Strata....by Susan Lenz

The "Strata Series" was inspired by the cross-sectional profiles of the earth. The resulting series was worked on water-soluble fabric in free motion machine embroidery. The series was SHORT LIVED. Thus, this blog is a place to BURY blog posts....in the cross-sectional profiles. It functions as a support area for my "main" blog which is Art in Stitches by Susan Lenz.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guardian Angel Lost by FedEx


 Guardian Angel, art quilt.  38" x 30". Image transfers on fabric, vintage coverlet scrap, antique glass buttons and newer buttons, beads and sequins, trim, and a single artificial flower collected from a cemetery dumpster; self-guided, free-motion machine embroidery and dense hand stitching.

(Detail ... click on either image to enlarge.)

This page has been created to help a researcher (such an NPR "All Things Considered" reporter) looking into the FedEx system's method of tracking lost packages.  To submit this idea to NPR, CLICK HERE!


THIS PIECE WAS LOST BY FEDEX GROUND

So ... here's the information I have:

On Wednesday, August 26, 2016 I sent two, separate packages to the same location.  One arrived.  One did not.  The first package contained a 3D piece called Teapot for a show called What’s for Dinner? 2016 at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.  It arrived.  The second package contained Guardian Angel, an art quilt accepted into a juried exhibit curated by internationally renown fiber artist Jane Dunnewold.  It did not arrive. Both packages were addressed to the convention’s affiliated company, Quilt’s Inc., 7660 Woodway, Suite 550, Houston, TX  77063. (713-781-6864 and Fax at 713-781-8182).  The two contact people at Quilt’s Inc. are Becky Navarro, Special Exhibit Coordinator at 713-781-6864, ext. 105 and her assistant Deann Shamuyaria at 713-781-6864, ext. 129. (Email addresses are: beckyn@quilts.com and deanns@quilts.com.)  Both packages included paperwork for the return shipping.  The International Quilt Festival was held during the last week of October.  This event is annually the largest held in the George R. Brown Convention Center and attracts over 62,000 visitors.  It is a big deal.  Having artwork in a special exhibit is a big deal.  The lead time is long … long enough that a “lost package” might reasonably be found, delivered, and still be shown if a genuine effort to locate it is exerted.


The package that was delivered (Teapot ... for What's for Dinner? 2016) had this tracking number:      774351619163

Here is it’s tracking to Houston:
8/26/2015 - Wednesday
12:50 pm
Delivered

Houston, TX


5:15 am
On FedEx vehicle for delivery

HOUSTON, TX


4:58 am
At local FedEx facility

HOUSTON, TX


3:11 am
Departed FedEx location

HOUSTON, TX


8/25/2015 - Tuesday
11:53 pm
Arrived at FedEx location

HOUSTON, TX


9:05 am
Departed FedEx location

ELLENWOOD, GA


1:45 am
Arrived at FedEx location

ELLENWOOD, GA


8/24/2015 - Monday
9:28 pm
Left FedEx origin facility

COLUMBIA, SC


8:40 pm
Arrived at FedEx location

COLUMBIA, SC


7:30 pm
Picked up

COLUMBIA, SC


5:05 pm
In FedEx possession

COLUMBIA, SC

Tendered at FedEx location
4:01 pm
Shipment information sent to FedEx




The package with Guardian Angel, which was lost, had this tracking number:  774351618947
Our FedEx shipper # is 00000599590
The master tracking number for the two packages is 774351619163

On November 13, the package was still in the FedEx system where it is listed with the measurements 5" x 5" x 39" and the status is "Not Closed"

I cannot find a page that confirms the resolution of the claim, but I did get a check (no. 02190061) for $110.99 which includes the shipping costs.  FedEx does not admit losing the package.  It states,"We at FedEx are sorry we were unable to meet you standard on this delivery(s)."

The case number is:  0916542245
Here is the available tracking information for the last package:

8/24/2015 - Monday
9:28 pm
Left FedEx origin facility

COLUMBIA, SC


8:52 pm
Arrived at FedEx location

COLUMBIA, SC


7:30 pm
Picked up

COLUMBIA, SC


5:05 pm
In FedEx possession

COLUMBIA, SC

Tendered at FedEx location
4:01 pm
Shipment information sent to FedEx




PLEASE NOTE:  Both packages were scanned at exactly 9:28 leaving the FedEx Shipping Center in Columbia.  I later learned that the scanning of packages is done INSIDE the truck.  There is no possibility that the package was scanned and then rolled off a conveyor belt to a location outside the actual truck.  The package, however, is not scanned in Ellenton, GA.  I am guessing that it rolled off a conveyor belt before being scanned.  For all I know, it is still on the floor under a piece of equipment in Ellenton, GA.  It could easily have had its bar code damaged in such an action and then be sent to the Over Goods Warehouse in Utah where it should have been opened, inspected, and the return shipping information found.

