finding my voice

On April 13th, I had the pleasure of speaking about my work to an audience at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. I’ve given many talks, but this one was different. The arch of the story has shifted from a straight forward account of my development as an artist to one of personal transformation. Sure, I still gave a glimpse at my process and showed early work, but this time it was presented as a journey of discovery, with twists and turns that guided me to a place where I’m ready to take risks and be more outspoken with my art. I talked about how I found my voice and described what it’s like to go from the land of innocence into the real world. Not too long ago, it seemed like all anyone could talk about were my techniques and workmanship, but now people are commenting on the content, which is what I’ve always wanted. The audience was wonderful – they even laughed at my jokes! People who were there described the presentation as enjoyable and inspirational, with just the right amount of edge to keep things interesting.

My talk was not videotaped, but Rob and I are thinking about putting together a encapsulated version to share. As always, the challenge is to find the time to do it. Until then, I thought I’d offer the following excerpt of my opening remarks and a few slides from the beginning and end of my presentation. In my introduction, I refer to my exhibit, Liberty and Justice: The Sweet to Satirical Art of Salley Mavor, which just came to a close. I’m excited to say that a select group of pieces from the show, including the film and display case full of characters and movie props will be going to the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME for The Art of Cute exhibit (May 1 – Aug. 31, 2019). Two other pieces of mine, Displaced and Cover Up will also be shown. The large exhibition, which is curated by the Illustration Institute, takes a serious look at a powerful aesthetic that is often not taken seriously. From the little bit I’ve seen, it promises to be one of the most unusual art exhibitions you are likely to see this year. I hope to meet some of you at the opening reception on Friday, May 10, 5 – 8 PM.

Opening remarks before “Once Upon a Thread” by Salley Mavor
April 13, 2019 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts.

Before launching into my slide presentation, I’d like to share some thoughts about the Liberty and Justice exhibit that’s upstairs. Truth be told, I hate talking about politics. At a dinner party, I’m the silent one, watching and listening to the sometimes heated debate swirling around me. But when political forces invaded my safe little existence, I felt compelled to act. In the first days after the 2016 election, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before artists, writers, comedians, playwrights, filmmakers and musicians began using stories, irony and metaphor to help America and the world cope with what is happening. I think that all sides can agree that we’re in deep doo doo. My art may not help make sense of it, or offer solutions, but it exposes the elephant in the room.

2 years ago, when I posted scenes from the Wee Folk Players series on my blog and Facebook, there was a lot of reaction, both positive and negative. One person was so mad that I was making fun of the president, they threw my books in the recycling. Another told me that I’d ruined her hobby. My favorite was from someone who said I was not qualified to have a political opinion. But for every criticism, came many, many more saying things like, “You go, girl!” and “You made me laugh so hard, I peed in my pants.”

My fans have come to rely on my art as a safe haven from the viciousness of the world. I don’t blame them for wanting to stay in the land of innocence. My dolls may be revealing a darker political reality, but you’ve got to admit, they’re still adorable. I just don’t do ugly or grotesque. For me, it’s about finding the sweet spot, even in the scary places we don’t want to go.

People wonder how I can speak out this way, considering the potential for backlash. I can take a risk, because at this stage in my life, I don’t need the approval of others in the same way that I used to, nor am I invested in a certain outcome. I realize that this is a luxury that many people do not have. And that adds to my sense of urgency. I feel a responsibility to document and reflect what I see happening around us and to bear witness, like artists have always done.

I’ve learned that my art helps people process what is going on at a deep and emotional level. What started as my own outlet for managing the barrage of news, has turned into a way for others to experience their own catharsis. Someone recently wrote to tell me, that after seeing this show, she burst into tears, realizing that my art helped her deal with her distress and dismay over the state of the country. She said that she felt uplifted for the first time in three years. When I hear this kind of reaction, I know it’s been worth it.

