The Art of Cute

This post is playing a bit of catch-up, since The Art of Cute exhibition opened way back in the spring. The good news is that it’ll be at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME for another 6 weeks, so there’s still time to see the show (until Aug. 31st). The exhibit, which is curated by the Illustration Institute, includes a broad spectrum of art and products that could be considered “cute”, from cloying to edgy and from innocent to provocative. My topical and political work is part of the Meta cute or “beyond” cute category.

People ask, “How do you feel about having your work called cute?” In the context of this exhibit, I can happily embrace the label. Otherwise, I find the term cringe-worthy, even though I know it’s a valid description of much that I make. It’s just that the word “cute” can sound belittling and dismissive when characterizing art. But recently, I’ve experienced the power in making art that draws the viewer in, in a non-threatening way, so a message gets through. This show is thoughtful and wide reaching in its interpretation and begins with this premise — “The Art of Cute is an exhibition that takes a serious look at a powerful aesthetic that is often not taken seriously. Our culture has a love/hate relationship with “Cute”.”

The exhibit is spread throughout several adjoining buildings, so that the displays move seamlessly from one theme to another. My work is grouped together on a wall in the Meta Cute room, with a nearby station set up to sit and watch the film Liberty and Justice.

At the opening, I met some wonderful folks, many of whom were seeing my work for the first time.

Cover Up, a bas-relief embroidered piece about women’s head coverings is there…

…as well as Displaced.

The exhibit also includes some of my political satire, which is definitely cute and provocative at the same time. There are photographs from the Wee Folk Players series and a display case with characters and props we used to make the Liberty and Justice film.

Museum goers can sit and watch the film with head phones, so they don’t disturb others. I loved watching people pick out the different characters from the film in the display case.

It has been a pleasure working with the curators of this exhibit, Scott and Nancy Nash of the Illustration Institute. They found out about my work from news stories covering the controversy surrounding my previous exhibit Liberty and Justice: The Sweet to Satirical Art of Salley Mavor. Having my work shown in the context of cute art has been an unexpected delight!

If you’re going to Maine, Kennebunk is in the southern part of the state, right off Rt. 95. The Art of Cute will be at the Brick Store Museum until August 31st.

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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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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.
THE ART OF CUTE 
Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk, Maine
May 1- August 31, 2019
Curated and produced by the Illustration Institute

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The show must go on!

Well Suited

I want to express my gratitude for the outpouring of support since my exhibit was cancelled due to its political content a few weeks ago. Since then, the film and the Wee Folk Players are taking on a life of their own, thanks to your willingness to share them. The work is growing in strength on the internet and is making its way across the country and around the world. I feel like my relationship with the art has evolved – there’s no need to prop it up anymore and I’m scrambling to keep up with its momentum.

I am happy to report that the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA has generously stepped in to host the show. The exhibit, titled Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor will be on display at the museum Sept. 26 – Dec. 30, 2018. The show will then be at the Cotuit Center for the Arts on Cape Cod, March 2 – April 20, 2019. 

Exhibits featuring my work are listed here. This is just a quick note to let you know what’s happening. After the artwork is delivered and installed, I will write another post about the show.

Screen shot from “Liberty and Justice” animation

Censored


UPDATE: The exhibit in question was picked up by 2 venues. Liberty and Justice: The Satirical Art of Salley Mavor was at the New England Quilt Museum (Fall of 2018) and  Cotuit Center for the Arts, (Spring of 2019). A portion of the exhibit is included in The Art of Cute at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, ME (May 1 – Aug. 31, 2019)

————————————————————————————————————————————–

What do you do when your art is censored? Do you jump up and down and make a stink or do you take a deep breath and think about what it means? I’ve been doing mostly the latter for the past week, but I’m ready for reasoned action now. My solo exhibit, Liberty and Justice: New Artwork by Salley Mavor, which was to open this weekend at a nonprofit cultural center was cut to the point where there weren’t enough pieces left to warrant a display. So, I was forced to withdraw the remaining pieces from the whole exhibit, 10 days before the opening, after a year of coordinated planning. The organization is not named here because I do not want to discourage people from seeing the other engaging exhibits they will present. And I do not want to cast the staff and volunteers in any sort of a negative light.  They are wonderful to work with and were not involved in the discussions about my show. Also, the issue isn’t just about this one venue. It’s about the culture of fear that is growing, creating an atmosphere where questioning and dissent are silenced.

Flat Earth Society

You may ask, how did this happen? Economic concerns, basically. The members of the venue’s board of trustees were afraid that because this show is controversial and asks the viewer to ponder our current political climate, some donors might be offended and donations could fall off. The overall opinion was that my show should be emptied of political content, with no dolls who are recognizable as Trump or Pence, etc. The idea was to remove the polarizing figures so that everything will be fine and no one will be upset. They didn’t want anything political, so it meant no film and satirical cartoons from the Wee Folk Players. No Trump in a Tudor style outfit as President of the Flat Earth Society and no Pence dancing with a trans person dressed in fishnets and high heels. I think that most board members were unaware that their no tolerance position on any political content would result in the show’s cancellation and create an absence that would have to be explained to the visitors who show up to see my work.

My exhibit was to demonstrate how a contemporary artist uses fiber art techniques to make a statement about today’s world. The new direction of my work leaves behind the cute idyllic and safe fairy world and jumps head on into political territory. The dolls are a metaphor for playing house in a controlled environment, one that has been taken over by outside political forces. For me, the work is about stepping away from a safe, sheltered existence and into a very real reality, one where there is possibility for action toward making a difference in the world. You could call this new direction “sweet resistance art”, since it delivers a strong message in a pretty package, one that is not in your face, even though it does have a tough meaning. My new work has been described as witty, ironic, sophisticated and adorable but chilling. It is a thoughtful critique of the current administration in Washington, with every detail chosen for a reason, and all based on actual things said or done. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my point of view, although many find my artwork refreshing and full of comic relief. To remove the political part would be like taking the stuffing out of the dolls, leaving limp characters of very little consequence and nothing important to say.

My husband Rob and I have talked about this a lot and have declared this show a success! These little dolls are powerful – they’ve conjured feelings and sparked discussion about art’s place in the world. Unfortunately, they are being silenced, but that is also part of the reaction and the reality of our society today.  People are fearful and I understand that, but somehow I am not afraid. Sure, I get nervous every time I put out something political, but I feel like I’m learning about what it means to be an artist through and through. Not for a moment do I think that what I’ve created is not valid or meaningful. People have come to expect a certain kind of expression from me, of sweetness and childhood wonder. They’re surprised to find that I can also make art that is strong, funny and dark. It’s so odd to think that I make cute dolls that instill enough fear in people to get them seriously worried. What a crazy time, in a beautiful world!

So, what am I going to do about the situation? This experience makes it clear that my new political art may be threatening to the powers that be, but it communicates something important about the time we are living in and needs to be seen by a lot more people. Friends are helping find other venues for the exhibit, but until then, I am asking for your help spreading this work around the world. There are several ways of doing this:
Share this blog post.
Share this Facebook photo album or this blog page with scenes from the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch).
Share our animated short film Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, which is now on YouTube here.
Please let people know that this work was pulled due to its content, and comment on your beliefs about censorship in the arts. Let your voice be heard, too!

This is but the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of my artistic journey.  As always, thank you for following along. To see posts with individual Wee Folk Players cartoons, plus commentary please visit this page.

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, Transom.org 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.