When I first initiated the claim, I managed to "work my way up the telephone chain" to speak with someone named Georgine who was terse, unfriendly, and tried to tell me that someone named "Michele" was my claims agent.  She told me that FedEx frequently doesn't consider a package lost until 20 business days after the last scan or, at least, that’s the timeline for settling a claim.  I told her that I didn’t really want to have the claim settled; I wanted the package found and delivered.  (By the way, there is no option for requesting a search without actually filing a claim.  One has to initiate the FedEx system for SETTLING a claim in order to have anyone start any process of "looking" for a missing package.)  Nicely, I explained that there was plenty of time to find the package, deliver it, and still have the artwork shown in the exhibition.  Georgine treated me as if I was hysterical and demanding. Honestly, I was being very, very polite.  I strongly believe in the old adage that “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”   

Yet, I was also asking as many questions as possible ... including asking for the FedEx definition of the term "looking".  I literally asked if "looking" includes anyone physically going to the location of the last scanning or to the location at which the next scanning should have taken place.  Georgine switched verbs.  She said the company "traces" packages.  I was more blunt; I asked if “tracing” meant only keyboard activity.  Georgine was defensive and evasive.  I got a strong impression that "looking/tracing" is only a matter of a few keyboard strokes, waiting twenty days, and paying as little money as possible ... or, at least, this is the process if a package carries no additional insurance.  Let's face it!  It is cheaper to pay even the maximum $100 than to actually bankroll real people performing the task of physically LOOKING for a package. 

Later, when speaking to helpful people, I learned that Georgine was, in fact, my claims agent.  The name “Michele” was not attached to the case file.  I never heard from Georgine again.  Yet, of course I was continuing my regular telephone calls (at different times of the day and evening ... hoping to gain someone's sympathy).  I talked to Cody one night.  He confirmed that messages appeared in their system asking the Columbia station if a package was in their "lost" cage.  Of course, I'd already figured out that the package was scanned INSIDE the truck in Columbia ... so it obviously left that terminal.  Cody initiated other "traces" (especially one for the Ellenton terminal where it never arrived), put me on hold, and made a few telephone calls and requested a "search" at the Over Goods Warehouse.  He was nice.  

By this time, I had learned that the Over Goods Warehouse is the place that undeliverable packages are sent.  A package is undeliverable if the barcode is damaged or in any way made illegible.  Once there, packages are opened and inspected. This is done in hopes of finding information that will assist in locating the sender and/or the package’s shipping destination.  Silently, I was hoping that my package would be sent to Utah because I knew that all the necessary information was on the paperwork inside the box.  Plus, I had uploaded a photo of the piece and obviously, the art quilt looks like the photo. Plus, my name is stitched to the back of the piece. 

On another, later day, I spoke with Dakota.  She was very understanding. When I asked for any proactive thing for me to do, she suggested going to the Columbia FedEx Ground shipping center, provided the address and hours, and wished me luck.  That's when I met Tabitha Doughty who took an interest in my case, gave me her FedEx email address and a real telephone number and made inquiries.  She could not find the on-line image of Guardian Angel, which was uploaded on the first day of my claim.  She had me send one directly to her.  She promised to call the next day by 3 PM.  She did.  She continued to look into the matter for another few days and called again ... but made no headway despite another request to search the Over Good Warehouse.  She also had no idea what happens to packages that remain in Utah.  

In the meantime, Becky Navarro of Quilts, Inc. in Texas was working the case from her end.  I provided the tracking and case number. She had a FedEx claims agent initiate another search of the Over Goods Warehouse in Utah.  She also sent a registered letter to David J. Bronczek, FedEx President. She asked various FedEx agents about packages sent to the mysterious Over Goods Warehouse in Utah and got no good answers to any questions. Like Cody, Dakota, Becky, and me, Tabitha found it strange that if my package was there, it hadn't been found.  After all, the return paperwork with all addresses involved is in the box.  

