Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ross Palmer Beecher's "metal quilts and flags" fool the eye

Artist Ross Palmer Beecher at July 12 CQA meeting

"One man's trash, etc...." was never more true than for Ross Palmer Beecher. The Seattle-area artist wowed Contemporary QuiltArt Assn. members at the group's July 12 meeting with images and samples of her flags and quilts, which are definitely the epitome of mixed media.

One of Beecher's cloth quilts/flags.
Closeup shows presidential flags from placemats

Originally from Connecticut, Beecher was intrigued by fabric quilts as a child after her sister showed her pictures from an exhibit at New York's Whitney Museum. To create her own version of a scrap quilt, Beecher solicited fabric scraps from customers on her newspaper-delivery route. As this was in the '70s, she ended up with a motley collection including lots of polyester, Dacron, and other less-than-ideal fabrics to work with. She also determined she would make the quilt entirely by hand.

As if these materials were not challenging enough, Beecher soon moved on to creating quilts and flags from aluminum cans! Now, her pieces comprise every type of scrap material  imaginable, including license plates, pop and beer cans, spray cans, used paint tubes, candy wrappers, gummy worms, old clothing, venetian-blind slats, bottle caps, car and bicycle inner tubes, junk jewelry, silverware, kitchen utensils, cigarette lighters, snuff cans, Hot Wheels toy name it, she's used it! Some materials are discarded items she picks up as she bicycles to work. Friends and neighbors who know of her artwork will leave bags of cans on her front porch. Complete sets of states' license plates are available online if she doesn't find enough in her scrounging.

Triptych "Tumbling Dice" uses pieces of army clothing, Boy Scout patches, bullet casings from a shooting range.
Closeup of "Tumbling Dice." The small squares in the "plain" faces are mounted bullet casings.

Created from discarded cigarette lighters and parts of snuff cans. This piece was chosen by employees of the Seattle Water Dept. for permanent display in the Department's building.

Includes "head shots" from Napoleon olive oil cans, plexiglas.

Bottle caps, woven pop cans
Cut-up tin cans, a lunch box, strips from a child's wagon. 
Closeup of above; note open lunch box (black handle)

Bottle caps upon bottle caps!

T-shirt glued to cereal box and mounted with metal strips

Gummy worms, varnish, epoxy. Colors remain strong even after 10 years of hanging in the artist's window!

In using cans, she will "fillet" them to get sections that she may then use in large chunks, or she may cut the sections into thin strips that she will then weave together. She uses a Whitney punch to create holes in the edges of the materials--by hand. Heavier materials are linked by metal staples, lighter ones by 28-gauge wire.

Closeup of "quilt" featuring silverware in fan pattern. The piece is part of the permanent collection of the Boeing Co. at its Chicago headquarters.

Beecher's favorite Log Cabin pattern done in license plates
"My Palette #2" done in "filleted" spray cans and paint tubes

Closeup of "My Palette #2"

Pressurized spray cans need a different treatment to make them workable, involving gloves, a paper bag and bolt cutters: she places the cans in the bag and "pinches" them with the bolt cutters to let the residual gas escape. It's a surprise to learn that she's able to handle these unforgiving materials without a lot of slashed fingers! In using various fabrics in her pieces, often she will glue them to cardboard from cereal boxes to make them stiff enough to combine with metal pieces.

A Log Cabin "quilt" done in Hershey chocolate syrup cans that were saved for Beecher by an artist neighbor.

Closeup showing strips from chocolate syrup cans. Each block is bordered with bicycle inner-tubing,then laced with 28-gauge wire. The center "spiral" is an automobile reflector.

Even an old bedspring forms the basis of a pop-can quilt!

Coke can  "hearts" with 7-Up can backgrounds, Napoleon olive oil centers. A similar, larger version is on permanent display at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Closeup shows weaving from pop-can strips. Metal flowers (top) are from an old tin ceiling.

A bit of a pun--the letters are taken from license plates, which are typically made in state prisons.

