Interview with Wen Redmond

Quilt Alliance
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Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Wen Redmond. She is in Strafford, New Hampshire and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is January 13, 2009. It is now 9:13 in the morning. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Yes! We Can!"

Wen Redmond (WR): Hi, this is great. I started out making my piece for the exhibit, the Obama exhibit in Washington, D.C. with an idea. Basically, I kind of get inspired by quotes and things from people, for instance this is one by Carl Jung who said, 'The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others' and I felt like considering the political environment that we have been living with for the last eight years and the election hope that came from supporting Barack Obama was a big part of my inspiration for participating with this exhibit. On the election day morning for instance, I jumped out of bed like a child coming down to see what Santa had dropped off in the night, to see who won because I couldn't stay up and it was Obama and this filled me with such hope. I was alive during the Kennedy years and there was a lot of hope and change. Changing how things were done and I feel we desperately need another president that can show us this hope and inspire changes in our country, because we have a lot of challenges now in the 21st century. For instance, embracing new technologies, finding perhaps a new fuel, these things are going to create new and different job opportunities. Recognizing that the environment crisis does exist and how we as citizens can do small things like simply turning off the lights when we leave a room or turning the water off when we brush our teeth. These aren't major contributions to the world change but they all add up. This, all these things and the fact that we need a new leader to inspire us, I think the whole world has rejoiced in this election and this hope inspired my small work, that our country can set a new precedence in the future, like ripples on water reaching out to every country, teaching to finally respect one another and get along and I think the election crosses the racial lines. This election showed us that black, not black and white, yah black and white, blue and red, all of these colors that we define ourselves with are going to be melted so to speak. Barack Obama is not black or white, he is a mix. His background is multi-ethnic. It really represents the spirit of our country. The way he ran his election with the positive attitude, turning the other cheek when he was insulted and so forth by the other side. I think he will be such a wonderful President and set a new precedent for our new millennium. My piece originally was called "Hope" and I made it out of transparent silk organza which is one of my favorite materials I work with it quite a bit and I went to the internet and I downloaded pictures of people, photographs, copyright free photographs of people from all over the world. I googled people walking and then I took the photographs into Photoshop and used the magnetic lasso tool. What I'm telling you about here is how I created some of the fabric for my piece, and I went around each person or group of people with the magnetic tool and what this does is, that it cuts the person out of the background, or the objects that you are drawing around, you are cutting and pasting essentially- within the Photoshop technology. I made copies of the people and then I printed them on transfer paper, initially using them for this silk organza piece. When I just about finished it, I decided it wasn't dynamic enough. It didn't have the energy that I felt, reflecting my passion for what is happening in our country right now, so I completely redid the piece. What I did with the people then, is I went into, I created fabric that I used in the borders of my piece using the photo technology of PhotoShop I did a stamp filter which then isolated the people as black and white images and then I copied and pasted that onto a new canvas, this is another word for background- well, it is a canvas anyway so I copy and pasted the people and created the cloth for my borders. The people running through the borders of the piece are black and white images of folks from all over the world, all ethnic groups.

