happenings of note

Things have been particularly busy around here, with a TV interview, a panel discussion and lots of exhibit news, so please scroll through to the end!

This fall, the winds of change have blown into my life, setting into motion a series of events that have forced me to come out of the comfort of my stitching cocoon. I’m talking about my exhibit, Liberty and Justice, which was abruptly cancelled in Sept., due to its political content. It’s been an eye-opening experience that has brought stress and sadness, as well as opportunity and a renewed sense of purpose. The situation came to the attention of Jared Bowen from WGBH (our local PBS station), who invited me to come on his show, Open Studio. The photo above was taken before the interview while I waited in the green room at WGBH in Boston and the one below is on the set, after we finished filming. You can watch the episode with my interview here.

The Falmouth Art Center has taken the initiative to facilitate a Community Conversation on the subject of art and censorship, bringing together a panel that includes a museum director, a curator, critic and educator, a local business leader with ties to Cape Cod’s cultural community and an artist (myself). The saga surrounding my exhibit cancellation  has led to a discussion in town about the roles of artists, art nonprofits and gallery space. The event will be on Wed., Oct. 24, 6:00 – 7:30 PM and is free and open to the public. I hope that we can come away with a greater understanding of the role of art in society. 

Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor
New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA
Sept. 26 – Dec. 30, 2018.
Artist Talk – “Sweet to Satirical”, Sat., Nov. 17 at 1:00 PM
This exhibition was recently cancelled due to its political content at another venue, which proves its ability to conjure emotions and spark discussion about art and its place in today’s society. The following are on display:

  • 12 enlarged photographs from the Wee Folk Players series of satirical cartoons
  • 14 minute stop-motion animated film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free
  • Display of 3-dimensional characters, props and scenery from the animated film
  • Doll house used as a set for the Wee Folk Players series
  • Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion
  • A collection of earlier work from ‘the innocent years”, including children’s book illustrations

PLEASE NOTE: The Liberty and Justice exhibit will be coming to the Cotuit Center for the Arts, March 2 – April 20, 2019. Opening Reception March 2, 5:00 – 7:00 PM. Artist Talk, “Sweet to Satirical” (to be announced). The exhibit will include the same items listed above.

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TWISTED, TWINED, AND WOVEN: Contemporary Fiber Art
Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA
November 2 – December 22, 2018
Opening Reception, Friday, November 2, 4:30-6:00 pm

Fiber and textile artists find unexpected new ways to work with traditional materials on the theme of interconnections and things we have in common across cultures. The group exhibit will include 4 of my bas-relief embroidered pieces – Face Time, Cover Up, Whiskers and Displaced.

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And if you’re in the Pacific North West, my 3-dimensional embroidered piece, Birds of Beebe Woods is part of this exhibit in Walla Walla, Washington, which features 40 quilt and fiber artists:

The Nature of a Stitch
Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA
August 28 – December 7th, 2018

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.

New England Quilt Museum steps up

Yesterday, Rob and I went to see my exhibit, Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. When the show was abruptly cancelled at another venue due to its political content, they swooped in to save the day! Since delivering the artwork a few weeks ago, this was the first chance we’ve had to go back and see how it all looks. I can tell you that their curator Pam Weeks (pictured in foreground) did a beautiful job arranging everything in the two galleries. One gallery contains a selection of framed photographs from the Wee Folk Players series, a monitor showing the 14 minute animated film on a loop and a display case full of the real dolls, props and scenery from the film.

NEQMdisplaycaseAcross the hall is a gallery showing my earlier bas-relief embroideries from what I call “The Innocent Years”, which includes a number of original children’s book illustrations.

Hush-a-bye-baby 2010

While we were there, we happened to meet members of a Boston area museum club, who came specifically to see my show, which they heard about on the news.

The group was enthusiastic about both my political satire and earlier work, which they were not familiar with. One of them remarked that she especially liked the history lesson with authoritarian leaders at the end of the Liberty and Justice movie. I found her comment interesting, since that is the scene that has created the most fuss. I think it helps that the museum has presented my work in context, with signage explaining each part. Museum director, Nora Burchfield  told me that they have received no complaints about the exhibit. On the contrary, several visitors have made extra donations as a gesture of appreciation to the museum for having the bravery to show my new work.

In the photo below, I’ve just pointed out how the nursing mother in “The Red Chair”, until recently, was my most edgy piece.

The Red Chair 1994

The exhibit is up until Dec. 30, 2018, so I encourage you to make the trip to Lowell if you can. I know that some of you from far away have mentioned that you plan to go when you’re in the Boston area for work or family visits this fall. Next year, the exhibit will travel to the Cotuit Center for the Arts in Cotuit, Massachusetts, March 2 – April 20, 2019.

The doll house I used as a set for the Wee Folk Players series is in the hallway between the two galleries. When I made the house 40 years ago, I remember noticing how the project consumed me night and day, which was in contrast to other people my age, who were focused on finding a mate.  Above it hangs my Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion.