Then on October 4th, I went to an art residency in a remote section of Oregon and had no Internet and very little telephone connectivity. During October, FedEx sent the $110.99 check ($100 plus the cost of shipping) and my husband Steve filed a claim with our private insurance company, which was paid.  I am left with the feeling that FedEx doesn’t really care about packages that are not additionally insured through their system. It is cheaper to pay $100 than to spend man hours really looking for anything.  Still, there remain nagging questions with regards to the Over Goods Warehouse in Utah.  How many packages are sent there per day, per week, per month?  What is the percentage of packages that are “found”? What happens to those packages that are never found? How long can a package stay in the Over Goods Warehouse? Are they burned?  Are they sold at a warehouse auction?  Why do the FedEx agents not have this information? Why can’t an ordinary FedEx customer have the answers to any of these questions?

UPDATE:  Because Guardian Angel was headed to an exhibit curated by Jane Dunnewold, Jane wrote asking whether the piece was ever found.  Jane is a "big name" in the art quilting world.  She knows that over the years FedEx has lost other packages.  She urged me to continue asking questions.  She submitted my information to NPR's "All Things Considered".  That's when I created this blog post and also submitted my request to "All Things Considered".  I urge others to request the same investigation into the Over Goods Warehouse.  HERE'S THE LINK TO NPR for submitting ideas for future episodes.  Jane, the nice people at Quilts Inc., and lots of other artists (including me) are still using FedEx regularly and are now very curious about the manner in which lost packages are handled.  What does become of them?  

I mentioned this curiosity to a friend.  I've known him for years through the local auction house.  We are both "regulars" with "permanent numbers".  He sells things through antique malls and over the Internet.  He's had at least one package gone missing too.  He tackled our questions from a different angle and found Bulward Auctions in Salt Lake City, the auction house that actually does sell items from the Over Goods Warehouse in Utah!  I called.  I was given the telephone number for Northwest Research, a company specializing in "inventory research and management".  Believe it or not, Northwest Research and Bulward Auctions are located in the same, large warehouse.  I talked to two different, articulate ladies including Sharon Alstrom, Ground Help Desk Supervisor, who promised to look into the matter, requesting a search of the terminals involved.  (Of course, I shared this blog post with her.  She seemed to have complete access to the entire FedEx computer system.  I don't know for sure, but I think Northwest Research is actually the "Over Goods Warehouse" for FedEx ... and yet it is a separate vendor, not really part of the FedEx system.) On December 2nd Sharon sent an email stating: "Susan, I am sorry to report that neither terminal was able to locate the missing package. We are going to continue to search and I will update you if we are able to locate. I wish I had better news to report."

I have no idea what is meant by "continue to search".  All looking/tracing/searching has been the result of my diligence and perseverance, my continued efforts and telephone calls.  It has taken hours and hours of time.  I am still left with the sinking feeling that missing packages without additional FedEx insurance are not treated as significant or worth pursuing ... at least in a timely manner.  I can't help but to think that this package would have been found if a proper investigation was initiated when I filed the claim.  Curiosity is still a factor.  After all, how many packages end up in Utah?  Was percentage is found? What percentage is sold at Bulward Auctions? How important are messages from Northwest Research to FedEx managers since these people are employed by different companies? What information is listed when a lost package is opened? Where are they stored? How are they stored? How long are they stored? Who decides that a package cannot be returned and must go to the auction house?  In a telephone conversation with Sharon, Guardian Angel was referred to as a "unique object", not one that would go to Bulward Auctions.  So, what happens to "unique objects"?  I'd really like to know the answers.  I'd really like for Guardian Angel to be found.  It is hard to believe that someone stole a 39" tube carrying an art quilt of an angel!  It is UNIQUE, not a small piece of electronics that can be pawned for a couple dollars!  It is fair easier to believe that this package slipped through the cracks in a system that does not put a high value on packages that aren't insured for large sums of money.  

ANOTHER UPDATE, December 15, 2015

I just got off the telephone with Hope Iverson.  It was a most unpleasant call due to Ms. Iverson's assumption that I was in the midst of a "dispute" and was unnecessarily "upset".  She was returning one or both of the telephone messages I left last week on her answering machine.  I called because she first wrote the following email:

Good Afternoon Ms. Dingman;
 
I am reaching out to you on behalf of FedEx Executive Management in the Ground Cargo Claims Department.
 