Having my work deemed too divisive and labeled as controversial has led to a chain of events that brought it to the attention of many more people. The episode has opened up conversations within our community about the purpose of art, which isn’t exactly an everyday topic of discussion. And I can’t help thinking that it has revealed an undercurrent of fear that we all have. Fear of upsetting people, fear of other points of view, fear of losing a way of life and most of all, fear of what is happening to our country. This experience has taught me that art can be a powerful way to face fear. It can be seductive, unsettling, stunning and confronting, which spark conversations about what it means to be living in this beautiful and terrifying world.

I have worked hard to get to where I am and this latest chapter is the strongest and most satisfying so far. Stretching myself artistically makes me realize that I am not what I thought I was. I am transformed, and everything I make from now on, whether it’s political or not, will be influenced in some way, by this adventure into forbidden territory.

What I make and how I do it didn’t just come out of the blue. It’s been a slow and steady process, from early childhood to today. I come from a long line of quiet, but determined people. My late parents, Mary and Jim Mavor were my role models. They created an environment where art mattered, a lot. It was not an extra. Dancing, playing music and making art was our family’s way of feeling human and connected to our Woods Hole community. My mother was an artist and business woman who left me with the belief that making art is the reason to get up in the morning. My father was an engineer with a visionary streak, who followed his ideas, no matter how esoteric. I am grateful to my family, including my husband Rob, for helping clear a path and never standing in the way, as I pursue my passion.

Before I continue, I want to squelch a rumor. Some people have been overheard saying that I must use a sewing machine. That is not true. OK, I use one to make clothes and pot holders and that kind of thing, but my artwork is all stitched by hand. Period. Even in this day and age, machines just can’t do what I do. Now that that’s cleared up, let’s move on to “Once Upon a Thread.”

At this point, I spent 45 minutes going through my whole life up until now with photos and commentary, showing work and talking about the experiences that helped form who I am as an artist.

In the section about making our animated film, I showed the following time lapse.

With the slide below projected on the screen I said, “I will end by showing you what my work table looks like now. You can be assured that its surface will never be completely clear of thread. At a time when most of my friends are retiring, I’m just gearing up. For as long as I can, I will keep making art that reflects both the lightness and the darkness of the world, in my quiet, but determined way.”

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The stitching lady speaks!

Thank you to all of you who’ve already made the trek to see my show, Liberty and Justice, at the Cotuit Center for the Arts . If you haven’t been yet, there are just 2 more weeks to get yourself over there! They report great traffic, with many smiling faces seen on folks coming from the Upper Gallery. To read a review of the show from the Falmouth Enterprise, click here.

You are invited to come hear my talk on Sat., April 13th at 11 AM. I will give a peek behind the scenes at my working process (including making the film) and share what it’s like to shift from safe and secure subject matter to political art.

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 AM

The exhibit will be in Cotuit until April 20th and then a portion (including the film) will go to Kennebunk, ME for The Art of Cute exhibit at the Brick Store Museum (May 1 – Aug. 31, 2019).

I’d also like to remind you that 4 large bas-relief embroidered pieces (Including Displaced, below) are in the Migration exhibit for 2 more weeks.

Imago Foundation for the Arts, Warren, Rhode Island
March 14 – April 20, 2019 – 
Show Dates
IMAGO Gallery is located at 36 Market Street, Warren, RI 02885 – 401 245 3348 – Open Thurs 4 – 8; Fri and Sat 12 – 8; Sun 11 – 3 and by appointment. 

