Category Archives: West Virginia Artists

Achieving goals by a different path

Challenging self is part of living. As the restrictions to travel developed in 2020 I took some time to evaluate my dreams. Hiking the full 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail topped the list. Time to observe nature, leave external voices behind, reflect and connect with self were elements the journey would offer. But for me I admitted thru hiking would not happen. In 2020, the system was closed due to the pandemic to many others who hoped to set out. I made my own trail.

I had wanted to connect the traditional random woven rag rugs we had from family members with rug hooking in a design and found a long narrow map of the Appalachian Trail which fit this concept. Two runners of linen each 59″ x 19″ were marked with the trail blazes, major river paths, and geographical sections. I pulled wools from inventory and sorted them into seasonal colored piles to become strips ready for the hook and finally 107,616 loops.

Over the next two months I hooked away in the studio, daily posting progress shots on my Instagram page ArtWools, Susan L Feller. The encouragement from followers included stories of their own experiences with the trail. Some lived close by. As I got to that spot I thought about them, even inserting a favorite color. As the seasons changed from cool colorful spring into warmer summer I switched piles of wool intermingling the colors as I imagined would be happening in the higher elevations and warmer valleys.

The typical 6 month journey on foot may have not been physically experienced but I have a visual personal reminder. The two rugs look complete individually and can join together seamlessly. They even look interesting side by side which has lead me to think of a seasonal rug perhaps 36 x 60. In the exhibit ‘Journeys’ at Beckley Art Center, the label reads commission work would be entertained. The New River would be an interesting subject exploring one season for each panel (smaller than the runners though). Endless ideas and still lots of time in the studio.

walking the trail
inspiration for hooked artwork

Inspired to Collaborate

A photo came on my screen and I thought…that would be interesting to interpret with my techniques. I reached out to West Virginia potter and Tamarack Foundation For the Arts Fellow Hannah Lenhart for permission. Her response was “I was flattered and very excited! The original image happened because I was sanding and washing pots and setting them out to dry. I found all the “butts” super pretty so I arranged them for a photo. It’s cool knowing that someone else found the image as interesting as I did.” (Hannah and I have both received fellowship grants from TFA, she in 2018 as an Emerging Artist and I as a Master in 2013).

One of her vases became the “pattern” for 4″ circular shapes on graph paper to space them in ordered randomness. When I drew out with pencil, sharpened the lines with magic marker it was ready to use the lightbox and transfer to linen backing as a 24 x 20 design. THEN bags of wools came out, organized in color families with patterns and solids abounding to cut into strips. The variety of black and white squiggles and lines Hannah incorporates in her work were fun to interpret with high contrasting tweeds, plaids and checks. To get the color playing with black I used a technique called “beading” where two high contrasting strips of wool travel along, each contributing a loop in an alternating fashion.

I looked back at the image only once for a reminder on how the bottoms (butts) were decorated. Each has the signature HL and often a pattern of lines with the coloring of the mug evident. How was I going to make my circles unique? Of course my upholstery samples pile served up a wonderful variety to be cut and applique’d. Most were embroidered using Wendy Clark’s thrums to attach the piece with abstract lines enhancing the fabric’s design.

Isolation and time to “visit” the internet has lead to many advertisements being deleted but one came along just at the right time from Renaissance Ribbons. I found a ribbon with squares that could be used as a border and ordered it right away. After stitching the finished work to black cotton and folding the edge as a plain border the ribbon was added and definitely pulled the piece together.

hooked fabric strips, embroidery on upholstery fabric, inspired by Hannah Lenhart’s pottery with ribbon border

When I sent this photo to Hannah she replied “Audible gasp! (haha).  I’m a lover of color and pattern and I love how you played around so much with both! Also there is so much detail. This piece must have taken so many hours! A labor of love, much like ceramics. “ It has been fun knowing I was creating work imagined by someone else yet ending up with a unique signature piece. Here are our monograms in the rug.

