Liberty and Justice exhibit in Cotuit

Last September, when my Liberty and Justice exhibit was cancelled at a local venue, due to its political content, 2 arts organizations immediately came to the rescue. The New England Quilt Museum quickly rearranged their exhibition space to accommodate an expanded version of the original concept, which they showed for 3 months last fall. It was their idea to add a section of my earlier work, which my husband Rob labeled “The Innocent Years”. Now, the Cotuit Center for the Arts on Cape Cod is hosting Liberty and Justice: The Sweet to Satirical Art of Salley Mavor until April 20.

To read a review of the show from the Falmouth Enterprise, click here.

The Cotuit Center reports great traffic, with many smiling faces seen on folks coming from the Upper Gallery. They’ve also received applause for their willingness to host the show. A friend told me that she surprised and embarrassed herself by continually laughing out loud, while perusing the exhibit. It’s nice to hear this, because that’s how I imagined the response would be, way back when I first began planning the exhibit. The show has also triggered an emotional release in some viewers, like this woman who wrote to tell me, “I’m uplifted for the first time in three years. I burst into tears last night and realized your art helped me deal with my distress and dismay.”

A friend passed on this comment she received from an acquaintance named Zoe, who went to see the show on her recommendation – “The Mavor exhibit was so perfect and captivating! I’m so interested in the moment where she must have realized that her medium was perfect for what she wanted to say.” She and everyone else can find out on April 13th at 11 AM, when I give my Artist Talk.

For the Cotuit show, I’ve added more framed cartoons and early pieces, and I’ve set up 2 display cases with scenery and props used in the filming of the movie.
The exhibit includes the following:
18 enlarged photographs from the Wee Folk Players series of satirical cartoons (including the doll house set), 13 minute stop-motion animated film – Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, Displays of 3-dimensional characters, props and scenery from the animated film, A collection of earlier work from “the innocent years” – embroidered bas-relief pieces, children’s book illustrations, Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion , Rabbitat and Birds of Beebe Woods.

Liberty and Justice: The Sweet to Satirical Art of Salley Mavor
Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, Massachusetts
March 2 – April 20, 2019
Artist Talk – “Sweet to Satirical”, Sat., April 13, 2019 at 11:00 AM

The exhibit is an opportunity to see a wide array of works by fiber artist and illustrator, Salley Mavor, who has recently added political satire to her repertoire. She uses small dolls as a metaphor for living in a safe controlled environment that has been taken over by outside political forces. The exhibit features a collection of photographs of scenes she created in a doll house and a stop-motion animated film, which satirize the Trump administration. The original dolls and props used in the film will also be on display. Although Ms. Mavor’s foray into political art is the centerpiece of the show, the exhibition also includes original embroidered children’s book illustrations and other artwork from earlier in her 40-year career. The inclusion of these pieces tracks the evolution of her artistic journey from “innocence” to tackling real world issues.

The exhibit is located upstairs, with the wall facing the balcony dedicated to the sweet section of the show. By far, the favorite in this group is Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion , which a lot of people can relate to.

The politically satirical portion is shown in 2 side spaces. One has the Liberty and Justice film and display cases full of the real dolls, props and scenery used in the film-making process. The other side has the photographic “cartoons” and the doll-house stage set.

For the show, I matted and framed 18 enlarged photographs of the Wee Folk Players cartoons, which were produced in the first 6 months after the election.

Michelle Law, the center’s gallery manager, was incredibly helpful and a delight to work with during the installation.

The doll house, which I made in art school over 40 years ago is also on display. It served as a stage for the Wee Folk Players in many of the scenarios we photographed.

I hope that those of you who live within a manageable distance of Cape Cod can make a trip to see the show, which runs until April 20 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, Massachusetts. I will give a talk about the evolution of my art from “Sweet to Satirical” on Sat., April 13th at 11 AM.

Next, a portion of this exhibit will be included in The Art of Cute, which takes a serious look at a powerful aesthetic that is often not taken seriously. Some of my topical and political work will be displayed in the Meta Cute or “beyond” cute category. This part of the exhibit explores how cute, combined with other aesthetics, can create meaningful art that is ironic, disturbing, political, joyous humorous and provocative.
Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk, Maine
May 1- August 31, 2019
Curated and produced by the Illustration Institute

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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.

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Liberty and Justice – the movie!

LIBERTY and JUSTICE: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free

What happens when a pair of lost citizens wander in the deep dark woods in search of a new leader? In this satirical take-off of the traditional folk tale, “Hansel and Gretel, the wordless story follows protagonists Liberty and Justice as they negotiate the challenges of today’s unique political landscape, while being shadowed by a persistent Twitter bird.

The film is a dark satire, made in the exaggerated style of caricature. It includes a dramatic scene with President Trump dressed in the uniforms of some of history’s most iconic dictatorial rulers. The comparisons are symbolic and are not to be taken literally. They serve as a warning, to look at history for guidance when confronted with a president who exhibits authoritarian behavior. The 13 min. movie is at the end of this post.

