Bedtime Stitches at the Cahoon Museum

Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA

For the past month, things have been very busy around here, with the publication of my new picture book, MY BED and the debut of the touring exhibition, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, MA (through Dec. 22, 2020). To plan your visit and register for timed entry, go here. For those of you who live too far to visit, do not fret! The museum has put much of the exhibition on their website here. You can also scroll through this post and see many, many pictures of the show.

Currently, the Bedtime Stitches exhibition is booked at 7 museums through May 2023 and more could be added. I wish I could wave a magic and send it all over the country, but I’m limited by how many years I want to keep the collection in circulation, as well as reliant on the interest and financial support of museums and curators. If you want the show to travel close to where you live, please talk it up with a museum in your area. Enthusiasm from local members of the community can make a difference. That’s how a few of the locations already on the tour heard about the opportunity. Museums are welcome to contact me for information about hosting the exhibit. To find out about the book and see the tour schedule, please go here.

Sarah Jonson – Director and Curator

Bedtime Stitches has been years in the planning and I feel so fortunate to have had the support and encouragement of the Cahoon Museum along the way. When the pandemic caused it’s closing earlier this year and the museum had to cancel its major summer exhibition, they remained committed to my show this fall, even lengthening its duration. I’m impressed by the staff’s professionalism, dedication and resourcefulness in carrying out the museum’s mission which states that it “celebrates American art in ways that expand knowledge, enrich the spirit, and engage the heart.” Museum Director Sarah Johnson was even able to secure the sponsorship of the Coby Foundation, which funds projects in the textile and needle arts field!

Annie Dean – Special Projects Consultant

Because of Special Project Consultant Annie Dean’s careful planning, we were able to get the show installed without a hitch. Michelle Law was brought in to hang the artwork and wall panels and expertly apply the title decals, which can be tricky to do.

Michelle Law – Art installation specialist

Since Bedtime Stitches opened a few weeks ago, I’ve heard from many locals who’ve been to see the show. Thank you for going! For everybody who lives too far, I’ve posted several slide shows with photos of the gallery, the artwork and the wall panels.

Slide Show of the main gallery at the Cahoon Museum:

MY BED original artwork
The touring exhibition features all 18 original bas-relief embroidered illustrations for my picture book, MY BED. The pieces are presented behind glass in cherry wood shadow box frames that my husband Rob made this past summer.

The scenes I made for the book have 2 lives:
1. As Illustrations: The original embroidered pieces were photographed and reproduced in the book, MY BED.
2. As Framed Artwork: I added fabric borders, signed and dated each piece and put them in frames.Then they were ready to be hung on the wall and exhibited, so that people could experience the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the “real thing”.

I am glad to be able to share my work in both printed and original form, so that it’s accessible to a variety of audiences, young and old, from near and far.

Slide Show of finished pieces with borders:

Wall Panels
This slide show includes an Introduction, Bio and a series of mounted boards that describe in words and pictures how I approached illustrating My Bed, from the initial sketches to the many stages of creating the 3-dimensional scenes that are reproduced in the book. The series of panels highlights different aspects of my working methods and gives glimpses into my thought process as I made choices along the way.

Only at the Cahoon Museum
In addition to showing the original artwork for MY BED and the information panels that comprise the Bedtime Stitches touring exhibition, the Cahoon Museum has devoted space in the gallery to displaying rarely seen items from my studio. To give a historical context to the development of my art, they wanted to show work from my childhood to my art school days to the present day. Included are my doll house, fairy houses, self portrait and other 3-dimensional figures and scenes which you can see in this slide show:

You can also see my mini tributes to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (See how I made Ruth here.) and Climate Change activist Greta Thunberg (See how I made Greta here.)


The 40 page picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-544-94906-5. It is available through booksellers everywhere. Autographed copies are sold at Eight Cousins Books, the Cahoon Museum and my Etsy Shop.

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lace bombing

It being near the end of my retrospective exhibition “Once Upon a Stitch” at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, I thought I’d squeeze in a post about how I “lace bombed” a pole in the gallery with doilies and other lacy items from my stash.
Carloads of visitors have been flocking to see the show before its last day on Sunday, Jan. 26th. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the museum is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. 

