Tag Archives: McDonald Sisters

Inspiration explored 50 years later

Blanche McDonald, Letter Gap, WV circa 1965 with mixed media footstool

Blanche McDonald, Letter Gap, WV circa 1965 with mixed media footstool

In a five year research project gathering personal background about Otha and Blanche McDonald from Letter Gap, WV I have been inspired by their textile work. Incorporating collage, embroidery, trapunto and stitching the ladies work embodies traditions, make-do, and balanced composition = art.  This post will describe my approach to making a footstool as they did in the 1960’s.

seven cans for the base of footstool

seven cans for the base of footstool

Materials needed: seven same sized empty cans (I used one pound coffee cans)
batting used in quilting
fabric to wrap the circumference of cans assembled into circle
embroidery threads your choice of colors
variety of heavy weight fabrics or upholstery fabric sample
fabric strips to hook (usually wool but your choice)
foundation backing open weave for hooking and stitching
needles, hook, scissors
mat board cut the shape of circle (two pieces)

Tape the cans together, six around one in center. Trace this shape on paper and use as template for pattern. Draw onto backing and gather your fabrics, threads, tools. This is the time to play. The McDonald Sisters’ compositions all conjure up gardens and nature. They collaged scraps of velvet, brocades and drapery fabric common in the 1960’s in central West Virginia and any rural community in the United States. The shapes were defined with yarns unevenly anchoring the edges of each petal or stem. Some other materials used to embellish were unraveled copper threads from a Brillo pad which have tarnished over the years but still have a twinkle hint of metal.

top of footstool in private collection

top of footstool in private collection

I do not want to replicate their designs for a couple of reasons. One the copyright has not expired, the ladies passed away in 1975 and 1976. Two as an artist I prefer to react and respond. Using a supply of discontinued samples of upholstery fabric acquired from Dillon’s Furniture in Romney (eliminating their dumping them into the landfill), cutting up and rearranging the pieces into a pleasing composition then filling in the spaces with hooked wool fabric and stuffing some of the fabric shapes this footstool cover evolved.

 

Piecing three colors of wool to wrap the cans, I attached the top and put on a bottom of corduroy with mat board buffering the cans and fabric. The sides were embroidered with simple flowers.  I stuffed the two main flowers on the top but stitched the stems with embroidery threads anchoring them lower than the hooked loops.

This footstool will be part of an exhibit at Sauder Village August 17-20 focusing on Otha and Blanche McDonald’s life and their exposure to economic opportunities thanks to President Johnson signing the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. They and many craftspeople have been honored in exhibits, purchase awards, and sales for the past fifty years.

Susan L Feller with mixed media hassock

Susan L Feller with mixed media hassock

Fifty years later another footstool and craftsman outside of her log home… me.

 

 

 

Tamarack Foundation Fellowship

Tamarack Foundation logo jpeg

During Tamarack Artisan Foundation’s 10th Anniversary celebration three Fellowship Awards were presented for artistic excellence and lifetime commitment to promoting and fostering the arts in West Virginia.  I am honored to have been selected by the review committee along with humanitarian photographer Paul Corbit Brown of Oak Hill and sculptor/author Carter Taylor Seaton from Huntington.

Ex Director Sally Barton; Carter Taylor Seaton, Susan L. Feller and Paul Corbit Brown

Exec. Director Sally Barton; Carter Taylor Seaton, Susan L. Feller and Paul Corbit Brown

The support for artists within West Virginia is unique in the United States.  TAMARACK at Beckely was the first facility built as an entrepreneurial opportunity for all art/craftsmen in our state.  Since 1979 a Bi-Ennial Juried Exhibition with $30,000 in awards funded through the Division of History and Culture has acquired for the State Museum contemporary works.

The Tamarack Foundation is extremely important to the proliferation and continuation of art made in West Virginia because it raises funds from corporate and private donors and distributes these by supporting artists to create a national market; grants and awards for juried shows and lifetime achievement; and acts as ambassador and lobbyists for independant craftspeople.

I submitted a project to research the social environment of Blanche and Otha McDonald of Letter Gap, WV during the 1960’s as they created fiber works using hand sewing techniques (including ‘faux hooking’).  The funds will help in travel expenses to catalog stories and images of works from collectors into a publication with step-by-step directions for fiber artists to be inspired to create contemporary works.  Teaching these skills and the story of these two independant women is my goal.

Flowers for the McDonald Sisters, Susan L. Feller

Flowers for the McDonald Sisters, 2013 Susan L. Feller hooked, trapunto, braiding, beads