I'm into a technique right now called holographic imagery which creates an in-depth or 3-D like image. So my piece needs to be mounted on stretcher bars for the holographic effect to work, so this is a rather large piece and it is on stretcher bars. It cost a whole lot to ship but it was worth it. The center image of my piece is a portrait of Obama. There are nine portraits actually, total, but the center one is a holographic image and what I did for that is, I create two images, one is printed on transparent silk organza, the second image is printed on transfer paper which I print out and then I apply that to the backing of the stretcher bar piece. It is just like a canvas, like an oil painting, so you have your front canvas and then the backing, which is traditionally paper. I used a stabilizer which can accept the transfer image. When it is mounted, you are looking through the silk organza into the backing image and this is what creates the dynamic that is 3-D like so when you move the image moves. It is very cool. Anyway, and then the other eight images which surround the holographic image are traditional, just fabric portraitures of copyright free image of Barack Obama that I found on the internet and I went through each image and changed the image just ever so slightly with color and hue in PhotoShop. I did filter the image too to further change it so it wasn't realistic and yet it has a artistic or paint like effect. So each one of those images are a different color and hue and I had a ball doing that, that was a lot of fun using PhotoShop. These are mounted in rows with the black and white imagery of people in between and then whole piece is mounted on a stretcher bar as I mentioned before. But before I did that I decided the people needed a voice so I created little bubbles, like cartoon bubbles where people speak in cartoons and what I did was, I went into the internet again and downloaded lots and lots of fonts, lettering like calligraphy or alien lettering or lettering from the middle ages and all kinds of ancient, I should say, Russian, symbolic, that I used to print out the words, Yes We Can, the title of my new work, called "Yes! We Can!" so I printed these on transfer paper and you have to mirror image whenever you use transfer paper, when you print out so it is the reverse because when you iron transfer paper onto your surface it reverse, in order to read properly you need to reverse. Each little bubble received a 'Yes! We Can!' and then I attached those over the people on the borders and when I sewed the little bubbles onto the piece I used sometimes red thread and sometimes blue thread representing the democratic and republican areas of our country and I did this because all of the people that voted for Barack Obama came from these various political priorities, in other words his election represents a very united voice which is what I wanted to portray in the piece with the bubbles that everybody in our country and around the world are united behind this man. He represents a great deal for us all. That is shipped off. I printed those out, ironed them on and off it went. It is very exciting for me to be accepted into the exhibit [the exhibition, "President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts," will be from February 9 to March 5, 2009 in the main gallery (King Street Gallery) of the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Arts Center, Silver Spring, Maryland.] at the Cafritz Art Center in Silver Springs, Maryland. I have another quote from Albert Einstein, as I said I get inspired by quotes from other people as well and this is from Albert Einstein, 'Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds' and I felt like Obama is our great spirit. [laughs.]

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

WR: I have no plans for this quilt. It was inspired by the election. It was inspired by Obama. The fact that Susan has put together this exhibit, those are the reasons I made the quilt. If someone buys it that would be ideal because I am a studio artist and I support myself though my art. My earnings come from making fulfilling art, so that would be wonderful. Whatever, I just feel like once you put it out there then whatever has to happen with the piece will happen. If nothing happens, that is what is supposed to happen. If it continues to travel, if somebody buys it, I'm just honored to have been able to make it and put it out there.

KM: What are you going to do with "Hope"?

WR: "Hope" is sitting on my shelf. I don't know. I usually take a piece that I have been working with and incorporate it in another piece because I have this, I'm not a born and breed Yankee, New Hampshire Yankee but I certainly have developed the thrift that allows me creative use of discarded materials [laughs.] so I usually end up using every bit of scraps and so forth that I generate. In fact I've had a number of collage artists saying what are you doing with all of your scraps? During my open studio sales, what I do is I keep a bag next to my sewing machine and cutting table and I put my scraps in that and sell them for a pittance in my studio and I sell a lot of bags of my scraps. [laughs.] I'm sure that piece will end up cut up or put into another piece eventually, but it just didn't have enough oomph behind it and so it has to be reincorporated at some point.

KM: "Yes! We Can!" is 32 inches by 30 inches.

WR: Right.

KM: Is that typical size for you?

WR: I work in a [batteries on tape recorder die.]

KM: Alright we are recording.

WR: Size matters. I used to make really large pieces and wall size, around 30 inches. Like the size of the Obama piece, I kind of let it flow a little bit. Anyway, a lot of my work now is dictated because I use a lot of printing, I print and create a lot of my material and the holographic images, also, depends on the size that I can print on my printer- it dictates the size of the finished piece. I have learned now that I am selling, actively selling my own work, which takes me out to shows and so forth that it is a good idea to have a lot of different sizes. What I have discovered is that if I have, when I set up my booth, I have a couple eye catching really large sizes so that it can go like 24 inches by 30 something. You don't want to have them too large because people need to be able to put them in their homes and then I have some really small pieces like 8 inches by 8 inches, 6 inches by 6 inches and so forth and then a few in between that. This way people who want something and have the money and the room can buy the eye catching larger prices and people who want some of your work but can't afford the bigger pieces can buy smaller pieces and that seems to work so far. I've also discovered cards are a good way for some people who would like something of yours and can't afford an actual piece they can buy cards and send those. That is a good way to advertise also because they will buy your card, they like your work and then they send it to someone who finds out about your work and then that is a very nice thing too. A lot of my work, I think I mentioned, is dictated by the size of my printer. I have an Epson 2400 printer and it uses Ultra Chrome inks which are fairly resistant on fabric that I use to print with but I want to be absolutely certain that my printed material will not run so I use fabric that is prepared with a Ink Aid and Ink Aid is something that is applied to the fabric to retain the ink jet ink that is placed on it when you print. The Ultra Chrome Epson inks that I mentioned are fade resistant, water resistant, light resistant and guaranteed for two hundred years so I feel rather sure that is a good quality and product. Because I have to test this, what I've done is that I've taken the silk organza that has been printed on, and silk organza is fairly thin and placed it in water, like a bucket of water or a glass of water, also when I iron my iron spits so I get water on my pieces and I haven't had any trouble with it running. The piece of organza came out, dried and nothing was lost, so I'm rather assured that the images will be permanent. With the material and the rest, I create all of my material, so the rest of my materials are either painted or silk screened or something and I usually give those a spray with a UV spray that helps with the fading problems with material. Although, I do tell my customers and people that buy my work that you should probably not place these kinds of art pieces in any sunlight like any fine art. Sunlight is really bad for them.