The film features an ensemble of old and new cast members from the Wee Folk Players theater troupe, who formed soon after the 2016 election. Other posts about the Liberty and Justice animation project include “Liberty and Justice” in process, All that Glitters, America First Ladystop-motion in action, costuming despots and innocents and Animated Film Logo. In this Interview on WGBH TV, I reflect on my foray into political satire and describe how speaking out through art has affected my work and life.

After about a year filming in the basement, where our animation stage is set up, my husband Rob Goldsborough and I are thrilled to share the fruits of our labor! It’s the first large joint artistic/technical venture we’ve undertaken in almost 40 years together. We used stop-motion animation to create the narrative, spending countless hours manipulating and photographing the characters and props so that they appear to move on their own when the series of frames is played in fast sequence.

We each had our field of expertise – I made all of the dolls and scenery and did the animating, while Rob contributed his talents in photography, lighting, computers and editing. Rob, a retired engineer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has had a life-long interest in photography and film-making. He and I have wanted to bring my wee folk characters to life through animation for many years – we just needed a compelling reason to jump in.

For a framework, I drew a basic story board that grew and developed over time. Every night at dinner, we discussed ideas for different camera angles and how we were going to film the next shot. What was supposed to be a fun summer adventure, ended up becoming a big part of our lives for a whole year! The more we learned, the more invested we became in the project. Luckily, we are both detail oriented and not very chatty, so spending hours on end in silent concentration, filming what would become 5 to 20 sec. scenes was not a problem. I calculated that at 24 frames per second, our 13 min. 32 sec. animation is made up of almost 20,000 individual photographs. Even though the project was incredibly time consuming, we loved working this way and would like to make more animated films in the future. But right now, I have to get back to working on a new children’s book, which you can see progressing here.

A highlight of the project has been finding and working with the musicians who produced the original score for the movie. Rob and I filmed about 100 silent scenes, knowing all along that music and sound effects would be an integral part of the finished film. Through friends, we were lucky to connect with Matthias and Carlaa local Woods Hole couple who specialize in this kind of work. I mean, what are the chances of us living just a few miles from each other in a small town on Cape Cod?

We are thrilled with what they’ve created for the soundtrack! They took our movie and ran with it, blending together many layers and styles into a carpet of sound that propels the story along, creating the right mood for each scene. Their sound production company, Stellwagen Symphonette, creates evocative instrumental music for radio, film and computer games. Drummer and pianist Matthias Bossi, violinist Carla Kihlsted and guitarist and engineer Jon Evans bring together many years of experience writing, performing and recording music. If you listen to NPR, you’ve heard their music embedded in stories from time to time. Their clients include This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Atlantic Public Media, and Frontline Dispatch. 

Liberty and Justice was shown in the Woods Hole Film Festival in July 2018 and won the Audience Award for short animation.

I hope that you enjoy the movie! It can also be viewed and readily shared on YouTube here.

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.

All that glitters

We’re forging ahead with our stop-motion animation project and can see the end in sight! In our movie, Liberty and Justice, the protagonists (aka Hansel and Gretel) have many encounters as they wander through today’s political landscape in search of a leader. The arch of the story is loosely structured around the fairy tale, with references to the 2016 presidential election. Previous posts about the project include America First Lady, Liberty and Justice in Progress and Stop-motion in action.

This post focuses on glittery stage sets and props that we used in a variety of scenes. There’s nothing like a shiny object to get one’s attention. That and sugary sweet stuff, which I recently showed in this post.

My husband Rob and I have spent the past 10 months working on the movie in our basement studio, where the stage, lighting and photo equipment are set up. Yes, it’s taken us that long to make a short (under 15 minutes) animated film. Stop-motion animation requires a lot of time and patience, but it is worth it in the end, when you see the characters and scenes come to life. We hope to have our part finished soon, so that it can be passed on to the musicians, who will compose and record the sound track. So, you may ask, when and where can I see the completed film? Honestly, we’ve been so busy filming scenes that we haven’t had time to plan its launch into the world. I’ll be sure to announce the release — maybe in the spring or early summer.

UPDATE: The 13 min. movie can be viewed and readily shared on YouTube here.

Building the house was especially fun because I could break into my supply of shiny, glitzy bits and pieces that have been standing by, waiting for a project like this. And I also discovered the joys and challenges of glitter glue.

In order to create the illusion of distance in some setups, we needed a smaller scale house. So, I made a replica out of a block of plywood and foam core.

And what would a cozy cottage be without a gold encrusted door mat? I picked some felt that looked like jute and wrote out the welcome message in chain stitched metallic thread.

This photo is taken from the animator’s view of the set and off to the side is a monitor that shows what the camera sees. It’s helpful to look at the screen while I’m animating and play back the character’s movements.

