Author Archives: Margaret

About Margaret

Textile artist and teacher. Working in Southwest Utah. I combine painting, drawing, digital art, print making and stitching creating a soft canvas.

Message from the Universe

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.
MALCOLM FORBES

The universe sent me several messages that remained unread until recently. It occurred in a period of time where I thought I was pursuing opportunities to expand my art career when in fact I was serving someone else's agenda.  I may be a slow learner. Looking back  I can now see a pattern of, as Malcom Forbes said;  Placing too much value on what I am not and not enough value on what I am.


 

The First Message: Stop trying to fit in.
In the last couple of years I have been moving away from larger organizations to focus on opportunities in my local community. On the advice of a member of my art guild, I began making work that looked more like what is selling here in Southern Utah; landscapes. I displayed my new work at an exhibit space  run by the art guild. The gallery was poorly hung and sales were minimal. I paid a fee to hang and a commission. Next I sought out a commercial gallery. 

The Second Message: Looks are not everything
The first gallery and frame shop I was in hung my work in the hall, and  didn’t provide me with a contract. After constantly finding the gallery closed during normal business I picked up my two pieces. The second gallery  I pursued was in a  beautiful venue with lots of traffic and a regular staff. I approached the director by sharing my business card which listed Abramshe Textile Arts, she was hesistent until I showed her images of my work on Instagram. We made an appointment for the next week.  The gallery took four pieces and gave me a contract. I thought it was the perfect fit.  It’s been months. Nothing has sold. They do not reach out or promote my work. It looked good on the surface, but the result prove otherwise. 

The Third Message: Trust your gut feeling
After leaving the art guild I tried joining non profit arts organization. This group feels right to me. They have a delightful gallery, gift shop, and co-op teaching spaces. The location is just 40 minutes away from my house.  Each month they have themed exhibitions which I  enter and have won prize money. Twice a year the have a juried artist bazaar where I can sell a variety of small work without having to run a booth at an art fair. I have sold several  pieces for a fraction of the commissions of a commercial gallery. This gives me the option to sell at lower price points and I can test ideas for larger projects. Best of all, it's a welcoming creative community.

The Final Message: Trust the Universe to send you what you desire
After two failed attempts to create a solo exhibition (one was shut down due to a leak in the ceiling, the other had a crowd of three for the opening) the curator of the art museum reached out to offer me an exhibit in the beautiful and large downstairs gallery. Because of those two previous exhibitions I had more than half of the work needed ready to hang in a gallery setting. I had set up an inventory, a file of images, and an artists statement. I had prepared for opportunity waiting to be presented.

“Merging Lines” pairs my work with a sculpture doing large scale figures with wire in a style not unlike Alexzander Calder.  In that exhibit I assembled 25 pieces of portraits I have been creating over the past nine years. It’s work I am passionate about. Each piece was hung beside a statement written to help the viewer better understand the work. The result was well received by the public including tours with local schools and the university.

The museum staff and curator were so engaged with making the exhibition successful. Everything from social media marketing to professionally printed invitations and promotional material. The first day the exhibit opened in December there was a huge crowd attending a seasonal Light the Night event with music and lots of family groups. The last first Friday in February the museum hosted a closing celebration of the exhibit. Despite the rainy cold weather I was still greeting people a half hour after the event was supposed to end.

Everything about this setting spoke to me as being what I had been seeking.  When the exhibit closes at the end of the month, I will be ready to shop this group of work to another public space with a professional team to hang and promote my work. 


Today I declared myself a fine artist.
I am not a quilter, although I stitch the surface. I am not a textile artist, although I work with fabric. My work is museum quality and my subject matter is always something that speaks to me. 

 

Until Next Time
Margaret

 

Flow

The Word of the Year 2024


Flow in positive psychology, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time. **https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)


 

I don’t remember when I began selecting a word of the year. Merriam Webster started creating a word of the year in 2003. The American Dialectic Society began a decade earlier in 1990. The trend has grown. Now you can google “word of the year” and find a plethora of  guides, justifications, lists of potential choices, and even a “Word of the Year Generator”. 