The exhibit occupies 2 galleries and a hallway in between and includes the following:

  • 12 enlarged photographs from the Wee Folk Players series of satirical cartoons
  • 14 minute stop-motion animated film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free
  • Display of 3-dimensional characters, props and scenery from the animated film
  • Doll house which was used as a set for the Wee Folk Players series
  • Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion
  • A collection of earlier work from ‘the innocent years”, including children’s book illustrations

Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor
New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA
Sept. 26 – Dec. 30, 2018

Artist Talk – “Sweet to Satirical”, Sat., Nov. 17 at 1:00 PM
Salley Mavor will talk about her evolution as an artist, from portraying a safe and idyllic existence to tackling real world political issues. Using examples of work from the recent past to the present, she will show her transition from sweet to satirical. This is an opportunity to take a behind the scenes peek at her creative process as she develops dolls, props and scenery for her Wee Folk Players theater troupe and stop-motion animation project, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free. Ms. Mavor will discuss the response to her political work, its effect on her future artistic endeavors and she will address the censorship issues surrounding her exhibit.

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.

Sweet Resistance Art

Feminism is Freedom patch by Phoebe Wahl

For almost 2 years, I’ve been publishing posts with political art on this blog and Facebook. Judging from the comments that come in, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, but every once in a while someone writes to express their dismay at this new direction. I recently received a message on Facebook that said it’s a shame I couldn’t have created something uniting instead of divisive. I replied, “I understand your longing for unifying art and wonder, what would that look like? That is the challenge we all face, while also telling the story of our time.” This interchange got me thinking about the role of art throughout history. Do artists exist to make the world a more beautiful, harmonious place or do they have a responsibility to reflect the real world we live in, warts and all? I think it’s possible to do both. Years ago, the late writer, activist, feminist and educator Toni Cade Bambara said “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible” and her words sound even truer today.

That’s where something I call sweet resistance art comes in. The concept isn’t limited to professional artists – anyone can stand up for what they believe is right and create art that expresses their point of view. As my favorite protest sign says, “Things have gotten so bad, even the introverts are coming out.” The power in the sweet resistance variety of protest art comes from the juxtaposition of a bold message wrapped in an appealing package. The combination can surprise and disturb some who aren’t expecting it, especially those who look to art as an escape from real life, but others find it refreshing and relevant.

Downloadable image from Mary Englebreit

I can understand the desire to tune out the world and believe, if even for a short time, that everything is OK and nice. We all need a refuge from the onslaught of news stories about strife in the world. But does that mean it’s all right to ignore the reality of what is unfolding around us? Of course, people have different ways of dealing with stress and have to figure out what works for them. Years ago, I came across a quote from T.S. Eliot, who said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” At the time, I thought it was spot-on, but now I think it could be used as an excuse to stay passive, silent and shut off. I suppose the goal is to achieve a balance, so that we can be aware and engaged with what’s going on around us, while also retaining an inner peace and resilience, so we are prepared to help others. Isn’t that the universal spiritual struggle of humankind?

Downloadable image from Phoebe Wahl

So, how can artists or anyone else for that matter, maintain a balance and embrace the concepts of sweet resistance successfully?  To some, the idea may seem incongruous, but artists Mary Engelbreit and Phoebe Wahl prove otherwise, as they’ve managed to effectively interject protest messages into their adorable and comforting body of work. In doing so, they risk a backlash from their followers and must consider how resilient they are, both financially and emotionally. Championing causes they believe in may be too much for some of their fans, but it has also energized many to love and respect them even more.

Poster by Mary Engelbreit

Coming from different generations and with their own unique styles, Mary and Phoebe demonstrate how attractive political art can be an effective critiquing tool. They are both in business for themselves, strongly identify as artists with their own vision and are very much in control of the namesake images they project. They have taught me that speaking out through art and sharing who you really are can reveal an authenticity that is hard to ignore.

Warrior Woman Pin by Phoebe Wahl

Mary and Phoebe’s courage inspired me to jump into the fray and produce political satire with the Wee Folk Players (they’re a stitch) and we have bonded through the shared experience. What is so remarkable is that these women have built careers with art that depicts domestic bliss and an idyllic existence, attracting a large number of devoted fans. Not only are they talented on many fronts, they use their gifts to bring messages of hope and concern for the future. They are cognizant of what others like and want to see, while occasionally and consistently being willing to say what they think about current issues on social media, knowing full well that some of their followers will object. That’s a brave step, considering that they make art that is very hard not to like. The obvious questions are how and why do they keep sticking their necks out, in the face of condemnation for the positions they take and cries of displeasure at letting the real world sneak into their realm of fantasy?  I find this question fascinating and have been thinking about the subject a lot since the 2016 election.

