Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tribute to Fran

It has been two years since I have written a blog post but felt I needed to write more than just a Facebook post about the creation of my 'Tribute to Fran' fabric collage piece. (I also recently found out that some folks still find my blog and enjoy it. Who knew?). So much has happened in the last two years with my life and my art. I have been mainly painting, not felting, but last weekend I took a class with Ed Johnetta Miller about creating faces with fabric collage. Here is the piece I had so much fun starting in class and finishing after. A Self Portrait.

The reason I was interested in taking the class was that after Fran died, I had gone to help with cleaning up her quilting studio and of course came home with quite a few of her things. I had collected some sheer fabrics that I thought I could use in nuno felting. I wanted to do a piece that was about her, created out of her own fabrics. I also had taken all of her 2x2" fabric squares that she had cut for creating watercolor quilts. I am not on good terms with my sewing machine so I had planned on using them to make a landscape without sewing. Here is a photo from when I was sorting the fabric squares by color.  The boxes on the end of the table are full of more squares. It was a great color exercise to just sort the squares and made me feel closer to Fran looking at all the fabrics she had chosen.

When I saw the ad for Ed Johnetta's class I thought I would just take it to find out the proper way to put a fabric collage together but I would be doing landscapes with my own work  after the class of course. But that is not how it went. Instead I created "A Tribute to Fran".

It is based on this photo from when she went to do a semester abroad while she was in Paris. I did not remember ever seeing this photo but her husband John said that she was very fond of this photo. That coat was special to her as well...I think it is still around. I remember Fran being away in France. (Fran was 8 years older than I, the eldest girl in our family of six, 5 girls in a row with one boy who is the youngest). It was the first time I had heard the word 'Sorbonne' and thought it was funny; sore bun. The other thing I remember was her making something she called a truffle when she came home. They were chocolates that were made to look like potatoes with almond slivers for the eyes. They were special and stored in the freezer but I stole a few and loved how they melted in my mouth. And that is about all I remember of Fran in France.

I was drawn to do the photo because of the shapes but also maybe because this was while she was still more a member of our nuclear family, one of the six and not off in North Dakota or North Carolina with a family of her own. I look at this photo and think of her as Frannie. I believe this was also before she started to really suffer from the depressions that would plague her for the rest of her life. Fran and I shared a lot of similarities, one being that we both made our first suicide attempts when we were away at college and we both found help and healing in our art. I think at one point she made an art quilt about her mental health journey. Among the fabrics I found fabric from a hospital johnny and one that she printed herself of pills representing all the psych meds that were tried. The johnny fabric is in the 'sky' of my portrait. The pills are over her shoulder and the brightest pink in her hair. Another nod to the mental health struggles are in the green fabric with the swirls symbolizing how the thoughts like they are just swirling and how moods can spiral up or down. I also cut a lot of teardrop shapes for the pieces I used but as I was laying them out and over lapping them they looked more like the scales on a dragon. I liked that idea of tears becoming a kind of scaly armor.

Fran loved to hide images in her quilts and she had a great sense of humor. I think she would have loved that I gave her a real carrot top....or is that too corny? I also included a birds nest in her hair.  I included her cats as well. And the frog because one of her nicknames when we were growing up was Frannie Frog.
Butterflies are featured not only because Fran loved them but also because they can symbolize transformation after death. Music is also included since Fran was a proud member of the choir at her church.
I was nearly finished with the piece when I figured out I had not included any of the fabrics with a sewing theme. I searched in a few of the boxes and could not find any. I decided to give up on it but just for the heck of it I asked out loud for Fran to show me where they were. Not even a minute later I found the perfect piece with colors that would even work. It made me feel like she was working with me on it. I did not agree with her however later on. The canvas I used had been one of hers I think. I found it in the basement. It had just one drip of red paint on it. Unfortunately when I put the glue on it the red started to spread all over. I went ahead and put the johnny fabric over it but that red paint came though. We went back and forth. I felt she was insisting on that red. I over ruled with some gesso.... since it is MY piece, and we did not always see eye to eye in life....after all we ARE sisters.
Among the fabrics that I found in her studio that I took for creating a piece about her was the one with her writing....

and this sweet little candlewick angel, which sits over her shoulder and helps cover the red blotch.

The butterfly in that photo is one of her earrings the mate to which was lost. Another lone earring from her collection is stuck through the canvas like she is wearing it. She also is wearing one of her pins. It was fun adding these 3-D elements.

I think Fran would be pleased....even without the red blotch.


  1. What an amazing quilt and tribute! Your self-portrait turned out great. I've been working on a collage using a landscape photo but other projects keep getting in the way of its completion.

  2. You're an astoundingly talented blogger. I have joined your feed and envision searching for a more noteworthy measure of your marvelous post. Furthermore, I have shared your site in my casual associations!

  3. What a wonderful piece of art and tribute to your bug sis! I really love the hidden pics that make up who she is!

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