The last step will be to see this with some of Hannah’s mugs set on top. When we can get together again that image will happen. It has been interesting collaborating by internet, glad we each have also met in person. Check out Hannah’sClayCreations.com and enjoy a cup of joy with us.

If you are interested in collaborating consider GlobalTextileHub.com and their next exhibition Collaborate/Re-Imagine Call for Entry, one artist needs to work with fibers the other any media…. commitment due Sept 30 and work submitted online by April of 2021. Virtual exhibit premiers in August 2021. See the prospectus here

Recycling leads to Networking

My roots in Girl Scouting guides choices even in this decade of my life. Using scraps from another maker helps them clear space, lowers my expenses and increases a supply of materials but especially helps the earth … limiting landfill growth.  We recycled in the 1960’s now it is called up-cycling and the Girl Scout motto includes “Make new friends and keep the old”, I definitely have expanded the artist network with this quest.

Wendy Clark is a fiber artist, weaving her hand-dyed threads/yarns into scarves, shawls and baby wraps through her company Wenweave in the mountains of West Virginia. She collects thrums (warp threads tied off between pieces) for me into garbage sized bags and then we meet up for the exchange. I get her “rats nest“ and we some inspiring conversation. One visit the talking lead to collaborating on a project. Hours after I have organized the threads they are ready to be hooked and embroidered into what I call my Thread Collection.  Here are a couple from that series, the full collection will be available at Beckley Art Center during my exhibit August 7-October 17, 2020.

In future workshops bundles of these colorful threads will be shared with students and go out in the world of creatives spreading our mutual friendship and love for sharing.
I send off the snippets from my work to a spinner who incorporates them into colorful yarn. Zero Waste!

Visit Wendy’s site Wenweave.com and see her work in person at Tamarack, in Beckley, WV

Forest Series update

The blog post One then Two lead to a feature article in the November/December 2019 issue of Rug Hooking Magazine. Seven pages with images of materials and construction steps for the individual pieces informs the niche audience. Since writing the article several more works are finished.

We left off the post with Forest Floor’s pattern, here is the completed runner in its environment and a detail showing the braided branch and pattern sketching.

In the Trees in our Forest series the article mentions smaller versions using mixed media. Two were completed, each 16 x 12. One, studying the shapes and values, incorporates upholstery fabric samples and paint on the linen. The other uses embroidered stitches defining the leaves on ground and sky with outline stitch for the trees. These will be framed and the full collection exhibited together at the Beckley Art Center , Beckley, WV opening August 7-October 17, 2020. I will be working over the winter months to organize the exhibit.

Trees in our Woods at Night, Trees in embroidered environment

The Forest Floor did not stay a runner for long. I kept looking at it and feeling the background did not connect throughout. Although light can be spotty in the woods I seemed to have changed style. Before finishing the runner I decided to cut it into parts. Each section stands on its own and the three can be arranged in a variety of ways for exhibit. They had to be mounted on stretcher bars, backs closed and finished with “dust covers” wired and ready to hang for the Beckley Art Center show.

Archeologist in Fiber Arts

Senior year in high school and I am trying to decide what my next academic study path would be. Archeology at the University of Arizona? Granted my mom’s best friend lived in Tucson so I knew people 2300 miles from home but….I was homesick going to Girl Scout camp, could I be that far away?  Other career choice was Interior Design, Retail Management and so I went to Newbury Junior College in Boston. That was a five hour drive from home, a city not as intimidating as NYC (my immediate neighbor) and only a two year program. Long story short, I spent 10 years in Boston, graduated from U Mass with a degree in Art and History.

PA/WV rug #2 size 40 x 60

Now in 2019, living in West Virginia, I have had the honor to peel back the layers of a hand stitched rug made by Otha and Blanche McDonald in the mid 1960’s. I felt like that archeologist of my youthful dreams when each element of construction was revealed.  Researching the sister’s work for a few years, I have seen many completed pieces. Because they are hand stitched, applique’ and embroidered motifs quilted together to make the heavy rugs we have not been able to see the inner layers. Until a few months ago that is. This rug was on the floor for it’s life, ending up in a summer house guest bedroom but still used underfoot. The wool, thin cotton, and knits did not stand up well to this wear. I was asked to repair and then mount the rug to be hung as art for its next 50 years.

