Even though I was the oldest of nine, and my father was often away on active military duty, my mom did not burden me with responsibility. Each of us had our tasks. Mom encouraged us to be who we were and to follow our muse. There was time for play and imagination. My mother could create beauty and peace from very little. She was my first “muse.”
In 1972, I gave a baby quilt to a friend, who often brought her baby along to her booth at craft shows. The owner of a local craft shop spotted my quilt at the booth and said that she needed to have the contact information of the person who made “that” baby quilt. Until the shop closed its doors, I created wall hangings, bed quilts, Christmas décor and much more for the owner. I suppose that was the start of my being a professional textile artist.
Teaching and mentoring are also my passions. After college I taught art, math and English at the high-school level. I got married and had six children; following my mother’s example, I sewed for them all. Also, I shared space in an art studio during this time.
When Rockville Arts Place (RAP), in Rockville, Md., opened, I was one of its seven founding members. At one point, money for arts organizations was scarce and the executive director had left, so I began to volunteer and run the office. Many people were passionate about RAP – it was not a lonely job, and I had many offers of help. The Board voted me in as Executive Director for the next five years. During that time I learned about grant writing and working with the public. I also learned how to integrate our programs with the community, public schools and summer camps. I am proud that VisArts, as it is now called, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October. I am still involved, though in a small way.
My experience directing RAP was put to use again last year, when I co-chaired the “Sacred Threads” quilt exhibition in its spectacular Washington, D.C., metro area premier.
I have sold completed work as well as site-specific work. A designer for medical institutions visited my studio and placed my work in several buildings, including the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, and the Ronald MacDonald House. She would give me a size, a price range, and sometimes a color palette, and we would work from there. Other professionals such as lawyers, dentists and nursing home administrators have purchased pieces. Having exposure in a studio outside my home was a great help.
My advice is to take advantage of opportunities that interest you, even if they come at inconvenient times. We are always busy, so just do it!
Share your ideas and interests with others. One step leads to another. Seek out other artists. Join a group, or form one of your own. Share your interests, successes and experiences, both good and bad.
I learned a long time ago to own up to the fact that I am an artist. It was hard at first, because when you say you are an artist, people expect you to be a good artist. However, if you are a clerk or secretary or some other professional, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are great at what you do, it just means that is how you spend your time. I spend my time as an artist. So, when I am asked what I do, I say I am an artist; sometimes someone is interested enough to then ask to see my work, and sales happen from there.
Originally, I primarily used P & B fabrics – I call the ones in my stash my “Fun Fabrics.” For the most part, though, I buy what speaks to me. My photo imagery is self-created, and much of my dyed fabrics are also. There are wonderful dye artists out there, and I have collected pieces from many of them to incorporate into my work. Another passion is collecting vintage lace and buttons and other findings. These also find their way into my textile books, sculpture, and hangings.
My themes vary. At times I use simple geometrics and try to express a feeling, emotion or impression. Other times, the theme is what I am familiar with – the simple pleasures of the world around us. I also am taken with cultural diversity and sharing with one’s fellow man. Some of my pieces attack injustice. Many of my quilts are folk art. I frequently use quotes and vintage images.
I have a huge collection of silk ties. Sometimes a wall quilt or garment is made entirely of them. When my youngest son got married, I created the coat I wore for his wedding from his grandfather’s ties. His friends made my day by telling me I was “awesome.”
If you would like to read more of Eileen’s article on Christine Adams, it’s included in our Fall 2012 issue of The Professional Quilter and available to IAPQ members. The International Association of Professional Quilters offers resources and networking opportunities for you to create a success from your quilting business. Learn about all the benefits of IAPQ membership and join here.
Please share your thoughts on being an artist below.