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Migration exhibit

Friday night was the opening reception for MIGRATION at the Imago Gallery in Warren RI. The curated exhibit includes a wide array of art on the subject of migration, refugees and displaced peoples. The amazing sculptor, Harriet Diamond and I are the featured artists in the show. I really enjoyed meeting her and look forward to our gallery talk on Sunday, March 24 at 1:00 PM. Harriet and I will begin with short visual presentations about our art and then we’ll have a conversation with each other and the audience. The show will be up until April 20th, so I hope that those of you from Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts can get over there to see it. IMAGO Gallery hours: Thursday 4-8 | Friday and Saturday 12-8 | Sunday 11-3

Harriet and I chatted about the many facets of our art that we share – we both make sculpture, use small doll-like figures, present narratives that tell the human story and portray a range of social scenarios from the everyday to topical subjects. Please scroll down to see photos of her powerful and ambitious project. Four of my bas-relief embroidered pieces are on display: Face Time, Cover Up, Whiskers and Displaced.

Artist Harriet Diamond’s work “Driven From Their Homes,” is a hybrid installation sculpture and illusionistic scene that chronicles the horrors of the Syrian War and diaspora. As Diamond notes, the work “depicts an episodic journey of refugee people fleeing from the terrible destruction of their home city” to an unknown future.  Each figure struggles to cope, to grieve, to endure.  “It is a dark scene, but it’s also roiling with life.”  Because of the size and scope of this piece, viewers will be surrounded by the scenes as they unfold.  All human emotions, from fear to desolation, from courage to heroism, are etched in the faces of these victims of war.  It is the artist’s fervent hope that by telling this story the “terrible truth of war” will become “more present and real to us.”

I am blown away by the power of “Driven From Their Home”. There is so much to take in. The figures are constructed of clay and the building structures are styrofoam slabs painted to look like concrete. She has set up this installation in several locations, piecing together the many parts like a puzzle.

If you make the trip to see the show, please know that there’s a great little eatery next door – Eli’s Kitchen. Here are the dates of the show and talk:

Imago Foundation for the Arts, Warren, Rhode Island
March 14 – April 20, 2019 –
Show Dates
Sunday, March 24 @ 1:00 PM – Artist Talk with featured artists Harriet Diamond and Salley Mavor.
IMAGO Gallery is located at 36 Market Street, Warren, RI 02885 – 401 245 3348 – Open Thurs 4 – 8; Fri and Sat 12 – 8; Sun 11 – 3 and by appointment.

To see my current schedule of exhibits and talks, click 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

Self Portrait revisited

Usually, my 2007 embroidered piece, Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion is on display in its semi-permanent home at the Woods Hole Library.  But this fall, it’s been on view at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA, as part of my exhibit, Liberty and Justice: The Satrical Art of Salley Mavor, which runs through Dec. 30, 2018.

Self Portrait: a personal history of fashion, 2007

It’s been a while since Self Portrait was featured in my very first blog post in 2009, so I thought I’d revisit it today. In the exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum, the piece hangs on a wall between two galleries, which hold different portions of the exhibit. It was the museum’s idea to show earlier work from “the innocent years” in one space, as a point of reference, while across the hall is a separate room featuring my recent foray into political satire. There are enlarged photographs of the Wee Folk Players, the animated 14 minute film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free and a display case full of the real dolls, props and scenery from the film.

Self Portrait detail

An old acquaintance wrote to tell me that she brought three generations of her family to see the show in Lowell during Thanksgiving weekend. She found out about the exhibit through an article in the Boston Globe about its abrupt cancellation at another venue, due to its political content. She said they enjoyed seeing the new political stuff as well as the earlier work, but she especially wanted me to know that her 4 year old granddaughter was so taken with my self portrait that they couldn’t tear her away. For little Emma, seeing the progression of dolls opened up the concept of growing up, which led to her asking lots of questions. I love hearing accounts like this, because it reaffirms my intention to make art for all ages, whether it’s book illustration, stand alone embroidered pieces or political satire. 

This piece seems to resonate with a lot of people whose lives parallel the same time period. I can’t tell you how many women remark that they had an alpaca poncho, too! As well as clothing memories, we all have a personal soundtrack that goes with different times in our lives. This video is a nostalgic tour through fashion and music that my husband Rob and I put together. At the end, there’s a list of the music.