The below email has been forwarded to me for review and response.   I would like to discuss this matter with you please let me know a convent time between 730AM-4PM I may contact you to discuss this matter. 
 
This matter has been escalated to the Executive Level, I am sorry for any inconvenience and look forward to hearing from you soon. 
 
Respectfully,
 
Hope L. Iverson
The email to which she referred was one I wrote to Sharon Alstron at Northwest Research.  That message was clearly attached to the correspondence and included a link to this blog post.  Since Ms. Iverson didn't return my call last week, I wrote an email to her on Monday.  It included a link to this blog post with all information and tracking numbers.  Yet, when Ms. Iverson dialed my number, she didn't even know the tracking number.  She blamed me for not including it on the answering machine message because her message requests this information. When I finally got her to look at her email, find my message, and click over to this blog post.  She didn't want to read it.  She asked if there was a "short" version.  Frankly, she was rude, unresponsive, and immediately on the defensive.  She told me that Northwest Research was part of the FedEx system even though it is a separate vendor. She told me that, if found, FedEx didn't own my piece; they only paid their spare of the liability.  She said my package "was lost", which is the first time anyone has admitted this (of course, not in writing.)  She said she'd continue looking for my piece. When I asked what was meant by "looking", she confirmed this meant more email messages.  She said all my other questions were internal matters.  She referred to my artwork as "merchandise".  She was not at all helpful nor the least bit nice. Ms. Iverson's negative attitude and lack of concern for the FedEx customer was almost shocking.  I was hoping that she'd at least express some amount of consideration for the situation.  I told her that I was still using FedEx as a loyal customer.  I promised to initiate a campaign to get anyone or organization with more influence to look into the manner in which claims are handled by FedEx.  


Friday, November 6, 2015

Killed Instantly


 

Killed Instantly

2009
25” x 24”

As a Girl Scout, I remember selling artificial poppies on Veteran's Day to benefit the VA hospital.  The vintage doily was badly damaged but absolutely perfect to be combined with the words of a distraught family.  I couldn’t help but to think that this man would have really preferred to be remembered differently, not just for his tragic death.  This early piece triggered many thoughts about the words selected for graves. As a result, I started collecting epitaphs and really honed in on the concepts behind this series.  This piece also includes a unique piece of fabric for a background.  It was once a black curtain in an office space next to my studio.  Over the years the sunlight severely damaged the curtain, turning it the perfect, distressed and often streaked color needed for my series.  Look around!  I used every scrap of that curtain.  My only regret is that I only grabbed one curtain.  There were two others.  I left them behind … because I hadn’t started this work when I rescued that fabric!

My Epitaph Quilt


 

My Epitaph Quilt

2009
48” x 46”

Who am I? How would I like to be remembered? What legacy do I intend to leave? What personality traits define my actions?

These are among the questions I had to ask myself in order to create this very personal work. I've read thousands of epitaphs. I've free-motion embroidered hundreds onto sheer chiffon banners.  There are over 1200 in my Book of the Dead. Still, it took weeks to sift through these ideas until I came up with the right phrases and a plan for their inclusion on this quilt.

Artist. Child of God. Honest. Passionate Soulmate. (I love you Steve) Embroiderer. In Awe of the World. Industrious. Mother of 2 Miracles. (Mathias and Alex)

Artificial Flowers


 

Artificial Flowers

2010
37” x 22”

All the flowers came from my many dumpster diving trips to local cemeteries. After retrieving the blossoms from the trash, I dissected each one....discarding the plastic and wire....leaving only the fabric. I washed them, lay them flat to dry, and separated the tiniest flowers into separate plastic bags. I knew I wanted to stitch some of these smaller flowers on an art quilt but I needed a good reason.  This epitaph was perfect:  On Earth a Bud; In Heaven a Flower. My stash of artificial flowers is now quite enormous.  Every blossom, every petal was brought to a cemetery as a token of remembrance but later tossed away.  Artificial flowers from cemetery dumpsters have lead me down several fiber avenues, including winning the top recycling award at Wearable Arts in British Columbia and creating my only performance art piece called Ophelia.  For that, I wore a red wig and lie in an antique, claw-footed bathtub full of flowers as if the drowned Shakespearean character who died for the love of Hamlet.  I love these flowers!