Beecher has dedicated a 10' x 10' area of her 1500 sq. ft. house as a "studio," but admits that the construction process has expanded into her living room. Her "stash" consists of little piles of similar materials, mostly all out and exposed...she has to see it to remember what she has available to work with. Most of her pieces average 38 x 24 inches in size, with the largest being 9 x 6 feet.

A modification of Beecher's favorite Log Cabin pattern
A closeup shows the metal staples used to join heavier metal sections.

Some of her pieces are mounted on boards--depending on where the flag or quilt is to be hung or displayed--but she prefers to let them hang free as if they were made of cloth in the traditional manner.

A mandala design of Coke cans and flip-top rings

A Pepsi mandala including flip-top rings

"Wedding Band," similar to traditional Wedding Ring pattern

Closeup of "Wedding Band" shows the thin "curly" linkages Beecher cut from the rims of bottle tops.

"Rainbow" mandala of soda can flip-top rings with colander center. On permanent display at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
Asked about how she markets her work, Beecher responded that the Center on Contemporary Arts in New York gave her some exposure some years back. Her work was seen by a number of gallery owners, including Seattle's Greg Kucera, who asked to represent her. [Greg Kucera Gallery is showing a major exhibit of her work through August 23, 2014, at 212 3rd Ave. So.,  Seattle.] 

She also checks the internet to review calls for artists' entries. She has won an award from Artist Trust organization, and has been commissioned to produce a number of pieces of public art. (A Beecher piece was hanging in the US Embassy in Baghdad.) One piece for the Washington State Arts Commission, intended for a school in Gold Bar, was rejected by the school as some of the bottle caps in the frame came from beer bottles; the piece now hangs in the Commission's own office!

One of two quilts on permanent display at Seattle's Safeco field (one with AL team logos, the other with those of NL teams),  on license plates, with bottle-cap borders and sashing.

Created for display at an Ellensburg high school.

Closeup of Ellensburg high school piece, with full-size tractor seat (supplied by students)

Piece created for a school in Dupont, WA, with themes selected through a community/committee process. Includes tiles, oils on metal, coffee stirrers, fabrics, badges, military clothing. Each 15" square is wood-backed.

Closeup of a section  of the Dupot school piece. Note actual school supplies, book spines in upper right block.

For more information about Beecher, her work and her awards, see: .

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Deborah Gregory explores "Nature's Influence" with CQA members

Deborah Gregory addresses the June 14 CQA meeting

For someone who says she's "not from a crafty family," Deborah Gregory has created a body of work that shows that she's made her own mark, through study and practice, to easily elevate craft to the level of fine art. Deborah, a long-time member of Contemporary Quilt Art Association (CQA), displayed the wide range of her fiber art at the group's June 14 meeting.

"Sea Circles II," one of Deborah's earlier quilts
Deborah grew up in Gloucester, Mass., with water, marsh and tide flats as her constant view, and the salty, watery smell, she said, was "just right." Possibly coincidentally, possibly by design, she ended up living in Seattle where "the water smells are just right!" Her career following a degree in Psychology comprised 20 years of social work where, she added, "Unfortunately you don't see a finished product." However, the tools she employed in her profession have helped her to be intuitive in her creative work.

One of Deborah's earlier, more traditional quilts

Once retired from social work, Deborah first focused on making clothing, then discovered Block Party Quilters, a traditional quilt guild in the Seattle/East Side area, and later joined CQA. Like many "newly hatched" fiber artists, she loaded herself up with classes in a wide variety of techniques, e.g. Lorraine Torrence's design classes, shibori, painting, collage, 3-D, etc. Throughout this exploratory period, she came to learn that "You have to be able to yield control and let the fiber work it out."

Three quite different events or occurrences happened in the early 2000s that sharpened her focus. First, her daughter died, in 2002, after a four-year fight against cancer. During this period, Deborah sought comfort in working in her studio.