This part of the story required gold foliage. I almost went blind combing the isles of Michael’s, looking through all the gilded Christmas decorations!

I could have made real gingerbread men, but decided to paint pre-cut wooden ones instead.

Since I normally sew everything, it’s a refreshing to work with paper, wood and paint for a change. But, in the end, I always come back to my soul mates, needle and thread.

As usual, you’re left hanging, wondering what Liberty and Justice will find in the gold house…

To keep up with new posts, please 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.


stop-motion in action

After months of preparation, we have begun animating! My husband Rob and I have wanted to try out this technique for years, but life just got in the way. Lately, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) theater troupe has inspired us to bring these little characters to life through the magic of stop-motion animation. For the film, I’ve adapted and expanded a familiar cautionary tale to tell the story of our recent presidential election.

UPDATE: The 13 min. movie can be viewed and readily shared on YouTube here.

The learning curve is steep, but we are committed to working through the hurtles that are sure to come. A retired engineer, Rob’s technical expertise with photography and computers is integral to the success of the project. Animation is a marriage of art and science, so we are quite dependent on each other. We’re both detail oriented, so I hope we will have the kind of patience this process demands. It’s also fortunate that neither of us are big talkers, as chit chat would ruin our concentration. We got a little taste for animation while filming Mr. Pence Goes to Washington and want to bring our storytelling to a whole new level of professionalism.

First, I thought the whole thing through in my mind and mapped out the progression of the film on paper, scene by scene. The story board shows the overall plan, with rough illustrations and descriptions for each shot. There are 15 scenes, each with several shots, so we’ll be filming from 75 to 100 different camera angles.

I wanted the scenery to be adaptable and free-standing, so it can be rearranged in different setups. When making the tree leaves, I used thick thread and tried for a loose, playful effect.

I’ve been saving interesting vines for years to make trees like this.

With the exception of the hands, the characters’ heads and armatures are made the same way as the wee folk dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. Their heads are not glued to the neck, so they can swivel back and forth. Their pipe cleaner arms and legs move in different positions, too.

I used a variety of materials for the sets, including cardboard.

To decorate, I got out my stash of gems and jewels and discovered the joys of glitter glue.

For now, we’re not sure how long the filming will take or how many minutes the finished video will be. At 24 frames per second, progress is very slow. For each frame, I have to move the figures 1/16th of an inch! We’ve learned so much by practicing and feel ready to forge ahead. We laugh when we play back the scenes and see the characters move. We’re aiming for a dark comedy, full of cameo appearances. Now, we just have to stay focused and not rush the process. It has become clear that, in animation, diligence and methodical attention is rewarded.

It seemed like I came up with new ideas for props every day, like this balalaika for one of the cast members.

We set up a mini theater in the basement, with lights and a black cloth floor and backdrop. It figures that just as the weather gets warm, we a will be staked out underground. But we have toys to play with, including a new 3 ft. slider that allows you to pan a scene, one frame at a time. I love how the movement adds life to an otherwise static setup!

Another method we’re trying involves wire rigging that holds the figures upright. For research, we’ve looked at videos that show how professional animation studios do their work. Their sets and equipment are impressive and it’s intimidating to see the amount of people these productions employ. With just the two of us, it often feels like we’re in over our heads, but having only a pair of personalities to deal with can be an advantage.

Of course, my style is not slick and we want to feature the natural found objects and hand made quality of the scenery and characters. The project is both exciting and daunting, but we feel it is important to bring this story to life, one step at a time. I’m not sure how much I’ll show during the filming, since I don’t want to give everything away, but I may share photos from time to time on Instagram and Facebook. Wish us luck, as we enter the deep, dark forest!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about my post-election satire, please read  this interview.

Family Intervention

Inspired by this week’s White House meltdown, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch)  bring you this domestic tableau. For the impromptu skit, the leading man borrowed an appropriate period costume from wardrobe and the backstage crew quickly dressed the set with existing props.

As the saga unfolds, one burning question lingers — Will the family finally step in and save their loved one from himself? Perhaps there’s a chance he’ll listen, since they are the only ones he trusts with undying loyalty. Of course, he will kick and scream, but sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns. Please, if not on his behalf, then for the sake of the country (and the world)!

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) formed after the 2016 election and have produced a string of episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about Salley Mavor’s post-election satire, please read this interview.

Abraham’s Lament

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) take a pause from high drama to bring you a present day interpretation of Abraham Lincoln’s frequently quoted and insightful words. Reflecting the pensive mood of this scene, the one man (and Twitter bird) show is staged with a minimal naturalistic set.

The makeup department used reference photos to create a likeness to Mr. Lincoln and the wardrobe mistress made their first stove pipe hat…

and the Tweeter-in-chief was appropriately cut down to size.

The Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) formed after the 2016 election and have produced a string of episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about Salley Mavor’s post-election satire, please read this interview.