Preserving History . . . Connecting the Dots

Today was one of those beautiful post-blizzard days in New England . . . just warm enough for a short walk with the Studio Pup, which meant lots of time leftover for making art.  Inspiration came quickly by seeing the connections between a box of vintage postcards recently unearthed in the family attic, waking this morning from vivid dreams of abstract acrylic paintings (a sure sign I haven’t been spending enough time in the studio!), and Jane Davies’ recent blog post on the threatened closure of her rural post office. Those who have ever lived in a small town know that the local post office is the heart and soul of a village, so Jane’s plight touched the hearts of artists around the world. Jane is a well-known mixed-media artist and teacher with a generous and whimsical spirit, so the overwhelming response so far is not surprising and certainly well-deserved!



I raided my new-found box of vintage postcards and used gesso, acrylics, thread and fabric to create new masterpieces over the originals.  Antique dealers might question my logic — the entire stash dates to 1906-1907, and many have already been postmarked — though the postmarks are clear, most of the original one-cent stamps have since fallen to the bottom of the box.  One of the cards I’ll likely be sending to Jane was originally printed in Cuba, but others are from far-flung states and small villages like Rupert, Vermont.

I sometimes wonder why I keep some of the things I do . . . but I always know that someday it will become obvious!

If you haven’t already, please send Jane an artsy postcard at:

P. O. Box 45, Rupert, VT 05768


Sharing is Caring

In late August 2011, Vermonters felt the 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia.  Earthquakes are rare in Vermont, so that was a bit of a novelty.  A few days after the earthquake we experienced the tail of Hurricane Irene, which was “merely” a tropical storm by the time it arrived.  We expected some wind and rain, and maybe some power outages.  Yet Vermont’s topography meant we suffered as much as if our state were oceanfront property.  The several inches of rain that fell in southern and central counties funneled down mountainsides to our small streams.   Even our largest rivers quickly reached flood stage. The damage was quick, devastating, and unexpected by most.

Emergency workers quickly mobilized; communities rallied.  Eventually all the state’s roads reopened, but it took months before the hardest hit areas were accessible again.  Villages continue to struggle as businesses attempt to reopen after navigating the mazes of insurance coverage and the intricacies of claims for flood damage in areas where flooding seemed all but impossible.  Families mourn not only lost real estate and personal possessions, but irreplaceable heirlooms.

We all do what we know best.  Pam Druhen, an enterprising quilt artist, spearheaded the Winter Warmth Project shortly after this disaster unfolded.  I’d recently discovered the “postcard” quilt that I started as a Girl Scout, so I donated that to Pam’s call for unfinished quilt tops knowing that it was unlikely I’d get a bed sized quilt top completed anytime soon.

Some questioned my lack of sentimentality, but I’d already decided that my first quilt was a fitting donation for a family  that had lost all the tangible reminders of their own family history.  As my cousin’s young son used to say, “sharing is caring.”


Fiber Fantasies

The Flights of Fiber Fantasies exhibit has now been hung at Creative Space Gallery – and what a sight!  I’m thrilled to join fellow art quilters Marilyn Gillis, Pamela Druhen, and Elizabeth Fram in this exhibit.  Our fiber art is beautifully complemented by contemporary baskets by Tamara Wight, exquisite felt by Marsha Chase, and gorgeous paintings and prints by member artists.

The Gallery is open Thursday – Sundays, and is a stop on the Foliage Open Studio weekend sponsored by the Vermont Craft Council. Flights of Fiber Fantasy will be on display through November 5th – if your fall foliage travels include the Champlain Valley of Vermont, please drop by!

No Boundaries

Vermont is certainly lucky to have a spirited and energetic Surface Design Association Rep.  Under Karen Henderson’s leadership, and with the generous sponsorship of the Rae Harrell Gallery, we just concluded a wonderful exhibit featuring a variety of works by our talented members.  Rug hooking, weaving, collage, knitting, art quilts and more adorned the walls of Rae’s beautiful gallery for six weeks in late summer.  The turnout was impressive at both our opening night and the artist’s walk through a few weeks later, and both evenings were highlighted by sales of our members’ artwork.