Only Child


 

Only Child

2010
16” x 16”

In November 2009 I was in Texas installing my solo show, Blues Chapel.  I met many great people....including a lady who sent me a package full of amazing antique and vintage material. It spilled out onto my studio table in such a way that I could already "see" this little quilt. Yes, the doll's dress came in the stash!  It didn't take long for me to know exactly what to do. I spent Easter morning in the cemetery. Church bells chimed in the distance; the weather was warm; the sun shining; everything was perfect. I found the rubbing I wanted: ONLY CHILD. That's worth remembering...especially on Easter.

Milestones




Milestones
2010
44” x 37”

An artist friend wore this wedding dress during her first marriage ceremony. She donated it to me for my artwork.  My friend is a very small framed marathon runner. The tea-length dress is likely a size zero....unless there's a size even smaller. The grave rubbings were meant to signify the stereotypical life markers in a woman's traditional life: Born, married, died. The veil includes these words as well as the title "Wife". They were free motion stitched on a water soluble stabilizer which was washed away. I'm not cynical about marriage or life and death or conventional role models.  The words include "Beloved Wife and Daughter". My personal hope is to be remembered in both these capacities. At the same time, I'm also hoping that I'm remembered for my art, for my personal uniqueness, and as an individual apart from convention.  This piece has been included in several juried exhibitions.  My statement for it is:   Mrs. Margaret Tobin Brown, aka “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, once described her husband as the type of man who thought a woman’s name ought to only appear in the newspaper upon birth, marriage, and death.  She did not agree and women’s suffrage issues were among her many philanthropically works.  One hundred years later, much has changed but not so much that the milestones of an ordinary woman’s life aren’t still marked by these three occasions.

Annamaria


 

Annamaria

2010
21” x 15”

This is the only time I’ve made a grave rubbing from a relative's marker ....well, not a "blood relative". Annamaria was my Aunt Margaret's sister. Aunt Margaret married my Dad's older brother, my Uncle Mathias....for whom my elder son is named. (They had no children.)  The grave is in the little town of Udvari, Hungary....a place I visited with my Mom, Dad, and sister Wanda during the summer of 2010.  Though my family came from Hungary, they were Germans.  Hence, the words are in German.  It was difficult to make this grave rubbing because the Lutheran Church is abandoned and the churchyard is totally overgrown with years of weed growth.  It was worth the effort.  I made the grave rubbing with my father holding the fabric in place.

Endless Life



 

Endless Life

2011
38” x 33”

Endless Life is a good example of how I combine grave rubbings made from different eras and different parts of the world.  Three of the rubbings (the folk art angels/skull) were made while in Lydford, England. The markers were from the late 18th century. Two of the other angels date from the same time period but were in Maine. The epitaph, however, comes from Rock Creek Park Cemetery in Washington, DC.  Some of the other phrases were from the late nineteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries.  The background of this piece is sort of special too. I friend moved to California to pursue an MFA in photography. She gave me her stash of vintage clothing, material, and other assorted fabrics....including an old painter's drop cloth. I don't think I could have intentionally created a more perfect ground for these rubbings. Occasionally, I'd hit a patch of more solid, acrylic paint through which it was harder to stitch....but it was worth it!

Charles Otis


 

Charles Otis

2011
46” x 38”


Before Valentine's Day in 2011, I got permission from the Unitarian Church in Charleston to make a grave rubbing of Otis Charles' tombstone. This was a really big deal because almost all the downtown cemeteries have posted rules prohibiting rubbings.  This is the first time I've ever made a rubbing from an entire grave. It is also the first time that I've included a full name with dates too. The crochet pieces were once a bedspread. It seems that the person making it accidentally used a different thread half way through the production, which probably discolored/bleached out once it was washed. The result was a strange two-toned off-white thing that looked dreadful. It had several holes. I had my studio assistant carefully cut all the pieces apart.  I really liked having two shades of crochet for the embellishments. They are all attached using French knots.  All the letters have been outlined in free motion embroidery ... including all the strange letters that replace some of the letter "s". They sort of resemble an "f" but the horizontal, crossing line only appears on the right side.  I didn’t know what this letter was called.  I blogged about the finished art quilt and asked my cyber readers if they knew.  One lady did.  It is called a “long s”.  There is even a Wikipedia entry for this unique letter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s

The Cemetery


 

The Cemetery

2011
68” x 55”

