Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just for Fun! Frog Masquerade

The Botanical Gardens has lots of children's group visit so all artwork must be "appropriate." I have an entire book on masks that I want to make someday. In browsing through it, I came across the the frog masquerade at Jonkonnu in the Bahamas so I decided to create one in hopes of making the visiting children smile. Jonkonnu masquerades have been celebrated during Christmas since the beginning of the 18th century. The participants, all male, parade in a variety of frog masks and perform established dance routines, accompanied by small musical ensembles. Mine is much more electric than the ones in Bahamas. The fabric just seemed too perfect to me. I can't even remember where or why I bought it but I am so thankful that I did. I looked for a fly to go on the tongue and settled for a beetle instead. The face is three layers and quilted. The eyes were made separately and attached.  The arms are made out of Timtex.

Frogs have personal meaning for me. I named my first born "Jeremiah."  We moved from Louisiana to Illinois when he was in second grade. He was small for his age and had a Southern accent. The kids at school made fun of him mostly by singing, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog." It broke my heart the day that he came home and declared that he would hate me for the rest of his life because I had named him Jeremiah. Thankfully he forgave me and even had "Bullfrog" on his high school letter jacket.

This mask was just too much fun to make. Sometimes it is just great to play!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is that True?

Whenever I say or hear a statement of "fact", I always pause and ask myself, "Is that true?"  The other day I was involved in a discussion where someone said, "Nothing good has ever come out of Afghanistan."   I have a necklace that I purchase in Kyrgyzstan that I was told was made in Afghanistan that I love. However, this did not convince the person who made the statement. So began my quest. I know that today's Afghanistan is full of challenges but can we say that this country that has never contributed to the world? I was thrilled when I discovered that carrots came from Afghanistan and they were marvelously colorful too-- purple, black, red, yellow and white. The orange carrots we have today are courtesy of 17th century Dutch breeders who cultivated carrots from Afghanistan. I love carrots and so I want to thank Afghanistan and I'm also thankful for the opportunity to learn something I did not know. I will continue to strive to have an open mind.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Solo Exhibition

The opening for an exhibition of my masks will be Sunday, May 2 from 1-3 p.m. at the Foellinger Freimann Botanical Conservatory in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the Orchid Room. The masks will be available to see until June 28th. It will be the first time that all my masks will be shown together in one place. Can't wait!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sharing More Information

Wow!  Thanks to everyone who has emailed me with questions. I will try to do better next time.

Sacred Threads is an exhibition of quilts exploring the subject themes of spirituality, joy, inspiration, peace/brotherhood, grief and healing. This biennial exhibition was established to provide a safe venue for quilters of all faiths who see their work as a connection to the sacred and/or as an expression of their spiritual journey.

Beyond the Barrier was the name of the special exhibit at Sacred Threads that some women at the Ohio Reformatory for Women participated.

I encourage you to visit both sites to learn more and see all the quilts.

I was very committed to having Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, an oral history project of the Alliance for American Quilts, reflect the entire quilt community which is why I traveled to the Ohio Reformatory for Women to document the quiltmaking that occurred there. I was able to document 6 of the quiltmakers (Tangie Thomas was no longer at ORW so I went to Franklin Pre-Release Center to interview her) and Chaplain Jamie Burns. You can read all 7 interviews in the Ohio Reformatory for Women Q.S.O.S. project. I have corresponded with all the women and have gotten quite close to three of them.

I have pitched another exhibition idea to the ORW and hopefully will have news by the middle of the week. I believe strongly that one way to help recidivism is to provide opportunities for self expression which increases self-esteem. I believe in that making quilts can be life changing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


The Alliance for American Quilts is going to have an exhibit of 15 quilts from people who were interviewed for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories this fall at International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. I was thrilled to discover that Rosa Angula's quilt was selected. I interviewed Rosa. Her quilt was originally for a special exhibit for Sacred Threads. Rosa is in the Ohio Reformatory for Women for drug possession and drug trafficking. She is a citizen of Mexico. This was her first quilt. I was hoping her quilt was still at ORW and that Rosa would agree to lend the quilt. I discovered that Rosa had sent it to her daughter. And while Rosa agreed to loan the quilt is expressed that she was ashamed about where she was and that her quilt did not deserve to be included. To that I said, "Nonsense!" as did the Administrative Assistant to the Warden. I was able to connect with Glenda who was delightful. She has agreed to send the quilt. I can only hope that this opportunity will help Rosa's self esteem and quiltmaking will continue to provide her with opportunities once she is out of prison and back in Mexico.