"Genesis," one of the first pieces using landscape netting

Then, at one point, Deborah was intrigued by rolls of landscape netting she kept seeing on her walks on a path through a Bellevue greenbelt near her home. This was the fibrous net of the type highway departments use to control hillside erosion. Deborah "acquired" a yard or so of the netting and, using it as a resist, found that it slowly disintegrates when bleached and reused in her favored discharge process. Both the netting and that slow, deteriorating characteristic became the foundation of many of her subsequent series of art quilts. "I use this decomposition as a metaphor for nature's cycle of growth, flowering, decay and regrowth," she says.

"Passages," Deborah's piece in "Visual Verse." Netting based, this one introduces color.

Finally, in 2003 Deborah took part in a CQA-sponsored exhibition titled "Visual Verse," a show of works created by members who were paired with poets to produce companion art/poetry pieces over the period of a year. Her participation in this exhibit helped set her compass for her future work.

One of Deborah's more extensive series is "Choices and Pathways," and she has just completed her 21st piece in this group!

"Choices and Pathways IV." The central motif of this piece became a theme in a number of subsequent pieces.

"Choices and Pathways XI" sold promptly, even though Deborah had originally felt it was a failure-"too much black"!

Diptych "Choices and Pathways X" in preliminary stages.

Diptychs "Choices and Pathways XII," left, and the finished "Choices and Pathways X," right.
Another series is titled "Cycles," where she intends to complete a piece for each month of the year.

"January II" in the "Cycles" series. Commercial fabric, pole-wrapped, bleached with dishwasher soap.

"May" in "Cycles" series. Pole-wrapped, discharged, over-dyed several times in sections.

"July" in "Cycles" series. Same fabric as "May." The small round white spots are the results of water and bleach "blops" from an uncleaned spray bottle!

A third series is "Rest in Red," where several pieces are in the traditional kimono shape.

"Rest in  Red II." Hand-dyed with discharged "leaves"
"Rest in Red III," a commission for Fine Woodworking display.

In addition to doing discharge work with the netting, Deborah incorporates both blue- and brown-printing in her pieces. Though similar, the latter involves using a silver nitrate solution painted on the surface of fabrics. In blue-printing, she either mixes or buys the solution (ferrous, cyanide, iron), then paints it on fiber or fabrics in a dark room. Once the solution is dry, she exposes the treated material to the sun or a UV light, then rinses the piece to see the final design that emerges. During a residency in the Southwest, Deborah experimented with just tossing the blue-print fluid onto fabrics rather than painting a design, but she found the sun there to be so strong that the pieces were over-exposed. Further, the tossing method wastes a lot of the solution.
"Release Contain," a dyed silk back with blue-printed design and a layer of silk organza.

Deborah has tried painting at several times during her artistic journey, but found that she's much more comfortable with collage and fabric 3-D work. She sometimes includes a netting in her collage works, but this time it's the much finer florist's netting that she will "distress" with a heat gun.

"Pathways III" collage

"Ancient Walls" collage. Hand-dyed (wine-colored) fabric background, canvas front with paint, paper, fabric and silk-screened work.

"Blue Garden VI" collage

Many of her 3-D pieces are bowls, a format she's been experimenting with for some time. Using a balloon to form the basic shape, she will layer on blue-printed silk organza ("rayon collapses!"), occasionally lining the piece with layers of wool. She has used a variety of stiffeners in the bowls, including liquids, but has found no one better than any other.

"Sea Bowl" of blue-printed silk organza, with distressed edges, loose threads.
More recent experiments in 3-D work include her "Floats," where three loose layers of blue-printed silk organza are hung from a specially made, acrylic and metal wall-mounted frame. Deborah confided that she was able to trade one of the "floats" for a week's vacation in a palapa in Mexico!

One of Deborah's pieces will be included in a NorthWest Designer Craftsmen show at the Whatcom County Museum this fall. For more information about Deborah and to view the full range of her extraordinary work, see