I also use silk, my photographs. I use a lot of photographs and photography in my work and most of all, well all of it, is my own photography except for the Obama piece because I didn't get close enough to the president to snap a picture of him. I also use the photography to make silk screens. I make photographic silk screens using my Thermo fax machine, which is a great instrument. These are machines that used to be used in schools to make the mimeograph papers that we used to get, that purple smelly ink and you can get a really nice silk screen with lots of detail using these machines. I use other kinds of surface design techniques to enhance my hand painted, dyed material. I love color. I love mixing colors and seeing what you can do with colors and when I work, when I make pieces I often encourage a flow. It's like you get into the colors, you get into painting or you get into your work and you forget about yourself and you just get into the work and this is what I call flow. It becomes collaboration with spirit and intuition and this is tapped and when you are finished and you look at your work, it is like, oh! How did I do that, or I didn't even realize I was doing this! Your work becomes more than the sum of what you are doing. A lot of my work, talking about how I work now, comes from inspirations, from taking a walk outside or reactions to events in the outer world, like the Obama piece. Being inspired by other people's artwork and then taking the time, taking a walk, doing some meditation to allow these inspirations to come up. These all influence the process of my work.

KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

WR: I been working in the fiber field probably since '75 and I've been in and out of a number of different guilds and groups. I was in the beginning level of a local group called The Cocheco Quilters here in Strafford, New Hampshire and the surrounding southern seacoast area. I was in Quilters Connection briefly, a Massachusetts art group, quilting group started by Nancy Halperin, back in the day and I am presently in a small group called Seacoast, Seacoast Association of Fiber Artists, SAFA for short, S-A-F-A for short and I belong in a number of art groups. Part of last year or the year before I decided I needed to belong in art groups as in the regular media when people think of art they think of oil painting and pastels and so forth and part of my mission in fiber art is to bring it into the art world. I decided I would join like New Hampshire Art Association, Women's Caucus of the Arts, a number of galleries that normally deal with "normal art" because I think the fiber art studio quilts, art quilts, all of the names that you can think of to apply, fiber art constructions, surface design- we are a force to be reckoned with as in our, there is such a multitude of people working and experimenting with art right now that it eventually has to be absorbed into the art world and people like Nancy Crow have done this. I think Joan Schulze has done this. Dorothy Caldwell. There are some wonderful fiber artists out there that have made it into the art world and I think that this is going to continue and when people look back one hundred years from now that this is going to be a new forum like Impressionism was, abstract painting, motion painting like Jackson Pollock, is it? Anyway, so yes I do belong to a few groups and it's very expanding, hopefully, for me as well.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

WR: I'm drawn to a lot of works. One of the things I like to do at night when I'm very tired is go on the internet and visit galleries, visit blogs, visit other people's websites and just see. It helps me keep in touch with what's going on out there because being an artist is isolating. You need to work, at least I do, in isolation but at the same time you need to maintain connections and that is an effort sometimes for me. I go into other people's work and see what is going on out there. Visit galleries, you can see other artists' work on the galleries, visit museums. I recently saw Jules Olitski at a gallery and wrote about it on my blog.

