Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nancy Crow Solo Exhibition at The Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center



CONSTRUCTIONS #95: Reaching An Understanding!
2008-2009 NANCY CROW
77 1/4" wide X 53" tall
100 % cottons hand-dyed and machine-pieced by NANCY CROW
Hand-quilted by Marla Hattabaugh with pattern denoted by NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons




I recently made a list of my art heroes which includes Ohio native Nancy Crow . On May 29 The Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn NY will open a solo exhibition of 57 quilts by this dynamic and internationally-known artist. The show entitled: Nancy Crow: Recent and New Work will run through August 15.

It has been my desire to write about Nancy from the first posting of my blog series on artists and this seems like the perfect time.





CONSTRUCTIONS #97: SO MANY DECISIONS!
2009 NANCY CROW
64" wide X 40" tall
100 % cotton fabric hand-dyed by NANCY CROW
Free-hand cut and machine-pieced improvisationally by NANCY CROW
Hand-quilted by Marla Hattabaugh with pattern denoted by NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons




Detail:
CONSTRUCTIONS #97: SO MANY DECISIONS!
2009 NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons


My introduction to Nancy Crow was through the purchase of some fabric she had designed for a well known commercial fabric manufacturer. Despite my background as an artist, I had been exploring quilt making with a completely traditional eye. I had been learning basic techniques and working with simple block units when I ran across a collection of fabrics that simply jumped off the pages of a catalog as being fresh and unique. I did not know about Nancy or her work but I purchased the fabric and then I looked her up on the internet. I knew immediately this was someone I wanted to know more about. Someone who made work I wanted to know more about.


That was in the early 2000s and after reading and re-reading the information about her and her workshops at the Crow Timberframe Barn, I committed to attend a workshop. Since that time I have returned many times. Through my work with Nancy I have been able to clarify and focus on the possibilities of the quilt medium and make it my art form.


It is with great appreciation and respect that I present an interview with Nancy Crow.




STRUCTURES #5
2006-2009 NANCY CROW
684 1/4" wide X 67 1/2" tall
Screen-printed by NANCY CROW assisted by Emma Reese
Machine-pieced by NANCY CROW
Hand-quilted by Marla Hattabaugh with pattern denoted by NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons


Nancy Crow Interview


Terry: Are the studio challenges/pressures any different for you today, as an internationally known artist, than from earlier years when you were just starting out?

Nancy: To some extent, I address this in my new statement.

I believe that it is my job as an artist to seek solitude in a space conducive to firing up ideas already floating in the the air or in my head or yet to be discovered; it is then my goal to seek some level of calmness with my own body, my own mind, so I can proceed to work and actually make some progress. What does this mean? It means that I want to go forward without multitudes of assortments of interruptions, either that I produce automatically, subconsciously, obtusely, obstinately or which bombard me from the outside world in the form of phone calls, emails, requests, etc. I view all of these things as forms of procrastination because getting to the point of settling down and creating new work.... the focus...is extremely anxiety producing and I think my body, my mind, tries to avoid anxiety at all costs. Saying this may seem a contradiction.....because I totally love my life as an artist and the opportunity to work in the medium and techniques I find profound.....cloth and machine-piecing.

I do believe that everything today seems to happen faster and faster and faster and that life is whizzing by. I do have lots of opportunities for exhibitions and travels and teaching. And yes, these do take time.

Now, to answer the question in a different way. I feel that entering my studio today to focus and to focus on new work is not more difficult; but rather, I am finally expressing who I am in a more definitive way, perhaps in a way that has begun to plumb the truth to me about who I am. Each piece is a very emotional venture and the best ones are painful.




Detail:
STRUCTURES #5
2006-2009 NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons


Terry: How do you prepare yourself for a new series?


Nancy: How do I prepare????? Since I never draw out anything in my sketchbooks, I prepare by walking into my studio, staring at my two big white walls, one on the north side and one on the west side, glancing over my multitudes of colors, deciding on the techniques I want to use, perhaps going through my dedicated sketchbooks of ideas, shutting the sketchbook and starting. Unless I am incredibly lucky, blessed, firing on all spark plugs/whatever, I will slog through disappointing results, over and over, often by the minute, half hour, hour, day, sometimes weeks, until "bingo" my real being takes over and the ideas start flowing and make sense. It is hard, hard, hard, hard, sometimes excruciating work.