Friday, April 23, 2010


When I head off to a speaking engagement, I never know what is going to happen or how I will be received. My lecture isn't like anyone's I know and I cram a lot of info including geography and history about places most people don't know or are able to pronounce. Anyway I want to thank the biker on the Harley who helped me find the church. I've always found bikers helpful even if they look scary. The Country Crossroad Quilt Guild will always have a special place in my heart. They were warm, welcoming and supportive and had good food too! Members purchased $200 worth of Georgian quilts which provides much needed cash for the quiltmakers. Barb Wells made her second purchase (two more Georgian word quilts). There just aren't words to express the appreciation.

I always love show and share. One guild member, Sue (hope I remembered her name correctly), got a gift from her brother (photo). He bought an old sewing machine at an auction and turned it into a tractor with a comfortable seat. It brought a good laugh from everyone present.

I have pitched my exhibition to Ohio Reformatory for Women so that the inmates can participate. I should know by the middle of next week if its a go. I will have to supply all the materials which I am more than willing to do. For 8 months I have included my experience at ORW in my lecture yet no one has ever asked any questions. I find this interesting.  Anyway, I am hopeful and even looking forward to returning to ORW. Joy Major Hoop and Michelle Owens have agreed to be my coordinators for the project. I am hopeful.

So much is in the works for me right now. It is a test of patience. Wish I could share more. Just can't yet. It's all good!  

Saturday, April 17, 2010


 I'm the best procrastinator I know. I do things that need to be done like clean out the frig. It just don't need to be done right now. Right now I should be making signs for my exhibit and getting all the hanging rods made. Don't worry I won't wait until the last possible second to do this as I would have done when I was younger. I just think mentally I'm just not ready and the pull to be outside enjoying spring is strong. Last night I finally admitted to myself  that my lack of movement has to do with an underlining fear that no one is going to show up for the opening of my mask exhibit.  This revelation is in part due to working once again at being more mindful which also means slowing down. You can't be mindful at warp speed.  I remember the first time I read the Zen proverb --"Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Finding meaning in ordinary tasks made me happier, less resentful, lighter.  I love having a really clean sink in my kitchen. Weird maybe and true. 

A few days ago I came across a quote by Kathleen Norris, a Benedictine oblate and author that I think has the Zen quote beat. "You'll have to wake up tomorrow just like you did today. If you despise repetition, what you're really saying is that you despise life itself." Pretty powerful statement.
For me, I want to make sure that I'm paying attention. Not as easy a task as it might seem. The drawing was done by my youngest, son, Nathaniel in 1988 when he was not just 4. It's of me. I love that he gave me a big smile.  Isn't life grand!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making a Case for Art Quilts

I always seem to end up with interesting challenges. My latest is defending that art quilts are indeed art to someone who admits that she does not like them or really understand the world. This is a more than a craft vs art debate which I'm sure will go on forever. Instead I am being asked to prove that art quilts have moved into the world of art which means I can't use craft museums. To be honest, I find this whole debate/proof thing rather frustrating. When I traveled with the quilts of Gee's Bend to Georgia (country not state), Armenia and Kazakhstan, the quilts were embraced as art. No debate. Why do we have such a need for hierarchy?

The art quilt movement is 30 years old so is it fair to use the lack of a secondary market (used for appraisals) against it? How quickly have other new art forms/styles gotten a secondary market? Still trying to figure it out.

I've been bold and reached out to curators in art museums for help. Many have spoken of the difficulty of displaying textiles not just quilts due to lighting which causes fading and shortens the lifespan. Storage creates issues too. So these are the reasons that cause some museums to not add quilts to their collections not that they don't consider them art. 

I've also been trying to figure out which museums have art quilts. The Smithsonian's American Art Museum has 59 quilts in their collection. Seventeen are considered art quilts. That's 29%. They have quilts by Teresa Barkley, Michael James, Carolyn Mazloomi, Yvonne Porcella, Ed Johnetta Miller, Ellen Oppenheimer (the only artist with 2 quilts), L'Merchie Frazier, Gwendolyn Magee, Cynthia Nixion, Sue Pierce, Pamela Studstill, Michael Cummings, Lia Cook, Kathrine Westphal and others. The Indianapolis Museum of Art focuses mostly on collecting Indiana quilts and yet it has quilts by Nancy Crow, Michael James and Carolyn Mazloomi. I think they have 5 quilts that would be considered art quilts. While the Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, doesn't have quilts in their collection, they have had quilt exhibits and art quilts in exhibits. The curator had no problem calling art quilts art.