Beige flower needing replacement

First step was to clean the rug with a vacuum, and inventory the damage. There were four large flowers where the discolored cotton batting showed through and several small centers that had worn out. I studied how the flowers were attached to the rug and realized the random stitching we see on the reverse was the anchoring threads. With some unease I began to snip away, the flowers came off one at a time.

Next was to study the stitches used to edge the motif and separate the petals. I do embroider which helped. Overall they used the blanket stitch around the center motif and outer edges. Couching is the method to detail the petals. After working four of the flowers I got into an efficient rhythm. Begin at the center, get to a petal lay the thread and then couch back to center, continue. Then stitch around the flower. Grandma’s instructions to make my back as neat as front got in the way of channeling Blanche or Otha’s style. My first attempt was evenly spaced about an 1/8 inch away but they worked much tighter and irregularly. I caught on and when the flowers were added to the rug they are not noticed as new. One problem in being authentic was I did not know what thread they used. I matched the color to DMC 844 exactly. But that was 6 separate strands and theirs was one. I went back to the State Museum in Charleston and found a researcher who worked in textiles and coincidentally grew up in Glenville, near the sisters. She suggested a cotton finger weight yarn for making socks! Made sense to me.

Matching aged colors and similar fabrics took me months. Finally I came up with a walnut stained pillow case I had made and for the blue flowers a sample piece of discontinued upholstery fabric. The blue needed to be scuffed up a bit. Taking the flowers and stems off and turning them over to see the original bright colors was exciting every time. There are examples in the State Museum of rugs that have not been exposed to wear and light. I actually like the look of these two rugs I have worked with because they tell a story of living with loving family members. Following are some images of the individual elements and their replacements.

Sorry to see this new/old friend leave us. But after making a wooden frame covered with acid free fome core and black cotton twill, I used crochet thread in random all over stitches through the entire rug and fome core to attach the heavy piece. Then added wire to hang either vertically or horizontally and packed it in the car. I got to meet the owner who had purchased the rug from the sisters and we shared the admiration of their skills. So many lessons were learned by delving into the layers and “talking with the ladies”.

ready for delivery

Please tell us how and why you create. The work can speak only so loud years later. Photograph, journal, show us the tools and materials and most importantly what inspires you and why you work with your hands. I do it to connect with the people who taught me, whose work I admire, and because of the tactile experience and meditative time each piece takes to speak my visions.

header for post about process

One then two now a Series

Over the past year my focus in design has been on how to develop the full story. Often, specifically in rug hooking, the motifs receive the attention: selecting colors, values, materials, and even techniques. When they are complete “we” fill in the rest with a quick selection of color and value. Evolving from this patternmaking routine has been conscious, deliberate and rewarding as I devote time and energy beyond a designer to being an artist/craftsperson.

The series ‘Leaves’ used full sized templates of one natural object to draw the audience’s attention. My effort was to create a changing and interesting environment –

Chestnut Leaves in grass

 

grass with evening shadows;

 

 

 

Virginia Creeper and sky

 

the blue sky poking out of foliage;

 

 

 

Maple Leaves on quilt

 

a neutral space harkening to another traditional craft, quilting

 

 

 

Trees in our Woods

Satisfied with this exploration I approached a large piece with the same attention. The viewer will be drawn in because of scale (74 x 36), arrangement with the central motif reaching beyond the edges, and presentation (the fiber work is stretched like a work on canvas and hangs on the wall about 2 feet off the floor). The texture of each tree is laboriously portrayed depicting different species by selecting tweeds, herringbones, overdyed wools of varying widths in cuts moving them into bark and shadow shapes. The distant sky is a crisp early spring blue completing the depth. I decided to hand stitch the wool fabric to the backing rather than distract the calmness with a multitude of hooked loops. The forest floor is the anchoring element and the lessons I learned in the Leaves Series were put to test – with enthusiasm and success.

