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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.

“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.

Unravel: Voices of E Pluribus Unum

Unravel: Voices of E Pluribus Unum

” I resolve to make a difference.”

Alanna Nelson hot pink silk quilt in Unravel at Arlington Center for the Arts
Boston Women’s March: Voices of E Pluribus Unum

The Arlington Center for the Arts includes this quilt for Unravel – a fiber art exhibit that sheds light on the contemporary political scene. Difficult to photograph, this quilt shimmers in real life. The messages from signs remind me of the positive, political determination of that day on the Boston Common in 2017. That shot of energy is perfect every day!

The reception is May 17 from 7 to 9 pm, but it’s on view through July 8. The selections cover a wide range of textiles and messages. Can’t wait to see all of this fiber art in person!

Let me know what you think if you get to Unravel

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile

On a post-travel, post-exhibit, post-finished work high, I am. The 2019 edition of  Verona Tessile ended on April 28. If you are a fiber art or quilt lover, definitely put Verona on your 2021 list. Now, let me try to separate the thoughtful threads currently tangled in my brain….

By their hands, we are fed. Alanna Nelson, 2019. Cotton, wool felt.

Finished and photographed a week before my departure, relief and gratitude abounded as I tucked my contribution to Annamaria Brenti‘s Finestre Migranti project into my carry on duffle (You can read more about my thought and construction process).

What a gift it was to have the time and contemplative moments to create this work. My goal: let this quilt inspire you to savor your next meal and consider how it arrived on your plate. Here are a few detail shots…

Now it’s time to work on other pieces that fermented while stitching. I hope to flat bed scan “By their hands..,” leveraging the hours of work and ideas into other projects.

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile 2019

Finestre Migranti Inaugural exhibit at Verona Tessile, April 2019
Wish we had a drone to show the creative installation envisioned by Silvanna Zenatello.

How to display more than 40 contributions totaling nearly 80 meters of fiber art – now that’s a curator’s installation puzzle to solve. Silvanna Zenatello, a key force behind the project, cleverly designed a serpentine path where each quilt flows into the next. Thanks to the Verona Tessile sponsor SEC Events, their crews adeptly installed the support structures following Silvanna’s CAD drawings.

Alanna's ready to help install Finestre Migranti in Verona
On the steps of Gran Guardia, ready to install!
SEC Events unloading at Verona Tessile 2019
SEC unloading show structures
Morning shadows and art at Verona's Gran Guardia
From the landing outside the Finestre Migranti exhibit at the Gran Guardia

Installation took a big chunk of the day, even with excellent preparations and layout instructions. Fortunately, Emmanuela, Katrina and I are tall enough to reduce ladder climbing. Sigrun became a master Pinner, and Maddalena dashed to wherever Silvanna asked. Silvanna brought many quilts with her from Roma and Lazio. Others were delivered to Ad Maiora in Verona, still others delivered on installation morning.

Finestre Migranti – first public exhibit, many emotions

After working alone on my Immigration Windows/Migrating Windows project, I relished hearing experiences and emotions that mirrored and differed from my own. With contributions from Chile, the US, Italy, Kenya, and Gambia, the artists presented universal and timeless perspectives on immigration. I reunited with Lazio quilters from my Frascati days. Many quilts were delivered by hand, so new friendships developed, including SAQA member Shoshi Rimer.

Our shared experience making an Immigration Windows quilt created immediate kinship even if it was the first time we met. We had a fun meal out together after the opening day, and I found myself stopping by the exhibit just to chat with whoever was white gloving.

Katrina Montesanti
Katrina Montesanti answers questions about her quilt
Condor Pasa at Verona Tessile
Textile artists from Chile created “Condor Pasa” piece
Bimba a Finestre Migranti Verona Tesille
A young visitor reads messages in a quilt. Many included words as part of their piece.
By their hands we are fed quilt by Alanna Nelson in Verona exhibit
The inner wave opens the Finestre Migranti exhibit
Finestre Migranti quilts at Verona Tessile
Looking from away and up close
Nadia a Verona Tessile
Nadia shares stories that inspired a quilt

Visitors responded thoughtfully and with great interest to the project. Nadia, a dynamic interpreter, was like a pied piper leading groups through the exhibit. In addition to enjoying the visual aspect of the work, visitors definitely enjoyed hearing the stories and understanding the techniques. With the artist statements and techniques in Italian, English and Spanish, people could alternate between the stories and the art.

On Friday morning, the Chilean textile artists gave a talk about the creation of their gorgeous contribution to the project. I shared strategies to encourage quilters to consider a conservation perspective when creating their quilts. We honored the young Italian residents with international heritage who explained the meaning behind their Finestre Migranti quilt.

Ragazzi artisti a Verona Tessile
Young artists and their supporters were honored at the Finestre Migranti

Immigrants to Italy also visited the exhibit. I met three young men who are living in limbo without passports or an easy road to immigration. The enormity and duration of their endeavor was palpable in their demeanor.

“Forza,” I encouraged them. “Each day seems heavy now, but resolution will happen.”

Of course, resolution will happen. But when? How? How can I bolster and support people who are living in transient times? This window on immigration was living, not in textiles.

The opening day, April 25, was a national holiday, commemorating Italian liberation at the end of World War II. With the Festival taking place during the week after Easter and with free attendance, turnout included local, national and European contingents.

Annamaria just posted a video that followed the waves of the Finestre Migrante exhibit. Take a peek.

With Verona Tessile 2019 over, the next objective is to send the exhibit on the road. There are definite ideas and connections being made, so stay tuned for more details!

With those first threads of my travels untangled, it’s time to get back into the studio. I’ll share more people, sites and stories about Verona Tessile soon!