foundation Fellowship award. Glenville State College research library and the archives at the State Museum in Charleston, WV have supplied me with much of the leads and photographs. Blanche graces the cover of the first issue of Hearth and Fair which has become Goldenseal Magazine.

Emily Hilliard

Recently Emily Hilliard, West Virginia’s Folklorist, visited the studio and I shared my collected knowledge on the McDonalds along with my personal journey with textile crafts. She is the first official folklorist for the state, funded in part through the National Endowment for the Arts and working at the West Virginia Humanities Council.

 

The most recent pieces I have been working on channel the sisters and the revealing techniques they used. Measuring 11 x 14 each, the same design was first hooked to look like the back of a rug.

Three McDonald mimics by Susan L Feller

The second piece is the front. Each upholstery fabric petal is stuffed with polyester filling, stitched to the linen backing and then embellished with a different embroidery stitch to make each flower unique.  I definitely felt the ladies were working alongside and perhaps Otha had some critical comments I brushed off as Blanche may have over the years together.

The third version is a rearranged collage of upholstery fabric, applique’d and embroidered onto a striped sample. The back embroidered with a quote and book title by two environmentalists: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Rachel Carson. This adds to the series “Pillow Talk” I have been creating over the past year.

My studies throughout have been History and the Arts and this project feeds both of these curiosities. I continue to search for more work by Otha and Blanche McDonald. Perhaps you recognize their style and can lead me to a piece, please send a message.

If you are interested in working on any of these handcrafts, I am teaching Rug Hooking, Applique’ and Embroidery at Augusta Heritage Center July 22-27  and would enjoy meeting you and sharing skills.

Fine artists who hooked Rugs

Rughooking has been chosen as a medium by female fine artists for decades. In honor of Women’s History Month here are some examples.

Black Pig, Marguerite Zorach 1944 hooked rug

Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968) born and educated in California, lived in Maine, New York City married to artist William and mother to Dahlov Ipcar an artist in her own right. Marguerite explored the same subject in different mediums as Blanche using the time consuming techniques of embroidery and rughooking purposefully to promote women’s handcraft to an audience of art viewers. Her designs were not authorized as patterns, yet have been copied from illustrations in books about antique hooked rugs.

In the catalog accompanying exhibit at the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland 2017, Marguerite Zorach- An Art-Filled Life, Cynthia Fowler suggests “for Zorach, a committed modernist with an appreciation for abstraction as evidenced in her paintings, embroidery freed her to experiment with detail in ways that would not have been acceptable in her paintings.”

Sunflowers hooked rug, Blanche Lazzell design

West Virginian Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956), active in printmaking, painting and decorative arts developed some of the first abstract work in American art in the teens of the 1900’s. She said of her work in textile and pottery it “helps us to do the next thing better”. A woodblock would be interpreted as a painting and again by hooking a rug, each time the design revealed something different to the artist. She contributed five designs to Ralph Pearson’s project “Contemporary American Artists’ Hand-Hooked Rugs” along with fourteen other modernist artists in 1927.

As concluded in Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work on an American Modernist “By choosing to experiment in, exhibit, and sell her decorative arts alongside her paintings and prints, Lazzell stands as a precursor to the artists of the last half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the 21st who use ceramics and textiles as the primary medium of their fine art, such as Judy Chicago, Faith Ringgold, and Miriam Schapiro.”

 

Red Tree, Emily Carr by Sunny Runnells

 Emily Carr (1871-1945) from British Columbia, a Canadian national treasure, as author, painter and during a period when extra income was needed, rughooker. An independent spirit she explored and documented the First Nations villages along the coast above Vancouver. Her talent was acknowledged late in life, when invited to participate in major exhibits in Ontario alongside the Group of Seven’s work. The hooked designs incorporate the native designs rather than interpreting her painterly natural subjects. Today several paintings are licensed as patterns and hooked renditions convey her brush strokes.  Visit the Carr House, her family home in Victoria.

 

 

Louisa Calder at work

Louisa Calder (1905-1996) interpreted her husband Alexander’s artwork in hooked rugs using yarn and a latch hook as depicted in ‘Calder’s Universe’ a catalog accompanying the retrospective in 1976 at the Whitney Museum in New York City. Calder worked on or authorized several textile projects and many of his work was also hooked without permission by the public (disregarding or prior to copyright laws).  See this link for a listing of textiles.not all created equal.

To these and my fellow contemporary artists who “paint with fibers” may our audience appreciate the process and experience the tactile rewards from our art

 

Remembering a Maker

Blanche McDonald c 1965

Blanche McDonald lived a long life within the hollows of Gilmer County, WV. She died December 29, 1976 having been born the third daughter of John and Minnie E. (Furr) McDonald on September 7, 1895. With her oldest sister, Otha, the two lived in their maternal family home three miles from Letter Gap, raising and putting up the meat and produce necessary to live while making quilts, rugs and footstools with needle, thread and recycled clothing.

 

1968 purchase award McDonald Sisters rug

She and Otha are said to have used the traditional crafts taught by their Scottish mother of layering, stuffing, and embellishing with yarns and threads common fabrics creating floral designs in balanced compositions.  (See the gallery of rugs) The materials used, to a critic of handwork, would discredit the quality yet their skill in using the elements of design and consistent style brought juried awards as their work was promoted farther than the central West Virginia market. Recipients of a purchase award for a 3 x 5 tapestry selected by Juror of Crafts, Paul Smith, director of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, NYC for the Appalachian Corridors Exhibition in 1968, the piece is archived in the State Museum, Charleston. A second larger rug was purchased by the Div of History and Culture in 1970 and hangs in public display in the museum.

