Future Heirlooms

Future Heirlooms Renovated

by Joetta on 21 March 2014

future-heirlooms-480x131I have been writing this little post for the Mr. for quite a few years now, atleast 3 but maybe more like 5? As a writer, poster, critic you want to stay fresh with you content so I am looking to do a little renovate around here. So for the next few posts I will be experimenting and being more flexible then in the past. You still will see artists words and awesome work but maybe in a new way as opposed to straight up interviews. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for both the posts or the artists featured.


This month, I myself as an artist have been going through quite the transition in my studio and maybe perhaps feeling a little  lost. I have been writing a lot about it on my blog and thought this was the perfect opportunity to ask some incredible artists, many of which I am also lucky enough to call friends, what do they do when they feel stuck?

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 2.09.24 PMCrystal Gregory

This is always a tricky question because every time I really feel stuck I feel like it is the first time, which can prove to be overwhelming and a challenge to think straight. I am a runner and find that this repetitive action allows me to focus and relax. I also practice meditation daily and hope I remember to stop and clear my mind when I feel stuck.

Untitled87Emily Barletta

Sometimes I keep making things to throw away after I’ve worked on them for just a few hours.  Sometimes I stare at the wall.  Sometimes I try to get out and look at things that inspire.

Emily talks about this very subject in the new book Creative Block. Check it out.

IMG_1670Cayce Zavaglia

When I feel stuck in the studio….i keep working! I revisit the work of artists I admire and see how their work has changed over the years (Jenny Saville, Elizabeth Peyton, and Alex Katz) and watch lots of their interviews online to inspire me.  I also determine to make lots of really bad art.  If you put too much pressure on yourself that every piece has to be a masterpiece then you will never lose your way in the art making process.  It is only by losing your way that you will discover the detours to amazing work.

You can see Cayce’s work at the upcoming Great Rivers Biennial at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

Vincent01Nathan Vincent

When I feel stuck in the studio I tend to draw or call a friend or both.  Drawing gets my hands moving and gets some of those buried thoughts to surface again.  Talking to a friend takes my brain off of trying to force creativity and allows me to open up and think outside of the problem.  Plus they often have clever suggestions that spark a new direction or thought.  And when all else fails, I look back at old drawings and pieces which jars my memory of pieces I’ve wanted to make for ages, but just haven’t gotten around to yet.

You can see Nathan’s Locker Room until March 16th at Leslie Lohman Museum in NYC.

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 11.38.53 AMJodi Collela

I get my hands busy with whatever material or process strikes my fancy, no matter how silly or insignificant. Sometimes it’s just the thing that I need to be doing… most times it leads me to something else and then everything falls into place. It can take an hour, several days or a month to settle.

Jodi curated an exhibit currently on view in Somerville, MA. Get info here.

So what do you do when you get stuck?

Read previous interviews with the artists:




and a post on Nathan and Jodi.

Until next time keep stitching.

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future-heirlooms-480x131I met Crystal Gregory the first time when she came to install her work for the very first exhibition that I curated in NY, since then she has been in more shows of mine, was am important member the fiber collective I founded in Brooklyn and someone I respect and value greatly as a colleague. She is not only a very intelligent and innovative artist but she is equally warm and generous as a person. When she left NY to pursue a graduate degree in Chicago I could not wait to see how her work grew during that time and as I thought it would be I was blown away. I am delighted to share more about Crystal and her work with all of you.

Screen shot 2013-12-19 at 9.02.23 PM

Tell us a bit about your background?

From a very young age I understood the importance and the poetics of cloth. It is a familiar and common material and a basic necessity of life for shelter and clothing. Each culture has their own ways of making and uses, each with unique series of patterns, colors, and textures. Cloth is embedded in our language and our thinking as a structure or a as a tool. It helps to build architecture and technologies. To my mind cloth is filled with meaning, social connotation, and poetics. Cloth has also been a powerful tool for me to use in my art to think about social structures and feminism.

07 What was the most influential moment or thing, to you as an artist, in your background?

That is a hard thing to pinpoint. There have been so many people artist and events in my life to form what I think about and what I make about. I see it more as a series of events, a thread of moments making up the foundation of my practice.

03 If you had to describe your work in 3 words what would they be?

Balance Form. Structure Tension. Material Poetry. I guess that is six…

You recently finished graduate school in a Fiber and Material Studies Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Can you talk about the challenges you faced as a more mixed media artist and the best takeaway from that experience.

The FMS department is full of multi disciplinary artist. All the students and faculty come from different backgrounds, some fiber based and some not. This department was a perfect fit for me because the artist had the capability to talk to a wide range of ideas, works, and issues in artist practices from weaving to kitsch to video and heavy theory. This community was and is full of my closest friends, toughest critics, and the smartest people I know. Graduate school was such a growing time for me, I am still untangling it in a way but am hugely grateful for the experience.