When I first checked out the gallery and saw the plain white column in the middle of the room, I thought,”How unfortunate, but maybe this is an opportunity waiting to happen.” To me, displaying artwork and decorating a space for an exhibition is like a piece of art in itself. On the drive home, I came up with the idea of covering the pole with lace and doilies in the spirit of yarn bombing.

My collection of lace and linen was passed down in the family or was given to me by people who were trying to find homes for their relative’s stuff. As the pile grows, I keep thinking that I’ll use some of it my artwork, but lace rarely matches my vision. The exception is a doily that I dyed green for the “Ring Around the Rosie” illustration in Pocketful of Posies.

Doily used in a illustration from Pocketful of Posies

After finding out the pole’s height and circumference, I unpacked my stash of doilies, lace and antimacassars, and laid them out on my work table.

This project didn’t require any fussy hand-stitching, so I dusted off my sewing machine and plugged it in. I pinned together rows of doilies and sewed the overlapping edges with the zig-zag stitch.

I wanted the covering to be one piece that could be easily installed. A large piece of green felt left over from my fairy kit days seemed like a good background fabric, with just enough contrast to show off the delicate lace patterns. Then I pinned the rows of doilies and lace to the felt and sewed them in place. Since I don’t use a sewing machine very often, it was fun to push the peddle and go!

When it came time to install the exhibition in the gallery, I wrapped the column with the felt and lace cover and pinned it in place. Then I finished it of with a simple whip stitch along the seam, which was the only hand stitching on the whole project. I even remembered to bring my trusty thimble, which I feel naked without!

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scavenger hunt

The scavenger hunt at my retrospective exhibition of original picture book art at the Cape Cod Museum of Art has been a hit! Not just with kids, but with all ages. Searching for the details is a fun way to engage with the artwork and helps you see things you might not otherwise notice.

I got the idea from my friend Deb Coulombe, who 10 years ago, put together cards for school groups who came to see the touring exhibition of original art from Pocketful of Posies. With the hunt, the kids experienced my artwork in a playful way that enhanced their museum experience.

So, I took the scavenger hunt concept and brought it to “Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch”, which will be on display for only one more week, until Sunday, Jan. 26th. People are coming from far and wide to see the show, driving and even flying in from out of state. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the Cape Cod Museum of Art is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. 

Rob and I spent last fall photographing closeup images of the artwork to use in the scavenger hunt. Because my pieces are sculptural, its a challenge to take pictures that bring out the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the real thing. We’ve tried different approaches, sometimes using a light box (above) to diffuse the light and soften the shadows. I’m constantly getting in the way, fussing and tweaking, which drives Rob crazy!

Rob printed the images on good quality paper on his super duper Epson printer and I cut them up. Even though they’re all square, it reminded me of playing with paper dolls.

Then I divided them up into groups of 4 that I knew would keep people moving around the gallery, like an aerobic activity.

Anyone can play the game and choose from about 20 different laminated cards in the gallery.

You can also do the scavenger hunt at home by searching for the following images in my books. Each group of 4 that you see below is labeled with a list of books where you can find the images. Have fun!

Details from “Pocketful of Posies”
Details from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!”, Pocketful of Posies and “In the Heart”
Details from Pocketful of Posies”, “The Way Home”, “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” and “Wee Willie Winkie”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, You and Me” and “Come to My Party”
Details from Pocketful of Posies” and You and Me”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies” and “Jack and Jill”

SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020

Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

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just a few more weeks

Once Upon a Stitch, my retrospective exhibition of original embroidered picture book art will be at the Cape Cod Museum of Art for a few more weeks, until Sunday, January 26th. So, if you’ve been thinking about going to see it, act quickly. It’s been wonderful to have a place to send people, although it is limited to those who can make it to our beautiful peninsula.

For those of you from far away, here’s a brief video tour of the gallery.

A brief tour of “Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch” at Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis MA

There’s also a scavenger hunt with lots of cards made up of different close-up details to find in the framed artwork.

