"Gretchen Marie: Her Girlhood." all views

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Gretchen Marie book front cover. ©Susan Shie 2009.


Gretchen Marie book title page.©Susan Shie 2009.

(More images follow the statement below.)

“Gretchen Marie: Her Girlhood.” 12”h x 11”w. #375
begun 8-12-09, finished 10-13-09.

See my November 2, 2009 blog entrty "Gretchen Marie: Her Girlhood: My First Cloth Paintings Book" for many more images, which can be greatly enlarged by clicking on them. I have explanations of the pages there, as well.

Painted fabric book. 16 whole cloth paintings bound together, with eight double sided and quilted pages in all. Airbrush drawing and coloring with fabric paint, then airpen writing with fabric paint. Machine crazy grid quilted. One row of hand sewing inside edge of border, using perle cotton. Hand bound, with hand stitching and perle cotton.

Gretchen is my only child, so when she was born, it was a huge event and felt like a miracle. When she moved out, to go to college, it created a huge gap in my life. Now that she has a five year old daughter, it felt really good to create a book of the story of Gretchen’s life up to age 15. Not only can Eva read and see what her mother’s life was like as a child, but Gretchen can understand her early life a bit more from my point of view.

I was asked to convert my usual diary paintings for quilts class structure into a diary paintings for books class for Valley Ridge Art Studio in Wisconsin, by its director Kathy Malkasian. I’d made lots of what I call my xerox books, in which I draw and write with a black marker and then have the 16 - 24 page books made up at Staples. These look sort of like coloring books, as all the images are just outlines. So now I needed to go further into creating books, using my regular drawing, painting, writing, and quilting methods, but turning the little quilts into pages for a book. Oh, and teaching a class to do the same thing, as I worked. I was so busy teaching all year that I wasn’t able to make a prototype book this way, so I sailed into the project, barely one step ahead of my students. It worked out fine, and my explorations of how to make the paintings into pages and how to bind the pages into a book all worked right the first time. I guess this is a testiment to my own trust in experimentation, as well as my longtime knowledge of sewing techniques. You just use your head, and things work the way you’d figured they would.

I began the book with me being pregnant, going through Gretchen’s birth on December 19, 1970, as the first Lamaze baby in Dunlap Hospital in Orrville, Ohio. The stories move through her preschool days and ballet classes, up through when she and I went to Oregon on the Greyhound Bus, when she broke her left wrist just weeks before we moved to Kent from Wooster, the day after I graduated from The College of Wooster. I tell of her adventures with her girlfriends in Wooster and then Kent, and back to Wooster, just before she started junior high school. One of my favorite pages is of her playing Shutes and Ladders with my mother, Gretchen’s Panny, when Jimmy and I would take Gretchen out to my folks’ place to stay overnight, when we were first dating. Gretchen and my mom had a really sweet relationship.

I didn’t know I was going to make the book be about Gretchen, when I started the class at Valley Ridge, but I soon decided it needed to be an important subject for me, because this was going to be a LOT of work, making this book. Writing and sketching out my plans, it hit me right away that this would be a perfect chance to document my daughter’s life. I wanted to bring it all the way up to present, but had about 35 topics for pages. In the end, I settled on cutting the story off at age 15, with a plan to create a sequel book later. When the book was almost done, I decided to write a brief story of the rest of Gretchen’s activities up to now, as the last inside page of the book, in case it’s a long time til that sequet gets created! I had also left the inside of the cover and the title page empty, until I had everything else made, so I’d know what to write in there. I was very glad to have the room to write everything I needed to say in those pages and make the title page really reflect the story. I didn’t decide the title til I had everything made up, anyhow!

The front cover is of Gretchen’s 10th birthday, when Jimmy and I gave her the vintage Hey, Diddle Diddle cookie jar, filled with her favorite cookies: Nabisco Mystic Mints. ( I didn’t have any old photos with me at the class, but I had vivid memories, so I just drew and hoped my Gretchen faces would look like her. It was probably better that way, as I just drew and didn’t have any image studying to slow me down.) I added some roses around her and her cookie jar, to show how sweet and loving that day was.

The back cover was another image that I have embedded in my head, probably from a photo I own: of Gretchen at age 6, wearing the denim jacket I embroidered for her, as my first real embroidery project. It was based on a drawing she had made, of herself and Jimmy’s cat Ernesto Juarez, with a big rainbow and some flowers and the sun. On the right sleeve I had stitched the Creep Mousey image that our friend Laurie Schoepe had drawn for Gretchen. Creep Mousey is what Gretchen called Laurie, whom she adored and looked up to. Interestingly, Gretchen followed Laurie into becoming an art historian.

After getting her BA in Art History from Kent State University School of Art in 1994, Gretchen received her MA in Art History from the University of Cincinnati in 1996. She worked five years at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and has now worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art since 2002, as the Registrar in charge of Loans (of artworks from their permanent collection, which go out to exhibitions all over the world, constantly.)

In that back cover image, Gretchen is just standing there, looking back over her shoulder, so that you see the back of the denim jacket. She’s wearing a little short skirt, and her hair is just loose. When I see that drawing/painting now, I go right back to the day she was standoing there in the yard of our little commune, the Needle’s Eye, in Wooster. I didn’t put it in the painting, but our newly painted (orange and white) Volkswagon Microbus was sitting there in the driveway, and we were admiring the paint job and the paisley curtains I had sewn up, that went around the whole inside of the little bus. We’d put a bed into the back, with the quilt I’d made for Gretchen, before she was born, on the bed. The underside of the quilt was a paisley fabric, which we had put up, so you’d see wall to wall paislies, inside the bus. We were proud.

I enjoyed making this book, more than I could have imagined. The processes are the same ones I use in making my art quilts, which are really sewn up paintings. I loved how easy it was to just sew two pages together, over and over, and then bind all the 16 pages into one solid book, making a quilted cuff to hide all the bound edges. Just sewing with an embroidery needle and perle cotton embroidery floss is a very peaceful way to work. The book is soft and yet solid to feel, as you hold it and turn the pages. Its quilted surfaces have interesting surfaces that feel good in my hands. And somehow, holding the little paintings in my hands in this bound form, the story feels more intimate than it would in a paper version of a book.

I still want to make a fabric enveolope for it, so it can be protected and just feel snuggled up. We’ll see about that! I gave her book to Gretchen for her last birthday, and she’s allowed me to borrow it back for my local artists’ group show, “Earth Walk” this year. I’m really glad I made this piece, as I haven’t made much work about Gretchen for a while. When she was young, she was often my subject. When I did my I. S. at the College of Wooster, I made one of my Yin Robes be about Gretchen, but its symbolism was more abstracted, and the words were Chinese characters. When she graduated from Kent State with her undergrad degree in Art History in 1994, Jimmy and I made Gretchen a huge bed quilt of her life, but it was about her current life than, not a story of her whole life. It was all very narrative images and stories, so it was biographical, but didn’t have as much written story as this book does. I’ve made a couple of quilts about her and Michael’s wedding, too, but again, not as much written story. This book is the first thing I’ve made just about Gretchen, since I started using my airpen to really tell long stories. I am glad.

--- Susan Shie, proud mother, January 11, 2010, in Wooster, Ohio.

Gretchen Marie book pp 9-10.©Susan Shie 2009.


Gretchen Marie book pp 13-14.©Susan Shie 2009.


Gretchen Marie book back cover.©Susan Shie 2009.

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Susan Shie
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