Your work has included elements of construction/architecture with craft for a long time can you talk about these connections and how you got to them?

With my background as a weaver I use cloth construction to understand structure systems within architecture. I arrive at the built landscape through an understanding of structure through my knowledge of many different types of cloth construction including lace making, crochet and weaving. I see both cloth and architecture as structures of building very coded and full of contrast but at the root very much the same. Accumulation of bricks? accumulations of threads, they both build stories and are containers of space.


What is the biggest challenge with your work?Art Making is easy, like breathing. It comes naturally and inspiration forms from everywhere. A challenge I face today is public speaking, but I am getting better with each lecture I give. Your most recent work combines weaving with concrete… Can you talk about this body of work?


How do you build it? What are the biggest challenges with it?

My series, Variation on a Theme, looks specifically at Wall Hanging, a tapestry by Anni Albers. I look to Albers with full admiration highlighting the importance I find in her materials. I expand on her dense tapestry weavings of grids and strips, and create a spatial weaving using the gestural line of an open weave plain cloth. Once off the loom I cast these weavings into concrete to still the gestural action, archiving this moment of reflection within history. Anni Albers is someone I look to with great admiration. I see the importance of her tapestries as groundbreaking and a beginning of a movement. She translated abstract painting into rich tapestry, but did she herself wish to be a painter? How does my looking back onto her work differ from how they were thought of at the time?

Crystal Gregory

What was the last really inspiring work of art you saw and why?

I am currently living in Amsterdam and have been stunned and surrounded by so many wonderful installation artist. It is hard to choose. I also was excited to go this year to the Venice Biennale where I saw so much great work. One artist that I think about often was showing in the Danish Pavilion, Jesper Just. He made an incredible video installation based in ideas of displacement within architecture.


What is your favorite thing about your studio?

My studio is on the second floor of an old office building in an industrial part of Amsterdam. I have a wall full of windows that overlooks a canal with a lone houseboat floating. It is truly wonderful.


You are from the west coast, lived in NYC, went to school in Chicago and now are abroad what are the biggest differences in the art communities you have found in these varied locales? Do the different communities respond to your textile based work differently?

There are so many differences between these communities. When I was younger I didn t understand how you could group artist together because they are all so individual, but I am beginning to understand how place and surroundings change individuals and form groups. The West Coast (and I should say I haven t lived there for many years so I can speak mostly from an outsiders perspective) seems to live life and let it influence their work. They are laid back in general and maybe more balanced in work life and art practice. New York is quite opposite. People live to work and have so much energy and passion and intense inspiration for their work it can really carry you when you need it. Chicago is full of incredibly intellectual artist. They are close knit community that shares and supports great art both formal and conceptual. Amsterdam (also have only spent a few months here so far) I think is more comparable to the West Coast mentality. They making great work from a personal place, a place in the heart. They marry easily life and art, very bohemian. I think all communities have been really open to my work and have enjoyed my background in textiles for differing reasons.


What is the next direction or step for your work?

I am currently living in Amsterdam doing research and investigations into the materiality of Dutch lace and hot glass sculpture. I am investigating the techniques, histories, and social connotations of these materials. I am working with a group of Dutch lace makers to hone skills and learn traditional pattern. I am also holding a position as an Artist In Residence at the Rietveld Academie of Art in the Glass Department. There I am working with students, faculty, and technicians to build sculpture, but also talking and developing new understandings of the cultural connotations within glass.

What else do you spend your time doing? Do any of these inform your work?

All informs each other. I see little separation between reading a novel (currently I am fascinated with Gertrude Stein s novel Ida) and building a new sculpture. I read, write, draw, go out with friends, dance and make art. A pretty good life! I am so lucky to have been granted a Fellowship from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship for the Arts so I am fully focused on art making, but in the future I see myself teaching which can fold nicely into an art practice.

Where can we see your work?

I am excited to have a pretty full next few months. My website is www.crystalgregory.org

I am very excited to have a few exhibitions coming up:

How many of those who are yoked together have ever seen oxen. Solo Show December 5, 2013 Reitveld Academie Glass Pavilion, Amsterdam NL

Repetition, Rhythm, & Pattern,Group Show Curated by Lindsey Landfried RR&P will travel throughout 2014 2015 San Diego CA, New York NY, Jackson MS, and Pittsburg PA

Abstract, Group Show January 9, 2013 First Street Gallery, Chelsea NY

Two Person Show October 2014 Roy G Biv Gallery, Columbus OH

Thank you so much to Crystal for sharing and for being such an inspiring woman. Until next time keep your needle threaded!

