Several weeks ago I flew to Eugene, Oregon to see an art show at the University of Oregon. My friend Margaret Matson was one of 45 artists invited to show their work. On my way to the show it began to rain and I looked for a place to shelter. I popped into a small gallery near the university, without any expectations other than to stay dry. To my delight I was exposed to the amazing work of artist Maude Anne May. The theme of the show was home, and her related works took my breath away. I feel honored to be able to show you her work.
I have been making art in one form or another since childhood–stitching pre-printed samplers, fabricating elaborate collaged drawings and designing tiny dresses for my troll dolls. With advanced degrees in ceramics, textiles and photography, my passions have led me in many directions and my journey has encompassed a wide variety of professions: pastry chef, art director, location scout, miniature golf course designer, photo stylist and paint-color consultant. For more than two decades I owned a graphic design business, meeting with clients, designing invitations, favors and collateral for corporations, non-profits and private individuals. I love the creative process as much, if not more, than the resulting artwork or product.
These days I am focused on collage and figuring out methods that marry two of my most favorite and dissimilar mediums: encaustic* (see below) and stitching. Compelled to tell visual stories, I combine discarded snapshots, iPhone pix and photographic transfers of my encaustics on fabric (linen and cotton), creating both simple and complex fabric collages which are hand and machine stitched. I strive to move the viewer towards discovering and honoring the mysteries of the people, ideas, places and possessions that were once deemed precious and now have been left behind.
Making is what gets me going. Curiosity keeps me on the path and assists me in arriving at my final destination, which isn’t always where I thought I’d end up. The push/pull “randomness” vs “structure” of art making and graphic design continues to challenge me and draws me into the studio daily.
NOW GO TO YOUR STUDIO AND MAKE STUFF!
*DEFINITION OF ENCAUSTIC
Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos). Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax and varnish to fusing the layers of wax. Encaustic consists of natural bees wax and dammar resin (crystallized tree sap). The medium can be used alone for its transparency or adhesive qualities or used pigmented. The medium is melted and applied with a brush or any tool the artist wishes to create from. Each layer is then reheated to fuse it to the previous layer.
To determine size and placement I often make a mock-up (Adobe InDesign) before transferring the images onto fabric. The image on the left is an inkjet printout on paper.
The second image show the flower printed onto fabric. I use photo transfer paper from Dharma Trading.
Once the size of the figure is determined, I print out multiple inkjet copies onto card stock and then begin the process of hand coloring. When I started on the middle figure, I immediately saw that the blue I had chosen was too vivid, so I moved onto the figure on the right. I’m just adding a “tint” of color so very little pressure is needed.
When coloring is complete, the images are scanned and brought into Adobe Photoshop, where I may alter the color slightly. They are then inkjet printed onto photo transfer paper. There they are ready to be ironed (face down) onto linen. I always make more than one copy because sometimes the images don’t transfer correctly. I use a thin iron-on stabilizer to make the linen a little stiffer. I iron on a covered wood board as opposed to the softer surface of the ironing board to insure that the images adhere completely to the fabric.
The images are successfully ironed and when they cool the backing will be pulled off.
The photo on the right has the backing pulled off. Now I will cut around the figures. The figure on the right is more distinct, so that is the one I will use.
Now I begin work on my sewing machine. I love my Bernina 750 (no I’m not a paid spokesperson). I’m able to adjust the zigzag stitch to just the right width and depth, and the open presser foot allows me to see the edges of the image and the stitching. This machine has a feature that cuts and knots the thread upon completion, making the sewing almost effortless. I use a fabric glue stick to gently adhere the figure to the background. Hand stitching adds texture and detail and gives personality to the image. I use a variety of stitches – satin – backstitch – running – and French knots. Since the girls feet were blurry, and my cutting wasn’t precise, I decided to add more flowers in various sizes to cover them.
This piece is nearing completion – as of March 27, 2019, but now it’s resting. I had only a small piece of batik fabric to use for the border and I’m not sure about the placement of the text “Scabiosa Caucasica Pincushion Flower”. I also want to add text about the flowers meaning: “Unfortunate Love and Admiration”. There will probably be more hand and machine stitching on the background flower. I frame all my stitched works in cradled wood panels that create and open shadow box effect. I don’t use glass. The pale green rice paper from Nepal will be torn and collaged to the back and sides. The artwork will be mounted to foam core with adhesive backed Velcro so that it can be removed.
KEEPERS OF HALLOWED GROUND This piece was featured in Guardino Gallery’s 2018 Day of the Dead Show. I really had fun with it. The background photograph of a tree in my neighborhood has been altered via one of my favorite iPhone apps – distressed FX. I photographed the statue at the Cloisters in NYC during a recent visit. I photographed the flower paper ( it’s scrapbook paper) and altered the colors in Photoshop, and then printed them out on linen. I used a stencil to create the leaves and then embroidered them. The angel ladies (as I call them) are welcoming the newly arrived to the next level, wherever it is.
PULVIS ET UMBRA PUMAS This is another “Day of the Dead” piece. The flower pictures are from my garden, nasturtiums and marigolds. The sedum photo I took in Palm Springs. The skeleton photo was taken in Antigua, Guatemala, and there are several photos of my cold wax paintings stuck in as well. The Frida Kahlo photos are very old transfers, and rather ghostly I think. Pulvis et umbra pumas means “We Are But Dust and Shadows.”
FOUR AND TWENTY #1 In each piece I used the same crow, but flipped my original drawing, so sometimes they face right, other times left.
