Monday, October 21, 2013

“Double-header” CQA/SDA meetings feature Bucknam, Dunnewold

CQA and SDA members join for a pair of meetings
Members of Contemporary QuiltArt Association (CQA) and the Washington chapter of Surface Design Association (SDA) were in for a special treat on October 12, when the two groups arranged back-to-back meetings featuring two stars of the fiber-arts community: Bonnie Bucknam and Jane Dunnewold.

Thanks to CQA members Lorraine Edmond for preparing the following reports on the presentations and Christina Fairley Erickson for the on-scene photos.

Part 1: Bonnie Bucknam and the art in nature

Bonnie Bucknam with her piece "Canopy" on the wall behind her
The October CQA meeting gave us an opportunity to hear from one of our own members, Bonnie Bucknam, who described both her inspiration and the details of her creative process.  The title of Bonnie’s presentation, “Sticks and Stones,” succinctly captured the two diverse threads that have inspired much of her art.

Bonnie majored in anthropology and minored in geology, and recalled always being interested in geology from an early age. She explored the Sierras and Death Valley, both places where the details of the landscape are clearly exposed, as vegetation is sparse.  After moving to Alaska, where she spent over thirty years, those wide-open spaces were an important visual presence as well.  Upon retirement, Bonnie moved to Vancouver, Washington, where, she noted, “the trees are so thick you can barely see the ground.” Trees with complex patterns of limbs inspired work based on the branching forms. These two influences led to her current series, “Geology” and “ Tangle.” 

Bucknam's  piece "Cavern"
She showed images of both series as she explained the evolution of her work and the construction processes she uses.  Bonnie studied with Nancy Crow back in the early’90s and learned to develop one motif from a collection of sketches. Now she may make 20-50 sketches before deciding on one to develop. The motif is stretched and turned as the overall composition is developed.

Detail view of Bucknam's "Reflection"
Sometimes a sub-sample or fragment of a sketch becomes the final motif she works with.  Much of Bonnie’s earlier work was inspired by ethnic arts and crafts. A sketch of a pre-Columbian weaving became a basis of several quilts.

Bonnie’s quilts are constructed with one of three processes. Some smaller pieces are free cut based on a sketch. When a piece is so large that doesn’t work, she will make a pattern from the sketch instead, after having the final sketch enlarged at a copy service with a wide printer. The third process involves improvisation directly on the design wall.

Bucknam's piece "Crater"
She takes numerous photos of her work in progress; this allowed her to show us her process in some detail. Decisions were made and some were re-made. Lines were added and subtracted, colors were auditioned and sometimes removed. Sometimes the whole piece would be re-oriented late in the design process. We also had the benefit of seeing some of the final resulting quilts, visually stunning in their combination of simplicity and intricacy.

Bucknam's "Canopy"
Bonnie bought a long-arm quilting machine after she moved to Vancouver, and that helped her make larger work--especially important since her quilts are very densely quilted. It may take her 6-10 days to quilt a large piece, working on it 3-4 hours a day.

Her final message for the group was “Persistence Pays!” She has been quilting for 44 years now.  Back in 1987, a friend suggested she enter a piece in Quilt National. “Quilt what?” she responded. She ended up getting accepted that very first time. Then she entered for many more years, but it was 2009 before she was accepted again, and in 2011 she won Best of Show. She closed her talk with urging the audience just to “Keep Quilting!”

Attendees study Bucknam's samples following the presentation
For more information about Bonnie and her work, go to

Part 2: Jane Dunnewold and “the psychology of doing art”                        

Jane Dunnewold, left, is introduced by Barbara Matthews of  SDA Washington

Immediately following October’s regular CQA meeting, many members stayed in their seats as the Washington State chapter of the Surface Design Association was treated to a visit from the national SDA president, Jane Dunnewold. Jane has been a teacher and mentor to numerous members of the CQA community for years, but this was her first visit in her new role.  Known in the wider world as a textile artist who literally “wrote the book” on surface design (Complex Cloth), Jane also teaches and lectures widely on other topics related to creativity in a more general sense.

Interestingly, Jane doesn’t refer to her work as textile work. She wants the focus to be on the art rather than the media. When asked, she calls herself a mixed media textile artist, even if the piece is a quilt. For this presentation, although she showed us many lovely and inspiring images of her work and her new studio and teaching facility in San Antonio, Jane chose to talk primarily about what she called “the psychology of doing art.”

Dunnewold's new "wet" studio

Dunnewold's new "dry" studio

She asked the audience to consider the question “What inspired you to think of yourself as an artist?”  She noted our common beginnings: “We’re all seduced by color, but after the initial burst of enthusiasm the analyzing begins. We acquire workshops, teachers, supplies. There are so many things at our disposal, we don’t experience limitations or boundaries.”

Of course we are engaged by the world and by our senses, but a time arises to become more interior. Jane advised us to sit carefully and quietly as we consider what our best path is.  She believes that we area seeking is alignment—that blissful state where what you love to do is what you’re good at.

You can be good at something and hate it, which can make it hard to leave it behind.  Conversely, you can love something and not be good at it.  In that case, practice is needed, but daunting.  We start out wanting to play, and not wanting judgment of our work. By the time we understand what we’re doing, we’re invested in being good at it, and then it becomes more rewarding than when it was merely play. But how to get there? That’s elusive!

"Degredation" by  Dunnewold
Jane advises that we first have to drop some old ideas. First, “the talent question.” We all have different gifts, but it isn’t helpful to focus on where you are on the continuum. Second, the “busy, crazy life” that gets in the way. Everyone has that. Third, and maybe most important, “The Committee.” The Committee lives in your head and it may be your own voice or that of a parent, or your first art teacher, or even Nancy Crow. Your Committee is all the people you want to please. When you realize who is on your Committee, you can dismantle it, and then have a new kind of freedom.

"Tender Heart" by  Dunnewold
The next thing to work on is something Jane calls “Creative Stamina.” Stamina develops as a result of strength training, and Creative Stamina develops as a result of Creative Strength Training; and furthermore, it needs to be the equivalent of Cross Training.  This might include what Jane referred to as “cultivated looking.” It might include something similar to her year-long daily photography blog. Jane credits that daily photography practice with making her a better artist as she learned to see the world in a richer way—closer, and in more detail. Other approaches might include writing (asking yourself questions and writing the responses) or doing timed free-association exercises and noting the visual images that emerge from that. It’s important both to cultivate curiosity and to keep track of the things you’re curious about.

Jane’s final words of wisdom included the following: “It’s OK to screw things up. If you haven’t, you’re not trying.”  And last, but probably most important for many of us, those words that need to be printed as a giant poster: “Go back to the studio and stay there.”

For more information about Jane and her work, go to