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Suffragette Celebration: Light, Wool and Persistence

Suffragette Celebration: Light, Wool and Persistence

“To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.” —Carrie Chapman Catt

Momentum builds with every puff, idea, plan, breath of courage and event. Such whiffs fed my need to celebrate the centennial of the women’s right to vote in the US. I cannot imagine anyone who would have been against the 19th Amendment, but that’s only because I’ve been able to vote my whole life. It took longer than my life span to actually make women’s suffrage a reality.

I heard about plans in Waltham, a subscription yarn offering to celebrate the August 20, 1920 anniversary. I thought about my mother’s participation on the Wisconsin Commission on the Status of Women. With the renovation of the Melrose park that bears her name, the remarkable Mary Livermore came to mind. How can you not honor the contributions of this historic Melrosian as a writer, a pundit, editor and organizer? The long and continuing road for equality of all people needs to be honored and fed in many ways, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate what happened 100 years ago.

The opportunity for a group show at the Loading Dock Gallery gave a big puff to that head spinning, idea feeling momentum, pushing me into the studio.

Suffragette Celebration” is my first attempt to recognize the many lights that connected so that women across the US could vote in federal elections. One hundred white felt globes stitched together, illuminated and bubbling over the surface illustrate the shapes and spirits and their contributions to the 19th amendment.

For several weeks, my daily practice included creating the small, hollow globes of translucent wool. it’s been the perfect opportunity for me to play with light, think about making three dimensional art and to learn more about the suffragette movement in the United States. In January and February, I made more than 100 felted white balls, teaching a friend and my dad who helped with the process in hopes to finish it for the “Stitched” exhibit. I managed to finish hours before we installed the show.

As a resident of Massachusetts, it shocked me to learn that a Women’s Suffrage referendum in 1915 that would give Massachusetts women the right to vote did not pass. Only 35.5% percent of male voters were in favor of this – results similar to an 1895 referendum. Really? Even with that bluebird campaign logo? Seriously, really?

Blue bird logo for 1915 Massachusetts Women Suffrage campaign

Massachusetts slowly adapted to the 19th amendment.. Last fall, while on jury duty, I learned that Massachusetts did not allow female jurors until 1957. This fact truly shocked and dismayed me. Who would have guessed?

Joined by Stitch exhibits at Loading Dock Gallery in Lowell, MA March 2020
Suffragette Celebration on exhibit in Lowell

With the COVID quarantine, I’ve yet to retrieve and properly photograph “Suffragette Celebration.” It’s in good hands, and it will return soon. Meanwhile I have ideas for other ways to commemorate the long road to equality….

Off to my newly painted studio to see how these ideas build momentum.

Pay it forward – Notions & Fabric

Pay it forward – Notions & Fabric

In 2003, someone asked me if I would be willing to take the notions and fabric from her mother in law’s haberdashery. The shop closed temporarily when she had a health problem, never to open again. They were remodeling and just wanted all of this carefully stored inventory to disappear – and be appreciated.

The only caveat? I must take everything.

Two station wagon trips later, my Via Volta studio was full of notions and fabric. With friends, we dissected this treasure trove, giving away, selling, and enjoying for ourselves everything from embroidery floss to shoulder pads, silk velvet to snaps.

View down Via Volta, Monza, Italia near Cafe San Biagio
My old stomping grounds on Via Volta, Monza

Those were wonderful days! When I left Monza, my fabric and yarn friends made me a wonderful scrapbook of those days. During my March Madness painting spree, I enjoyed paging through this wonderful work of love. But I digress…

I’ve made incredible progress on this gift, but it makes sense to #payitforward again. Here’s a list of the notions and fabric I’d like to give to another creative soul or business.

I’m giving it away, and it’s definitely something that can fit into a small car (it’s about 2 medium moving boxes). I ask that you enjoy, make beautiful things and perhaps consider donating to Follow Your Art Community Studios in Melrose if you are able.

Leave a comment below, or find my on Instagram or Twitter so we can arrange delivery. Everything’s been in boxes for more than a month (kind of like me!), so the quarantine time for textiles has passed.

COVID Days

COVID Days

One of our major flaws as animals, and a big contributor to our unhappiness, is that we are very bad at keeping in mind the real ingredients of fulfilment. We lose sight of the value of almost everything that is readily to hand; we’re deeply ungrateful towards anything that is free or doesn’t cost very much; we trust in the value of objects more than ideas or feelings; we are sluggish in remembering to love and to care; and we are prone to racing through the years forgetting the wonder, fragility and beauty of existence. It’s fortunate, therefore, that we have art.

Alain de Botton from The Guardian

As COVID-19 frames our current experience, anxiety and unhappiness churns and foams. Friends have been furloughed, laid off, job offers rescinded, or contracts cancelled. Others pivot as events, fairs and shows are cancelled and their stores close. Neighbors in essential jobs are working overtime and cope with new realities. As remote workers, daily life in our house moves on, with our grad student is remotely finishing her degree.

