Thursday, July 19, 2018

Monsoon

I recently had the pleasure of accepting and completing a commissioned piece for a couple of Kansas City art collectors and friends of mine.  I am typically hesitant to accept commissions, but was honored by this one.  The piece is titled Monsoon and was inspired by my experience of Arizona monsoon rains while visiting in the summer of 2017 for my 50th birthday.   


 
 Monsoon required learning how to complete inside corner miter binding
 
Monsoon


May Day (You Are Here)

original sketch, completed on December 10, 2017
I began working on the piece May 1, 2018 in Ellensburg, Washington
two of the foundational checkerboard squares
front and back of one the diagonal squares


my progress as of the end of June 2018
(1/4 of the finished top, lower right corner)


As of August 5, 2018, this quilt is halfway complete at 4,050 pieces.
Top completed on September 1, 2018.  90 x 90 inches, 8,100 pieces.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Tale of Two Banners


Prelude
 
Only recently have I come to full terms with the church's role in my spiritual life as well as my life as an artist.  Growing up, the church was one of my first and only consistent encounters with aesthetic beauty - the order and seasonal colors of the liturgy, the banners, the stained glass windows, and the rich musical history, dating all the way back to Johann Sebastian Bach and beyond.  So it makes  sense that as an adult, my creative medium is quilt-making, the elements of which are fabric, piecing, color, and composition.

In 1998, the same year I started my first quilt while living in Yountville, California, I returned to the Midwest after an eight year post-collegiate stint living west of the Missouri River.  I landed at my parents' house in a small college town in west central Illinois.  It was a far cry from the Napa Valley, but with the proximity of the college, I succumbed to both internal and external pressures to achieve a full-fledged conventional career.  So, based on a personal history of a congenital cleft lip and palate, as well as a former girlfriend's successful completion of the same, I decided to pursue a Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology.  I got as far as a post-baccalaureate (read: useless second Bachelor's degree), but dropped out halfway into the first semester of the graduate program.  Throughout all this upheaval and general malcontent, I continued to make quilts.  They were my solace and my sanity.  In the meantime, I had also volunteered to make two banners for my parents' church, Immanuel Lutheran.  The designs were mine, but inspired by and based on the work of Scottish architect and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The two banners were each 3 feet wide by 12 feet high, designed to flank the altar.

During this same time, I was meeting one-on-one with the church pastor in preparation for membership in the church - something which seemed redundant and somewhat patronizing in light of my 2nd-8th grade St. James Lutheran Day School education; my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) district-level church youth leadership position in high school; and a year of pre-seminary study at Concordia (Lutheran) College in River Forest, Illinois.  Wasn't I already Lutheran enough?  One of the pastor's pre-requisites for full membership, which would include my being welcome to take the sacrament of communion, was that I denounce my sexuality as a self-identified gay man.  Of course, there was some level of hair-splitting, like how I could be gay, I just couldn't act on it.  Well, I tried.  And I tried a little longer, but quickly realized how absurd such a request was, let alone any attempt to acquiesce to it.  Once I shared my conclusion with the pastor, he swiftly informed me that I was not welcome to become a member of the church, nor participate in the sacrament of communion - in this, the denomination, faith, and doctrine deeply rooted in my own as well as my family's history.

And so the banners...which I'd been working on this whole time.  I was faced with a tough decision: abandon the nearly-finished project, or take the high road and complete them.  I came to understand that I wasn't making them for any particular individual, church leader, or denomination.  I was making them for a greater purpose, which was to celebrate and honor the Divine, and thereby inspire and speak to the higher self of anyone that might encounter my visual offerings.  I am proud to say that after twenty years, the banners still hang at Immanuel Lutheran church.  I recently received a call from one of the members of the church's altar guild (who also happens to be my first cousin once removed, by marriage), asking about how to make a minor repair to one of them.  Over the years, she has reported on how much the banners have meant to members of the congregation.  I am sure the banners have witnessed numerous baptisms, weddings, and maybe even funerals.  Moreover, I have found my true calling, my art.

Postlude
 
Note: a few years later, the same pastor that had denied my membership in the church, made an Oral-Roberts-style public confession that he'd had some kind of unholy thoughts about a? some? all of? the young women in the college town he served (Immanuel Lutheran maintains both a town and gown church campus).  I think he took some kind of leave-of-absence along with his mea culpa, but according to the church website, he has served and still serves as pastor since 1997, just one year before my encounter with him. 


The Making of an Artist: Desire, Courage and Commitment, Kristin Congdon, Spring 2018



On a bitterly cold day in February of 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Krisitin Congdon at the Iowa State Museum in Des Moines, Iowa.  She was accompanied by Teresa Hollingsworth, my friend and co-curator of the show on view at the museum, The Sum of Many Parts, after it's year-long tour throughout China.  The exhibit had taken Teresa and me, along with four others, to Shanghai only a year earlier.  Teresa had mentioned my work to author Kristin Congdon, who later chose me, along with 3 other artists, for ethnographic chapters in her book, The Making of An Artist: Desire, Courage, and Commitment.  My chapter is featured as part of Congdon's exploration of commitment as it plays out in the lives of various artists, and is based on her in-depth interview with me in my Iowa City studio.

The book is a delightful and informative read.  It gave me welcome insight into the personal lives and struggles of some of my favorite artists.  Congdon's book transformed many of the quirks I'd formerly considered liabilities into what I now understand as assets.  The book helped reveal my very nature as an artist, and clarify traits I share with many other artists who have gone before me, and whose work inspires me.  I highly encourage any aspiring artists, or anyone interested in the lives of artists, to read the book.  I wish I'd had the luxury of reading it as an art student in the early 1990's at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  

Portrait Erick Wolfmeyer: des quilts autobiographiques, Quilt Country, Les Éditions de Saxe (France), Summer 2018

which includes a pattern of Smokehaus Rose (2010).





Gewandhaus




A year ago, or so, I started envisioning architectural installation quilts - deconstructing and subverting the notion of what a quilt is, while simultaneously celebrating the convention of a quilt as comfort and shelter.  I believe place has an inevitable and indelible imprint on creativity and the forms of its expression.  I grew up surrounded the utility buildings that support Midwestern agriculture and I'm still inspired by those clean, no-nonsense shapes and lines.  
I hope to someday realize my Gewandhaus (cloth hall).