Images in the scavenger hunt

Last Saturday, I talked about my work to a very nice group who nestled themselves into the gallery. After being introduced by Benton Jones, the museum’s Director of Art, I shared stories about growing up in a household where making things was as routine as brushing one’s teeth.

This was different that my usual slide presentation, in that I just talked off the cuff, making it more like a Show & Tell. I brought some things to show like my first book (mixed media, of course) which I made at around age 8. People often ask when I started making the kind of art I do. I have to say that I’ve been on this path my whole life. Manipulating materials in my hands has always been more satisfying that just drawing or painting. As a child, I felt that crayons were not enough and that my pictures weren’t finished until something real was glued, stapled or sewn to it.

My first book from about age 8

Most of the audience were women who share a love of stitching and sewing. There are a lot of us out there and we tend to gravitate toward each other. It was a pleasure to meet and share my work with such kindred spirits!

SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020

Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

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“More is more”

My retrospective exhibition of original picture book art, Once Upon a Stitch has been at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, MA. for 2 weeks now and I’m happy to hear that lots of visitors are specifically coming to see it. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the museum’s winter hours are Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. The show runs until January 26 and I’ll be giving a Family Gallery Talk on Saturday January 4th, 1:00 – 2:00 pm.

It took 2 trips in my Subaru Outback to transport the more than 50 bubble wrapped frames to the museum. That doesn’t count the dozens of wee folk characters I brought along to set up in a display case. At first, the curator was skeptical that everything would fit, but after explaining how I envisioned the layout, with clusters of double hung frames, he relaxed. The museum’s very able crew ended up filling the gallery walls with what could be a record number of pieces!. After everything was hung, my husband Rob looked around and said, “You must understand, with Salley’s art, more is more.”

The first thing you see when entering the gallery is a grid full of of prints showing enlarged animal faces and other characters staring at you. They are blown up details from pieces in the exhibition, which includes a wide selection of original hand-stitched children’s book illustrations I’ve made over the past 300 years. Oh, I mean 30 years!

I set up the figures from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures on and around a Dala horse and cart elevated on top of 2 wooden cigar boxes.

Four original illustrations from Mary Had a Little Lamb are on loan from collectors. It’s the largest reunion they’ve had since the book was published in 1995.

Most of my books are represented in the show, with groupings of pieces from either my own collection or ones that are borrowed from their owners.

A rather plain concrete pole in the middle of the gallery called out for some kind of embellishment, so, I lace-bombed it with doilies. To make it, I cut a length of green felt to the right circumference and machine stitched lace and doilies to it. I pinned the seam and stitched it in place on site. Like a lot of textile geeks, I have a collection of misc. old lacy things and it feels good to finally use them for something.

The opening was well attended by many people who knew of my work, as well as others who were seeing it for the first time. I got to watch people’s reactions to seeing the originals, which is a totally different experience than looking at the pages of a printed book. I can honestly say that without exception, everyone was smiling. In the photo below, a man is telling me that he just came from visiting New York and that my show was more impressive than anything he saw at MoMA. As you can see, I was flabbergasted!

There’s a scavenger hunt with about 20 cards, each one showing 4 different close-up images that you can look for in the artwork. This game is certainly not just for children!

The exhibition is an opportunity to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my work.

I was happy that my friend and picture book collaborator, Judy Richardson came to the opening. Here we are in 1991, having our publicity photo taken with Bella the elephant at the Barnstable County Fair.

And that’s Judy and her husband Phil at the show, looking at the originals from “The Way Home“, which she wrote and I illustrated.

I hope that many of you can make the trip down the quaint and historic Old King’s Highway (Rt. 6A) to Dennis, Massachusetts to see the show!

Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020
Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4
Family Gallery Talk with Salley Mavor –
Saturday January 4th, 1:00 – 2:00 pm

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Once Upon a Stitch exhibition

Video

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You are invited to come see an exhibition of my artwork at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, MA. This is a chance to take in the fine detail and 3-dimensional quality of my original sculptural embroideries that are reproduced in children’s books.

