Author Archives: Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Still Life: The Show

Last weekend, May 11, was the opening of the Troika Still Life show at the Bitters Co. barn that I wrote about last month. Troika is what Julie Paschkis, Deborah Mersky, and I call our joint collaborative endeavors.

The barn is a beautiful old building near the town of Mt. Vernon in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. The slanted ceiling is high and the beams and rafters are dark, aged wood. The weather for the day was clear and sunny. Light streamed through the windows at both ends of the space. Bitters Co. is owned and run by sisters Katie and Amy Carson, who design beautiful and useful goods made by craftspeople from around the world. 

Here are some photos from the installation:

The hanging of the first of our three fifteen-foot long collaborative stenciled banners:

Julie is looking for the best spot for her larger-than-life paper lady.

She found it!

Here, my daughter Ella is helping fill the pockets in my “Correspondence” piece.

Katie Carson has just helped install the hooks to hold the dowels to hold my “Cream Top” and “Sugar Shirt.”

And here are photos from the day of the opening! (I forgot to take pictures during the event itself, but here are photos of the work before and after attendees were there).

Julie’s paper lady welcomed our guests.Our three “Cloud Banners” graced the center of the gallery space.These are some of Deborah Mersky’s collaged clay prints.

These are two sugar lift prints by Deborah.

Julie installed a wall of cut paper pieces, painted and poked.

Here are two more paintings by Julie.

This is my Entwined I piece, knitted from twine.

This piece is titled Correspondence. It is sewn from cotton batiste fabric, and includes 33 pockets that hold letters and cards that my mother and I wrote to each other over many years.

Below is Loneliness, sewn from denim, but maybe I should have titled it “Solitude.”

And Workmen’s Circle, also sewn from denim. Six pairs of continuous jeans – each right leg becomes the left leg of the pair in front of it. This piece required a lot of planning and engineering on my part. Added plus: it spins in the breeze.

And outside the barn hangs one more banner. Three wheels of Troika. 

The show will be up till May 27. The barn is at 14034 Calhoun Rd. The hours are 11-4 daily. 360-466-3550. The new Bitters Co. shop is in La Conner: 501 1st St. Call first to make sure they’re open if you plan to stop by.

Still Life: In Progress

I have been working on pieces for a joint art show with two great friends and artists, Julie Paschkis and Deborah Mersky. The show opens May 11th at the Bitters Co. barn in the Skagit Valley, WA. Julie, Deborah and I have a long history of collaborating on art for items that we have then had produced to sell, but this will be our first art installation together. We call ourselves, TROIKA.

We always start out by setting a theme. Our theme this time is ‘Still Life’. Still Life is defined as “a painting that features an arrangement of inanimate objects as its subject.” We often see comestibles, flowers, glassware, ceramics and textiles and other household items laid out on a surface in a domestic setting.

Still life as a known art form goes back to paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs from the 15th century BCE. The French call it nature morte, which translates, literally, as natural death. There is a connection to memento mori paintings, the purpose of which is to remind us that we too must die. So, not just a bunch of pretty flowers in a vase.

My mother died three years ago. I have a small sugar bowl and creamer set that belonged to her. The set sat in the kitchen cupboard when I was growing up and to my childish imagination they looked like some kind of exotic candy. I don’t remember my mother ever using them. They held a certain mystery to me: Where did they come from? Why did she never use them? Where they from her past life? Her first marriage? I have since asked my father and brother, but no one seems to know (nor care).

I wasn’t sure what medium I wanted to employ for this project, but I thought I wanted to use fabric in some way. I started by testing different approaches with the glass creamer set as subject matter. I imagined I would eventually use them as part of a larger, more varied, traditional still life arrangement. I experimented with many fabric swatches and painting and drawing media.

I never made it past the sugar and creamer set. Those pieces alone became my focus for several months. But nothing I had produced seemed like the right direction to go in. Painting or drawing on fabric didn’t feel right. Only a couple of the swatches – the ones that involved stenciling – intrigued me.

Yet using fabric as a backdrop wasn’t enough. I wanted to make something out of that fabric. Those who know me know I make a lot of my own clothing. I also teach sewing. My maternal grandfather was a tailor and my paternal grandfather was a sample-maker for Hattie Carnegie in New York. Garment-making is a thread that connects me to my heritage (pun intended).

So, what if I created garments for the show? What if the theme for me became Still Life-Size?

That idea excited me.

I envisioned garments that represented how I feel connected to my mother. How I am connected to others. How people connect to each other. Momento Mori in apparel form.

Everything connects in one way or another.

And back to the sugar and creamer set again.