So I will continue to research and ask questions. Right now my brain hurts from too much thinking so I'm going to go mow the lawn. It's amazing how easily I can work things out or get ideas while channeling Steve Martin in the movie My Blue Heaven. I've stopped actually doing the wave but I still say out loud "It's a great day for a mow." Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Country Crossroads Quilt Guild

On Monday, April 19th, I'll be lecturing in Forreston, IL at Country Crossroads Quilt Guild's meeting. They meet at the Forreston Grove Church, 7246 N. Freeport Rd, Forreston, IL 61030. I love lecturing. My lecture is called "Connecting Cultures: An American Artist's Pilgrimage" where I share my adventures, history and textiles. I will also be seeing my friend Debi.  Can't wait!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Good News, Sad News

My quilt, "Shattered," which is in the traveling exhibition Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece was once again chosen to be featured to advertise a venue. I'm always surprised when this happens because I feel my quilt is not the best or the strongest quilt. Please don't get me wrong, it does make me happy and I am always appreciative. This time it was featured on Now for the sad news, there is no attribution. No one looking at this online news source will know that I made the quilt and it is something that should have been done. You don't use someone's work without crediting it. I know Ami Simms is upset. I know she insists on attribution so I'll be a little sad but mostly I'll be happy. The more people see this exhibit the better and if my quilt helps make this happen, it's all good.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cause for Celebration!

I'll admit that I could have been celebrating this accomplishment months ago had it not slipped my mind. This is even sadder when you consider that I am the publicist for the AAQI (Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative). If you don't know about this nonprofit organization. I truly encourage to check it out. All the money raised goes to finding a cure for Alzheimer's and is lead by the amazing Ami Simms. Anyway, I made a $1,000 Promise which means I agreed to create quilts and donate them for auctions that are held at the beginning of each month until I raised $1,000.  Well I have raised $1,023.62! And I  plan to keep going. My mother-law-in has the disease and my friend Ron was diagnosed when he was only 50.

The idea for the $1,000 Promise came from Joanne Guillemette of Shelburne, Vermont who has raised more than her $1,000 pledge too.This project is an extension of the Priority: Alzheimer’s Quilts project where people “make finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease a priority” by creating mini art quilts in any theme with a maximum size of just 9" x 12" (so that it fits a USPS Priority Mailer without folding. So far, 84 of us have taken up the challenge.

This is just another wonderful example of the power of quiltmakers and quilts to make a difference in the world.  The quilt shown here is one I will be donating. I've reworking some old journal pieces and giving them new life and this is one of those reworked pieces. It's called "Let There Be Angels" and is made in honor of my adopted Grandmother Fields. She was a feisty, tiny, deeply religious, Baptist woman. Ten years before died in a rare moment of clarity, she asked me why she couldn't just go to heaven because she was done with this existence and when I couldn't provide her with an acceptable answer she said, "Let there be angels waiting for me." Sadly it was our last conversation. She died shortly before her 100th birthday. I hope she found her angels waiting for her.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I seem to still be contemplating dresses. Many people have shared that they thought "My Mexican Soul" looked kimono shaped so I decide to try to make one. I took a origami pattern and used fabric instead of paper. I also increased the finished size of the pattern from 7 inches (length) to what I hoped would be 29 inches.  I wanted it to be the same size as "My Mexican Soul." I didn't quite make it but I got close. It's 25" wide by 26" height. I couldn't have done it with out the help of my son, Nathaniel. Folding nearly 100 inches of fabrics was just too much of a challenge for me. Once it was folded, I sewed the openings closed to keep the shape and to be able to hang it. It's just so cool that that sleeve is an actual sleeve (had to sew the top closed) which made hanging quite easy. I do love the fabric I used. It's an old Alexander Henry fabric. I bought it because I loved the faces. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Alicia Grajeda's First Quilt

Alicia was always smiling and seemed happy in class even though this was her first experience making a quilt. She did worry. She was nervous but she was making progress then she announced she needed to return to Mexico. Months passed and when we couldn't get in touch with her, I got worried. More months went by and I finally decided we wouldn't see Alicia again so it was such a great surprise when she walked through the door with her finished quilt and a shout of "I love you Karen."  She is so proud of her quilt as is her family. The power of quilts to touch and change lives is amazing. For me, watching the transformation is a wonder that I never grow bored with watching. I love to see people embracing life and their creativity. They walk lighter, are no longer depressed, their souls are freer. It is hard for me when people disappear even when I understand that for some it's easier to stay where they are than to explore the possibility of something new. They fear failure, looking "stupid," etc. It's not easy coming out as an artist, it may mean being more public with our passion than we are comfortable or becoming leaders in ways we never dreamed. I may never see Alicia again. Family responsibilities prevent her from continuing with the class. However, I do know her world is bigger now. She touched me and for that I will always be thankful.