As I have written before, every Fall the Salem Arts Association puts on a show in conjunction with a seasonal exhibit at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum. It is an event where artists are invited to enter pieces that they feel tie into the theme of the chosen exhibit in some way. This year the exhibit chosen is American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals and it is on view July 16, 2016 to November 6, 2016. The companion show this year is entitled Impressions of Salem and is filled with some truly stunning work by many of the North Shore’s best artists, including some of my absolute favorites.
Unlike other shows where a theme may or may not be presented and I would simply submit work on hand, I take this yearly opportunity to really challenge myself and create a piece specifically for it. It creates quite a crunch but the inspiration, excitement and creative fervor are all worth it. At least that’s what I tell myself when it’s over and people want to be around me again. It is always judged by a curator from the PEM and this year’s judge is Austen Barron Bailly, The George Putnam Curator of American Art.
So what could I create out of fiber that would fit the theme “Impressions of Salem”? I decided that I would try my hand at creating an impressionist-style picture out of wool. I just needed a subject…
I will admit that having looked out at the old coal power plant for years I was sad to lose it, even though the change to natural gas was certainly better for everyone. The old plant was filled with so much history and amazing architectural details that a few Salem photographers were able to capture before its demise. Because my partner Jim interned there a couple of years ago I got to also see his collection of amazing photos of areas of the plant that were mostly off-limits. As a resident of Salem I miss the stacks that were such an instrumental part of the skyline and, to many boaters’ dismay, a major navigational marker!
I began, as always, with research: I sorted through as many photos of the plant as I could find and came up with a composite which I blew up on paper. I then spent tedious hours transferring the lines onto a sheet of wool fabric by peeling back sections and making marks where stacks and corners and tree-lines needed to be (Should any of you have an overhead projector that you want to donate to a good cause you can email me). I then began laying out my water and needle-felting it gently into place. I added strands of white silk to create the shimmer in the water’s surface:
I then needled in any details which I wanted to be strictly background and everything that would be the reflection under the water. The whole piece was then wet-felted and left to dry overnight:
When it was dry I added in all of the other details using various wools from my hoard (I can no longer use a cute little word like “stash”). I had no wool left that was the right shade of tan so I used camel down. After a few hours I decided it was pretty well finished except for a few details to leave for the next day and I brushed the wool and silk fibers of the water over the stacks to obscure them.
I showed it to Jim and he absolutely loved it but had one request… That I put in the windows where he used to work. I promised that I would do that in the morning.
The next morning I just had “a few details” to add like the beach and the dock and the building shadows and all of the reflections… It wasn’t due until noon after all…
After 2 or 3 hours I entered “The Detail Zone” where I have to meticulously scrutinize and adjust things until I am bleary-eyed and babbling but it paid off:
“Units 1 Through 4 Offline”
And guess what???
Best in show… I still can’t believe it. I am so thrilled and excited and grateful and totally stunned.
Having said that… I hope that you come down to the Salem Arts Center to see the entire show because you will be totally blown away by the caliber of artwork that is being shown. Also because it’s a really cool gallery full amazing artwork and lots of my friends.