The ups and downs of exhibiting your work

Let’s be honest. Finding places to exhibit your work can be challenging and frustrating. I’ve been entering juried group shows for decades and still wonder if it’s worth the hefty jury fees, the shipping costs, the steep odds of being accepted, and having to hold artwork in reserve until the results come in. And they usually only want new work, so your pieces time out after 3 years. I’m not talking about art and craft fairs where you set up a booth, but art exhibits hung in a gallery space.  I ask myself, “Is this a worthwhile way to promote my work and participate in the art world?” Despite my doubts, I keep trying, even though my pieces are not accepted into the majority of shows I enter. One happy exception this summer is Fiber Innovations II at the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center, in Colorado, which includes Face Time.

I got the idea to write about this subject after talking with an art quilter at a recent SAQA opening, who was surprised when I told her that my work didn’t get into the show. I wasn’t complaining, just trying to explain the reality of the situation. I realized that only sharing positive news on this blog may give the impression that it’s always a smooth path forward. Continually painting a rosy picture can be deceiving, as well as annoying, and may not be helpful of those of you who also face rejection of your work.

Leading the life of an artist is full of struggles, both personally and professionally, and I’ve had my fair share. When you put your art out there to be judged, it isn’t always admired, no matter how established you are. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that what I do doesn’t easily mesh with what jurors and curators are looking for. It must not be easy to curate a cohesive grouping of pieces by different artists, especially with the variety of styles and methods in the fiber art world. Each juror has their own tastes and vision, which should be respected. If they’re attracted to more abstract, conceptual or edgy work, I’m out in the first round. I can also imagine there being a problem if dolls give them the creeps or they don’t like work that’s framed under glass. There’s no way of really knowing because there’s no feedback, just a simple “accepted” or “rejected”.

And you can’t always tell by the show’s prospectus, guidelines, and juror bios if your work has a decent chance of getting in. You just use your instincts to pick the shows, submit your highest quality photos, fill in all of the requested info and hope for the best. One good thing is that most juried shows are blind, so that everyone’s work is judged without bias toward or against an artist’s name. So, we’re all given an equal chance to have our work seen by a wider audience. Even though I’m very comfortable being an outsider, I plan to continue applying to juried group shows because I want to influence and contribute to today’s seemingly impenetrable and illusive art world as much as I can.

Despite all of this grumbling, there is some good news on the exhibit front. I’ve been invited to show my work at a few places (listed below), so I’m happy to say that there are opportunities to see my pieces in person this summer and fall. There may even be some more juried shows this coming fall and winter to add to the exhibits page!

Displaced, 24" H x 22" W, 2016

Displaced, 24″ H x 22″ W, 2016

In a productive year, I can make 2 large (24″ x 30″) pieces, so it takes several years to accumulate enough work to hang together in a solo show. That’s why I’ve held off selling my new pieces. I just finished Displaced (shown above), which will have its premiere showing at the Bristol Art Museum in Rhode Island this fall.

So, how do I continue supporting the work I do, without selling new pieces? I depend on sales of printed reproductions in books, posters and cards to subsidize the costs associated with making and showing the originals. Shipping the framed pieces can be expensive, so I request reimbursement from hosting venues whenever possible. Of course, I can deliver the work by car to places in southern New England. I hope to exhibit these new pieces in other locations in the future, so that more people can see the real thing. Lately, I’m more focused on making new work than the promotional side of things, like sending out show proposals, but inquiries from museums and art centers with funding for shipping costs are always welcome!


June 2, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017 ~ Selected wee folk dolls, houses and props, plus 2 original fabric relief illustrations from Pocketful of Posies are being shown in the Geometry Gallery display case at the Providence Children’s Museum, Providence, RI.

FiberInnovII_postcardfrontJune 2 – July 10, 2016 ~ Fiber Innovations II at the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center, Parker, CO. Face Time is included. Fiber Innovations II is a fiber arts show that focuses on surface design. Material options are varied and part of the adventure!  How these materials are used and the forms that are created are part of each artist’s inspired design process.

June 6 – August 5, 2016 ~ Shaping Lives: The Transformative Art of the Figure at the Reece Museum, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN. The exhibit focuses on the doll’s unique form or figure. It features artists that use this art form to create a visual voice – to tell a story, initiate a debate, make a statement or simply carry a message that helps educate, empower and/or change the life of another. 3 of my pieces, Whiskers, Cover Up and Molly My Sister and I (from Pocketful of Posies) are included.

Sept. 16 – Oct. 30, 2016 ~ Intertwined – Needle Art of Salley Mavor
Bristol Art Museum, Bristol, Rhode Island. Several new pieces will be shown, including Whiskers, Cover Up, Face TimeBirds of Beebe Woods and the premiere showing of Displaced .

Feb. 28 ~ April 1, 2017 ~ Hanging by a Thread – Needle Art of Salley Mavor at Gallery 65 on William, New Bedford, Massachusetts. New and old pieces will be shown.

25 thoughts on “The ups and downs of exhibiting your work

  1. I think “Displaced” is beautiful, Sally, and look forward to hearing more about it. It touches my heart.

  2. I am intrigued by your new work, “Displaced.” It is very powerful. Can’t wait to hear about your creative process.

  3. Salley, your new project, Displaced, gave me chills….it is such an incredible piece of art (and quite timely, too). Thank you for being so honest about your trials and tribulations regarding juried shows…..your honesty is refreshing. I’ve always found it interesting about ANY art being judged…let alone rejected…to me, art in any form should simply be embraced and admired for all the work, talent, and effort it took to create it. Your individual work stands alone, because you have raised the bar to create such wonderful little masterpieces each and every time your hand and needle connect. Keep creating your beautiful art—-I look forward to each new piece you share with us!

