Censored

What do you do when your art is censored? Do you jump up and down and make a stink or do you take a deep breath and think about what it means? I’ve been doing mostly the latter for the past week, but I’m ready for reasoned action now. My solo exhibit, Liberty and Justice: New Artwork by Salley Mavor, which was to open this weekend at a nonprofit cultural center was cut to the point where there weren’t enough pieces left to warrant a display. So, I was forced to withdraw the remaining pieces from the whole exhibit, 10 days before the opening, after a year of coordinated planning. The organization is not named here because I do not want to discourage people from seeing the other engaging exhibits they will present. And I do not want to cast the staff and volunteers in any sort of a negative light.  They are wonderful to work with and were not involved in the discussions about my show. Also, the issue isn’t just about this one venue. It’s about the culture of fear that is growing, creating an atmosphere where questioning and dissent are silenced.

Flat Earth Society

You may ask, how did this happen? Economic concerns, basically. The members of the venue’s board of trustees were afraid that because this show is controversial and asks the viewer to ponder our current political climate, some donors might be offended and donations could fall off. The overall opinion was that my show should be emptied of political content, with no dolls who are recognizable as Trump or Pence, etc. The idea was to remove the polarizing figures so that everything will be fine and no one will be upset. I was willing to take out the animated short film, but since they didn’t want anything political, it meant no satirical cartoons from the Wee Folk Players either. No Trump in a Tudor style outfit as President of the Flat Earth Society and no Pence dancing with a transvestite dressed in fishnets and high heels. I think that most board members were unaware that their no tolerance position on any political content would result in the show’s cancellation and create an absence that would have to be explained to the visitors who show up to see my work.

My exhibit was to demonstrate how a contemporary artist uses fiber art techniques to make a statement about today’s world. The new direction of my work leaves behind the cute idyllic and safe fairy world and jumps head on into political territory. The dolls are a metaphor for playing house in a controlled environment, one that has been taken over by outside political forces. For me, the work is about stepping away from a safe, sheltered existence and into a very real reality, one where there is possibility for action toward making a difference in the world. You could call this new direction “sweet resistance art”, since it delivers a strong message in a pretty package, one that is not in your face, even though it does have a tough meaning. My new work has been described as witty, ironic, sophisticated and adorable but chilling. It is a thoughtful critique of the current administration in Washington, with every detail chosen for a reason, and all based on actual things said or done. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my point of view, although many find my artwork refreshing and full of comic relief. To remove the political part would be like taking the stuffing out of the dolls, leaving limp characters of very little consequence and nothing important to say.

My husband Rob and I have talked about this a lot and have declared this show a success! These little dolls are powerful – they’ve conjured feelings and sparked discussion about art’s place in the world. Unfortunately, they are being silenced, but that is also part of the reaction and the reality of our society today.  People are fearful and I understand that, but somehow I am not afraid. Sure, I get nervous every time I put out something political, but I feel like I’m learning about what it means to be an artist through and through. Not for a moment do I think that what I’ve created is not valid or meaningful. People have come to expect a certain kind of expression from me, of sweetness and childhood wonder. They’re surprised to find that I can also make art that is strong, funny and dark. It’s so odd to think that I make cute dolls that instill enough fear in people to get them seriously worried. What a crazy time, in a beautiful world!

So, what am I going to do about the situation? This experience makes it clear that my new political art may be threatening to the powers that be, but it communicates something important about the time we are living in and needs to be seen by a lot more people. Friends are helping find other venues for the exhibit, but until then, I am asking for your help spreading this work around the world. There are several ways of doing this:
Share this blog post.
Share this Facebook photo album of 12 scenes from the Wee Folk Players.
Share our animated short film Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, which is now on YouTube here.
Please let people know that this work was pulled due to its content, and comment on your beliefs about censorship in the arts. Let your voice be heard, too!

This is but the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of my artistic journey.  As always, thank you for following along. To see posts with individual Wee Folk Players cartoons, plus commentary please visit this page.

 

There will an opportunity to see 4 of my embroidered bas-relief pieces (Displaced, Cover Up, Face Time and Whiskers) later this fall in
TWISTED, TWINED, AND WOVEN: Contemporary Fiber Art
Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA
November 2 – December 22, 2018
Opening Reception, Friday, November 2, 4:30-6:00pm

Bed book peek: North Africa (part 3)

This is the third post about the North African illustration for my new children’s book. To see more, click the links for Part 1 and Part 2 in the series. The scene will be included in My Bed, which will be a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by HoughtonMifflin in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book:
South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia. and Iran.
To see a list of all my books, click here.

After constructing the houses with felt, wire and clay beads, and stitching the landscaping, I made this child to sleep on the rooftop terrace. With the exception of the fingers and toes, she is made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk – New Adventures. Her bare feet are similar to the hands, but it’s a bit more tricky to make them look natural. (Sorry, the hand and feet technique is proprietary.)

Hair styling with thread brings out their individuality.

Her nightie is made from an old monogrammed hankie that was part of a relative’s trousseaux. I took advantage of its white edging while cutting out pieces of fabric for the garment.