Blogging has been a lot of fun too. That helps me communicate. It is a place where people can go to. I think it is a little bit more personable than a website. A website is a nice tool for people, galleries to go to and see what you do, but if you want to know what the person feels or their sources, inspirational sources and so forth. I saw Jules Olitski at the Currier Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire and so I, at night I thought his name was Oliski, it is Olitski so it is like O Lit Sky- beautiful and I'm going to read a quote, 'I decided to be a painter when my grandmother died. And there was something about that that made a number of things clear to me. I was a kid... and I loved her very much and feel that in some way she was one of the few people who supported me. That is she loved me. I got, nonetheless, the sense of an absolutely wasted, thrown away life. Like a dead cat on a garbage pail heap. And it made me get a very clear look on at all the people around me... My family, their friends... And the one thing that got through to me was the notion of... If there's one thing you want to do, that's meaningful, in my case it was painting, do it. Do it.' And then he also says, 'If I could just get a spray of color in the air and sometime and some how it would stay there, that would be it.' He was one of the original color wash painters who just did a canvas in masses of melting colors. It's wonderful work.

Other people I like, Dorothy Caldwell does very detailed kind of mending, she does lots of stitching and she is inspired by old clothing and tactile pieces of fabric, very, her work has lots of stitching on it and she does this kind of reverse batik so she paints with wax and then discharges. It is the opposite of adding color. You are taking color away. Joan Schulze is probably one of the best photography and collage artist out there. She has a wonderful book. To me Denise Linet who is another New Hampshire artist, her reflective work, she also uses the silk screening, thermal fax, that I mentioned before. I don't know if I can say this right, Itchiku, it is I-T-C-H-I-K-U first name and last name K-U-B-O-T-A, has done a series of kimono in Japan where he is taking the traditional way of making kimono and making a series of kimono that covers the seasons. The kimonos are continuous and one kimono goes into the next kimono. This is another form of fiber arts. I mean, I could go on and on, I mean, there are so many people out there in the fiber art world. It is wonderful, it is exciting.

KM: Describe your studio.

WR: I have two studios. I have one in my home. I took over the master bedroom because it was the largest room in the house and has wonderful light. I have another studio at an old mill building in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. New Hampshire has a lot of old mill buildings. We were interestingly enough; the textile industry was big in our area during the Industrial Revolution so my studio is in an old textile building. We also have a lot of shoe mills up here too. My studio in the home is sort of my business center where I do a lot of dry working, like mounting my works, finishing the works, printing labels, printing materials, although I do have a lot of duplications of my paints and silk screens and so forth. I carry a bag to and fro with a lot of my core work that I'm working on or things that I need. I have a sewing machine in both studios. I have a steam press in my studio here at home. A lot of my resource material, I keep a lot of journals of my inspiration ideas and so forth. It is sort of like a real life way of going into inspiration mode and then my studio at the mill is where I will invite clients or have workshops when I have them. I have a gallery wall there. I participate in their open studio events. That is also my wet studio where I do a lot of my dyeing and painting and so forth. I have, I store my booth there. It is a more active large place. I have meetings there, things like that. It is more of a public space and yet it is private and it is sanctuary in a way. That's where I go when I need to be alone, to let things out of my head.

KM: How do you balance your time?

WR: Not well. [laughs.] I don't balance my time very well. That is, I don't think you ever can achieve real balance. Isn't that like perfection? There is no way of being perfect and there is no way, I think to totally balance my life. My husband says I'm a woman obsessed and in a way this is very obsessive because I have a lot of ideas, I continue to have a lot of ideas, I write them down. Sometimes I look at them and think what was I thinking! I have no idea, but I do try, When I go for a walk, I always carry something to write with because inevitably I forget, so it is nice to have something to jot them down on. I think my life rotates around my art and I have to remember, it's a great deal of effort sometimes, to remember to keep contact with my friends and my family. My husband does bring me down to earth. He is sort of my rock. He is a Taurus, that is a very stabilizing influence and I'm on the cusp, if you get into astrology at all. I'm Aquarius /Capricorn. Capricorn very pragmatic and dogma and organized and you know, that is my business side and then the Aquarius side and that is more airy and flighty and so I'm always, like the woman with a balloon. [laughs.] The balloon is higher than my body, the part holding it all together. I don't think I ever really achieve balance.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

WR: The biggest challenge. I think the biggest challenge for most quiltmakers is honoring themselves, honoring the fact that they are artists and get into accepting that they are artists. I think a lot of quiltmakers because perhaps they are woman, are trepidations about what they do, they are not, they just don't accept the fact that they have talent. Talent isn't born either, I think we all have some talent that you can develop and working your work, making art is the best way to develop it. Just walking forward with this and then bringing it forward- it can be exhibits and so forth, I think that is the biggest challenge for our quilt artists is recognizing that they have that. Then I think the next challenge is getting it out into the "real art world", move into that large group of people, to be recognized by the art world, that would be nice. It is a challenge.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

WR: Starting out, well, joining a guild is good. When you start out I think you do need a lot of support and bolstering by other people. Taking workshops with lots and lots of other artists in the field is another way of focusing in on what you like the best as well as gaining skills and that will help create your art. Going to websites and blogs and so forth, exposing yourself. There are a couple of magazines, I don't know if I can mention these?

