Tuesday, December 15, 2015

CQA enjoys visual and tactile treats by Larkin Van Horn

Mixed media artist Larkin Van Horn makes a point at the Dec. 12 CQA meeting. (Sue Smith photo)
"I like creating something hard on something soft...and something shiny on something matte." That's one working premise for Larkin Van Horn, a prolific Whidbey Island mixed-media artist and teacher who shared her work and her thoughts with CQA members at the group's December 12 meeting.

Van Horn came from a family of embroiderers--"no quilters!"--and that was her medium for a number of years. Then in 1972 she started beading. Her first project? Her own wedding dress! Apparently the experience was a bit much, as it was another 15 years before she picked up her beading materials again. Even then it was a bit of serendipity: She was working part time at a cross-stitch shop, making samples, when she decided to gussy up the pieces with some beads from a bead shop that happened to be right next door. "Pretty soon I was doing more beading and less stitching!" she laughed.
"Pods II." The quilting design was inspired by one of Van Horn's half-waking, later-puzzling, thoughts scribbled down in the early morning: "What about a stick with a hole in it?"
"Crucible." Small pieces fused into place; beaded center.

At some point the idea  of making quilts intrigued her, and Van Horn signed up for her first class in this art, only to find she wasn't good at following others' directions. She made her own way into the art-quilt world and also has made a number of quilts that, like her more current technique (collage), often serve more as the base for beading and threadwork than as stand-alone quilts. "My pieces are small," she added, "because the beading is so intensely done."

She uses her own hand-dyed cotton and silk fabrics for the backgrounds on pieces she creates for exhibitions, but her class samples are done on commercial batik backgrounds: "The students like to work on something that's readily available to them."
"Hold Fast Your Heart." (Sue Smith photo) [The small squares at top of photo are part of the "My 60th Year" project; below]
Detail of "Hold Fast Your Heart." Van Horn often uses porcelain or ceramic faces as central points in her work. (Sue Smith photo)

"Most of what I do now is fused fabric collage with 'stuff' on it," explained Van Horn. The "stuff" can include yarns, various strings and thread creations, porcelain and ceramic faces, found objects and, of course, beads, lots and lots of beads...and sometimes beads on top of sequins for extra sparkle and texture.

One of the most extensive exhibits of Van Horn's work was titled "Night Thoughts," at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook, OR, where Van Horn has both exhibited and curated a number of exhibits. This show, which also traveled to the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum in La Conner, WA. was three years in the making. "I had to create about 100 new pieces for the exhibit," said Van Horn, adding "About 80 pieces would be hung on walls, and another 20 would go into display cases. The Latimer Center was able to show all the pieces; La Conner hung all the wall pieces but couldn't show the 3D work." She added that the theme or title of the exhibit was "the first thing that came out of my mouth when Latimer asked what the show would be called. I had no idea what it meant, but there it was!"
"The Soul's Winter." Part of the Shattered Circles series.
Detail of "The Soul's Winter." (Sue Smith photo)

When listeners asked Van Horn about threads for beading, she noted that beads are sharp, so you can't use rayon, cotton, metallic or any of the usual sewing thread without having the threads shredded or cut by the beads over time. She uses nylon beading thread, doubled--"If one part starts to shred, you have a chance to replace or fix it before the whole thing breaks," she explained. Another choice would be "Fireline," a synthetic fishing line purchased from outdoor stores. She added one warning: "Fireline can't be ironed...it'll melt!" The fusible materials she uses include both Misty Fuse and Wonder Under,  depending  on the type  of project.

Someone asked about handling bugle beads, notorious for having sharp ends. Van Horn told of a head-scratching experience she had once at a small beading session at a conference in Santa Fe. When the subject of bugle beads came up, one beader said "Oh, I paint the ends with colorless nail polish." The next beader said, "If you use colored nail polish, you get a 2-tone effect." A third beader said, "I use acrylic paint!" The final beader opined, "I have the best method. String them from a coat hanger and spray with an acrylic spray, then use a toothpick to spread the beads apart." At this point, Van Horn interjected: "Why not just put a seed bead between each bugle bead?" Came this rejoinder from the table: "What a waste of beads!"
"Firestorm II"

Many of Van Horn's pieces fit into specific series she's been developing over the years, such as Shattered Circles; Labyrinths; Trees; Angels, Goddesses and Mermaids; Dolls; Gaudi Windows, and Vessels, Shrines and Reliquaries.

In the "Shattered Circles" pieces, she takes a circle of fabric and, either freehand or by following a hand-drawn sketch, cuts the circle into a number of pieces. She then "explodes" the pieces outward from the center to create what is often an extremely complex design that sometimes completely disguises its circular origin. "My rule for myself in these pieces is 'Use every piece'!" Van Horn said.
"Emerging III," part of the Shattered Circles series. Van Horn follows the rule of using every piece of the cut-up circle...but there's no rule against adding something else!

"La Deluge," part of the Shattered Circles series--the orange-red "fronds."

She differentiated a labyrinth--"It leads you into the center and back out again"--from a maze--"It's created to confuse"--and described how she does machine quilting on labyrinthine pieces where the "path" is often a thick cord that would deflect the "foot" of a sewing machine.
"Celtic Spiral VII," part of the Labyrinth series.

"Labyrinth II." Van Horn uses a positioning drawing for the future labyrinth line so that all machine quilting can be done before the thick corded line is applied.

A trip to Barcelona led to her five-piece series of "Gaudi Windows," where her works mimic the shapes but not the colors of the windows in some of Antoni  Gaudi's buildings. For the "Angels, Goddesses...." series, Van Horn, who described herself as "a Lutheran Buddhist Pagan," said she did only one angel but "a whole lot of goddesses!" Her intensely beaded dolls are "meant to be like a 'talking stick'--the one holding the stick is the one who gets to talk--so that you tell your story or your doll's story while you're holding her."
"Bright Gaudi Day," part of a series of five pieces inspired by the architecture of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona.
"Pele," one of Van Horn's series of beaded dolls ("and yes, I give them all boobs!")
"Dancing in the Moonlight" from the Goddesses series. The "moon" is another shattered circle.

"Deep Sea Troika" in the Goddesses series.

The "Vessels, Shrines..." series is largely 3D work, for which Van Horn said she buys the stiffener Timtex in huge rolls. This series includes a number of boxes where the sides are quilted and beaded with the edges finished with a machine satin stitch, then sewn into the final box shape by hand. She defined this series by saying "A vessel is something that holds something else--a leaf that holds a drop of water is a vessel. A shrine can be for anything that anyone holds sacred, and a reliquary holds any object that is considered sacred."
"Starflower Box," in the Vessels series. The edges are finished in machine satin stitch, then the pieces are sewn together by hand.
"Tree House I" in the Vessels series..."A vessel is something that holds something else..."

On her 59th birthday, Van Horn embarked on a year-long project that would culminate on her 60th birthday--each month, she would create a small square of fabric, quilted and beaded in whatever design struck her fancy on that month. Each was titled, signed and dated on the reverse side as part of a permanent record of what is a milestone for so many of us. And of course she created a special box to hold these little treasures.
"My 60th Year." Van Horn created a heavily beaded little square each month between her 59th and 60th birthdays, plus a beaded box to hold them.

Van Horn's works, which include some exquisite pieces of beaded jewelry, have been in exhibits throughout the country and are found in many collections. To see images of her various pieces and series, go to: http://www.LarkinArt.com.

(All photos by G. Armour Van Horn unless otherwise credited.)