My son is a principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet … in England.  I have several blogging fiber friends … in England … including Julie Mackinder.  As a parent, I’d never allow my child to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to meet a cyber pal, but as an art quilter, I had no worries about meeting Julie in the Nottingham Cemetery.  We had a blast!  I knew I wanted to return with a really big piece of silk to make a whole-cloth design from the wonderful slate grave markers.  Slate is the absolute perfect material for a quality grave rubbing. Evidently, it is also the perfect material for someone to chisel extraordinarily complicated and ornate details too. I've confirmed that slate was being quarried in the Nottingham area during most of the 19th century. The graves dated from the early 1840s through the 1890s.  In March 2011 I got my chance to return to Nottingham.  My husband Steve came with me.  It took us under one hour and fifteen minutes to make all the grave rubbings for this work.  I couldn’t have done it without Steve.  He was an excellent assistant … holding the fabric in place while I used my brown and black crayons.

Forever


 

Forever

2011
22” x 26”

During the summer of 2011 I rummaged through the plastic tub in which I keep my grave rubbings, I found one without words. It was just the two heart shapes, flowers and leaves, and a place for a name above ... in brown crayon. (I rarely ever make an impression of people's names.) I don't remember making this rubbing ... which cemetery ... for what idea ... or when ... but I liked it. So, I didn't put it back in the tub. It sat around my studio for about a week until a good idea formed.

Then, I went to Elmwood Cemetery. It's only about three blocks from my house. It was surprising how long it took to find our names ... both of which are rather common ... and the years of our births (looking for smaller than average sized numbers). It was peaceful though. It was hot, above one hundred degrees.  This might be the only tombstone Steve and I will ever have.  (We plan to be cremated.)  It only seemed fitting that the grave rubbing be combined with a bridal gown.  I already had two in my stash.  Why?  Well, I created an installation called I Do / I Don’t using eleven old wedding veils.  When scavenging thrift shops and auctions for the veils, I had two occasions where I was forced to purchase the entire bridal ensemble.  One dress was undoubtedly more beautiful than the other.  Parts of the dress were recycled into the background, trim, and the entire reverse for this art quilt.  In fact, the reverse took longer to create than the front.  Why? Well, I decided that the gorgeous beading had to be used.  It took hours with a seam ripper to remove the complicated, bead-and-lace appliqués. I wanted these to have a little contrast with the pretty brocade fabric ... so I also tea stained the material.

Anonymous


 

Anonymous

2011
49” x 37”

This piece developed slowly. My stash of vintage household linens had grown too large but I couldn't part with any of the pieces ... even the stained or damaged ones. Someone had stitched these tea towels, pillowcases, table runners, and napkins. I cherished them. While visiting Elmwood Cemetery (which is only three blocks from my house), I noticed the tombstone erected in memory of unknown family members. There seemed to be a connection between the anonymous stitches and the almost forgotten burial site. The 1930s era child's slip sealed the mental design ... my vision for this work. I bought the slip in a "table lot" at Bill Mishoes' auction. The grave rubbing was made on Easter morning, 2011. The quilt was designed during the early summer.  It was stitched during my August art residency at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.  Every Saturday that month found me in one of the historic bathhouses stitching in public.  This piece was a perfect way to show the legacy of remembrance and my personal approach to making art quilts while also talking about the women who would have come to that very building in the heyday of the hot springs … bringing their crazy quilts and embroidery threads to be plied on household linens just like the ones I used to make the piece.

The Minstrel


 

The Minstrel

2011
23” x 21”

I couldn't resist making a grave rubbing of the unique marker to a bygone character, a minstrel. The tombstone is in one of the historic cemeteries in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  I designed the art quilt during my August  2011 artist residency at Hot Springs National Park.  I wanted this piece to reflect a raggedness, a patched together world that I imagine as the life of a minstrel. It is not square or totally flat or "perfect" in anyway. The stitching is intentionally varied and haphazard ... rough, rugged, held together by a thread ... or a few thousand stitches!  The back is all that was left from a purchase made over a decade ago at Bill Mishoes' auction house ... back before I ever started stitching as an artist ... back when I spent everyday framing pictures and managing a staff that numbered up to fourteen strong. Back then, I dreamed of time to ply a threaded needle. I'd buy beloved, vintage fabric just to touch occasionally ... as the physical manifestation of a half hidden dream. The buttons came from the floor of the abandoned South Carolina State Mental Hospital ... and I intentionally selected the worst looking ones ... the ones with the most character and sense of "being used". They hold the most "life".