Self-Portrait detail, 2007

I made the piece for a self-portrait themed invitational exhibition in 2007. It shows a spiral of dolls, one for each year, starting with my birth date in the center. Each figure is dressed in an outfit I would have worn that year, taken from memories, family photos or imagination. The figures range from 1 in. to 3 1/2 in. and are variations of the wee folk and fairy dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

Self-Portrait detail

Since I made many of my own clothes, I remember the fabrics and clothing styles. They are recreated here with smaller scale fabric and embroidered wool felt. My husband, Rob, appears the year we were married and my sons, Peter and Ian, are included through the years when they were little and physically connected to me. The tatting around the outside of the circle was made over 100 years ago by my late grandmother, Louise Salley Hartwell. The wool felt spiral in color gradation is mounted on upholstery fabric, which I embellished with multicolored french knots.

I hope that you enjoyed this trip down memory lane! You can see the Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion in the Woods hole Public Library, where the original bas-relief embroidery is on semi-permanent loan. Posters are also available in my Etsy Shop here.

Poster – Self Portrait

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fiber art at the Cahoon Museum

Last Friday was the opening party for Twisted, Twined and Woven: Contemporary Fiber Art at the Cahoon Museum of American Art, which is located in Cotuit, Massachsetts. The exhibit will be there until Dec. 22. On display are four of my fabric relief pieces (Whiskers, Cover Up, Face Time and Displaced) and the work of Jodi Colella, Jacqueline Davidson, Anna Kristina GoranssonSarah HaskellAndy MaueryDiane Savona and Elizabeth Whyte Schulze. 

Whiskers, Cover Up, Face Time and Displaced

It was fun to see old friends and meet new people in the museum’s beautiful new gallery. The space was added on to the Colonial Georgian home (c.1775) that constitutes the original part of the museum. By early 1800’s, the building was operating as a tavern, an important overnight stop on the Cape Cod stagecoach line between Sandwich and Hyannis. I love how the new addition creates more opportunities for showing art, while maintaining and complimenting the historic parts of the museum.

Stinger by Jody Collella

The exhibit is as diverse as fiber art is and includes framed works as well as hanging installations and large scale, free-standing sculpture. Jodi Collella’s extraordinary scorpion made of vintage lace doilies dyed black is the dramatic centerpiece of the show. When the museum director and curator, Sarah Johnson, asked for recommendations of other artists for the show, I told her about the incomparable Diane Savona. As expected, her piece, Security Blanket is powerful and moving. Other pieces on display are Anna Kristina Goransson‘s vibrant felted work, Sarah Haskell‘s framed embroidered houses and baskets by Elizabeth Whyte Schulze.

Detail from “Security Blanket” by Diane Savona

“Beauty in Growth.” by Anna Kristina Goransson

The following pieces of mine are included in the exhibit – Displaced, Cover Up, Face Time and Whiskers. As with all of my work, including illustrations that are reproduced in children’s books, seeing the originals is a different experience than looking at photographs. If you can make the trip to Cape Cod, I encourage you to come and see for yourself.

I am happy to announce that the Cahoon Museum will be hosting the premiere exhibit of original illustrations for my new picture book, MY BED: Where Children Sleep Around the World. The exhibit will be coordinated with the book’s publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall of 2020. Like the traveling show for Pocketful of Posies, I hope to schedule other exhibits, so that more people can see the “real thing”. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting an exhibit. It would be wonderful to have the illustrations make their way across the whole country!


All winter long, while I sat and worked on this piece, I listened to news stories on the radio about people who are fleeing their home countries amid war and conflict. Even though Displaced is inspired by recent world events, it could very well represent the universal and timeless plight of refugees throughout history. When forming an idea, I often think in terms of creating miniature shallow stage sets and with this one, I envisioned a melodramatic scene full of foreboding as well as hopeful anticipation. The trail of heavily burdened figures are like an operatic chorus, winding its way upward through a threatening landscape. To help create tension in the design, I thought of opposite forces, such as dark/light, despair/hope, trapped/escape, harsh/tender, sharp/soft and horror/beauty.