KM: Sure.

WR: Fiber Arts Magazine is one of my perennial favorites. Surface Design is an association as well as having an excellent journal. Ornament Magazine while it deals with jewelry and it does have some fiber arts kind of things. Quilting Arts Magazine how in the heck did I forget that. They are a new magazine relatively but they have a lot of energy behind them and they have a series, a TV series now, that you can request from public service TV in your area and they have DVDs which you can get. There are tutorials on You Tube, a lot of people now put them out, technology has opened up our world and even Photoshop does tutorials on the web. Just learning, learning, learning and gaining your skills. One of the things that I like to do, again at night when I'm tired and I'm over fifty so I'm very tired at nights, is when I get those magazines out that I just mentioned, the older copies because you accumulate as you get older, you run out of room for things, so what I do is take my older issues and I look through them at night and I tear out pictures. I have learned to keep the names of the artists in the photographs I tear out because then I paste them into books that I make. I make journals. I don't buy them I make them. It is a very satisfying ultra hobby. Anyway, so I paste the photographs and so forth in there and they have become a source of inspiration but also looking back into these, what I call inspirational journals, you learn about yourself. You look at the pictures and you see the colors that you like and you see what formations of art that you like and the drawings, anything that you put in these become, I call 'the window to yourself' journals because you learn about yourself through them. I think artists tend to be very intuitive and absorb things all the time so you are soaking in and you need to then let it out - to become aware of them and that is one of the ways, besides making art that you can let it out and learn about yourself. Making art for me is very personable, personal, I should say personal. It's a way of getting it out, I think mentioned before, the feelings that I have and the inspirations that I have. Sometimes it is just about technique. Oh let's try this technique and see how this works, but mostly its sharing my awe of the natural world or the inspirations from other folks and quotes from people. I collect quotes in my inspirational books, so along with the pictures I have quotes from various artists and writers as I find them.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

WR: Remember when? [laughs.] I really never thought about how I wanted to be remembered. I don't know, as an inspiration maybe. If I could just inspire one person to recognize their voice, to recognize, getting back to the Barack piece, to recognize what we can all do for our country, the art and so forth. I guess just being the voice of inspiration.

KM: I was really surprised at how taken quiltmakers were with Barack Obama. Were you also surprised?

WR: I belong to Quilt Art List. I think the exhibit was initiated there by Susan; I'm going to try to say her last name--

KM: It's Walen.

WR: I think it started there and I think it started shortly after the election.

KM: Actually people were making art work long before the, before she put the call out. I just find it very curious.

WR: I think he, again, he is a well thought out, inspirational figure. A lot of people have compared him to Lincoln and my husband has been watching the Ken Burns series on the Civil War recently, so I would have to say I don't actually sit down and watch it but I hear it, and Lincoln was eloquent without using a lot of words. As far as the inspiration, I mean it's in the air. In a way, if we hadn't had our last president for as many years, perhaps Barack would not have been elected. I think people are, you know. There is a point of readiness, if you are into child development at all, a two year old is ready to do certain things but not at one, you need to wait until the child is two, than it will happen, and in a way, I think that is the point our country is at. We are ready to accept, perhaps, diversity among people. We are ready to realize people who are gay deserve to be married to their loved ones. We can not judge. We aren't in the position to judge. Your higher creative, whatever you call God, is the only judge and whenever we make a judgment, we end up creating strife. For instance, all of the things that are going on in the Middle East. I don't know, if I answered the question, I think we are just at that readiness stage.

KM: I hope so. [laughs.]

WR: Me too.

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share that I haven't touched up?

WR: Let's see. I can't, not really, I think, I feel like I have talked a lot. I just really appreciate this opportunity to speak with you, to share my ideas. I hope that we can all move forward in the next millennium.

KM: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to share with me. You were wonderful. We are going to conclude our interview at 9:59.