Spring a year ago the editor of the SAQA Journal suggested that I write an article on a recently obtained commission. The recently published article is in the on line version of the Summer-Fall SAQA Journal. Written for fiber artists, it may be of interest to some of my readers.
A Kousa for Mercy
by Nancy G. Cook
Nothing is more rewarding than receiving an email from an art consultant reading, “Hello, Nancy!
We are still working with CMC-Mercy and interested in knowing if Southern Hospitality and Summer Split are available?” It had been a couple of years since I’d first been contacted by an art consultant for a possible sale to CMC-Mercy Hospital. The sale to the hospital, unfortunately, did not materialize; but now, she wanted to present photos from my website to her client who, as it turned out, was the president of CMC-Mercy. While I was excited to get this email, after my previous experience I was less optimistic that a sale would actually occur.
She went on to present photos of my work, as well as the work of other artists, to her client, and got back to me several weeks later. This time the news was positive—Mercy wanted to purchase Southern Hospitality. Drat! Southern Hospitality would be traveling in the SAQA: Art Meets Science exhibition for another year.
The consultant then came back with the next question: “Would you be interested in doing a commission for the same client and location?” My answer was, of course, “Yes!” This time, the sale was going to happen.
This would be my second commission for a hospital. Research has shown that artwork that portrays realistic images of nature has positive effects on patient health, and many healthcare facilities are commissioning nature-inspired artwork. My artwork fits that bill — I have always had a love for the natural world, and my art has evolved to the point where I’m using my longtime reverence for nature as inspiration for my art quilts.
Nancy Cook with A Kousa for Mercy
32 x 52 inches ©2011
Initially, my work featured a number of different aspects of nature. Over the last several years I’ve found that focusing on one natural element—tree seeds and fruits—provides sufficient inspiration for my art. These natural themes based on tree life are endlessly fascinating, and allow me to convey my wonder with life’s rhythms and its gifts of maturity and potential new life.
The artwork would be a gift from the hospital to the doctors’ lounge. The consultant and I went to see the lounge to measure the space and to determine the ideal size for the piece, finally deciding that 32 x 52 inches ... seemed right for the space. Since the lounge had very blocky furniture with solid color surfaces, the design needed to be bold and not fussy. ... The room’s colors would work well as a background for my artwork, which currently features exaggerated-scale designs of realistic tree seeds and fruits. I would need to focus my designs for this room on tree specimens, such as the Kousa Dogwood and the southern magnolia, that were as bold as the scale of the furniture.
Since it was early summer, there were no specimens available of either of these species, so I pulled my photographs of Kousa Dogwood leaves and berries, and magnolia leaves and seed pods, to work up designs. These trees have bold leaf characteristics, and the seed pods and fruits are complex enough to provide interest at the detail level. The Kousa berry has wonderful details that are both organic and geometric in nature. My art quilt would be located at the lounge entry, welcoming doctors coming into the area, so I wanted to create artwork that would draw people’s vision toward it. I created two designs, one of the Kousa Dogwood and berry, and the other of the magnolia tree and seed pod, that would move visitors’ eyes into the room.
The next step was to select fabrics for the top of the quilt. I find that the luscious cotton dyed by Heide Stoll-Weber provides a low-contrast and moderately complex background that complements my designs but does not compete with them... . I narrowed the fabric selections to a bright gold piece and another piece that was more muted in softer golds and soft greens.
My biggest challenge in creating this artwork was designing it to a precise dimension of 32 x 52 inches, larger than my standard sizes. Since I work in a whole-cloth format with quilting unevenly distributed across the quilt, I never know exactly how much loss in size will occur. I use blocking and cutting to size to get the dimensions right.
I was ready to prepare for the presentation of the design and fabrics to the art consultant and the client. First I scanned the two fabrics, and then I scanned my hand-drawn designs. Using Adobe® Photoshop® Elements, I laid each of the two designs onto both fabrics. Printing these gave me good renditions of each design on each fabric, providing four different options. Then I colored the designs with pencils to give as realistic a rendition as possible. I also had one of the designs blown up to full size.
For the presentation, I took both of the fabrics, the full-size cartoon, and the four designs and two fabric options. We discussed the options and I was asked for my opinion. I recommended the Kousa Dogwood design on the more subtle fabric. Our native dogwood is succumbing to a fungus, Discula destructive, and botanists are cross-breeding the native with the Asian Kousa to produce a more disease-resistant hybrid with the familiar characteristics of the native dogwood. This disease-resistant hybrid has the potential to save our beloved native species, so it seemed an appropriate metaphor for a doctors’ lounge. I recommended the more subtle colors as better for helping doctors decompress in the lounge. The decision about what designs and fabrics to employ was complete. We also agreed that I would blog about the creation process.
The next step was to transfer the full-size cartoon of the design onto freezer paper. ...To allow maximum control, I use a stenciling process and create both positive and negative stencils with the freezer paper. The biggest challenge in working with this particular design was to create depth in the leaves so that some would appear in the foreground while others would appear to recede into the background. I used a variety of warm and cool greens ... to accomplish the layering. However, the color shifts had to be sufficiently subtle so that the leaves would read as if they were from the same branch, at the same time of year.
Since I wanted only a small amount of quilting on the leaves and the Kousa berry, I created some trapunto work to make them stand up and not wrinkle once I added dense echo quilting to the background. In order to give definition to the rounded berry, I stitched details on it through the top and extra padding. After machine-quilt outlining the design elements, I densely echo-quilted the background to provide a highly contrasting texture and line element.
I had been writing up my blog entries, but not posting them. When the piece was nearly finished, I began posting about the process of creating the artwork. On good advice, I ... posted details, but not the entire design until after the initial presentation to the hospital. Once presented, I posted the full design ....
Once quilted, I added details to the berry with hand-embroidered French knots. Final finishing of the quilt included ... attaching a label with my artist’s statement of inspiration, the pencil design, and my name and contact information. I signed the front of the piece and called the consultant to arrange for installation.
The consultant contracted with an experienced art installer, and the afternoon before the piece was to be presented, we met in the lounge for the installation. The installer measured, hung the piece on the wall, carefully cleaned it with a roller, and then installed a Plexiglas® panel in front of it on elegant aluminum bolts that contributed nicely to the impact of the piece. The quilt was covered until it was presented the next day to the president of the hospital, executive staff, and doctors.
At the installation, the piece was unveiled to applause, and I spoke briefly about the inspiration behind the piece. After the final payment, I took the consultant to lunch to celebrate, and upon her return to her office, she found that someone had sent an inquiry about purchasing one of my pieces for another hospital. What a terrific finale to our celebration!