Fortunately, we do have art. In the daze of social distancing, art is found out the window; rainy greyscale views, brilliant blue skies or a full moon shimmering out my window. I count my blessings that I am safe, home with family and able to help flatten the curve. I’m thankful for a great internet connection, which allows me to visit with friends and family and attend conferences virtually. Thanks to COVID, there’s more time to explore museums and travel virtually. OK, I’m an optimist.

Thank you to the artists whose legacies sustain us today. Thank you to today’s artists whose creations and connections lead us toward tomorrow.

Mary Oliver’s poetry is one way I slow down to appreciate the beauty of existence.

Wishing you a fulfilling journey.

Patience in the Studio

Patience in the Studio

If you popped by my place during the Melrose Open Studio Tour, perhaps you noticed that it was not a sparse space. A large design surface held tidbits of several projects in hibernation. Fabric sprung from the wire drawers, disguised by a fabric curtain. Wool roving fluffed out of boxes, with screen and bubble wrap rolled under the work table and bottles of soapy water stood at the ready. Pencils, ink tense and HB2, mending, ephemera and of course my sewing and felting machines covered my other table. The space was… busy?

While keeping my tools at my fingertips makes sense, the idea to sort, clean and paint hibernated the winter. After vacation in February, I decided it was time to shake up my fiber den.

Easily said. Done without difficulty, but it did require infinitely more time and patience than expected. Touching everything in drawers, bins, shelves took time. Nostalgic, restless, ebullient, anxious moments rolled into hours. Patience, Alanna, patience.

Fortunately, friends offered to help with the painting, so there was a deadline to get through it all. As they arrived, the remaining items were stuffed, pushed away, and boxed up. Let the wall prep and painting begin – both ceiling and floors. Thank you Sandra and Laurena!

Eventually, the chaos relented, but there were days like this!

With everything boxed up, I took the time to think about the components of my practice. Felting, sewing, knitting, stitched together with writing and marketing shape my creative life. It felt good to recognize all of these components, and give space for each in my studio.

It also feels good to keep only necessary materials at hand. I’ve decided to keep it that way. There are so many possibilities and yet so little time! Patience, Alanna, patience.

The studio “shake up” coincided with COVID-19 social distancing kick up. On the day that Sandra and Laurena came over, a WhatsApp message from a friend who lives in Hong Kong warned, “I worry about the US not taking this virus seriously. Do what you can to stay safe.” March 11 was my last regular day. Patience, Alanna, patience.

Meanwhile, I’m participating in a weekly seminar organized by Creative Capital, “Building Community for a Sustainable Creative Life,” led by Sharon Louden. There’s plenty of material to soak up, ideas to consider and connections to make in the next few weeks.

Clearly this year teaches me to reexamine my creative space – both physical and mental. Balancing enthusiasm and patience is a good exercise for me. This spring, I’m patiently feeding the future of my studio. Let it be a fertile place!

“Stitched” at Loading Dock Gallery

“Stitched” at Loading Dock Gallery

Update: View “Stitched” online

“Joined by Stitch” unites again for their third spring exhibit – this time at the Loading Dock Gallery in Lowell, MA. Please join us at the artist reception.

March 7, 2020 from 4 to 6 pm

122 Western Avenue, Lowell, MA 01851

My critique group is an eclectic mix of artists. We all work primarily in fiber and we’re all SAQA members who live within 40 minutes of each other. Beyond that, let the creative experience express itself! Each year, the setting and the work feed the exhibit… with a different result each time.

Tarja works in the Western Avenue Studios and proposed a group exhibit to the Gallery. They were very receptive to the idea, especially after last year’s show at the Essex Art Center.

Today, we chose the work for exhibit in the Gallery. Starting with a large, new piece by Agusta Agustsson, the next pieces easily flowed from our stacks to the wall. With tall, white walls, there is plenty of space to stack work, which was appreciated with 8 artists!

Joined by Stitch hangs Agusta Agustsson textile art at Loading Dock Gallery in Lowell, March 2020
Agusta, Betsy and Tarja look for level work.
Alanna Nelson fiber art "Suffragette Celebration" debuts at Loading Dock Gallery, March 2020
Suffragette Celebration bubbles on a pedestal with work by Janis Doucette, Tarja Cockell and Sue Colozzi

Installation was quick, easy and the camaraderie that Joined by Stitch developed over the last 3.5 years was clear. I did manage to complete the Suffragette Celebration piece (ahem, at 4:30am the day of installation). White walls and a grey pedestal are not doing this piece any justice… I can’t wait to get it back and photograph it properly.

In any case, please join us for the reception, and let me know what you think of the exhibit!

P.S. With the Loading Dock closing temporarily to encourage social distancing in this time of pandemic, the exhibit became online. As of March 25, the work was taken down and I’d be happy to share it with you in person in May.