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: .

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