Terry: Do you ever invite anyone into your studio to talk about your work before you show that work?

Nancy: No. I have no need of groups or of anyone else. I trust my own eye and I have done enough hard work to get to the point of trusting my own eye.




CONSTRUCTIONS #99: OVER AND OVER TRYING TO HOLD IT TOGETHER!
2009 NANCY CROW
70" wide X 41 3/4" tall
100 % cotton fabric hand-dyed by NANCY CROW
Free-hand cut and machine-pieced improvisationally by NANCY CROW
Hand-quilted by Brenda Stultz with pattern denoted by NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons




Terry: Please tell us about your new surface design pieces? What is the driving idea behind this work and how do you see it in relation to your more well known pieced work?

Nancy: I love mark-making. I wish I had studied printmaking in college but I did not and instead, pursued ceramics and then weaving.

Today, I am stepping back to study mark-making on fabric. As usual, since I am a very stubborn person, I need to do it my own way (which is frankly, not clear to me!!!!!). So I am studying with a few chosen people (Claire Bean and Leslie Morgan of the United Kingdom) to begin to understand processes that really interest me. Claire and Leslie are astute in their clear instruction and knowledge of surface design. With them as mentors and trouble-shooters, it is my intention to get much better at all of this. I am choosing to find those few techniques/processes which will carry me where I hope to head. Just as I am a machine-piecer, I do not want to use one hundred techniques in mark-making. For me it is important to keep it simple because my brain is always on overload.



Terry: Many artists have work they have completed but the work is never shown as it is not top shelf. I have heard you tell the story about destroying a piece after you had it quilted because you realized it didn't meet your standards. If we peeked into your storage, are there any quilt tops which have never been completed or will never be shown?

Nancy: I know that I am accomplished enough now in composition that there is no reason to allow (allow myself to send out) an inferior piece to go out the door for the final quilting. To me that would be a waste of the time of the quilter and of money. I am rigorous with myself about the composition having to be as dead-on as I can get it to be. However, when I have a chance to review work from ten years ago or earlier work, I can see that at that time, that was what I was able to create.





STRUCTURES #6
2008-2009 NANCY CROW
42" wide X 63 1/2" tall
Screen-printed by NANCY CROW using 12 different screens.
Hand-dyed by NANCY CROW
Machine-quilted by Sandra Ciolino with pattern denoted by NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons



Terry: As a person who travels and sees a great deal of contemporary art work world wide, what kinds of trends do you see in textiles and what do you find exciting? Are there trends you see that you don't like?

Nancy: I am very tired of conceptual art exhibitions. They have hogged so much museum space for too long and many of these exhibitions are lazy, sloppy, boring. Has museum attendance gone up due to conceptual art exhibitions? I wonder? Seeing more of these than I ever hoped to see has forced me to reexamine the work of Donald Judd and to begin to appreciate his huge body of work. I used to hate his work as too intellectual but now I recommend everyone make a journey to Marfa, Texas to spend a week there observing and walking through all of the exhibitions/studios/etc. relating to his work. Take the tours offered by the Chinati Foundations, etc.

Sometimes I wonder if museum directors and curators have any backbone left???? Let's see some sort of balance between beauty and intellectual ideas.




Detail:
STRUCTURES #6
2008-2009 NANCY CROW

Photography by J. Kevin Fitzsimons

Terry: How do you manage to balance the demands of the Crow Timberframe Barn Workshops and other workshops where you teach and travel, with your studio life?

Nancy: It is exhilarating and exhausting! So far I have had very rich life experiences! I am usually positive and hopeful! I try not to look back! I try not to define myself by illness or problems. I have high expectations for myself. I believe in getting on with it and not whining. I believe in speaking up and speaking the truth and not being afraid to do so. By doing so I have gotten myself into plenty of trouble but that is the price to be paid. I just wish I were a whole lot more articulate!


Terry: This summer the HAUS DER WIRTSCHAFT in Stuttgart Germany will host the opening of COLOR IMPROVISATIONS which you envisioned and developed. What was your inspiration for this huge undertaking and what are your expectations for this exhibition?

