I fell in love with the lovely work of artist Leslie Schomp at first sight. I met her work for the first time at the opening of an exhibit we both had work at in Massachusetts a few years back. Her pieces were 2 small scale embroidered portraits, one a self-portrait, one a portrait of her son, both embroidered beautifully and painstakingly from hair. They sucked me in with their muted palette, their uneven texture, their thin strands, their beauty, and their presentation. Since then I have yet to see Leslie’s work in person again but have made every attempt to see her work however I can. Sadly, she does not have a website so I do not get to see enough of it. Therefore- all of you are in for a huge treat in discovering a new and talented artist.
Get ready to be truly inspired.
Where do you live? Does this affect your work?
I just moved to a rural town outside of Worcester, MA. I have lived all over, Ireland, Florida, Boston, Worcester. Although I was born in Florida, I spent 11 years of my childhood in rural Ireland. This has most affected my work. I gravitate toward grey, black , white muted color schemes. Ireland has a rich history so my love of antiques and stories from the past came at an early age. Where I live now feels a little like my childhood. I have an amazing view of mountains and trees. I have a child who is about to start school so I think I’ll definitely be staying put for a long time now.
How did you begin to embroider?
I began to embroider, knit and sew as a child in Ireland. I went to an all-girl’s convent school and was taught the basics by the nuns there. We did patchwork quilting, knit, and embroidered linens and pillowcases. I remember also embroidering pictures as gifts. In some ways I am trained. However, I moved to Florida at age fourteen and from there taught myself.
I look at books and textile examples to learn new things. When I first started to work on vintage handkerchiefs as my picture plane I let myself be inspired by the existing imagery to form my images as well as my methods of making marks. Lately I use thread to make linear drawings.
How does the practice of embroidery affect the conceptual aspect of your work?
In terms of drawing I use sewing as a mapping process. When one sews the movement from mark to mark is recorded on the back of the thread and I can follow my process . I am just as interested in the images that get formed on the back as the ones on the front.
[and when I saw her work both were on display geniusely. I always love the back of embroidered work it is such a glimpse into the mind and process of the artist.]
In terms of the content and installation of my work, sewing refers to the domestic practice of recording aspects of one’s life. I think of my work as my memoirs, recording my relationships with myself and others ( usually my son, husband, mother , father etc.). I also am someone who loves that drawings can be objects as well. Thread and cloth and wooden hoops and furniture are all part of my work.
[I love her use of the word memoirs here. The process of sewing and working autobiographically is truly that, a formation of memoir. The use of this word so poetically and perfectly states what so many of us fiber artists are doing.]
Describe the evolution of your work.
My work in college involved two sets of work, printing lithographs on fabric and sewing forms out of them, and making self-portraits with charcoal. In Grad school I sewed stuffed sculptures , but also made a number of drawings and woodcuts as well. After graduate school for years I drew obsessive drawings and tried lots of imagery, sewed more stuffed sculptures. It was a difficult time as I felt like I was doing everything but not accomplishing any body of work. I really wanted a child but I was nervous that would be the temporary end of achieving much with my work.
[I think many of us can empathize and relate to this feeling as a female artist, I know I can]
Contrary to my fears after my son was born, I realized I really wanted to be an artist and since I didn’t have time to talk myself out of things and to only really make what I wanted my work became more focused and the textile work and drawing came together. I also re-use some of the ideas and work I made after graduate school in a new way. I have multiple sketchbooks also that collect things that inspire me, drawings of ideas and experiments with new materials.
What is the importance of using hair? Where do you get the hair you use? What are the
challenges of working with hair?
I make portraits with a combination of brown translucent nylon thread and hair. At first the hair, my own, served as another shade of brown to create value range. I liked that it genetically linked my self-portraits to myself. I also get hair from my husband.
Hair is very slippery and is often very short proving it to be difficult to work with at times. Hair work can be beautiful and creepy . I am intrigued and also repudiated by hair objects of the past. I like this tension of feelings about it. I also at times use pressed flowers in my work with the hair. Hair and pressed flowers are organic material that decay slowly. I like knowing that I grow the flowers and use them in my work with part of myself.
Can you discuss how you display your work and make the decisions in regards to this?
I am interested in drawings as objects and create stands/frames and furniture like objects that allow the work to be seen from both sides. I look at a lot of historical needlework and also look as much at the installation of these things in museums as at the work itself. This adds a layer to the work as I have to design and create these as well as the work itself. At times the display objects inspire the work itself. I’m always looking at frames in stores and have a lot of frames waiting for particular images ideas.
Describe how you select the images you recreate.
I try to work mostly from life/mirror. If I can’t, I take photos or select photos from my life. I make a number of drawings from life also to work from. Sometimes an image will be worked from a photo, drawing and from life. I seem to collect books and images constantly to recombine with images from my life and so everything can make an appearance in my work.
How does having a family both inspire and affect your work?
I always wanted to have a family, I now have a stepdaughter and son. When that [desire] was realized, I found I was more clear and determined about other desires I had, to be an artist. It made me focused on doing the work one really wants to do. Having a family made me realize the need to define the boundaries of my emotional and physical self, making my work helps me do that. Where do I end and they begin? How do we overlap? Who am I with and without them. What part of me is just for myself? How do I be a better person with them? This negotiation is what my work is. I look at past portraits and images of life and try to read and resonate with their stories. This leads me to ask “ what is my story”.
What inspires your work?
I think of my work as memoirs so the examining of oneself is a huge inspiration for me. The act of drawing also is my content. I am always looking for ways to expand that practice and knowledge . When I have doubts about my work I try to remind myself that I need to see the idea even if I’m not sure about it. I try to think of my work as a sketchbook. I also love to look at work that was made in difficult circumstances, women who work tirelessly at their domestic duties and found time to make notations about their lives that still exist for us today.
Describe your studio and studio practice.
I haven’t had a proper studio in years. I starting seriously sewing drawings 5 years ago after my son was born. I worked on my dining room table, on my couch in my living room and stored all my things in a tiny room in my apartment. It could be frustrating at times especially when I made large scale pieces that were very obsessive to make. It was also comforting at times to be able to pick up pieces and work often. I thought about how Louise Bourgeois had her early sculptures in her house, and how Hannah Hoch’s collages are called “Cut with the kitchen knife”. I finally have a space in my house that I can make into a studio.
What is the next direction or step for your work?
I am continuing portraiture both of myself and others in my family. I’m also trying new extreme scales, both tiny and very large. I’m playing around with ways of installing the drawing to view both sides and am looking at furniture and old ways of displaying needlework. I also recently made a sewn house-like structure of the scale of my body all in white embroidery and played with pulling threads out of fabric to create different layers of translucency and also layering images inside the structure than can be seen from outside from various windows and peep holes. I have sewn a book and am interested in creating more objects that are sewn. I also have tried a sewn sketchbook and wish to continue doing this.
[Oh my, that house piece sounds amazing. I have myself thought of doing a sewn house piece but it never really made sense in the context of my working practice. So I would love to see Leslie’s in person. Being both the voyeur and the child as we peek through the windows to discover the home inside.]
Where can we see your work?
I’m currently included in the show “Seeing Double” at the Attleboro Museum of Arts. In the Fall I will be in a show “Exchange” at the Villa Victoria Art Center in Boston. Follow this link to see more about it.
And in 2012/13, I think, Leslie has invited me and a handful of other amazing artists to be in a museum exhibit all about artist working autobiographically. I am honored to be included in this exhibit and to show with her again. And finally meet her. So plenty to look forward to from both of us.
AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT THIS CALL FOR WORK.
Until next time keep stitching.
Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, and a goldfish.