Members of the SDA’s Vermont chapter pause before the exhibit opening in August.  Pictured are Betsy Fram, Hillary Harrell, Rae Harrell, MJ Russell, Judy Dales, Karen Henderson and Eve Jacobs-Carnahan.


MJ Russell and Marilyn Gillis with some of Marilyn’s recent works.



Karen Henderson speaks about her work during the Artist’s Walk-through — note also Rae’s beautiful stash of hand-dyed wool for rug-hooking.

Please visit our blog for more news from this dynamic group!

Layers of Lusciously Linear Lines

November is month two of the SAQA Visioning project — and my design focal point for the month is line.  I have been sketching daily-ish, remembering to try different designs featuring lines.  I recently attended Hollis Chatelain’s lecture about the similarities between drawing and quilting at the International Quilt Festival, and enjoyed the slide show of art quilts and her description of how each artist used design principles, including line, in each piece.  My small quilt for the month features many types and layers of lines – the luscious and luxurious marbling, the bolder graphic lines of a silk-screened image, and the sharp, angular quilting lines to finish it off.

Whew, it feels good to have this done as the month was just beginning when I finished!  But Melanie Testa has just announced her 30 Lines in 30 Days project … will I be able to resist?

Newsflash: “Linear Lines” and its companion piece, “Simply Shapes,” will be on display at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery in Burlington, VT December 3, 2010 – January 29, 2011.

Yowza Shapes!

In October 2010, members of Studio Art Quilt Associates began a new year of the Visioning Project.  I was hesitant to join, but am delighted with the progress I’ve made in just the first month!

If you’re not familiar with SAQA’s Visioning Project, it is championed by former SAQA President Lisa Chipentine and an advisory board consisting of Judith Content, Karey Bresenhan, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, Jeanne Beck, and Regina Benson.  Each member commits to a goal and develops specific plans to meet that goal during the coming year.  There are monthly conference calls if you’re so inclined to discuss your progress and challenges, but other members seem content to post their progress to their personal wiki page within the project’s wiki space.   Members support each other and correspond via secure messaging within the wiki space.

So what does all this have to do with SHAPES???  A part of my goal for the year is to make more art.  In addition to committing to making one full-sized art quilt or other piece each month, I’ve also chosen to explore design principles and elements through a series of small quilts.  It’s serendipity that there are twelve design elements and principles, so I get to focus on one each month — beginning with shape.

So, just in time to meet my 10/31 deadline – here’s my exploration of shapes, featuring machine applique over a screen print of an earlier art quilt, digitally manipulated in Photoshop to create a new image that I exposed as a photo emulsion silk screen. I screen printed that image onto a piece of hand marbled fabric.   Yowza!  Maybe this piece should be more about layers than shapes??? Next up, Lines.  November, here I come!

© Mary Jane Russell 2010

Gallery Opening 101

My aunt always said I was the one who would jump into the deep end of the pool.  Not during swimming lessons at the local pool, of course — there, I was nearly always the last one in, and hated every minute of the mandatory summer lessons.  But when it comes to things that really interest me,  I am apt to go ‘from zero to sixty’ very quickly.  So I guess it’s no surprise that when I attended my first gallery opening the other day, I was there as one of the artists!

It was a delight to meet and mingle with the other artists, including the lovely and talented Karen Henderson, our Vermont representative for the Surface Design Association.  Karen’s hand-woven fiber art uses many surface design techniques to achieve subtle color and rich texture.   We’re shown here with Karen’s  After the Rain, a stunning piece which graced the postcards for this show, but is even more amazing in real life!

Karen Henderson, VT SDA Rep & MJ Russell

"Fearless" and "Fire in the Soul" (art quilts by MJ Russell, center)

"Timeless" & "UnBlock" (art quilts by MJ Russell, right rear wall)

As a former basket weaver I also loved the sculptural baskets by Tamara Wight.  Notice two wonderful baskets by Tamara in the center of the photo at the right, but you’ll delight  in discovering more all around the gallery if you stop by for a visit!

The fiber art exhibit at Creative Space Gallery runs through November 13, 2010.  Current gallery hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are listed on the Gallery’s web site.  I hope you get a chance to stop by!