  4. I’m just blown away that ANYONE would not select your work! I was a children’s librarian for over 30 years and handed Pocketful of Posies to countless families. I always loved it when someone would exclaim over how amazing the art was.

    And yes, dolls can be creepy…but NOT YOURS!

  5. Sally, I find your work so incredibly intricate and thought provoking. Have you ever exhibited at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton? I’d be curious to know your experience there if you have.

    • Thanks for chiming in Susan. I would love to show my work at the Fuller, since it’s so close and all. I’ve entered shows, as well as sent out a proposal in the past, but haven’t gotten in yet.

  6. Having been to Art School as a part time student years ago, I know the snobbery that’s in the “Art World”, and although I think I am a strong person(I was a Junior Primary Teacher in tough schools), I ran away from that world and I work alone. I now see art as a beautiful way to “Centre” oneself and I think our culture misses the point entirely. There’s also prejudice against “women’s art”, and stitching is never valued enough.Quiet, gentle stitching is just so lovely, and those of us who know and love your works of ART want to encourage you to keep your chin up and keep on exhibiting. YAY for you!!

    Like the other ladies I LOVE “Displaced” There are literally millions of displaced people with all the wars going on.

  7. Oh, I can’t wait. I am going to try to get to Parker since I live in CO part time and I will definitely go to Bristol. See the Birds of Beebe Woods in Fort Collins was such a treat it is much more incredible in person than in the poster. I actually made my husband come to CO and took a special vacation just to see it. I adore your work!

  8. I adore your new piece, “Displaced.” I am a fiber artist who also continues to enter group shows, and I too have my share of rejections, as well as acceptances. Yes, it does get expensive. But I still feel great joy when I see my work hanging somewhere wonderful and published in magazines that I admire. I love expressing myself through my art, and that’s why I do it, not to get rich. (although that would be nice!)

  9. Very interesting, Salley. Thank you for letting us understand the process more and explaining the less fun side of exhibiting! Good luck! Maria

    Sent from my iPad


  10. That was a great blog post Salley. Many people don’t want to be honest about their paths but I loved reading it and I’m sure many people (at least online) will be drawn even closer to your work through your openness and honesty. It must be extremely frustrating when others look at your work and if it doesn’t fit into what they already see or understand or recognise they can’t ‘place it’. I love creative pieces when they extend beyond the known world… afterall, why duplicate what already exists?! when we have imaginations to create anything! I’m sure a lot of people would appreciate your work for its little miniature scenes and escapism aspect, regardless of whether it’s fibre, embroidery etc. I know it’s the ‘art side’ you would like to promote, but have you thought of approaching high end stores like Liberty’s in London where they might like to display your work in their needlework department. I use that as an example because I’m in the UK, but perhaps working alongside an embroidery/needlework company which helps promote their embroidery silks etc might be scope for a mutual financial promotion… just a thought… I’m no expert but if the art world doesn’t embrace it as much as it does, then I think.. another idea… the Royal School of Needlework (in Hampton Court, UK) and that sort of thing might love to display it (if it’s affordable to ship)…. just a thought xx
    Good luck!! Susannah

    • Susannah, Thank you so much for your ideas, which are all good ones! I’ve been to Hampton Court for a needlework conference almost 30 years ago and think quite often about the vibrant embroidery scene in the UK. How I would like to participate in some way, but the high cost of shipping internationally is a deterrent! Maybe a small piece…

  11. Salley! There is nothing like seeing your work up close. I got so excited in the in the Lowcountry Museum in Greenville that I couldn’t stop exclaiming. Keep putting it out there. It is AMAZING.

  12. That was a great post Sally and it was important for you to share with us just so we know the issues you run into. These shows or exhibition places don’t know what they’re missing! It would be an honor for them to have you exhibit your work with them! It’s also sad for the people who attend the places that reject your application and unknowingly miss out on seeing your exquisite artistry! People like myself that never knew you even existed until I was exposed to your books at a friends house a couple of years ago. I had never seen anything like what you create and immediately bought several of your books. I’ve been a big fan ever since.
    Good luck Sally and I’d say, continue to create first. Feed your soul!!

      • You are feeding our souls too Sally! Every time I look at anything you create whether it’s here or in your books, I am just amazed at the details and quality of your work. I spend quite a bit of time looking at each piece enjoying every minute! Everything you make is just beautiful. Sorry if I’m repeating myself here……

  13. Thank you for sharing your travails on the exhibition front. I love your work and find it so inspiring. I have been submitting my tapestries for that past several years and never had any success. At long last, I had one accepted into a regional show. I am so excited. I know intellectually that the jurors have their own vision of art and how the show will fit together, but it is tough to tell yourself that and still have your pieces rejected.

    Thanks for shairng.

  14. Your work is unique and wonderful and has a special spot in the hearts of many. Anyone with any connection to fiber or needlework can appreciate the detail and intricacies of your creations. I also think your new piece “Displaced,” is so intriguing and moving. I’m grateful for all that you share with us and the world, whether in juried shows or not. It is still very important and heartwarming work.

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