Mary Engelbreit

Mary Engelbreit and I were first acquainted about 20 years ago, when my work was featured in her Home Companion magazine. Her wildly popular ME brand is known for its words of wisdom, paired along with endearing, spunky characters and designs, all lovingly rendered in detail with paint and colored pencil. She is famous for creating a “vast empire of cuteness” offering lines of cards, calendars, mugs, t-shirts and other products for decades. Despite what some may imagine, Mary is no shrinking violet. She is a force to be reckoned with and doesn’t shy away from giving her opinion, as she peppers her Instagram page with pithy news quotes and calls for action. In her shop, Mary offers free downloads of her protest signs and posters and donates the proceeds from her more politically pointed prints to the ACLU.

Phoebe Wahl

Straight out of the gate, Phoebe Wahl showed who she is and what she believes in. We met when she visited my studio in 2011, while still a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. I could tell right away that she had something special to share with the world and wrote this blog post. Since graduation, she’s been incredibly busy, illustrating children’s books and magazines, and designing and selling many products in her signature style. Her drawings, paintings and collages mix comfort, nostalgia and intimacy in a fresh and beguiling way. She’s also a forward thinking feminist who stands up for social justice issues that are important to her and routinely donates profits from some of her products to the ACLU. Free downloads of her protest signs are available here. I’m sure that she hears from some who prefer her fairies to her woman warriors, but she just keeps making her beautiful, engaging art that you can’t keep your eyes off of.

I am grateful to Mary and Phoebe, who’ve given permission to write about and publish their images here.

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

Liberty and Justice for all!

Wonderland Ex- Press

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA (Sept. 26 – Dec. 30, 2018), and the Cotuit Center for the Arts in Cotuit, MA (March 2 – April 20, 2019) for quickly stepping in to host my exhibit after it was abruptly cancelled at another venue due to its political content. Both organizations reached out early to express their interest and put their full support behind my project.

Today, I will talk about my experience with the New England Quilt Museum. When their curator Pam Weeks and director Nora Burchfield called to inquire about hosting my exhibit, I was feeling sad and unsure of my show’s future prospects. But by the end of our laugh-filled conversation, we had come up with a plan. They decided to revise their exhibition schedule to accommodate the Liberty and Justice show and over the next few days, we worked out the logistics, even expanding the show to include some of my earlier work, as a basis of comparison with what I’m doing now. I learned that the museum had recently taken the bold step of being the premiere venue for the Threads of Resistance traveling exhibit, which came about in reaction to the presidential election. Nora Burchfield says, “We are no strangers to controversy here. It comes with running a museum that serves as a mouthpiece for women’s voices.”

Movie still from “Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free”

My show, which opened last week, has gotten a lot of press attention due to the controversy surrounding it and the museum is expecting many visitors, from both the local Boston area and out of town. It will be on display until the end of the year and I hope that some you from near and far can fit a trip to Lowell into your schedule. 

Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor
New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA
Sept. 26 – Dec. 30, 2018
Artist Talk – “Sweet to Satirical”, Sat., Nov. 17 at 1:00 PM

Artist Statement:
Almost immediately after the 2016 election, I started imagining ironic scenarios with new dolls that resembled famous political figures. Creating the characters and “playing doll house” was a cathartic experience where I felt in control, even as chaos ensued nationally. The works in this exhibit include a selection of photographs from the WEE FOLK PLAYERS series from 2017.  There is also a 14 minute stop-motion animated film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free.

Original dolls and props from both the film and the Wee Folk Players series are on display in a glass case. And you can see the doll house I made over 40 years ago, that served as a stage set for the Wee Folk Players.

NEW ADDITIONS – the museum has expanded the original exhibit to include a gallery full of sculptural embroideries that represent the mid-period of my career, when the bulk of my work reflected a bucolic and comforting existence. This collection, from what I call “the innocent years”, serves as a contrast to my recent foray into political satire, illustrating my evolution as an artist.

The exhibit occupies 2 galleries and a hallway in between and includes the following:

  • 12 enlarged photographs from the Wee Folk Players series of satirical cartoons
  • 14 minute stop-motion animated film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free
  • Display of 3-dimensional characters, props and scenery from the animated film
  • Doll house which was used as a set for the Wee Folk Players series
  • Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion
  • A collection of earlier work from ‘the innocent years”, including children’s book illustrations

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

The show must go on!

Well Suited

I want to express my gratitude for the outpouring of support since my exhibit was cancelled due to its political content a few weeks ago. Since then, the film and the Wee Folk Players are taking on a life of their own, thanks to your willingness to share them. The work is growing in strength on the internet and is making its way across the country and around the world. I feel like my relationship with the art has evolved – there’s no need to prop it up anymore and I’m scrambling to keep up with its momentum.

I am happy to report that the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA has generously stepped in to host the show. The exhibit, titled Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor will be on display at the museum Sept. 26 – Dec. 30, 2018. The show will then be at the Cotuit Center for the Arts on Cape Cod, March 2 – April 20, 2019. 

Exhibits featuring my work are listed here. This is just a quick note to let you know what’s happening. After the artwork is delivered and installed, I will write another post about the show.

Screen shot from “Liberty and Justice” animation

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