Here she is, settling down for a cool night’s sleep on the roof deck.

I made my first palm tree for this scene, which required some photo research.

The tree trunk texture was fun to replicate with lots of fly stitches. I played around with light and dark colors to give it definition and dimension.

To give the right appearance at the top, just below where the palm fronds fan out, I sewed a clump of glass leaf beads.

And then there was the really fun part, when I got to use variegated silk ribbon thread! It’s one the few new needlework products I actually buy. I really like the selection of straw silk from Silk Road Fibers.

A felt moon appeared from behind the leaves.

and started to shine with the addition of some metallic thread.

So, that’s it for this illustration. I’m working hard to complete the whole book by next winter’s deadline and will be sharing more scenes in the coming months.

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram

Bed book peek: North Africa (part 2)

This is the second post about the North African illustration for my new children’s book. To see Part 1 in the series, click here. The scene will be included in My Bed, which will be a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by HoughtonMifflin in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia. and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

During the month-long process of working on a scene, I keep needed materials and supplies close at hand, with the actual work space increasingly limited to a little corner of my table. The surface in the foreground of the photo is an ironing board. The color scheme changes from page to page, so I select a new combination of felt and thread for each illustration. All of the stitching is done while holding the pieces in my hands, including this building and roof. There’s more about the roof tiles in Part 1.

This is what my work table looks like most of the time, with piles of cardboard bobbins of embroidery thread, spools of wire, a thimble, scissors, pliers, a wire cutter, a seam ripper, rulers, boxes of beads, etc.

After the houses were built, I started in on the landscaping.

These tiny glass leaf beads have been in my collection for years and I wanted to incorporate them in a vine that climbs up the side of a house. I formed the stems with wire, attaching the leaves as I went and then covered the the wire with embroidery floss.

To make a rooftop planter, I painted a miniature wooden pot to look like terracotta. The stems are thread wrapped wire, with seed beads sewn to the ends.

The pot needed something vertical sticking up in the middle, so I added a triplet of felt leaves.

There’s more to share, so please stay tuned for Part 3 in this series.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Bed book peek: North Africa (part 1)

The book project is moving along, one stitch at a time. Or in this case, one roof tile at a time. When researching the architecture of North Africa, I was struck by the juxtaposition of white and tan buildings topped off with bright red or terracotta roof tiles. So that combination became the dominant color palette of this illustration.

The scene will be included in My Bed, which will be a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia. and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

Since I didn’t have any red beads to make the roof with, I stained some white and brown clay disk beads with red magic marker. Some came out bright red and others had a more earthy tone. I’ve had these beads for a long time and it felt good to finally use them. Don’t worry, the red on my fingertip isn’t blood, but magic marker ink!

The holes in the center of the beads make it easy to sew them in place. I used a range of subtle shades of beige and tan felt for the buildings.

For a decorative scalloped edge, I added thread-covered wire to this strip of rooftop.

Then sewed on the overlapping red bead tiles.

After the roof was sewn in place, I added a decorative bead under the top eaves and stitched a bead curtain in the doorway.

In this part of the world, roofs serve as open living spaces, surrounded by walls. For this one, I made a fence with thread wrapped wire that you can see through.

Clay tube beads stick out like the ends of structural beams.

I made a striped turquoise awning for shade…

and a shuttered window in blue, for color contrast with the red and white.

I’m always looking for opportunities to add patterns and this door needed a carved wood appearance.

This roof section is edged all around with wire, which gives it the necessary structure to stick out from the background fabric. Otherwise the felt would be floppy and not very roof-like.

I search through my stash of hooks and eyes to find the right hardware for the door and windows.

This house is made from a loosely woven, nubby fabric that I thought matched the texture of white washed masonry walls. To be continued…

Please stay tuned for future posts, as I have lots more to show about making this illustration. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Bed book peek: Persian Cat

This Persian cat will be used as a spot illustration in the Iran spread in my upcoming picture book, My Bed. The story about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Children’s book publishers need at least a year to design, print and market a book, so I have to have everything finished by the winter of 2019. That means I’m practically working around the clock to get it done in time.

Just for fun, I’ve added a collection of cats from Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes at the end of this post.

In addition to creating full page illustrations, I’m making a series of animal icons that will appear on the adjacent text panels throughout the book. The miniature stuffed animals  relate to the geographic area of each corresponding scene.

Here are links to posts showing the other animal icons I’ve already made for the book: Goldfish and Elephant, Parrot and Sheep, Rooster. To see process photos of the finished illustrations for the book, click these links: Iran, South America, Russia, Japan, Afghanistan.

The research on Persian cats led to photographs of fluffy dark grey felines whose faces are noticeably different from regular house cats. Their cartoon-like features remind me of those 1960’s paintings of wide-eyed waifs, with large eyes and stubby little noses.   First, I wrapped tapestry wool around its pipe cleaner legs. Then, I stitched features onto its felt face. With pinking shears, I cut a mane out of felt and stitched the face on top.

For the tail, I sewed a strip of felt around a pipe cleaner.