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I first discovered the work of South African born, US based, artist Ilona Anderson at the Self-Fabricated exhibit in which I also showed my own work. At the opening I was immediately drawn to the small careful embroideries of objects that were simultaneously banal and dangerous. It became quite evident that the work and the artist was very politically minded and very rooted in her birth countries struggles. Since then I have had the pleasure of enjoying much of Ilona’s work including her incredible drawing installations and gotten to know Ilona as a very intelligent and kind artist. She seemed like a perfect subjetc for this go round of Future Heirlooms. Here we go…

Tell us a bit about your background?

I am a South African who has been in the USA since 1988. We came here on Fulbright Scholarships with our two young children. and both did graduate degrees. I had been a successful painter for a long time with work in many major South African collections.

I went to an all girls schools for both elementary and high school, (as was usual in my neighborhood), At school I learned how to do basic embroidery in addition to other home economics subjects . My mother mostly knew these handicrafts and helped me to finish my projects.

I did not do anything with these skills, except to make hippie outfits and things for my children when they were young.

My art practice was primarily drawing and painting and I did not use these skills as part of my art until many years later.

What is your education as an artist?

I went to a college in South Africa and majored in art and English. It was not a very exciting program so after I graduated my advisor suggested I go and work with an artist who taught classes in his home. This was an important connection for me as this mentor eventually opened his own art school, Hi goal was to provide black artists with an art education, (apartheid excluded them from this possibility.) Eventually I taught at the school.

If you had to describe your work in 3 words what would they be?

At the moment I would have to say delicate, unusual and beautiful, The work I am working on at this moment could have sexy added to the list too.

Tell us about your current body of work?

I recently had a show of my drawings called What One Is and have now begun a new body of embroidery (drawing in thread) work. After I bought a beautiful piece of vintage broiderie anglaise I began to think of making a sexual alphabet. After half a year of gathering ideas and brewing about the form I have finally begun.

Over the past few years I have been engaged in this series of drawings in thread, in which I take the traditional women s craft of embroidery, turn it on its head, and elevate it to a high art form.

With my embroidery I add a layer of new meaning to the old and loved linens, by engaging in a centuries-old female occupation.

How does working with embroidery/stitching affect the conceptual aspect of your work? What drew you to stitching?

I began doing drawings in thread some years ago when through my paintings I began to explore how the colour of our skin is such an awful and superficial way of looking at people. ( This is a the kind of things South Africans brought up under apartheid and are/ were concerned with).

I discovered embroidery hoops at the art store and decided to do a series of works making embroidered breast of all the colours of human beings. In the end I only finished a few as I found it too boring to make these largish single colour sections- though the ones that I finished were very beautiful. This project brought up lots of other ideas for the medium.

Ilona Anderson - Ride Hard

My work has always had a lot of sexual content. Under apartheid SA was a Calvinist country and the government had banned sexual content and swearing, in movies or other public places, but allowed violence and murder. The truth was they committed the most violence and murder. They also operated very punitive approach to any opposition. Showing outrageous (in SA at that time) images in my work, was one way of expressing my opposition to the awful apartheid system.

Your work is very much connected to your experience of growing up in South Africa and now living here in the US- can you talk about this as inspiration?

As you can see from my previous response growing up in SA is pivotal to my life. One cannot extricate this from their story.

Growing up under apartheid, I felt the need to make work, which was both relevant and meaningful, work which would express opposition to apartheid and attempt somehow to rend a hole in the system. This ambition or rather, intention led to work, which was explicitly socio-political in focus.

Being back there in 2002-04 it seemed the same need was very alive with many pivotal issues coursing through every aspect of society.

You have done a series of embroideries and ceramics of dangerous objects both overt and banal. How did you come to this series?

SA is such a beautiful country and many are unaware of the fact that untold millions of people have in their day to day life not only been left unaffected by the politics of reconciliation, but now seem utterly lost in a rising sea of poverty, AIDS, violence and corruption. I made this installation which sets out to trace some of the contours of this pain and the edge of pleasure so part of being alive.

This of course is not just a South African problem but rather a human issue affecting all of us and our desires.

For another installation I created a place of rest, so essential for our well being, yet here it has been violently disrupted. At first glance all seems somewhat beautiful, the loveliness of the embroidery, the rose petals strew on the bedding, yet upon careful consideration one notices the petals are actually a holster, the colourful objects guns, the hole in the pillow case a bullet hole.

Again one is reminded of the painfulness of human life and the fragility of the human condition.

Your current work is mostly drawing and you seem to have moved away from thread, what lead you to this change?

I seem to work both threads of inquiry in tandem. The working with thread takes a very long time and I sometime feel stuck within a big project- yet I also cannot seem to be able to keep away from it. I assume I will always have some project I am working on. Preparing for the show, Self-Fabricated, at the Art Complex Museum, Duxbury, MA, was very overwhelming as I had a number of other exhibitions happening at the same time and we were asked to make a piece inspired by the beautiful Chinese Jacket, which I used to deconstruct a sampler. Once that show was up I needed a break, from embroidery. Even though I had ideas for other works, I just could not rouse the energy to begin another project. Now that I have had a break I am excited to be working on my next project. (described above: a sex alphabet.)