In an article on the AARP Website  the rationale for selecting your word was as an alternative to a News Years Resolution.  “A carefully chosen word is a type of mental mentor — something to help us stay motivated as we move toward our goals” 

A word of the year serves as a touchstone when I feel off track. My word of the year for 2023 was wind. It referred to the Buddhist concepts of the eight worldly winds; four positive and four negative. (gain and loss, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and disrepute).  I choose the word to remind me that whatever the achievement or disappointment I experienced wasn’t my goal. My goal was to stay on the creative path and let the winds blow. This helped when I had a few big achievements and several rejections.

This year's word "flow" was not chosen from a list or with the help of a  tool. The word just arrived one morning out of the blue. It was a perfect word for the year to come.It's the way I want to work as an artist and to live as a happy productive person.

Flow is that state of being  identified by Hungarian American psycolorgist ‎Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi while researching happiness and creativity. The term describes what it is to be lost in the creative process. When I am in a flow state in my best work is produced. It doesn’t happen everyday, but it happens frequently in the right conditions.

My flow is interrupted by external forces like deadlines or calls for entry where I am making something to fit into someone else's box. I also can prevent a flow state by not letting ideas percolat at their own pace. Pressure kills flow. To encourage flow I have to let go of the clock and allow myself to dive into a project without any notion of the end result. Let the process take me for a ride. 

Staying on the creative path requires that I listen to the internal voice and allow that voice to send me in new directions. An example of this is a new series I am getting ready to start. I was inspired by a conversation with a young artist I met at my local art museum. We began following each other on instagram. She asked me for coffee. Our conversation turned to her complicated relationship with her family. That led me to think about my own mother giving birth to me in 1959. 

After the that conversation my mind was filling with questions. What was it like for a woman like my Mom in that era ? How did the expectations of time and culture affect our relationship? Who would have she been if she had been born twenty years latter? I ended up coming home and searching for photographs of women in the late 50’s and early 60’s. That led me to the archives in the library of commerce. Down the rabbit hole I went. Now I have several photo collage compositions sitting in my studio ready to paint and eventually to stitch.

Thats flow. Allowing an idea to lead me into new territory at it's own pace. 

I am very excited about these new projects. They will be added to my ongoing series of vintage family portraits  included in an exhibition called "Merging Lines". My hope is that I can have enough portraits to book a solo show at a venue here in Utah.

My year began by allowing an idea to flow from one little conversation over coffee, into a larger investigation,  and creating new work. 

Until Next Time....
Margaret

 

Serendipity

Serendipity : the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not looked for.


When I retired from a career in teaching I thought I would have total control. I could mitigate risks and increase reward by being my own boss. I fully embraced a familiar community where I understood how to be successful. Along the way I discovered that although I could pursue the clear path defined by others, I couldn’t do so without separating myself from making authentic work.

In the last few years I have been leaving the safety of established art quilt groups and have ventured out on my own. The process of leaving the familiar has been rewarding and challenging. It inspired my word of the year for 2023; WIND. Wind was my metaphor for the ups and downs I was bound to encounter in the year ahead.

In the Buddhist tradition, there are 8 worldly winds: Gain, Loss, Status, Disgrace, Praise, Censure, Pleasure, Pain.  During the course of the year as an artist I was blown by each of these winds. A Buddhist would advise one to see any of these winds as transitory and of no consequence. They are just winds that one has no control over and they will die down in time. 

I  can’t say I followed the Buddah’s path. It was a year of accomplishment and disappointment. On the cover of a magazine one day and the next  rejected by a juried exhibition. I was strongly encouraged to volunteer as a director of a local art guild gallery only to be embarrassed by both the interview and the rejection made at a  public meeting. I made a couple of pieces that were impressive enough to get into major art quilt exhibitions and several that sent me down the wrong path wasting an abundance of time. I had successful classes and two  that didn’t get anyone to sign up. My online course did great the first few months and finally fizzled. 