The Death of Desire


 

 The Death of Desire

2012
28” x 41”

On Halloween weekend in 2011 I was given permission to make crayon-on-fabric grave rubbings in Charleston’s Circular Churchyard, a place otherwise prohibiting this activity.  It was an honor.  I spent most of the day creating a very large, whole-cloth quilt using almost every suitable stone available.  The resulting work was accepted into Quilt National 2013 and has recently finished touring with that show.  Yet, I had more silk fabric.  Late in the afternoon I made this grave rubbing from my very favorite marker. The name of the woman buried under it is Desire Peronneau. She died in 1740.  I also used my very favorite thread for the self-guided, free-motion machine embroidery, King Tut’s Cedar, #983.  The hand seed-stitched background, however, took ages longer than the machine work

Monday, March 31, 2014

Artist Profile in Dale Rollerson's IN FUSION e-magazine


(Above:  The first page of my artist profile in the March 2014 issue of In Fusion, an e-magazine published by Dale and Ian Rollerson of The Thread Studio in Perth, Australia.)

Recently I was honored to write both a feature article, called Hot and Hair-Brained, for Dale and Ian Rollerson's In Fusion e-magazine as well as this artist profile called Never Enough ... Art and Hours.  This Internet publication is loaded with interesting techniques, supplies, ideas, and insider information into the lives and thoughts of many of today's contemporary stitchers.  At first I was a bit stumped when asked to write a profile.  It is harder than one might think to write about oneself.  What "part" of me would be best?  I wondered what to share ... my melting pieces, my art grave rubbing art quilts, my 3D assemblages that include fiber and stitch?  All of my work?  I worried that I'd come off as schizophrenic.  I go in so many different directions that it might seem unrelated (though for me my work is completely interconnected! LOL!)  I talked by my husband Steve about it.  He asked me, "What would you like to say to Dale's readers? Isn't it more important to "say something" than to "show something"?"  This got me thinking that many people don't really care what it is that another artist makes, but they really do care about the journey that artist took and how it might impact their life and art.  So, I wrote a profile that is meant to communicate the uphill battle of becoming "full time" ... the humble and silly thoughts of a once "wannabe" artist figuring out how to work seriously and with commitment.  The article is shown with loads of images of my work ... from every series ... and hopefully comes off in a "sane" manner.  To read the article with the accompanying images, get a subscription HERE.  Below, however, is the text.  Enjoy!  I sure enjoyed writing it.  (I also have another article in this issue.  It is on my melting techniques and called Hot and Hair-Brained.  It can be read HERE.)

NEVER ENOUGH ... ART AND HOURS
by Susan Lenz

Being a full-time, professional studio artist is a complex, lofty goal.  It’s been my dream since I embarked on this creative fiber adventure just over a decade ago.  At that time, I thought to myself, “Susan, if you could simply create a body of work … say eighteen related pieces … you could call yourself an artist.”  Well, I made those eighteen pieces.  I asked a local coffee shop to display my work.  They agreed.  Then it dawned on me that I had all my work there.  I had nothing in my little rented studio to show for myself.  My next thought, “Susan, perhaps a body of work should number thirty-six pieces”. 

I made the new work in time to accept the coffee shop’s offer to hang pieces in their second location.  Believe it or not, they had a third shop too!  By the time I’d made enough work for all these locations, I’d learned that the number of pieces isn’t important.  I would NEVER have enough new work.  There will ALWAYS be a need for “more”.

Hanging artwork in an alternative location was wonderful.  I got plenty of feedback from the community and some pieces even sold.  This gave me validation and enough guts to start entering juried exhibitions.  Since I don’t come from a traditional background of sewing, quilting, or any sort of needlework, I looked to the fine art world for opportunities.  I asked other artists about shows they entered.  I used google to locate regional, national and even international calls-for-entry.  What did I find? Too many possibilities!  I came to realize that I’d have to pick and chose because I still didn’t have enough new work. 

Likely my ignorance helped.  I had no problem entering shows despite the fact that many exhibition prospectuses didn’t specifically call for “fibers”.  My work was 2D … just like a painting or pastel or photograph.  If a show had a quality juror; was in a respectable, insured venue; promised new exposure; offered a prize fund; and looked to be a “good fit” for my work, I entered.

At first, entering shows felt like going to the post office and pouring cash into the mail slot.  Rejection hurt but there were always other shows waiting for my application.  There were some early acceptances too.  Moments of pure joy were generally followed by hours of panic until I figured out how to ship my work and include a pre-paid, return-mailing label.  Like anything else, there is a learning curve.