Cover Up

COVER UP is a collective portrait of women from around the world, each with a head covering that reflects the conventions of a particular place, social class or time in history. The 45 depictions invite comparison, pointing out contrasts and similarities between different societies. They all wear some kind of scarf, head piece or mask that serve as identifying markers, whether they are forms of self-expression and fashion, or dictated by religious and cultural tradition.

Face Time

FACE TIME is a broad interpretation of a family tree, showing the faces of humanity through time, from early in history to today. The 41 individuals represent a variety of peoples and cultures throughout the world, all connected through branches of the center tree.


WHISKERS focuses on beards and mustaches, showing an array of male characters from different cultures and historic periods. The piece explores diverse societies and their origins, using needle and thread to signify the unraveling and mending of human cultures throughout history. The large face and beard that contains the various heads is inspired by Assyrian sculpture.

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.

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:

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”, Sat., April 13, 2019 at 11:00 AM. The exhibit will include the same items listed above.


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.


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.

Liberty and Justice film festival debut

We are proud to announce that Liberty and Justice will be in the 27th Woods Hole Film Festival! The festival takes place July 28 – Aug. 4, 2018 in various venues in the village and surrounding area.

Our film will be shown in Shorts: Break Away on Monday, July 30th at 5:30 pm in the Old Fire House. The program includes a selection of 8 short films having to do with the pursuit of freedom. To see the program and purchase tickets in advance, please go here. If you are planning to attend any of the festival events, I recommend getting tickets ahead of time, as they routinely sell out. Rob and I will be at our screening on July 30th, as well as Matthias Bossi from Stellwagen Symphonette, who produced the movie sound track. We hope to see some of you locals there in support of our home grown effort. There will be an opportunity to vote for Audience Awards, too!

Of course, most of you who follow this blog live far, far away and won’t be able to see the film on the big screen. The next best thing is to view it on your computer or home screen from this page. I know that a lot of you have already watched the movie and shared it with your family and friends. Thank you for helping to spread it around!  After the summer film festival season, I will put Liberty and Justice on YouTube and Vimeo, so it can be more readily shared around the world.

I’ve entered the film in a number of festivals and am waiting for the results. The process is kind of overwhelming because I have no idea which festivals are worth taking a chance with. There are the obvious ones that focus on animation and most festivals have an animation category. But, the competition is fierce! There are websites that make it easy to submit your movie to hundreds of festivals around the world. So easy that it’s as tempting as online betting. With a simple click, you can easily spend a fortune in entry fees, with a slim chance of being accepted. So, I’m trying to be very selective about which festivals to try.

During the year-long filming process, I took a whole bunch of photos of the sets and characters, both on and off stage. Here are most of the cast, waiting backstage.

This shows the wire rig we used to make the Twitter bird fly. While animating, I referred to the monitor in the background for guidance. Rob drew a notched line on the computer to indicate the bird’s flight pattern and speed.

For the candy-land scene filmed from above, we screwed the camera to an extension arm that was attached to the elevated slider.

Rob checked the focus on the monitor constantly by zooming in on the faces. That’s wax paper taped to the wooden stand, which we used to soften the light.

For the last part of the movie we needed a rotating set, so Rob and I devised a system that could move incrementally. I arranged the scenery on a wooden platform, which was placed on top of a lazy susan. Then, we could revolve the whole set, filming one frame at a time, using a marked wire for reference.

Each phase of the project, from story boarding, to making and animating the characters and props, to the final editing was a true adventure!

Other posts about the Liberty and Justice animation project include “Liberty and Justice” in processAll that GlittersAmerica First Ladystop-motion in actionAnimated Film Logo. and Liberty and Justice – the movie! In this interview, I reflect on my foray into political satire and describe how speaking out through art has affected my work and life.

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