To help make the ears point up, I sewed wire along the top edges. For a finishing touch, I added some tapestry wool stitches to its coat.

As a basis of comparison, I’ve selected a group of cat details from illustrations in my 2010 children’s book Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. Autographed copies are available in my Etsy Shop.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Costuming despots and innocents

If you’ve watched Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, you’ve seen the history lesson near the end with morphing costumes of iconic authoritarian figures through time. Later in this post, I’ll show process photos of some of the costumes. But first, I want to say a little something about the Woods Hole Film Festival, where our film had its film festival premiere last week.

Thank you to all of you who came out to see Liberty and Justice! The sold out crowd sat through over an hour of serious, heavy and powerful short films, in sweltering conditions, before our movie came on. It was an endurance test, for sure! The sense of relief was palpable when the Wee Folk Studio animated logo appeared, with cheering loud enough to drown out the sound effects. Other than showing the movie to friends at our house, we had not yet experienced a live audience’s reaction in a theater setting. As the story unfolded, there were bursts of laughter, even at some of the more subtle jokes. Rob and I whispered to each other, “They got it!”. It was fun to hear giggles and gasps of recognition at the various characters as they played their parts. We came away feeling that the year we spent filming in the basement was worth it and that we are very honored to be a part of such a prestigious film festival right in our home town. My favorite comments were that it was “fun and deliciously weird” and “the darkest cute movie I’ve ever seen.” 

I am also excited to announce that our film received an Audience Award for best animated short at the festival awards party last night. Rob and I almost didn’t go because it was past my bedtime, the music would be too loud, etc. But, I’m glad we pushed past my old lady complaints and went anyway!

And now the costumes. Let’s start with the innocent protagonists, Liberty and Justice, who are modeled after Hansel and Gretel. With a few exceptions like their hands and feet, their bodies are made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

This is the title set, where I animated Liberty dropping bread crumbs (stone cut oatmeal) in the shape of letters. The dolls’ wire armatures help articulate movements with tiny bends and adjustments. Their heads are loose, so they can swivel back and forth on their pipe cleaner necks.

LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-2

It was very helpful to refer to the monitor during filming, so I could see the camera view. At 24 frames per second, I moved the figures about a 16th of an inch or less for every shot.

LibertyWM-29

And now for the despots.  After researching various kings and dictators, I picked ones with clearly identifiable uniforms, mannerisms and ruthless reputations. Researching and making their costumes was a liberating experience, as I confronted and engaged with these iconic strongmen. There’s something satisfying and even subversive about having bad guys cut down to size. We loom large over them, as they are exposed and held captive in miniature scale and for a moment, their power is diminished. I’m sure you can guess who some of these are. Please see the rolling credits at the end of the movie for a list of characters in order of appearance.

LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-21LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-22LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-23LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-19LibertyandJusticecostume (1 of 1)-2LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-25LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-24LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-26LibertyandJustice (1 of 1)-6

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Bed book peek: Iran (part 3)

This is the third and final post about the Iranian illustration for my new children’s book. To see the previous posts in the series, click the links for Part 1 and Part 2. The scene will be included in My Bed, a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistan and Russia. To see a list of all my books, click here.

For this courtyard scene, I sorted through piles of fabric in my stash to find a combination of colors, patterns and textures that worked together and lent themselves to the environment. Then, following the layout drawing, I built structures and embroidered architectural details, using my preferred stitches; blanket and chain.

All variety of beads, charms, metal findings and small hardware can find their way into a piece. My propensity for including found objects has not waned since childhood, when I declared that “crayons are not enough” and that my artwork was not finished until “something real” was added!

For this over-the-top decorative style, it’s tempting to keep adding more doodads because they are so cool and need to be seen! Like with all artistic ventures, editing is key to forming a clear statement. It’s not that busyness and detail is bad, there has to be purpose to it, with some sense of order amid the chaos. I have learned to choose objects with care, constantly asking myself, “Will this enhance or detract from what I’m trying to convey?”. Most of my favorite treasures don’t make the cut and have to wait years, hidden in boxes and bags. Sometimes you have to see what doesn’t work first, to be able to recognize what does work.

Another favorite stitch is the single daisy chain, which I use a lot for leaves, like on this tree. The branches are formed with thread covered wire.

After years of being passed over, I was happy to finally use this herring bone wool for the roof.

Trees and branches are some of my favorite things to make. It’s like doodling with wire and thread.

An illustration this size usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete, but I am determined to get it down to 3 weeks, in order to meet the deadline. For the next 6 months, I’ll be working in the studio 7 days a week, including evenings. You see, Rob and I spent all last year doing our civic duty, making the animated film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, when I was supposed to be working on the bed book. Don’t feel sorry for me — this is what I want to do. And it’s a good excuse to get out of social obligations.

I made heads and arms for 2 sleeping boys. No legs were necessary, since they will be covered up. Except for the hands, they are similar to the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

It was a treat to embroider their quilts and pillows.

I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes. Documenting the process is a way to keep you up to date with what I’m making, without actually showing the finished illustrations, which will have to wait until the book is published in 2020.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.