I tried being more entrepreneurial by seeking out new venues. For a time I created a stack of small work in hopes of selling something with a modest price point. I ended up writing a paid how to article on small work.  After attending a seminar for art marketing, I began  following the plan laid out to find a gallery. This has been an ongoing project that has generated some success. Looking beyond my town, I joined a co-op gallery where I sold a few small pieces and could the opportunity to teach in the future.

It was serendipity that seemed to arrive just as I was questioning my ability to be a successful artist. I  was asked to exhibit in a city owned gallery with two other artists. Getting ready for the exhibit required an inventory, creating a hanging system to replace hanging sleeves, making an inventory, writing a statement for the exhibition, and creating posters and postcards with images from me and the other artists. 

 After accepting I was made aware the artists needed to take on the cost to rent, provide all of the promotional materials, cost of refreshments for an opening, and the person usually employed  to process sales would be gone that month. I got into this project blind, but my exhibit looked really good and I thought maybe this would bring some attention to my work in my local community. Less than two weeks into the exhibit  it rained. It rained and rained and rained until the roof in that gallery leaked onto my work. The  exhibit I worked so hard to put together was down. My work was rolled up in a storage closet.

After bringing the work home, I applied for a solo exhibit. My proposal was accepted. The gallery was  located at the back of a large, ceramic studio. They had staff to process sales, created promotional material, and had someone to help hang the work. The exhibition was for a month.

I advertised an opening on local Facebook Groups, to my community art guild and through social media. I bought some food and the venue provided drinks, plates and napkins.   Then discovered that a big event made traffic challenging over the opening weekend. As it turned out, almost no one showed up. I thought to myself well, maybe it’s just not meant to be.

 As I took down the show and rolled everything up and hung it back in my closet I tried to pat myself on the back and say well if another opportunity comes along at least I’m ready.


"Serendipity showed up again." 

I received an email from the curator of our local museum a week after my exhibit was taken down. She expressed an interest in showing my work along with a sculptor.  I immediately responded to the email and went  to speak to her in person.  She was enthusiastic about displaying my work. I was surprised to find that I was not in the little gallery upstairs, but had the entire downstairs gallery available to me. 

Unlike previous exhibits, there would be no fee. The museum would hang the work, have events for the public, organize an opening, and all the promotion would be done by them. In addition, the exhibit would be up from December through February. I would be submitting double the number of pieces from my previous two exhibits.

I was very excited, but the timeline was tight. During the month of November I would be gone to a workshop for the first week. After coming home for five days, I was leaving for a 12 day trip. In addition, there was the Thanksgiving holiday. Luckily for me I had those two other exhibits so a great deal of my work was ready. I also had the advantage of artist statements for each piece that were already on my computer and ready to go. It was challenging, but I did it.  

The opening night of the exhibition included a youth orchestra and choir featuring Holiday music The museum was packed with  people. I met city council members, the chairman of Museums board, and other community big wigs. Serendipity once again, played a role in making this a really wonderful experience. A beautiful setting, lots of people, and my work, finally in a place where it deserves to be.

Serendipity is really when good things happen that you don’t expect. In this case, I didn’t expect to get an exhibit at a museum that I hadn’t sought out. What I did in 2023  was to take some risks. I kept trying until serendipity arrived and gave me what I didn’t know I was looking for. 

 

Beyond the Long Week

“In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity.” ~Albert Einstein

A long week
(August 2023)

Life has a way of challenging any plan. This week and last I have been home with my husband taking care of him after knee replacement. Without going into detail, it’s been a week; a very long week. I thought I would be able to make small pieces, take some photographs of my work, do some writing, and generally be productive between putting on ice wraps. As it turned out, a lack of sleep and increased stress cannot be combined with productivity. 

