Think Fast!

In June the gallery manager and curator of the Bellefonte Art Museum asked if I had a textile piece I would like to install in their Sharon McCarthy Memorial Garden. I said “Yes, I would love to,” knowing that I had nothing appropriate. After all, I had three months. It was an unusual space, outside and under a staircase.

Under the Staircase

I thought about it in an abstract sense for the first two months. In the meantime I took road trips to the Outer Banks and Indiana, started talking to my estranged ex and accepted a full time job as a social worker. At month three I realized belatedly, I didn’t want to make a two dimensional piece. In an unrelated thought process (Oh, but it’s all related) I was reflecting about how difficult it was to place many ocean creatures as flora or fauna. I immediately decided to make something reminiscent of sea tubes and barnacles. Unfortunately, my mock ups were a little too reminiscent of other animal parts. A lot of artists explore sexuality and the duality of the masculine and feminine, but I had just inadvertently mocked up a strap-on and a fleshlight. After an emergency critique from a friend, the tube got tossed and the fleshlight became a sessile suspension feeder once again.


And now with a secure vision and two weeks until the install date I had to manufacture 35 softly structured hexagons of various sizes, complete with lining and batting. That’s 630 pieces of fabric. They needed to be cut, tied, dyed, adorned and sewn. Totally under control.




I had originally wanted the barnacles to connect together seamlessly in a smooshy, randomized fabric U shape. I also wanted it to have interactive qualities. To reach that end, I put two to three neodymium magnets in each barnacle so that they could be playfully rearranged. It was only partially successful. The magnets I used were strong enough to attach the pieces, but too difficult to find quickly once embedded in the fabric. I needed larger magnets for the barnacles to have actually supported each other without some sort of secondary attachment. My friend and I, at the last minute, attached the barnacles to a cotton fishing net (authentic ocean smell!) with tiny brass safety pins. The choice made the shapes less abstract and more representational. However, once the installation is down, the barnacles will be abstracted once again and able to be piled and maneuvered with the magnets as the stabilizing factor.

Barnacles on Parade

In Progress

Once I hit the sewing stage, I got a little bit panicky. The project being under control was an illusion. I still had a week, but my new job also started within that time frame. After a few days without sleep, I enlisted my friends and family, shelving the question Is it still my art if someone else fabricates it? I was still sewing the Saturday morning of the install date before I left for my current job. After work, I rushed back home, gathered the almost completely finished barnacles and rushed them and my friend to the museum. We spent three hours installing the piece and finished at the last possible moment.

Full Front

Full Side


Close Up

I received positive feedback from the gallery. Always appreciated. And I was able to return to seven glorious hours of sleep a night.

Mom, Bonnie, Karen, Abby and Ben- THANK YOU for your help.

All Manner of Banners: 2014 Arts Fest Banner Competition

Every year from July 9th through the 13th, State College shuts down its streets and welcomes hundreds of artists into town for the Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. As a kid I remember looking at tent upon tent of beautiful creations, being gastronomically enticed by vendors selling strudels and kabobs, hearing music everywhere and above it all were banners floating in the sky. As an adult, I am, dare I say, a bit more cynical about it all, but I still enjoy perusing the art, sampling the edibles and listening to whatever band is playing at the Festival Shell. And I still dig the banners. They’re everywhere, all colors and themes, reigning over the festival.

I’ve always wanted to make one and this was the year. First, I had to come to terms with the banner size- 72″ x 30″- which I’m sure is perfectly normal in bannerland, but it is more fabric than I am used to working with at one time. The banner hangs fifteen to twenty feet above the ground, so I needed imagery with clear color and definition. I adapted a scarf design I made a few years ago to fit the required shape (thank you Dad, for the use of your projector).  I used yellow canvas bought at the local fabric store for the base and the rest of the cotton was donated by a generous friend. The pieces were cut and stabilized with double-sided fusible interfacing. I sat down and had a quiet talk with my sewing machine and proceeded to applique my heart out. At some point I came up for breath and tea. Hours later, covered in thread, I had twelve feet of fabric with two peacocks and four elephants adhered to it. I folded it over, created space for a dowel at the top, sewed in a metal rod at the bottom for weight (the festival site suggests chain, but that is unwieldy and unattractive) and just like that, I had a banner. On time, even.

Trunks and Tails placed third in the professional category of this year’s competition. The awards ceremony is Saturday, July 12, 9 a.m. at the Allen Street Stage if you care to check it out. Next year, I’m taking first place.

Banner, side A Banner, side B

Yellow elephant closeupRed elephant, closeup

Elephant and peacobk closeup

Peacock closeup

P.S. The books arts are represented this year by Kirstin Demer of Green Trike Press and Regina and Daniel St. John of Chena River Marblers. Check the Arts Fest website for their locations and support the arts!