Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Le Couturier



Shortly after moving into my [former] studio at Prentiss & Burlington Streets in Iowa City, I started tuning into the pirate radio station broadcasting from the space across the hall. It featured everything from raw urban rap, to stories read by a gentle-voiced young woman. Without enough DJ’s for 24/7 programming, the station often resorted to long stretches of prerecorded sets and large doses of dead air.

I rarely saw any of the other artists, musicians (including Iris Dement - how did I miss her?), or DJ’s that worked in the building. When I did, we exchanged little more than a terse, under-the-breath “hull-oh.” Eventually, I passed a young woman in the hall who offered me a flier advertising her radio show. It revealed she was the storytelling DJ I’d heard. She was authentically funky, far beyond the usual Iowa City fare, softened by her intoxicating smile.

The daily walk from my parking spot to the studio led me under a concrete railroad bridge-cum-unsanctioned gallery of local guerilla art. Much of it was posted with stencils and spray paint, some with wheat paste. There was one particularly engaging image of an upright man, limbs akimbo, titled: “Le Somnambule,” the sleepwalker. I began to notice similar images in increasingly out of the way places (alleys, dumpsters, transformers, etc) throughout Iowa City. I imagined the work was likely conceived by one person and executed under the cover of darkness. The stencils were mostly single images with one-word French descriptors, a kind of visually sophisticated vocabulary flashcard.

When my beloved sleepwalker was suddenly obliterated overnight, by little more than the cappuccino-colored paint that already covered the concrete underpass, I was crushed. I realized the urgency of an earnest search for the source of this ephemeral work.

I inquired around town among friends I suspected might know and be willing to reveal the identity (under promise of strict confidentiality) of this elusive artist. After she was revealed to me, I invited her to meet me at my studio, only to discover that she was the same young storytelling DJ I’d previously met in the hall. I was instantly enamored. She told me more about the stencil work including her public service goal of teaching Iowa City French one word at a time, and how in return, she was sentenced with public service after being arrested for criminal mischief for posting her stencils publicly.

Eventually, our acquaintance translated into an internationally distributed line of fabric for her wide ranging and truly original artistic expressions. I am honored to have supported her in this way. She generously gave me permission to incorporate her publicly posted stencils into a future quilt project, which I hope to do, once I learn to screen print.


This summer began a trend of people using the Home Ec Workshop, co-owned by two friends of mine, as a means to contact me. One of these contacts turned into an important quilt sale. Another, netted a mysterious package that arrived only after being returned to the sender, who initially mailed the package to my first address in Iowa (eight addresses and ten years ago). I was thrilled to open it and find an original stencil made just for me. It was cut out of a peanut butter Captain Crunch cereal box. It features a tuxedo-wearing man sewing a quilt which gracefully cascades off a sewing machine to his feet where the piece is titled “Le Couturier.” The artist included a note written on stationary that she hand-painted, now housed in a special pocket on the back of the framed stencil.


Thank you MG. You are so dear to me!


Click here to see more Iowa City stencils

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