The life of an artist is not a 9-5 gig. Making is a smaller portion of the artist’s task than one would imagine. At least half of the time an artist is spending marketing. There is also time creating other revenue streams, like teaching, writing articles, or paid lectures. On top of that is social media where you develop a brand. It’s a long to-do list. 

Yesterday I had to stop. Just stop everything and sit on the couch. The interruption forced me to think. Am I selling anything? No really. Not yet. Is that my goal? Do I have a goal? Why am I making stuff? The answer might be to keep my mind going into the  abyss or maybe just a simple distraction. 

The reason I am considering writing as my creative outlet is  that writing does not involve a physical object which has to be stored or exhibited or sold. The output of the process does not require an audience. 

Writing is not what I did in my working life. It’s a new direction without the trail of followers I have in the art quilt world. Becoming a writer that no one reads is me creating an alter ego. I can run away from reality on the page or, as I am doing now; reflect on my current situation. I may be completely naive to think I can just become a writer by declaration. Of course, anyone can be a bad writer……

8 weeks Later….

As I read this post, I am thinking of how quickly change happens and how little I realize the change until I reflect. 

When I wrote “A Long Week” I was in the middle of August when my husband was healing from knee surgery. This was after having a hip replacement earlier in the year. Clearly, I was exhausted.

I mentioned in the “long week”  that being an artist isn’t a 9-5 gig but it is a part of my everyday routine. I am always involved in a project whether it’s a large scale art quilt destined for an exhibition, small compositions stretched on canvas, working in a sketchbook, or greeting cards. That creative routine was interrupted for more than a month. 

Today I am looking forward to an exhibition at our museum. I have had two solo exhibitions. I approached the best gallery in the Kayenta Art Village. At first the gallery owner said that “textiles don’t sell”. Then “we are pretty full”. A few minutes after sharing my Instagram, I was bringing in two pieces for her to see. An appointment was set and I am now showing four pieces. This weekend is their big fall art festival which will bring in a crowd of potential buyers.

I have started submitting work to an artist association in a community 40 minutes south of my home. It’s a much more engaged group than my local art guild. Their building has a beautiful gallery, gift shop, and extended teaching space. I have sold several small pieces and have nine items for sale in the gift shop. In the future there is an opportunity to teach. The association allows me to keep 90% of the revenue. It’s another way for me to expand my revenue stream. 

My plan to write has not been realized, but it has not been forgotten. Writing has to find a home in my creative routine. Of course there is this blog on my website which helps me (and possibly you) reflect on my artistic practice. I want to go beyond that limited output. Over the next month I will be thinking about where I can create space and time for a larger project. 

I’ll keep you updated…. 

Discomfort

I am a visual artist known in the community of art quilters. Most people in this community (with notable exceptions) are dedicated hobbyists. Some are traditional quilters creating wall hangings. Others work as artists using the tools and materials found in functional quilts.  In the world of fine art the vast majority of art quilters are rightly labeled as crafters. The most obvious reason, to me, is the community clinging to the concept of a “quilt”. 

I came into this world by accident. I had been a public school art teacher with a BFA and a Master’s in art who could manage studio time on weekends and maybe six weeks in the summer. I came across an interview with Faith Ringold in a classroom video. It turned out she initially “quilted” her paintings to reduce shipping costs. The idea of a soft canvas intrigued me for two reasons. First it was a practical solution to reduce the costs I incurred when exhibiting my work. Secondarily it was a way for me to stand out in the sea of painters and mixed media artists. 

Serendipity played a role in my move into art quilts after a visit to a medical facility. I inquired about a piece of art made out of fabric in the lobby. It was not framed. It hung floating above the wall on a rod encased by plexiglass.  As it turned out, the Doctor I was visiting made that piece. She referred me to a group that called itself Contemporary Quilters. That was my starting point. 

