Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Sewing an Installation Art Piece

I had a very unique opportunity back in Feb-March of 2016 to sew 35 painted portraits together for John Coleman, a local Portland, Maine artist. It was so incredibly difficult to be responsible for these works of art, but also, so humbling and exciting to be engaged in such a unique opportunity. If you are interested in reading the whole story he allowed me years ago to share the pics but I held on to it longer and just saw it in my drafts...so take a step back in time...don't mind the tense - I wrote this post later that year, but won't go back in and change the tense.
("The Funny Thing about Time" - 35 black and white portraits, 34 of which have their eyes closed, are all of John's family and closest friends, one of which has eyes opened, the artist.)

I actually knew John because my husband worked with him when my husband first moved to Maine many, many years ago. One random day I was flying home and saw John in the airport and happened to be sitting next to him on the flight home. We got to talking and the conversation led to an old sewing machine he inherited and John wanting to learn how to sew because of some art pieces he wanted to hang for a show. He didn't know what to do and was stuck. I offered to teach him and met him weeks later at A Gathering of Stitches in Portland, Maine (which has since closed). I figured if he had future projects, he would have a place to go the next time, because Samantha has tons of room for him to sew his large canvas pieces. When all was said and done, he was leaving with his artwork exactly as he wanted it.

Months later, John emailed with another project "The Funny Thing About Time". One that was too big for him to take on himself, and asked if I was willing to accept the challenge. We met and went over all the details of the project and next thing I know - I was helping him carry rolls of painted canvas to my car in the snow, more nervous than ever before. What if I dropped them in the muddy snow? What if I cracked the paint? I was a mess. Gratefully I got them home and laid them in the studio. Then I stared at them for a day or two - nervous again to do anything to them. As an artist myself with oil paintings from my college years - I couldn't imagine something happening to them while in the hands of another.
(This is the artist himself, John Coleman. The only portrait with eyes opened.)
First thing was first - I had to trim every single painting so each face was relatively in the vertical and horizontal centers. The only way to do this was to create a template. I trimmed each one and was supposed to leave the far left edge of the left column and far right edge of the right column alone, as well as the top edge for the hems, and the bottom edge of those respective rows to keep raw. All was going well until the last painting on the bottom. I cut off the edge. My heart sank knowing this was going to be the double rolled hem allowance I wanted and I just cut it off. Luckily I still allotted a 1" border for seam allowance on all sides of every piece so I sucked it up and kept going.
(Samantha had the best machines at A Gathering of Stitches in Portland, Maine!)

I finished cutting half of them and took them back to Samantha's place and used her TacSew machine to sew these pieces together. (This machine is a serious beast and I actually miss sewing with it - just saying.) I sewed a whole row together correctly.
(This was my first finished row.)

Then the second row I got two mixed up and had to take them apart. No harm no foul. Since those went together pretty easy, I went back home and finished trimming all the other paintings.
(This is the center row, with the artist's wife in the forefront, and his children if I recall correctly, above him.)

Eventually I had all of the columns sewn, and it was time to sew them all together. I asked John to meet me at AGOS knowing the columns were going to get too heavy for me to safely lift on my own, which worked out to be spot on. Even with the two of us - it was a serious workout.
(I'm pretty sure this is the largest "quilt" Samantha has ever seen in her studio space.)

John recently sent me pictures of the finished project hanging in all it's glory and I just had to share (with his permission of course).
(This is how you would see it if you were at the gallery walking around looking at all of the art.)

I hope to get a blurb from John about the meaning of this project. He told me - but it's been a while and I don't want to botch it. What I got from it was that we have to work really hard to maintain the relationships around us, money isn't everything, and time is fleeting. Eventually we will loose the people around us that we love dearly and we will be left alone.
(Money bags are attached to the top corners to make it even harder to pull open - just like trying to gain financial status can make it harder to keep the relationships around us)
It really was amazing and scary to work on such a HUGE installation piece, but I tried to be intentional with every single point and didn't royally mess anything up. As he helped with the larger sections - he said he didn't realize I was being so careful with lining things up, or that it needed to be. As all of the points and corners came together - he realized the benefit and importance of being precise. Thanks heaven's for the template to cut each one out, and the blue tape on the TacSew for seam guidance.

If you would like to see the video of John opening (and closing) the whole piece you can by clicking the link. Thanks for stopping by.



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