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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.

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.

Freedom and constraints: 12″x12″ art work

Freedom and constraints: 12″x12″ art work

Perhaps it’s habit. Perhaps someone drilled the golden ratio into my psyche. Until Instagram forced me to frame everything in a square, rectangles and circles were my thing. However, little square works are a popular choice for fundraisers, so last year I challenged myself to create more 12″ x 12″ fiber art work.

I’ve started many little pieces. I’ve even finished a few. As a matter of fact, Two Years a Gemini went to the Provincetown Art Association & Museum’s fundraiser this week. You can bid on it here.

2 Years a Gemini Fiber Art donated to PAAM by Alanna Nelson
Two Years a Gemini, a 12″ x 12″ piece donated to the Provincetown Art Association & Museum

As promised, small squares let me play with compositions and supposedly are quick to create (hmm, not so sure about that). I’ve create fabrics made with wet felting, needle felting or both. The square fiber art pieces are dyed, painted and maybe inked. In all cases, stitch is an integral component.

How many layers, which moments, what is the message of this piece? Usually, I need to have these answers before I begin. With these small pieces, intuition and meandering lead me to pause, scratch my head and ask for opinions. That’s different than I usually work.

At our last critique group meeting, I shared a couple of paused squares. What fun to watch the consideration, experience the thoughtful silence and the hear ideas and impressions.

It’s summer, which means I’m trying to work outdoors whenever possible. There’s a temptation to drop small squares and return to larger work that I started. Actually the strongest temptation is to stop writing and get working on anything textile.

Do you follow me on Instagram? You can see square composition updates posted in my feed. Catch you later!

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!