When I first joined the group I saw members as crafters who were determined to move into the art world. I never found anyone there who had formal art training or anyone who did not place a high value on process and technique. This was strange to me coming from a world where the key question in the contemporary art studio was pushing the limits, questioning the norms, and rattling the cage of established artists.

I thought back on entry into this world when I ran across a post from an art quilter that made me question the community.  It was a picture of their sketchbook. The page was open with poorly executed circles of watercolor in muddy primary colors. As an art teacher, I would immediately think this was a three year old’s painting on copy paper. I would give it a smiley sticker knowing that this was the infancy in visual communication. Art quilter followers did not share my view. For these followers, this was what “real” artists do.

Being an artist is not a declaration, it’s hard work. It is not merely technical mastery, it involves digging deep into intellectual and emotional territory. Taking a minute to paint some circles and having the hubris to share these as an example of an artist’s sketchbook to your coaching clients, collectors, and many followers; is playing art theater. It is not being an artist. It makes me question the world of art quilters. 

The vast majority of art quilters are limited by not having an academic background in the visual arts. It is common for art quilters to attend a variety of workshops from people who create a style that is admired by others in the community who become mimics.   Many art quilters are attracted to working creatively after careers that are centered on productivity. They have plenty of money and time. The desire to make comes without the background knowledge found in art history and understanding contemporary art. I found many want to find a formula instead of authentically finding their own path. The resulting work is too frequently  an aesthetically pleasing object that misses the opportunity to push limits or challenge norms. 

Some move up the community’s  food chain into juried exhibitions and become teachers and coaches for other art quilters. Never having to take Art History classes, life drawing, painting, printmaking, or any other media is a deficit. The majority of top art quilters’ work is formulaic by design to create a path for teaching their technique and jurors tend to select these top makers that will attract people at quilt shows or other exhibition spaces.

The art quilt community is often offended by not being considered “real” artists. That is true on one level. Historically quilts and other textiles were not attributed to the maker, therefore their value was diminished. In addition to being a woman’s work, quilting was seen by art historians as low art: craft. The Bauhaus movement in the early 20th century began changing that paradigm, however their attempts to level the playing field for crafts expanded the opportunity to use materials like fabric.  

In contrast, artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Lukas Samaras used fabric. In Rauschenberg’s case a quilt in “Bed” created in 1955 is included the permanent collect at MOMA .  Contemporary artist Bisa Butler who creates portraits using fabric, is being shown in major exhibitions and art fairs. Her work is highly valued. The difference is that artist like Ms. Butler have formal training. She used fabric as a material, but did not use the term art quilt. Instead she placed her work in the context of portraiture.

My academic background taught me, as an artist; to create my own composition grounded in meaning. In the art quilt world this system seems topsy turvy. The typical entry in art quilt exhibitions has a theme which has the artist responding to meaning associated with that exhibition, and not the artist controlling the meaning of their own work. Art Quilts by definition must be layered and stitched which adds another point of control. 

These exhibitions are juried based on technique and addressing the theme. Awards are given with a check attached. At quilt shows exhibition awards are frequently sponsored by vendors who want to sell products. In juried exhibitions outside quilt shows the artist may get juried in, but assumes the cost of shipping, is paying to compete with hundreds of entries for a fraction of the slots, and the relationship with the exhibition has time limits. Your art might be on display for weeks or be committed for years. That one piece might be seen by large numbers of people; but your body of work is not. 

In art school there is a portfolio system. The artist produces a number of pieces that worked through an idea, solved a visual problem, and resulted in a group of related works of art. In my own studio practice I have found it natural to make a series or even to work on several series at once. After creating a portfolio an artist then finds a gallery or exhibition space to show their collection of work that will hopefully attract collectors. The artist’s work is seen in context.

Feeling discomfort is a good thing. It’s a sign that I need to continue on my own path. Although I admire the art quilt movement, I don’t think it’s fully my home and that’s OK.