Alice Spencer

above: Alice Spencer, Kasaya#8, Hand printed paper/collage on board, 35×46, 2013, Jay York photo

I have always made things–paintings, drawings, things with clay. Making things as a child never seemed like something I did but something that was continuous with who I was. Looking back I think my early experience with art making was one of the reasons I grew to love ethnic textiles and to use them in my work.

Baby Carrier, Batik, Indigo dye, Miao Tribal People, Yunnan Province, China, Dimensions Variable, Bernard C. Meyers photo

In many traditional societies hand-made textiles are deeply tied to civic life. They are practical and useful but also function as a societal signal system. They create cohesion and provide a framework of shared values. In many of these communities, textiles hold an ethos, a spiritual center. They are an essential source of identity and connection.

Mirror Cover, Lakai Tribe, Afganistan, Cotton and cotton embroidery, 20th century, 18×18, Bernard C. Meyers Photo

Handmade work is not commodified, as in much Western art, but continuous with the natural and spiritual laws of the world, an agent of meaning that informs everyday life.

 

 

In traditional weaving communities girls and boys grow up in families with weaving almost written into their DNA, learning to incorporate mathematically dense and aesthetically rich patterns into warp and weft. Weavers are valued citizens and their work is vital to the well-being of the community.

I grew up in a world where, like most of us, textiles were machine made and bought already made into curtains or jackets. My mother didn’t sew, I didn’t sew, and the only weaving I did was to make potholders for Christmas presents. I attended an elite private school where Home Economics, which taught the skills of domesticity in public schools, was considered inferior to the life of the intellect.  In college I took studio art, visited museums and galleries, studied art history, never doubting I would be an artist. But at times I felt like an outlier, not tuned in to the ongoing debate about the -isms of art.  On visits to New York I began to seek out shows of folk art and a new genre known as “outsider art”.

Cradle Cover, Turkey, Silk embroidery on cotton, 20th century, 30×40
Headscarves, combs, Paduaung Tribal woman, Myanmar, Photo by author

 

About 40 years ago I went to Guatemala with my husband, Dick.  We fell in love with the women’s hand woven huipile blouses and learned that each village had its own unique colors and patterns.  At one point we spotted a gorgeous blouse, but someone was wearing it. The woman noticed us admiring it and disappeared behind a bush. When she emerged (wearing another) she offered it to us. A favorite first piece in our collection, it still smells faintly of smoke, sweat and goat dung.

 

 

From that time on we began to travel to countries where we could find handmade textiles. Seeking out workshops and weaving villages, often in remote places, became a way for us to experience each country at a deeper level than would otherwise have been possible.  In all these years we rarely have set foot in Europe, the place of my heritage. Its textile traditions are no longer alive; textiles are dusty artifacts in museums.

Kemba, Woman’s breast cloth, Three color batik, Java, Indonesia Photo Bernard C. Meyers

 

 

We have now acquired close to 80 textiles from about 20 countries, including Bhutan, India, China and Cambodia. We bought tube skirts while visiting our Peace Corps kids in East Timor. We found the embroidered tails of a ritual dancer’s skirt in Ecuador, an Akh-nif cape with its huge woven eye in Morocco, and ikat robes lined with Russian chintz in Uzbekistan. Someone gave us a burqua. and we discovered 3 gorgeous Korean bojagis (wrapping cloths) in a flea market in Seoul. I also attended an auction of Jack Leonard Larson’s collection of ethnic textiles in New York. Surrounded by eager collectors, I finally landed a mud cloth from Mali. Most of these pieces, with the exception of those that attract moths, are piled on a high kitchen shelf. The layers of bright cloth bring me pleasure and inspiration every day.

Over the years I also had the opportunity to teach printmaking in both Mongolia and Zanzibar (Tanzania), which opened another path of connection to other traditional arts-centered cultures. Art students in Mongolia, most now living in the city in Ulaanbaatar, revere their country’s nomadic past. The iconic horse of the steppe still is an important subject in their work.  In Zanzibar, the women I worked with learned henna body decoration in the traditional way: from their mothers or their aunts. While still practicing this ancient art for weddings and other celebrations, they have now learned to use their henna designs in brightly-colored acrylic paintings.

 

 

Alice Spencer, Crazy Quilt Improv#2, Hand printed paper/collage on board 16×16, 2016, Jay York photo

It was while traveling, teaching and collecting textiles abroad that the idea of re-imagining textiles in paintings emerged as a path for my work. While Matisse called his textile collection his “working library,” for me textiles offer a lexicon, not just of formal structures, but of conceptual associations that provide the content and language for my work. Fold, pleat, pattern, patch: these actions find new applications in paint or collage. Referencing the evolution of textile motifs that occur across cultures and through generations I use multiple stencils to create each pattern. Each pattern holds within itself a small sample of the sweep of history and time.

Recently, I have started making collages that are based on patchwork textiles. Combining craftsmanship with thrift, patchwork has brought vibrant beauty to clothing and other humble household necessities throughout history. The ancient tradition of recycling is now a focus in both contemporary art and daily life. In exploring this form I have been looking at quilts from the American South made from the clothing of deceased family members and at others where quilting norms are subverted and the music of the quilters’ African forbears can be tracked in the off-kilter arrangements of patched squares. I have also looked at Japanese fishermen’s coats, thickly layered with patches, and becoming increasingly warmer and more beautiful through time, as well as the kasayas of Tibetan monks who, vowing humility, follow an exacting protocol as they stitch together remnants of once fine brocades. These and other quilt traditions are the source of my recent work.

