Saturday, October 14, 2017

On the Trail of Violet Oakley

I love this selfie together with Violet Oakley's "Eve at the Feet of Mary", a proposal for a fountain, 1945-49.  It is one of her many wonderful drawings in charcoal and white chalk on brown paper, now at Woodmere Art Museum through January 21, 2018, part of their ambitious retrospective "A Grand Vision:  Violet Oakley and the American Renaissance."

Fellow Dumpster Diver George Felice and I started our Violet Oakley pilgrimage at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Philadelphia.

This church contains a ten panel mural frieze, Oakley's last mural series, produced from 1945-49 when she was in her seventies.  It was a collaboration with Edith Emerson, who was first her student, then her collaborator and life's partner.  Here we saw the painting of Eve at the Feet of Mary (according to Dante), that we later saw in the drawing.

 Every panel was signed in her distinctive way:

We especially enjoyed the panel of Eve in the garden:

 George and Eve:

 Me and Eve:

I especially loved her trees over the doorways honoring the women of the bible, including some lesser-known ones.  She was a feminist to the core, even to her theology. 


Even in the panel of Mary Magdalene washing and annointing Jesus' feet, the woman feels more central than Jesus himself, and is painted with more tenderness and sense of personality.

We couldn't leave the church without looking at the spectacular stained glass in the main sanctuary.  Some of it is by Tiffany, although I'm not sure about this one.  Seen on a sunny day at around 11:30 a.m., it is located so that light pours in illuminating the child in an uncanny and mysterious way, that is mesmerizing. 

It was fun to go from the church to the Violet Oakley retrospective at Woodmere Museum, which highlights not only her prolific accomplishments as a muralist, portraitist, stained glass designer, and illustrator, but also her deep civic involvement both in Philadelphia and globally.  When The Plastic Club was formed in 1897 as a place for women artists to meet, exchange ideas, and exhibit their work, Violet Oakley was there from the beginning.  Deeply committed to peace and social justice, her portraits of the delegates to the League of Nations are fascinating.  She achieved international fame at a time before women had the right to vote.

Here is a self-portrait from 1920, submitted as part of her admittance to the National Academy of Design:

Most touching to me was the watercolor portrait of her done by Edith Emerson, her life's partner, in 1952 when Violet was seventy-eight:

Edith was somewhat younger than Violet, and was director of Woodmere Art Museum from the early 1940's through 1978.  They were definitely a 'power couple'!  It was great to learn more about Violet Oakley, as well as about Edith Emerson, in a setting where their relationship was not glossed or whitewashed.



Monday, October 9, 2017

It was a Dream and a Vision, and now a Reality!

Jesse White and I are at the opening reception of "Clay Monoprints:  Dreams, Visions, and Alternate Realities - An Exhibit of Works by Susan Richards".  Jesse is the Director of Arts and Spirituality at Pendle Hill, A Quaker Study, Retreat, and Conference Center in Wallingford, PA. 

It takes a very special place to even have an Arts and Spirituality Program!   I am grateful that Jesse asked me to exhibit my clay monoprints. 

She is a great curator.  I enjoyed working with her to hang the show in The Tree Rooms Gallery, and appreciated how she thought about creating coherence between walls as well as within them.  I love the result!

These two are so perfect together on their own wall:

All but one of the others hang unframed:

They are printed on an industrial substrate called Reemay, which is heavy and fabric-like enough that they can hang on their own like Chinese scrolls, and don't really need to be under glass. 

I also included a dried and fired clay slab that had been used for printing, together with the last print that had been pulled from it when it was in use:

This is what the slab looked like, as it was drying out and cracking, before it was fired:

Since the pigments we add to slip (a very thinned form of clay) in order to paint with clay are water-based and not intended to be fired, as are e.g. glazes, the slab fired monochromatically, almost like a photographic negative of its final print.   Hopefully being able to look at the slab up close together with its last print helps people conceptualize how the prints are made.

There is a reason the gallery is called The Tree Rooms Gallery.  The windows look out on the beautiful Pendle Hill grounds.

The reception was very well attended.  It was great to see old friends and to make new ones.  Here I am greeting John Meyer, the Communications and Outreach Coordinator, who designed the wonderful flyer:

Susan Turkel and Mark Hillegonds looking at the clay slab:

My brother-in-law David taking a photo of a mixed-media clay monoprint - a clay monoprint with added ceramic pieces and seed pods.

John Benigno, from my DEEP SIX group was there with his wife Chris, as was Melvin Chappell, another DEEP SIXer.

Sue Long, from our Women With A View artists group:

I guess I talked with my hands, during my artist's talk:

I had tools in the blue tote bag to help illustrate how clay monoprints are made.  The bag was made from my print Unexpected Doorway at

Making clay monoprints has been an unexpected doorway for me, as has this exhibit.  I know that making clay monoprints will be part of my art practice as long as I am able.  I am grateful to Mitch Lyons for so patiently developing clay monoprinting and for teaching and sharing it so generously.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Clay Monoprinting in the Wilderness

The Craft School Experience:  Having a total immersion art-making marathon with nationally recognized teachers, in the middle of nowhere.  The best kind of summer camp for adults!  

Peters Valley School of Craft is in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a breathtakingly beautiful reserve that is relatively close to Philadelphia.  

I went there to spend the long Labor Day weekend making clay monoprints with Mitch Lyons, shown above with Autumn, our Fellow and a recent MFA graduate.   Mitch is the iconic pioneer of clay monoprinting who originated, explored, and developed it. He continues to explore all the time; clay monoprinting continues to develop. All of us who do it learned it from him or from someone who learned it from him. I get a kick out of how he wears his pony roller, the tool that hand presses the print, in a holster on his tool belt. 

He gave several wonderful demonstrations, that opened the door to appreciating the unending possibilities. Here he is using the kind of clay decal that is more often used on pottery. 

He is about to print on black sandpaper. 

The effect of using the leaf is haunting.

He is a big fan of using pastel chalk, which is largely made from clay.  He distributes it by scraping it through a strainer.

We made our own pastels by drying any leftover colored slip.  This made for a fascinating range of colors, far more various than commercially purchased pastels.

Our studio was on the second floor of this house:

We hung our prints to dry from a clothesline on the balcony.

By Monday morning we were all glad it was warm and sunny, after a couple of days of cold and rain.  Can you tell that clay monoprinting makes me happy?

Here is my slab after I pulled that print:

I pretty much stopped taping the edges.  Printing the whole area gives a kind of frame around it that I like.  It looks better too if unframed, and hanging with the wooden strip system I am using for the Pendle Hill show.  

The slabs are works of art in themselves.  This one is from a different series, making use of my mother's landscape design stencils.

We were nine participants and I learned from everyone. There was great synergy. Each person's work was so different and unique.  My new friend Elizabeth has been coming to Peters Valley for 20-something years - a real veteran.  You can see the back of her other snake print through the window.

The floor in the hallway of our studio was beautifully weathered.  We hoped our prints would look as good!

Our final critique / share:

By then we were all eager to hit the road, hoping to avoid the worst of Labor Day traffic.  It wasn't bad though, not like the shore traffic.

It will be a while before I get a chance to hand finish all the work I did, and I'll share it when I do. (First I have to prepare the Pendle Hill pieces for hanging.)  I brought home a batch of extra slip in a covered container, the magical stuff we add pigment to and paint with.  I'm tempted to use this container like a sourdough starter: just add a little bit to every batch I mix up, so a little bit of Peters Valley will infuse all my colors.