As soon as a piece of artwork was accepted, it became “unavailable” for other opportunities.  Sometimes this “unavailable period” lasts for as long as two years.  Sometimes it is “forever” if the piece sells while away.  What did I learn from this?  I needed more work, of course!

I also learned that keeping good records of absolutely every little detail is really, really important.  Over the years I’ve had respectable institutions forget to mail checks for sold artwork, forget to return artwork, and forget to send a monetary prize.  Without a three-ring binder holding all the paperwork (including correspondence, tracking numbers, contracts, image lists, etc.), I couldn’t manage the life of a full-time, professional studio artist … and I wasn’t even one yet!

A couple years into making work and learning these early lessons, I was also feeling rather small and puny, unsuccessful, and under appreciated… and also very “middle aged” in a world of bright, academically educated, young artists.  Sure, I was working hard but I wasn’t “full time”.  My initial dream seemed very far away.  Then a miracle happened!  I had an epiphany!

It happened during a contemporary installation art event in a small town near my home in Columbia, South Carolina.  The local organization brought in internationally renowned artists with Central and South American roots to make site-specific works of art.  The climax on opening night was a giant bonfire.  Sure, it was conceptually more involved than just lighting a match to a bunch of twigs, but I didn’t want to see it that way.  I was too jealous of the status, the accolades, and the entire public perception of “big name” artists who enjoyed “full-time” studio careers.  (Picture me “green” with envy and not appreciating the work appropriately!)

The bonfire was meant as a symbolic gesture, a chance for people to offer up their prayers and multi-cultural believes in the many creative forces beyond a single evening.  In a self-pitying way, I said to myself even more than I said to God, “Susan, you could build a stupid bonfire.  You were a Girl Scout after all.  The most important difference between you and this artist is “full time” status.  So … okay, God, here’s my prayer … I WANT TO BE A FULL-TIME ARTIST”.

Before the thought completely formed in my pea-brain, a truth was made obvious as if by divine intervention.  (Please imagine a lightening bolt obliterating my “green-with-envy” attitude!)  Full-time has absolutely nothing to do with academic standing, age, gender, financial status, a lengthy CV, loads of juried shows, sales of work, or anything other than TIME.  “Full-time” in any other profession means putting in the hours … generally forty a week (or 37.5 by US government standards).  Being a full-time professional studio artist doesn’t mean making a living.  It means making art … forty hours of art per week.

This might seem obvious but it really isn’t.  Too many artists equate “full time” with financial rewards.  Too many people think “professional” means “earning income”.  They think that the money ought to be at least a “living wage”.  This just isn’t the case.

I talked about my epiphany with my husband Steve.  He agreed to help me rearrange my days so that I could spend forty hours making art.  He took over all cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, yard work, and any other domestic task in our lives.  From that moment on, I became a full-time studio artist. 

It was harder than I thought.  First, one must fill those hours actually making art … loads and loads of art.  Ideas that had kept me up at night seemed to evaporate from memory during the day.  My four studio walls seemed to encroach upon my creative energy.  There was only one solution.  I got a time card and simply worked.  It didn’t matter if that work was “good” or “bad” or anything else.  I just worked … putting in forty hours a week in addition to my job as a custom picture framer.  In the process, I was also working through several mental blocks.  I had to ignore the nagging voice in the back of my head that insisted this path was impossible.  Instead, I had to act on hair-brained ideas that popped into my imagination.  I also learned that daily writing is a very helpful way to tap into my natural talents and make sense out of the visual stimulation of day-to-day life.  I write almost every morning now, stream-of-consciousness journal entries.  This practice helps me while I’m in the studio.  It fuels my concepts and defines workable plans for artistic execution.  It is how inspiration becomes art.  Eventually, working forty hours a week becomes a habit.  The time cards aren’t needed.  They are replaced by routine.

Every month the transition from “part-time” to “full-time” got easier.  In addition to embroidery, I started making 3D found art assemblages, art quilts, artist and altered books, collages, and fiber vessels.  The more time I spent making art, the better the art became.  This was a funny realization!  I could almost hear my mother’s voice saying, “Susan, practice makes perfect”.  Even if “perfect” never happens, “better” almost always does. 

Yet, the funniest thing about becoming a full-time studio artist is the fact that I still need MORE art.  There’s never enough of it!  There never will be.