It is all work in progress thus far. Those of you who live in the area can come to the show and see the finished work for yourself. For the rest of you, perhaps I will post again after the show is completed.

In addition to creating our own individual work for the show, Julie, Deborah and I together collaborated on three 45-foot long banners that will hang through the center of the barn (and there is that creamer again). Julie posted on her Mooshka blog about our process in making them if you want to read more. We will be leading a workshop the day after the show. Here is the information if you are interested in attending.

Plates of Flowers and Fruit

I am traveling this week, so I have pre-arranged a post for you. It’s actually a borrowed post from a friend of mine – Jennifer Kennard. Jennifer is an artist, graphic designer, book maker, book lover, book collector, and lovely person. She has a blog called Letterology, from which this post was taken. I chose it because I have been using stencils in my work lately. And it is still Winter and the flowers and fruit make me think of warmer, brighter seasons.

The 19th Century Book Plates of D.M. Dewey

Title page for one of D.M. Dewey’s specimen books. S

Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) was a bookseller, publisher and art patron in Rochester, NY before he became one of the 19th century’s most enterprising businessmen, printing and selling colorfully stenciled book plates of botanical illustrations “for the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock.” He employed teams of immigrant artists and colorists in the mid-1850s to paint and stencil several thousand botanical plates of various ornamentals, trees, shrubs, fruits and vegetables. By 1859, Dewey’s price list contained some 275 different plates. Once completed, the colorful book plates were assembled into handsome octavo catalogs and portfolios customized for the traveling salesmen known as “plant peddlers” of the floral and nursery trade. Dewey was not the first to devise this practice of providing botanical illustrations to sell seeds and plants, but he was the first to expand the process by relying on the time-honored stencil production process which came to be known as “theorem paintings.” Prior to the development of chromolithography, this multi-layered stencil process was the most striking and effective method of producing colored multiples at the time. Although quite rare now, Deweys’ polychromic watercolor artworks can still be found in complete book sets, and continue to be valued for their exquisite beauty. This 1875 plate book of 91 images shown below was sold on eBay a year ago for about $400. S

To produce each stenciled image, artists would use transparent watercolors to build up areas of tone and color. Stems, tendrils and small details such as the small, red paint strokes seen on the peach above, were painted freehand for added effect on many images. The stencils were most likely made of paper, but brass could easily have been used and would have endured much longer. Paint and inks were carefully applied through these stencils using a brush or dauber of sorts—creating vivid color tones and values as layers were added. A similar process to this, called porchoir, was later popularized in Europe in the early 20th century, however that process relied upon a printed “key plate” to which stenciled color was applied. Greater detail of the “theorem” stencil and brush process can be seen in the grape images below. 

Source In the wake of Dewey’s successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US.

Small newspaper ad and advertising envelope for D.M. Dewey’s “colored fruit and flower plates.”S

This 1872 D.M. Dewey plate book shown above appears to be stenciled plates. Later editions, such as this handsome edition below were entirely printed with chromolithographed plates. This stenciled book happens to be in reasonably nice shape and still available here for a rather large sum. I just have my eye on that sweet grape arbor below.

By 1881, Dewey’s company offered over 2400 varieties of book plates of plant specimens. In the wake of his successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of his botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US. Confident that chromolithography was the solution to “a greater variety and better plates,” Dewey consolidated his nursery supply business with the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company in 1888. One year later he died, “but the demand for plate books did not” according to Tim Hensley of the Urban Homestead, and “no less than a dozen Rochester printing companies would follow in his wake.” Hensley points out that each printer had a style uniquely their own as they each employed their own team of individual artists. Some particularly stood out such as the work of the Stecher Lithographing Company (1887-1936) who went on to produce posters, labels and trade cards for seed companies. The Stecher plates of the Salway peach and Le Conte Pear below from Hensley’s site, Rood Remarks, are so exquisite, I find it difficult to believe they are chromoliths. I’m fairly certain they are a combination of chromo and stencil artwork of the tendrils and leaves. The last image of the Greensboro peach printed by the Vrendenburg & Company of Rochester is most certainly a chromolith plate. They are all mighty fine fruit plates. 

Posted by Jennifer Kennard at 6/03/2014

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Library Love: The Final Episode

Last week Seattle hosted the 2019 Midwinter American Library Association Meeting. Thousands and thousands of happy librarians arrived to be impressed by the latest books, info-gadgets, and literary comers.

Seattle loves its librarians. We are home to the company that created the librarian action figure, as well as the librarian it’s based on, Nancy Pearl (hey it’s not a stereotype, it’s Nancy!).

But, what town wouldn’t want to host thousands of happy librarians?

