My Studio 1977

Recently, I found a set of four pen and marker drawings in an old portfolio. Seeing my old apartment in Providence brought the 1976-77 RISD school year back into focus. I remember that we were given an assignment in class to go home and draw all four walls of our rooms.

east wall of my studio in 1977

During my years at RISD, the illustration dept. did not have studio spaces for students, so we turned our bedrooms into our studios. This is the first year I lived outside of a dorm, in an apartment with decent sized rooms. Over the year, I filled up my room with materials and work areas. This was a transitional period in my art, where I was moving away from drawing and painting to 3-dimentional pieces. I was making a lot of dolls, including these Can Can dancers that I can see in the drawing, on the floor. I taught myself how to make dolls with wire armatures, so that they could be posed for photographs. I must have seen some dolls made with stuffed nylon stockings and tried making some myself. At the time, there were no instruction books or classes on this kind of soft sculpture. The school’s textile dept. was more oriented toward weaving and fabric design, which I was not interested in. I wanted to tell a story through my artwork, so I continued taking illustration classes, teaching myself something new with each assignment.

I experimented on my own with materials and techniques, always adapting and changing my approach.  Looking back, I can see that working on illustration assignments with a clear deadline, forced me to concentrate on the narrative part of my artwork and kept me from becoming too focused on the process of creating.  My goal was  to effectively communicate an idea, not just show how well I could sew something.  Ironically, the 3-dimentional work was much more time consuming, but it didn’t seem to matter, since I was inspired and having much more fun! I no longer have the Can Can Dancers, but found this photograph.

Can Can Dancers, 1977

I brought my trusty Singer Feather-weight sewing machine to school and set up a sewing table.  I used this machine for years until I got a Bernina that could do fancy stitches. Today, I rarely get out a machine, but do all stitching by hand.

south wall of my studio in 1977

The table was an old thing of my grandmother’s that I painted orange. It’s still very much in use in my studio today. I got my old sewing machine out of storage to take its picture.  It runs forward and back and is  good for stitching small things.

Singer Feather-weight

A few years earlier, while in high school, I sewed the quilt pictured on the bed on the Singer Feather-weight. It was the first of just a few usable quilts that I’ve  made.

west wall of my studio in 1977

I plan on redoing this quilt, taking out the thread ties, putting on a new back and hand quilting the whole thing. The fabrics were all pieces we had in the house, mostly from clothes that my mother, sister and I made.

my first quilt, about 1972

I can identify many things in this drawing, the stereo speakers, my red hat, flood lights, rolls of paper, and the rug hanging on the wall. My mother gave me this beautifully woven wool rug and it seemed too nice to put on the floor.

north wall of my studio in 1977

 I still have the rug, which I now keep on the floor in my studio.

Scandinavian wool rug

9 thoughts on “My Studio 1977

  1. The Can Can Girls are Fantastic ! My grandmother had the same machine . The only reason I remember is she let me sit at it and pretend to sew my doll clothes…unfortunately I ended up sewing through a finger ! I still remember that 40 years later ACK !!!

  2. Very fascinating. You must have wonderful cupboards and shelves for preserving all these treasures from your early career, and the Golden Books! I love them! I try to pick them up at yard sales and junk stores. Beth

  3. C’est très nostalgique comme post et je trouve les dessins beaucoup plus porteurs d’émotions que les photos. J’ai retrouvé les écrits de mon arrière arrière grand mère en 1867, c’est fascinant, comme ton article. Merci pour le partage.

  4. Salley, I loved the tour of your room. The pictures are wonderful! I sometimes use a Featherweight sewing machine when I attend a retreat and don’t want to take my computerized machine.

  5. Ahhh, how sweet. The memories you’ve made through the years 🙂 Wish I’d kept my mother’s old sewing machine, was like yours’. And I’m glad to see now you using the things finally that you’d thought too nice. I’m doing the same with some silk material I’d kept for 40 years! Keep us inspired with all you do, Salley 🙂

  6. Love this peek into your life as a student. Wonderful photo of you. I hope you continue this scrapbook. Those can can dancers are fabulous. I guess they can’t be included in a cute kids book; you might have to branch off into a cute adult book one day. And that Singer looks so much like my mother’s, the one I learned to sew on. Hers was in a cabinet, but same era. My grandmother had a treadle Singer that was somehow converted to use electricity. I can still remember how smoothly it ran, and how solid it felt. It only ran in one direction with one stitch length, but it must have been a blessing to women of that time. It’s interesting to reflect on the modern machines that do so many fancy stitches (and cost thousands of dollars), and that you don’t use them in favor of hand sewing. If only you could sit down for a talk with William Morris and others in the Arts and Crafts Movement. They’d probably have a lot to say. But, maybe the “maker” movement is the modern day iteration of that ideology.

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