 

 

Color in our Trees

 

Nature out of the way, the second version of the same design is half the size, colorful, and linear trunks with value changes to reflect bark.

 

 

 

Shadows of the Forest

There are two more versions in the works, each smaller by half. One will be fully embroidered and the other worked in collage and embroidery. To finish my exploration I have sketched out just the floor of the forest.  This piece will be a runner for the table or floor, taking the viewer to the actual space it depicts.

 

What fun to stay with a challenge, develop a design that can be explored and tell the story of our natural beauty – the forest.

 

25 Years Creating

I talk about the Girl Scouting and handwork skills learned while growing up, the BA in Art and History with photography as my creative medium but until Lillian Vale gave me a 15 minute lesson on how to pull loops I was not confident to proclaim: I am an artist. That session was on January 1, 1994, and rug hooking has lead to an amazing journey over 25 years.

First frame

This frame supported hundreds of projects until 2008 when I upgraded to a floor model. I had to pin the backing taught, pulling the push pins out when I needed to move to another part. The first top wore out and Jim made a second one!  I logged every project on the wooden base listing size, start, finish, title and if sold to whom.

 

 

the Spinner, Susan Feller

We do not have many places to store items, but the Pig rug is missing and 1994 was before digital photos. It was a large rounded pig line drawing (no “designer’s name). He was in the center of backing with no other details. However the second rug was my own design – the Spinner. A dream of what we would do when getting into our log cabin. The inspiration was Moravian Pottery mosaics. And rug hooking line drawings lead me to studying fraktur motifs, geometrics, nature and finally the confidence to “paint with wool” as an artist.

Flash through the years, 200 rug patterns, dye recipes, a Design in a Box filled with fraktur templates all as Ruckman Mill Farm are now distributed by Green Mountain Hooked Rugs. I served on boards of national and international rug hooking organizations, vended throughout the US and Canada, wrote a book about Design, sold hundreds of rugs, and exhibited in fine art collections. For the past five years, under a new company ArtWools, I have taught design to fiber artists, advocated for the arts in WV and work in my studio. The best of this journey is my confidence to say I AM AN ARTIST and the many friends I have met along the way.

Working at home

Looking forward to the next years creating.

Reflecting and Planning

It has been 5 years since I began the Year Study.  My goals were to explore, evaluate and exhibit the results of daily sketching and creating. I did EXPLORE with materials, techniques and composition lessons resulting in a renewed interest in hand stitching, experimenting with brushes and paints, and seeing more simply.

EVALUATING my use of time is an important element as an artist. How to continue networking in one circle while expanding into others; keeping an ear open and helping in different ways needs to be communicated by actions and in conversations. Scheduling studio time and developing themes for the upcoming exhibits rather than creating inventory has been a process. One that with the distractions of nature here in West Virginia is more enjoyable than a commercial speed on the East Coast as I age. Transferring the Ruckman Mill Farm patterns and products to a new generation at Green Mountains Hooked Rugs opened my schedule to more studio time. Now teaching is focused on design and encouragement, others provide the materials.

The EXHIBIT goal was met at Sauder Village Rug Hooking Week in 2015 when all twelve months and a collection of work were featured. Juried into and invited to show in several fine art exhibits validated the direction and I respect my peers recognition. My resume’ lists these venues with the ultimate, an Award of Excellence and purchase by the State Museum from the 20th Bi-Ennial Juried Exhibition in 2017 for Progress in the Mountains. The opportunity to curate the collection Glimpses Inside Appalachia this fall, shown at Raleigh Playhouse, Beckley, WV brought my work before a new audience and opened other exhibit venues.

My five year goal includes developing the themes I identified from the study and exhibiting each in different markets. A new decade will be on the horizon by then and more goals.

Speaking out about current events , Nature’s Beauty and Human Impact, and a Travel Series  where I am developing each sketch several times. 

Hope to meet you on our journey. Happy creating.

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.