.

Alice Spencer, Kasaya#3, Hand printed paper/collage on board, 48×63, 2013, Jay York photo

By borrowing from  an enduring cultural tradition, one in which art and daily life flow as one, I celebrate it and find a meaningful path for my work.

Alice Spencer, Kasaya#6, Hand printed paper/collage on board, 30×41, 2013, Jay York photo

UMVA Portland Chapter – Minutes

S.Smith, BotanyofSacrifice

November UMVA Portland Minutes
Scroll down for December minutes directly after

(Annotated version for the Journal)—11/20/17

Website:
Janice made a UMVA website report. She discussed the challenge with having a gatekeeper structure and the difficulty keeping something current and accurate with that system. She discussed that there were multiple sites for UMVA and the Maine Arts Journal and the newsletter, etc and that it was very confusing to try to track down who does what. Matt Stacey is still the gatekeeper for the main site and Cathy Weinberg is doing the journal site and facebook updates. The group discussed other options for a new page, or something that would be easier to access month to month. It was agreed this is becoming one of the most important next steps for our chapter to increase exposure, information and memberships. (see note at bottom).

Current CTN Open Hours   (Gallery is always open during these times)

Monday—12pm – 5pm
Tuesday—10am – 5pm
Wednesday—12pm – 5pm
Thursday—10am – 5pm
Friday—Closed
Saturday—Closed
Sunday—Closed

Remodel Update
Leslie reported that the donated carpet for the back room is here, but they are just waiting for laborers to install. There are also plans to repaint the front of the building and get new signage up with the change of CTN to the new name. The UMVA banner was praised as looking really good from the street and even had passersby taking photos of it.

It was discussed that at the December meeting we will do an overview of 2017 and also a visioning discussion for our hopes and dreams for UMVA in 2018 and beyond.

Update: William uploaded all Curator & Press Documents here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1XsUTtKKxb9Cefa6AM_-0eoOr9cQb9SxL?usp=sharing

 

We have a full UMVA Gallery planned for 2018!!!

umvaportland chapter,schedule for shows

Jan– Gregg Harper/ Mixed Media
Feb– Susan Smith/ sculpture- mixed media
March– Berrang/ Witte
April – Migration Experience/ UMVA Journal/ John Ripton
May– Mark Barnette/ photography
June–  Art & Abstract Truth/ Jim Kelly
July– UMVA Open Show  (needs curator)
Aug– Matt Demers /painting
Sept–  The Eclectic Vision/ Addison Woolley
Oct– The Chair Considered / Janice Moore
Nov–  UMVA Open Show  (needs curator)
Dec– Holiday Sale

Janice reminds the group that the show she is curating in October is for Chair-themed artwork and she wanted UMVA members to consider making chair-themed work to prepare for that show.

Note:
Who does what:
—All inquiries and listings should still be sent to:  umvalistings@gmail.com <http://umvalistings@gmail.com>
—There is is still a gatekeeper/tech head for the UMVA main site. He updates members’ images, and will help with tech problems on the site, but no longer formats listings for this site.  matthew_stacey@ymail.com
 —There is a person currently formatting and uploading listings for the Maine Arts Journal— the current location of the online News/Events and UMVA Newsletter, the former UMVA Blog page.

S.Smith, Bundles

 

UMVA Portland Meeting Notes
December 2017

—Report Back by John R: Holiday Sale
—Idea presented: to create a calendar for UMVA events for print and online.
—Email from Janice was read regarding the website update and trying to make progress on having a UMVA portland site that we can manage.
—Gregg H handed out bookmarks for his show in January . He reported all the place he has put the show info and the newspapers that were running info about the show. He met with Bob Keyes/ good media timing. Gregg will be sitting for the show every Friday through Sunday for the entire month of the show.
— John R reported on the April show. Focus on immigrants. 12 artists currently in the works. Performances etc/ Building community. Titi DeBaccarrat/ Kifa Abdullah are involved in organizing the show with John. The show info will be in 5 languages and will display mixed media pieces also.
—Jess M discussed our mailing list and how to maximize our membership. Jess asked some questions about our press materials and the process we are using to market shows. A discussion followed about best practices.
—Gregg reported on the curator file for each curator. Jackie’s e-mail should be added for contact for all curators to be able to access the membership lists and mailing lists.

—Holiday Show 2018/ Next Year: Idea for a “50 for $50 idea.” Each artist makes a small piece for the show and could submit addition works. Have a donation aspect of the show to raise money for a cause.  Jess proposed having a holiday show with 3 rooms each with a different price point.
—Can we increase sales in the gallery?  Discussion -Make it attractive to come to the openings/-Bartending help for the opening.  Gallery Hours / consistent

UMVA Visioning for 2018 and beyond:
-website  (weebly.com)
-classes from members to share their skills/ raise money/ make money
-each member should tell people and try to help grow the umva membership this year
-calendar
-UMVA marketing materials
-Another Draw-A-Thon?  Political activist art. ARRT. Bring our war dollars home.
-Kids events classes. Provide to the community
-Model drawing classes?
-Set gallery intentions – How do decide how we want to give out shows/ 1 person? 2 person shows? member shows? Which is the priority?
-What is the purpose of the gallery?  Can we bring in outside artists and curators? Bring in out of state shows?
-William invited the UMVA members to Hidden Ladder Art Nights that happen each Sunday night to collaborate with artists in the city. Contact him if interested.
-Funding: maybe be able to award artists grants down the road.

Thanks for a great 2017 and we discussed highlights from the last year.