Nancy: This exhibition will highlight the work of the first round of quilt-makers who have studied with me over an extended number of years, in many cases up to fifteen years. It has been a long time dream to see a cohesive body of quilts, large quilts, hung well, exemplifying individual voices, that as a group are fabulously strong and stand as art. I have worked on this dream with Ginie Curtze of Konstanz, Germany, a long time friend, an organizer and a steady supporter of quilt-making today. I could not have done this without all of her hours of work and encouragement. We are co-directors of this exhibition. I acted as curator and she is making it happen in Germany, in France, and elsewhere! I cannot wait to see how I react to the entire show in Stuttgart on July 1, 2010.

A first-rate catalogue will accompany the exhibition and will be available after July 11, 2010.


Terry: If the good fairy showed up at your house, what one Wish would you have granted for yourself as an artist?

Nancy: More time, 40 more years, 40 more years of physical strength and a brain to match.





Artist Statement



Nancy Crow in her Baltimore, Ohio studio.

Photography by Nathaniel Stitzlein


Long ago I identified fabrics as a medium that could/would fascinate me as long as I had ideas worth exploring. I have always aspired to be a great machine-piecer and a great craftsman. Along the way, I resolved to understand and execute "dead-on" spacing, a goal that has become an ongoing education in careful observation of what spatial tension means to me. Another goal has been to dye more adventurous and unusual shades of any color. I am rigorous in my work habits and expectations so it seems natural to state that I always wanted to develop a body of work that underscored how truly I believe in myself and my willingness to work hard.


Quiltmaking? Why quiltmaking? Why not painting? I certainly have been asked those questions enough times to make me irritable. And I ask back: "Why not quiltmaking?"


I started cutting up cotton fabrics when I was ten years old or younger. Those fabrics were always leftovers from some other project such as apron-making. Today I buy a thousand yards of cotton and individually dye the yardage myself to my specifications for saturated opacity based on formulas worked out over twenty years.


The fabrics are dyed and stacked, I look them over, choose a palette and start cutting improvisationally from one, maybe two, layers of color. I cut parts and pieces, more specifically, lines and shapes. Observing and then pausing in my observations, I pin these shapes and lines slowly (sometimes amazingly quickly) onto my huge pin walls, forming compositions that interest me, intrigue me. There are no drawings to follow, just glimpses into possibilities as configurations begin to evolve. When I have pushed and pounded the growing structure in front of my eyes into something worth sewing together, I start the process of taking down the parts and machine piecing them together, section by section. I make changes, adding new lines and shapes or taking some out; I keep the process fluid, until the composition is completed. My approach to composition is like constructing a building; I am totally engaged. That is why I love the process, the discoveries; that is why I love and need to make quilts.


A great machine-piecer is a very rare phenomenon in our society today. Society neither appreciates nor understands the skill involved. It takes years and years of practice to train the muscles in one's fingers, hands and arms to cut the right sizes of any line or shape by eye, to know internally how much each will reduce when sewn so that the composition still holds together. Unlike a painter, a machine-piecer cannot take a brush and make a line thinner or thicker; rather the machine-piecer has to cut a new piece. Often a favorite color has to be dyed in five 2-yard increments so there is always enough to correct errors.


I am my own advocate. I will always be my own advocate. I drive myself because it is what I am, who I am, what I know, what I want for myself. I try very, very hard, often struggling, to keep close to the earth, to stay humble, to understand what is true for me and to protect my time for creation. In this world today, more than ever, it takes absolute conviction to preserve the time, to preserve the energy, to preserve one's creativity, to preserve one's brain for oneself and the work, to stay focused and to get the work done.

Nancy Crow
May 10, 2010


Exhibition Details

NANCY CROW: RECENT AND NEW WORK

SOLO EXHIBITION at THE SCHWEINFURTH MEMORIAL ART CENTER
Auburn, New York

DATES: MAY 29 - AUGUST 15, 2010

Artist lecture: Saturday, May 29, 2pm ($4, members free)
Book Signing: Saturday, May 29, 3pm
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 29, 3-5 pm ($6, members free)
Director's Tour: Tuesday, June 1-2pm

Gallery Hours: Tue-Sat: 10am-5pm and Sunday: 1-5pm

For more information: Donna Lamb, Director - 315-255-1553
Email: dlamb@schweinfurthartcenter.org


My heartfelt thanks to Nancy for sharing her story and thoughts and thank you for visiting. I appreciate your participation in this blog and I welcome your comments.

21 comments:

  1. wow, Terry - what a feast of pictures!! thank you so much for getting both the interview and the images. What's interesting is that in these later pieces Nancy is using a very different kind of line from that of her earlier work. And the black edging has a very comic-like optical look to it.
    Did you ask her anything about inspirations?