Blanche McDonald with quilt

Blanche graced the cover of the first issue of ‘Hearth and Fair’ which evolved into Goldenseal Magazine. The quilt with giant appliquéd sycamore leaves was included at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1972 in the exhibit ‘Islands in the Land’ curated by Eudora M. Moore. 

The sisters exhibited at the annual Arts and Crafts Festival of West Virginia in Glenville selling footstools made with several cans as the insert and topped by fabric arranged in a medley of flowers.

 

Susan L Feller with mixed media hassock

I channel them as I work with scraps, needle and threads, identifying more closely to Blanche with her spunky look over the stern Otha. Hope you too will visit with the “girls” on the pages under McDonalds on this website and at the State Museum in the Culture Center, Charleston, WV.

Facetime: Portraits Exhibit

Another opportunity to combine traditions at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, Pennsburg, PA has resulted in Face Time: Portraits in Hooked Rugs and Selections from the Heritage Center Collection. The exhibit is up through March 17, 2018.

Susan Feller brought a variety of hooked work addressing the theme from self-portraits, friends, animals and a full group of church goers. Curator Candace Perry opened the archives and the two selected framed portraits of founders, animals, Halloween masks, frakturs, china phrenology heads and etched glasses all with faces. Come by to learn about traditions, history and leave with a smile on your FACE.

Thank you to the artists who contributed their work:

Hunter”, Judy Carter, Willow Street, PA

An original design, Judy has studied and instructs how-to portray animals using rughooking.  She is the author of Hooking Animals. Visit www.jcrugs.com.

Susan @ 60″, Susan L Feller, Augusta, WV

Self portrait including motifs which tell about my life in West Virginia, our log home, the mountains, trees (a common motif), orange glasses and gray hair. Working in mixed media adds to the autobiographical design. Frame designed by Jim Lilly. Visit ArtWools.com

“Mona and Me”, Rita Hammock, design Laura Pierce/photo Darryl Hammock, Brighton, MI

Mona was a good friend. Created to preserve our friendship, then she became ill. The rug was worked on during the months prior to her passing. Rug hooking is good therapy and creates memories.

“President Washington”, design by Linda Pietz, CA; hooked by Nola Heidbreder, St. Louis, MO

This portrait of George Washington is traditionally hooked with strips of wool fabric cut in  3/8” strips.  He read his Bible for one hour twice a day. Book available with first 44 “Hooking the Presidents”. Visit NolaHooks.com

“Celebrating in North Bay”, Roslyn Logsdon, Laurel, MD

A birthday celebration with my son in Maine. Value, contrast and shapes are important elements in my work. Visit RoslynLogsdon.net

“Coco the Llama”, Liz Marino, South Egremont, MA

My husband and I have had a llama farm since 1984. The portrait of CoCo Llama was a tribute to our herd matriarch. She represented everything we bred for in a well put together llama and also had the soul and temperament that we stove for in our breeding program. Visit LizMarinoRugHooking.com

“Manservant”, June Myles, Redding CT and Elkins, WV

Image is a serving man during the wedding of “the King of the World”. It was adapted from a Persian miniature of the Wedding Procession of Dara Shiloh.

“Homecoming”, Sarah Province, Silver Spring, MD

The congregation of Fairfield Presbyterian Church, near Richmond, VA 1940 Sarah’s family is in this gathering. She is the blonde girl in red jumper at her mother’s knee on the right. The original photo included about 200 people, with artistic license, 75 are depicted here.

The Schwenkfelder is open Tuesday – Sunday and is located at 105 Seminary Street, Pennsburg, PA. Visit Schwenkfelder.com

 

 

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Recognition and Education

Rughooking is a technique easily learned, leading to opportunities to master the materials, various techniques and design elements with practice – one loop at a time. With the method comes a connection to generations of people who enhanced their surroundings creating utilitarian rugs from material once part of a garment or blanket. Each of these aspects drew me in and comforted me as I developed confidence as an artist.

1968 purchase award McDonald Sisters rug

 

At least half a dozen years ago I saw a large tapestry on permanent display in the Legacy of Craftsmanship Room at the State Museum, Charleston, WV with a label describing the techniques as embroidery, appliqué and hooking. How exciting to know the same technique I was immersing my time and skills in had been recognized by the state of West Virginia arts commission. At the Appalachian Corridor Exhibition of 1968 (first of three bi-ennials under that name) a purchase award to Blanche and Otha McDonald for their rug was issued along with several other media.

These first art pieces entered the collection housed at the State Museum and are now joined, over the past 40 years, by a couple of hundred contemporary art pieces thanks to the Bi-Ennial Juried Exhibition conducted by the Commission on the Arts, Division of Culture and History.

On Sunday, November 12, 2017 ten more works were awarded purchase recognition. I am thrilled to announce there is another hooked piece in the permanent collection: Progress in the Mountains, Susan L Feller, Augusta, WV.

The exhibit is on public display through February 11 at the Art Museum of WVU, One Fine Arts Drive, Morgantown, WV. The award winners will next be displayed at the State Museum gallery and then become part of the archives.

Just think 50 years from now someone will research the collection to find and study my hooked runner for materials, techniques of dyeing and hooking, and respond to my design just as I did the rug from 1968. One difference is I have documented my process, written articles, continue to record and publish the tools and materials I use and contribute these to the archives at the Museum. The McDonald Sisters work does not have these answers compiled as conveniently for research. A lesson I learned to rectify because of my frustration after seeing that rug and label on display and asking who were these ladies? Why did they mimic rughooking with their needle, thread and fabric strips? What inspired their designs and development of product?

It seems I can now say I too am part of the generations of rughooking craft makers. And that makes me happy pulling new loops.