SALLEY MAVOR – Once Upon a Stitch
Cape Cod Museum of Art
December 12, 2019 – January 26, 2020

Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm, Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

Family Gallery Talk – Saturday, Jan. 4th, 1:00 – 2:00 pm

A wide array of picture book illustrations spanning 2 decades of my career will be on display, including favorites from The Way Home (1991), Mary Had a Little Lamb (1995) and the award-winning, Pocketful of Posies(2010). Several pieces are on loan from private collections, making this an opportunity to see work that is rarely shown in public. The exhibition and accompanying scavenger hunt are sure to appeal to families and anyone with a penchant for miniatures and/or needlework.

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I’ve been preparing for the show all Fall, gathering enough pieces to represent every book I’ve published from 1991. That meant contacting people who’ve bought original artwork, some as far back as the 90’s. I’m grateful for their willingness to loan their pieces for the duration of the show. While they were in my studio, I cleaned up the glass and frames, so they will be sparkling clean. Also, Rob took some digital photographs of the art, including detail shots really close-up.

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Once Upon a Stitch Scavenger Hunt

I’m using the photos for the scavenger hunt and large printed images, which will be hung in the gallery along with my embroidered originals. I just love playing with scale!

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Large format prints of details from my books.

An advantage of taking high resolution close-ups is that the photo quality isn’t lost when they are blown up big. I’ve been asked if these large prints are for sale. Unfortunately because of contractual agreements with publishers, I cannot sell reproductions of these images. But, I can use them to compliment and expand exhibitions!

I hope that those of you in the area will make it down Old King’s Highway (route 6A) to the Cape Cod Museum of Art to see the show!

To keep up with new posts, 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.

Behind the Glass – part 2

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

In this second post in the series Behind the Glass, I’ll show close-up photos of a double page spread reproduced in Hey Diddle, Diddle! (2005) and 2 illustrations from You and Me: Poems of Friendship (1997). You can see part 1 in the series here. These loaned pieces were temporarily removed from their frames in preparation for my upcoming exhibition, making it possible to get up close and take photos from different angles. I’m enjoying seeing the characters again and remembering making them all those years ago.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

The retrospective exhibition, Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Thread will be at the Cape Cod Museum of Art Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 16, 2020. It will include original illustrations from my picture books, from the first (The Way Home,1991) to the latest (Pocketful of Posies 2010).  Between the borrowed ones and others that I’ve kept, there will be lots of original pieces on display, with a dozen titles represented. This show will be an opportunity for visitors to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person and also view pieces from private collections that are rarely shown in public.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

Yes, that’s a real silver spoon, a tiny one meant to go with a salt seller. The plate was cut out of Fimo clay with a cookie cutter. After hardening it in the oven, I painted the face and dish pattern.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005
Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

The next set of images show closeups of 2 spreads from You and Me: Poems of Friendship (1997). One illustrates the poem Sidewalks, which describes different ways of showing oneself and interacting on a public sidewalk.

Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997

The last piece in this post is from the poem Snow. I hadn’t seen it for over 20 years and was happy to take it out of its frame and get up close with a camera. The owner seemed reluctant to part with it for a few months, but the timing ended up being convenient for her, since she’s selling her house and moving into a new place. I told her that it would be returned in better shape with sparkling clean glass.

SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997

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Behind the Glass – part 1

MHALL_Molly-1

An original embroidered illustration from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in a private collection.

This is the first post in a series that will show what my artwork looks like Behind the Glass. I’ve had to accept that UV glass is a necessary barrier that protects my embroidery from dust, bugs, light, and probing fingers. But, since these loaned pieces were temporarily removed from their frames in preparation for my upcoming exhibition, I was able to get up close to take photos from different angles.

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

For the past few weeks, I’ve been gathering my embroidered artwork from local collectors who are generously loaning their pieces for my upcoming exhibition, Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Thread at the Cape Cod Museum of Art (Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 16, 2020). The retrospective exhibition will include original illustrations from my picture books, from the first (The Way Home,1991) to the latest (Pocketful of Posies, 2010).  Between the borrowed ones and others that I’ve kept, there will be lots of original pieces on display, with a dozen titles represented. This show will be an opportunity for visitors to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person and also view pieces from private collections that are rarely shown in public.

