My Imaginary Life as an Artist in Residence

Last year when we were in San Diego, we visited Cabrillo National Monument.  From Cabrillo Point you have stunning views both back toward the city of San Diego (“I can see my hotel from here!”), and out to the Pacific.  There is a wonderful mix of things to see – an old lighthouse and cozy lighthouse keeper’s cottage, tide pools and pelicans.

In the Visitors’ Center I noticed a call for Artists in Residence.  One of the requirements was to submit plans for a project that visitors could participate in while they were in the park.  I had never in my life thought of applying to be an artist in residence, but an idea for that community art project popped into my head while I was still reading the notice!

When you think “community art project”, you think “mural”, right?  But of course, if I were the Artist in Residence, I would want to take the opportunity to raise recognition of fiber art!  It could be a giant soft, transportable mural.

I would create a background quilt, based on the rock layers and waves at Cabrillo Point, and visitors could make tiny fiber art pieces based on things they noticed – shells, sea glass, anemones – to affix to it. The visitors could place their art pieces where they felt they belonged on the big quilt.  The trick would be to find a way to attach the little pieces easily, while its maker was still standing there.  No one wants to create something, and then miss its unveiling!

rock layers

I took more dramatic pictures, but this is the one that stays in my mind. I can see a background quilt based on these cliffs

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I know that the form that my mental design took came from a beautiful color study quilt done by Nadine Ruggles for a 2009 contest at the American Quilter’s Society.  The contest winners were published in a book, Burgoyne Surrounded: New Quilts from an Old Favorite.  Of course I can’t find the book now that I am mentioning it.  I will probably find it tomorrow.  But as I recall, Ruggles created hundreds of one-inch-square pieces in the colors of the color wheel, used Velcro to affix them to a white quilt, and arranged them in different patterns.  I have always loved art that can be rearranged, and her piece was gorgeous.

If I were to do something similar, not by myself, but with people of all different skill levels, I would have to have a very easy way of attaching our tiny pieces.  I remembered sheets of buttons I bought years ago – the buttons are wired onto the sheets, and the wires make a great design of their own.

button sheet

Another object I would like to capture in a quilt some day.

button wires

I love these colorful squiggles.

And, if I used a variety of wire to affix the mini-art pieces to the quilt, the back could look totally different from the front, but just as interesting.

But how could I set up the base quilt so that visitors could easily figure out where and how to attach their pieces of fiber art?  (Yes, I can worry about the logistics of an imaginary art project and the satisfaction level of fictional participants.  I won’t go into my cost-analysis and volunteer organization ideas.)

I remembered this set of tools my daughters gave me years ago:

eyelet tool set

You hammer a little hole through the cloth, set an eyelet, and flatten its edges.

All these factors were part of the idea that popped into my head when I read that call for artists.  I didn’t actually make anything though, until I read the Quilting Arts challenge on Art in the Park.

I made a background quilt based on the colors of the rock layers, and set eyelets in it in a grid pattern.  I made some tiny quilt squares (about 1 inch square) in more vivid colors, embellished them in some way, and wired them to the background.

As you might have guessed, my piece didn’t get chosen for publication, but that’s okay.  Once I finished it and took a good look at it, I realized that it does look like pieces I have seen published – probably like pieces that I clipped from magazines and glued into my idea books, even.  But I did not set out to copy any specific piece – I would say that while this is not brilliantly original, it is authentic, it came from ideas and inspirations that have been percolating in my mind for a while.

But I am very glad I made it.  Since it was for “other eyes,” I know I worked more carefully than I would have if it was just for myself.  I really love this eyelet idea, and I think I will do more with it.  This would be a fun project to have in a portable kit.

base quilt

The base quilt with the eyelets set. I chose quiet batiks and plain cream thread for quilting, so those elements wouldn’t fight with the mini-quilts.


Detail showing eyelet set in quilt.

quilt back

Each mini-quilt or bead has a wire going through its center, then through an eyelet. On the back the wires go through holes or shanks of buttons to be held in place.  The wire ends can be beaded as well.

I love the rearranging possibilities!

Ta-da!  I love the rearranging possibilities!

I hope the real Cabrillo Point Artist in Residence had as much fun with their project as I did with mine!