THE AIR IS WILD WITH LEAVES Encaustic photo collage, printed on linen with commercial fabric, hand and machine stitching and glass beads. This iron statue has figured prominently in many of my encaustic pieces. It sits on the wall at my front steps.
IMAGINE LIKE A CROW Hand and machine embroidery. I often start stitching with no direction. I began this piece with the crow and then just kept adding elements. The printed alphabet ribbon had been hanging around in my studio forever, so I machine stitched it on. The woman who purchased this piece said it reminded her of an early American sampler.
THERE IS A GARDEN IN HER FACE I actually embroidered the cherries (all in silk) and then put this piece aside for several years. When I discovered this quote, I dug it out and stitched the text. The man who purchased it told me a story about his dear friend who always made him cherry pies, so he purchased it for her birthday. I love when my work connects with someone else’s life.
IN HER OWN COMPANY SHE IS ALWAYS ENOUGH Old photos intrigue me. I wonder about the people, their lives and what happened. Why was the photograph abandoned? This piece combines a fabric transfer of one of my early encaustics and a WPA photograph that I found via the Library of Congress. The girl is a 4-H club winner from Pie Town, New Mexico but is unnamed, as were so many of the subjects in these images. Since all of the archived photos are black and white, I decided to make the encaustic transfer black and white as well (an easy trick via Photoshop). The fabric is hand embroidered from Japan.
EACH MOMENT COUNTS FOR SOMETHING TIMELESS Hand and machine stitching on linen with photo transfers of encaustic photo collages. This funny little building is here in Portland near my old studio and I have photographed it many times. The children are part of a much larger 1940’s classroom photograph – they are the front row. I photocopied the black and white picture and printed it out on card stock, then used Prismacolor pencils to add depth and color. I wonder what happened to these happy children.
THE MYSTIC BOND OF SISTERHOOD Machine and hand stitching on linen. My favorite building once again and the little house is a photo of a doll house that I took many years ago. These women in marching uniforms are a mystery to me, but I love them.
THOSE WITH LEAST TO SPARE This is the photograph of my grandmother Hattie Viola May and her Sunday school class (with overall boy). She grew up in Guin, a small town in northwestern Alabama. Oddly enough, she was a professional hat maker and was quite a seamstress, using a Singer treadle sewing machine which I loved to sit under. Among other things, she taught me how to stitch, make biscuits, and pee in the woods without getting myself wet (a very useful skill). She and my grandfather, Papa Louis, didn’t have much but what they had was given freely, along with much love. I named my daughter after her. This piece combines a photo transfer of one of my encaustic collages along with photo transfers of Hattie’s class, leaves from my garden, palm fronds from the California desert, Japanese hand stitched fabric, Liberty of London cotton lawn, and hand and machine stitching.
ALL GOOD THINGS This work incorporates photo transfers of one of my earliest encaustic works. I created nine small 3 x 3 encaustic collages on little canvas panels of “Overall Boy” (as I call him). He is in a photo of my grandmother Hattie’s 1929 Sunday class and there’s just something about him that captivated me. This is another work that took awhile to come to completion and it wasn’t until I found the Albert Einstein and Anne Frank quotes that I started working on it again. Both quotes are hand stitched. I laid out the text on the computer and then transferred it to the cloth, using tracing and carbon paper.
The quote by Albert Einstein reads, “Many times a day I realize how much of my life is built on the labors of my fellow man, and how earnestly I must exert myself to give in return as much as I have received.”
The quote by Anne Frank reads, “And finally I twist my heart around again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.”
ALL GOOD THINGS The photo of my grandmother, Hattie Viola May and her Sunday school class have been featured in several of my stitched and encaustic artworks. The works title, ALL GOOD THINGS, is taken from the index card below the photograph, typed and hand written by my grandmother who was a life-long practicing member of the Methodist Church both in Guin and Birmingham, Alabama. My beliefs, while spiritual, are not centered around a specific religion. I loved and admired my grandmother very much and cherish her teachings and memory.
The card reads: “Realizing that all good things come from God and that an action should specifically set aside for his work, I hereby pledge 1 acre of land to be planted in cotton and set aside as (Gods Acre). I promise that the same shall be of the best land and shall be tendered and fertilized as well as the rest of my crop. The entire proceeds of this plot will be turned over to Philadelphia M.E. Church, So. before the annual conference convenes in November.”
Signed: Hattie May and sons
Date: Feb. 20, 1933
Part of my series of crow pictures. This is a very small selection of my DMC embroidery threads stash.
My current studio is located in the sun room of a rooming house in Portland. In July I will be moving my studio to a brand new building being built behind our house.
I started making these Travel & Stitch kits last year. Each kit contains scissors, needles, straight pins and safety pins. I also make Travel & Knit kits that include little crochet hooks for those dropped stitches.
Creating wool felt pincushions gives me the opportunity to work out color schemes and practice my hand embroidery stitches. I’ve probably made 200 and each one is different.
I’ve been making and selling pot holders for about 10 years. I collect wool sweaters and felt them in the washer. A man’s X-large sweater will shrink to a kids size with hot water and agitation. I cut the sweaters apart and then piece parts together to create the pot holder front. I use new wool felt to embellish each one. Just like the pincushions they are an exercise in color combining and another chance to practice my hand embroidery. The pot holder backs are new wool felt and I sew the back to 3 layers of Warm & Natural cotton quilt batting before connecting the front and back.
3 examples of things I produced for clients in my graphic design business.
If you are interested in attending one of Maude’s classes, you can reach her at http://www.maudeannemay.com
I enjoyed putting this post together for you, and if you enjoyed it as well, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from each and every one of you. I’m pleased to see that my blog is being followed by readers all over the world.