Close-up photos of illustrations for my first 3 books are shown in this post: The Way Home (1991), Come to My Party (1993) and Mary Had a Little lamb (1995).

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Luckily, many of the collectors who bought pieces in the early days live nearby, so it’s fairly easy to round up enough work to display. At this point, I should have 4 spreads from Mary Had a Little Lamb, the most that have been together for over 20 years.

People ask how I can sell my originals, because of the amount of work that goes into them. The simple answer is – it’s not hard to let them go. For me the joy comes from making more than having. It’s good to spread them around! There are practical considerations as well. Selling originals is how I’m paid for my work, since book royalties aren’t much. I also need to clear space to fill with new art, both physically and mentally. That said, I’ve kept pieces that have a special meaning and I’m holding onto some of my newer pieces, so that they are available to exhibit. The original illustrations for my upcoming picture book, My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World will eventually be offered for sale, after the touring exhibition, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches.

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

Judy Richardson loaned me her 2 pieces, one from each of the 2 books she wrote and I illustrated: The Way Home and Come to My Party. Read the series of posts about our adventures in children’s book publishing here.

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The Way Home

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Come to My Party

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The Way Home

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Studio goings-on

After being almost exclusively in making-mode for the past few years, I now wake up every morning with a different agenda. Besides paying attention to my husband Rob and having lunch with friends, I’m photographing my work, organizing exhibitions, and preparing lectures. Making art is one thing, but if you want to share it with the world, you have to figure out ways get it out there. It’s a different creative exercise that not all artists can or want to take on. Although I would rather be stitching right now, I know that doing the promotional part is worth it down the road.

Before showing what’s happening in my studio, I’d first like to invite those of you in the Boston area to an Artist Talk I’ll be giving in Watertown, MA. It’ll be at the Quilters’ Connection, on Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 7:00 PM at St. James Armenian Church, 465 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA. $10.00 guest fee for non Quilters’ Connection members.

I will share the joys and challenges of making art that ranges from precious to poignant to provocative, as well as explain where this doll-infested needle and thread universe comes from. I’ll also bring along some original pieces, including Birds of Beebe Woods (pictured left) and books to sell. I look forward to meeting you!

Over the past few weeks, Rob and I have been photographing a lot of older artwork. My pieces are displayed in cherry wood shadow-box frames that Rob makes. Glass protects the bas-relief embroidery from dust, bugs and curious fingers.

The process includes removing each piece from its frame, taking its picture and then putting it back in the frame. So, why didn’t we take photos before framing them behind glass? It’s a long story involving deadlines, a broken wrist, and consequently being behind schedule. So, here we are, doing the job years later. Many of these pieces will be part of a solo exhibition this coming winter at the Cape Cod Museum of Art.

The family-friendly exhibition, SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch, will feature a wide selection of original embroidered artwork from my 25 year career illustrating children’s books. You can see them here. Several pieces will be on loan from private collections. These are rarely seen by anyone other than the owner’s friends and family. This is a unique opportunity to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person.
SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020
Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Opening Reception: Friday, Dec. 13 – 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm ~ Artist Galley Talk at 4:00 pm

To photograph the art, we set up the equipment in the spare room, with a light box to minimize harsh shadows. The room’s sky light affected the light balance, so we covered it with another defuser. The camera was propped up on a tripod, facing straight down. To counteract the weight of the heavy camera lens, we hung a bag of stones at the other end of the extension pole. When I asked why the camera had to be so far above the art, Rob told me that the long 100 mm focal lens maintains the correct perspective. I’m glad that he understands this stuff!

For closeup shots, we lowered the camera.

The closeup photos will be used for a treasure hunt for kids (and adults) that I’m putting together for the Once Upon a Thread exhibition.

An advantage of taking high resolution close-up is that the photo quality isn’t lost when they are blown up big. For the exhibition, I’m playing with scale by juxtaposing extra large details with my miniature artwork.

This week, we had a storm and the power was off for 3 days. So, instead of working at the computer, I settled in near a window and stitched, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. Although I’m glad to have electricity back, so that I can write and publish this post, I’m missing the simple pleasure of making things by hand by the light of the sun. That and a cup of tea is my idea of heaven!

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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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