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  2. Thank you Elizabeth for commenting. I did not ask specifically about inspiration but I was thinking of that when I asked: How do you prepare yourself for a new series? And to some degree was thinking of that when I asked about the surface design work. An face to face interview would of allowed for more discussion but I think she has shared a great deal.

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  3. I can't wait to see this show in August when I visit my family. Nice interview.

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  4. Thank you Gerrie. It was fun and always interesting to hear an artists thoughts about what they do and how they do it.

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  5. Terry, thank you for this wonderful interview with Nancy- you have managed to extract great information from the woman who has been a mentor and inspiration to so many of us. I still remember quite clearly seeing some of Nancy's older pieces in a copy of Threads magazine- probably 10 years ago. It was a life changing moment. And studying with her at the Barn has been wonderful gift I have given myself for the last 6 years.

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  6. Great interview, Terry. Great insight, Nancy.

    I, too, consider Nancy Crow to be a mentor and teacher, not just in the making of abstract art, but in living life authentically and truthfully, with unflagging integrity, energy and curiosity. Lucky us to have an art hero like Nancy Crow touch our lives.

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  7. Thank you Leslie. Yes we are fortunate!

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  8. Really wonderful interview, Ms. Crow gives us a lot to think about!

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  9. Thank you for commenting Judi. Nancy is an exciting person with lots of ideas and commitment.

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  10. Damn! I'll be teaching in Ithaca this weekend and the show won't be up yet. I am bummed. Thanks for this wonderful interview, Terry.

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  11. I totally understand. Hope you will be able to get back that way as the show is excellent.

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  12. Terry,

    Thanks you for such a "Nancy-authentic" interview! Your questions lead Nancy into statements that get to her core. This interview is a beautiful dance between you two.
    My work assignment prevented me from participating in this spring's class on Sets and Variables, and I was feeling a little blue, missing out on the creativity, learning, and comradery of like minds. I could hear Nancy's strong voice here. Thank you for a very timely, uplifting interview!

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  13. Hi Connie. Thank you for your enthusiastic comment! I had wanted to post something about Nancy as I said in the article as she has been very important in my creative development.

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  14. Thank you, Terry, for that very insightful interview. I agree, Nancy did share a great deal and it is very eye-opening. Although I've never been her student, I am admirer of her as an artist. She is truly living the life.

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  15. Your observation about "living the life" is one of the things which really impressed me when I first met her and I'm still impressed!

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  16. I saw you across the studio at the Crow Barn last week while I was immersed in Sets and Variables I, II, and III, but unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to meet you. Thanks for doing this interview. Any insights leading to a clearer understanding of Nancy Crow and her quilt art are much appreciated.

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  17. Thank you for commenting. Yes, I just popped in and out as I could see that the class was in full swing. Hope you had a great experience.

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  18. Wow, Terry! Terrific interview! You've captured Nancy beautifully. It's very good to hear about how hard it can be even for her and how she pushes herself. She is an amazing woman and a fabulous instructor. I am extremely thankful after every one of her workshops.
    I enjoyed your story about how you discovered Nancy. When you popped in last week, I wanted to say hello, but I was so focused on the demands of the moment. Then you were gone. Another time perhaps.

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  19. Thank you Mad elena. I'm sorry we didn't meet but I'm happy to know you were there and having a great experience.

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  20. Thank you for this interview. I have seen some of Crow's Construction's Series at her one woman show at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Although I admire and respect her work the Construction series took my breath away the vibrancy of color and line: wow.

    I am particularly struck by her discussion of how little is understood about the difficulty of piecing, taking it further the complexity of use of textiles in general. I recently finished a quilt and thought I had added enough extra in the border so that when it shrunk with quilting I could square it and the proportions would be correct in scale. Well just barely (my borders serve a purpose they are conceptual and reflect the interior) and I thought about Nancy Crow's comments and that's not nearly as complex as piecing. We do as piecers have a different set of problems to solve.

    Finally it is refreshing to read about how she finds the process painful when she is on a roll can I relate to that. I am working on a piece now and it is like pulling teeth and not the first time I have felt that way which I have come to learn means I am on to something.

    Many thanks.
    Penny

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  21. Thank you Penny for your wonderful comment. Nancy is an inspiration both through her work and her dedication to the studio. Thank you for stopping by and please come again.

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