I just finished reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, which I highly recommend. Reading it gave me hope in the form of the endurance of libraries. They persist all over the world. They survive through war, poverty, fire, technological revolutions.

Going to the library with her mother when Orlean was young left a lasting impression on her. Reading her descriptions of those visits reminded me of going to the Hunt Library in Fullerton with my parents when I was little. The Hunt Library left a lasting impression on me. I could still lead you today to the Dr. Seuss shelf in the picture book section (it was always a mess), and the Greek Mythology books.

The Hunt Library was Norton Simon’s gift to the city of Fullerton. It opened in 1962 next to the Hunt Foods Corporation campus where Simon had made the fortune that funded his art collection. The library was designed by William Pereira, the architect known for the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Disneyland Hotel.

Simon exhibited works from his art collection on the Hunt grounds and in the library. I grew up taking it for granted that all libraries had Giacometti sculptures outside and Picasso prints inside (I liked the Giacometti, but I was not impressed by Picasso’s later period works).

In 1964 Simon proposed replacing the library with an art museum, but Fullerton officials turned him down. He went to Pasadena and opened the Norton Simon Museum there instead.

While still on the high of renewed Library Love from reading The Library Book, and believing that libraries will live forever, I learned that The Hunt Library closed its doors in 2013.

What?

Lack of funding. Poor location. Concerns over a growing number of transients.

It is hard to compare my memories of the library with the recent photos.

Last November the library was designated a local historical landmark. It will not be torn down. It may be sold.

Where does a library go when it dies? It becomes a church. Or maybe a homeless shelter. Or a community center. Or an art museum. But it will not be my library ever again.

Dear Hunt Library. You will always be the library closest to my heart, even if you have ceased to exist.

Out with the old…

…in with the new!

Once a year, I like to send a few cards out to clients and people I don’t see very often. I make cards for the Winter season or the New Year.

This year, I made two. This was the first one.

To me it says, The old year is over. Time to take out the garbage. But perhaps it is too negative a sentiment.

So I made another one that is perhaps a bit more optimistic.

You can pick whichever you prefer!

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for less garbage and more good things to come in 2019!

Materials used: gouache, colored pencils, rubber stamp and ink, makeup sponge, makeup brushes, and sparkly eyeshadow powder on paper.

Gratitude from A to Z

Last night, while waiting for the feast to begin, a friend told me about a solution one family found for the discomfort of reciting what they were thankful for at the Thanksgiving dinner table each year — they began a tradition of going round the table giving gratitudes in alphabetical order, A to Z.

This sounded like such a good idea to me that I am going to begin it here, and I invite you to add gratitudes as well, beginning with the next letter in the alphabet from the one before. Let’s see if we can make it all the way to Z…

I am grateful for Adaptability, Avocados, and All of you who take the time to read our posts.

Will you Be next?…

Duvoisin II

Last month I warned I might revisit Roger Duvoisin’s work in picture books. So, here are two more of his books from my shelves: Donkey-donkey (1940) and Petunia (1950).

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Unlike A Child’s Garden of Verses, these two books are authored by Duvoisin as well. His writing style matches his illustrations – light and delightful.

The themes are similar – animals wanting to better themselves somehow and making themselves and others suffer for it. Silly animals.

Using animals to upstage human folly is common in literature. Duvoisin’s squiggly images help us laugh at the situations such foolish creatures get themselves into.

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Donkey-donkey is a happy donkey until he starts comparing himself to Pat, the horse.

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He becomes dissatisfied with his big donkey ears and gets advice from everyone else at the farm on what to do about it.

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As we expect, he comes around to accepting his ears and going back to his happy donkey life.

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Petunia is literally a silly goose. She finds a book and has heard that ‘He who owns Books and loves them is wise,’ so she picks up the book and carries it around with her, feeling very wise indeed.

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Petunia’s pride in her new-found wisdom leads her to mis-advise all the other animals at the farm.

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This causes misery and mayhem.

She is too busy being wise to notice until the situation becomes explosive.

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At this point she notices the book has something in it, namely pages, with words on them that she cannot read. Now she understands, ‘It was not enough to carry wisdom under my wing, I must put it in my mind an in my heart. and to do that I must learn to read.”

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Be true to yourself.

Wisdom only comes from books if you use them correctly.

If a goose can learn to read, so can you.

Good lessons at any age.

 

 

A Child’s Garden of Images by Roger Duvoisin

Well, while I am waiting for production to continue on Where Lily Isn’t (the designer at the publishing house just left, so the search is on for a replacement, *sigh*…) I will entertain both you and myself by looking through the books in my kid lit collection.