What is the next direction or step for your work?

Having just had a major one person show and having been curated into a Drawing Show at the Boston Center for the Arts. I am happy to be exploring different things in my studio without having an agenda. This is a fun place to be and one never knows where things will lead.

I do have some shows scheduled further down the road and therefore have time for play and exploration right now.

What was the last really inspiring work of art you saw and why?

I look at work all the time. A multiplicity of works excites me. I visit the ICA, MFA and all the local exhibitions frequently.

In terms of fiber arts, I loved the show at the Museum of Fine Arts of the embroidery of Colonial Boston. The embroidered linens were so beautiful; embroidered chair covers, drapes to keep the four posted bed warm and private, all with wonderful flowers and stems winding across the surface. I also love early samplers.

What is your favorite thing about your studio?

I like having a studio to work in. and actually would like a bigger studio space at some point.

I don t use my studio to do my drawings in thread. I often carry work around with me or work on my couch. (tree by where Ilona works in top image.)

What do you struggle with most as an artist?

Maybe having enough time and finances to be able to execute everything I would like to do.

What else do you spend your time doing?

I am very lucky. In lots of ways I am my own boss. I am a professor and enjoy teaching. My children are grown and live their own lives so I have lots of freedom to do my own work now.

I am a Buddhist so I spend time meditating and studying, which is really enriching and satisfying. This is a very important aspect of my life and guides much of my thinking and my work.

How do these inform your work?

I think just being curious and alive influences my work. Being a Buddhist affects everything about how I see the world and therefore impacts my work profoundly.

Where can we see your work?

My web site is: www.ilonaanderson.com

I also show at the Kingston Gallery in Boston, MA.

Thank you you so much to Ilona.

Until next time keep your needle threaded.

Joetta Maue's WakingJoetta Maue is a full-time artist, writer, and curator with a focus on the art of the needle. Her most recent body of work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy and the domestic space. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the critical blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributes to Mr. X Stitch and the Surface Design Journal.

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Future Heirlooms with Joetta Maue - exclusive to Mr X Stitch

Joetta Maue - Fibre Artist, Art Curator and Future Heirlooms columnist for Mr X StitchJoetta Maue is one of our longest standing columnists, combining remarkable artistic talent and a flair for art curation to bring us her wonderful Future Heirlooms column.

How long have you been involved in the world of stitch?

I started stitching while in graduate school and then threw myself into the world of Textile Arts, Partially because I loved it and partially because I knew I needed to gain an understating of the context my work now lived in. I found myself frustrated by the lack of considered/academic writing and curating being done towards contemporary fiber practices and slowly started to take on those roles as well. In short 7-8 years.

What is your favourite thing about stitchery?

slow meditation. stitch by stitch. no stringent rules. comfort factor. the thread.

What do you make of the modern craft scene?

hmmm, that seems like a trick question. Honestly, I know nothing about the craft scene I am 100% in the art world.  I think it is wonderful that so many people are taking up craft and stitching but I also think people grossly under price themselves and therefore devalue working artists in the medium.  I think the craft scene is a great place for me to visit and shop from as an outsider.

The art scene in textiles in exciting to me. So many artists coming from different mediums and backgrounds are coming to fiber and this results in more thoughtful, diverse and interesting work. The medium is still, at least in the states, a bit of a looked down upon medium but more and more artists are breaking down those boundaries and hopefully, eventually they will no longer exist. I also think it is wonderful  how many independent curators are putting together truly thoughtful exhibits of fiber work. Now if only more institutions would do that too!

Do you have any unusual talents we might not know about?

Mmmm, Well I have done yoga for over 17 years/taught for over 12 so I am pretty advanced. Not a talent but a discipline. as a result though I can be in headstand for a VERY long time.

I am teaching myself hula hooping at the moment, I just needed to do something new and fun and indeed it is SO fun.

Otherwise I am very talented at drinking too much coffee, dancing in my kitchen with my 3 year old and never having enough time.


Over the years, Joetta has featured some fantastic interviews with embroidery artists – we thought we’d share five of our favourites with you!

Orly Cogan And The Fantasy Of Life

Orly Cogan And The Fantasy Of Life

Janice Jakielski - Head Dresses

Janice Jakielski

Jenny Hart: The Legend Speaks

Jenny Hart: The Legend Speaks

Michael Aaron McAllister

Michael Aaron McAllister

Tamar Stone - Unbound

Tamar Stone – Unbound


Joetta Maue is a full-time artist, writer, and curator with a focus on the art of the needle. Her most recent body of work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy and the domestic space. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the critical blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributes to Mr. X Stitch and the Surface Design Journal.

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