Today I pulled out a book that was a gift from a friend – A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (The Heritage Press: 1944). Lucky for me she had two in her collection.

I have a few books illustrated by Duvoisin (you may know his work from his 1950 book Petunia). His drawings are joyful and loose, sometimes on the edge of silly. His illustrations are from the era when colored images were prepared for printing by separating them manually into multiple plates (as would be done in traditional printmaking). The plates were then printed in individual ink tones, usually including a yellow, a red, a blue or green, and black. The results create an appealingly limited palette of graphic shapes and patterns. I am a fan!

Below from ‘Foreign Lands’:

I love how the girl’s feet exit the top of the image in ‘The Swing’, although the flattened perspective makes me worry a bit for her safety on the way down:

‘The Cow’: Perhaps a precursor to Petunia?

‘Travel’:

‘My Ship And I’:

The illustrations for the book aren’t all in color. There are many lovely black and white images, such as this for ‘The Little Land’:

and this for ‘My Shadow”:

Also for ‘Little Land’:R Duvoisin-Childs Garden of Verses-The Little Land 2

‘Autumn Fires’: Do we not feel the loss of summer looming?

‘To Minnie’: That is some rug!

For all you picture book folk – ‘Picture Books In Winter’:R Duvoisin-Childs Garden of Verses-Picture Books In Winter

And finally, a peek under the jacket cover:

Perhaps for my next post I will show more of Duvoisin’s work. It is worth exploring further.

Wild Things

I have another book to recommend: Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature As An Adult, by  Bruce Handy. I checked it out from the library after reading this piece in the New Yorker. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but it has been an enjoyable summer read.

Bruce Handy is about my age, a parent, white, and born on the West Coast. Perhaps having those things in common is why I can relate so easily to his nostalgic trip through classic American kid lit. He broke his reading teeth on Dr. Seuss (for him it was Ten Apples Up on Top!, for me it was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). Like me, he remembers the first time he was read Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. He also received, as a new parent, multiple copies of Goodnight Moon. So his trip down a literary Memory Lane takes me back as well. He revisits many of the books I read as a child, but also several that I didn’t. He also explores the whys and hows that have made these books into classics.

I often wonder about the lives of the authors I read, but even in this age of Wikipedia, who has the time? Handy has done that for us. He finds the stories behind the stories – from Margaret Wise Brown and her taste for luxury, to the  “philosophical conversion” of C. S. Lewis and Theodore Geisel’s anarchic response to Dick and Jane – with humor and insight and many personal asides (maybe too many? but hey, I’m guilty of the same fondness for parentheses).

To be clear, Wild Things is not an anthology. It is an appreciation of the books and the authors who start us on the path (a yellow brick road, perhaps?) to a lifelong love of books. The most famous ones, at least.

I will warn you of one frustration I have with the book; there are no pictures apart from some spot drawings for the chapter headings by Seo Kim. When Handy describes an illustration, I want to see what he’s talking about, but I imagine that would have been expensive to produce and problematic with all those copyrights to contend with.

I am almost to the last chapter, which is appropriately titled “The End: Dead Pets, Dead Grandparents, and the Glory of Everything.” Since I have been working on a book about the loss of a pet, it should be especially interesting. After I’m done, maybe I’ll go reread some of my favorite kid lit!

 

 

A Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

On June 13, I attended an event in Portland honoring Ursula K. Le Guin. The tribute was organized by the Le Guin family and hosted by Literary Arts. Speakers included writers and artists whom Ursula had worked with, as well as others she had influenced, inspired, and befriended. The spoken tributes alternated with photos and video selections from “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin”, a feature documentary film by Arwen Curry.

My feelings about Ursula have always been held close in my heart and not something I often talk about. But there, in that auditorium, I felt I was one of many whose hearts Ursula had touched. It was bittersweet, remembering her and missing her.

The event was filmed and is available to watch on the Literary Arts website.

Ursula K. Le Guin was a master of the art of words, but she also was a brilliant  thinker and an outspoken advocate for artists, free speech, and humanity. My admiration for her has only deepened as I have continued to read her writings in the months since her death. I have almost finished her Conversations On Writing with David Naimon, which I recommend if you want to hear more of her thoughts about her craft. It nicely captures Ursula’s relaxed style of speaking and her humor.

I am also about a quarter of the way through Lavinia, in which Ursula gives eloquent voice to a female character from Vergil’s Aeneid.

‘I know who I was, I can tell you who I may have been, but I am now, only in this line of words I write…”

I look forward to reading more of Ursula’s works that I have not yet read, and then maybe I will re-read some of my old favorites of hers that I read years ago. It is a good way to continue to pay tribute to her, and to keep hearing her voice and learning from her.