… Respect for Textile Art!
I am taking the opportunity today to blog a little about the work we produce, photograph, send off to a jury, with the hope to get accepted into an exhibition – traveling or otherwise. Once the positive response comes we carefully wrap, build special boxes accommodate dimensional components, follow the instructions of the organizer to a T, pay the shipping and insurance and send it off to its destination.
We have respected all requests because we are told that if do not follow the instructions for shipping we may be disqualified. We extend our trust and most times we are treated according to the golden rule – do onto others…
I don’ t generally worry about my textile pieces when I ship them off. I know the packaging is more than adequate; years of entering such opportunities have taught me well.
More often than not I have opened the boxes and found my work exactly the way I had shipped it – wrapped carefully, taped to protect it from moisture, making it seem that the receiver took careful photographs of the piece when it arrived, and referring to these when packaging the work for return shipping.
However, during all these years I have had several unexpected and unpleasant surprises along the way when I my work returned. Short of making this sound like a horror story I want to touch on these experiences today. I spent a couple of days this week repairing work recently returned to me. Naturally a lot of time was spent reflecting on how important it is to treat work with respect to honor the maker, consider the hours of work invested and how we need to handle exhibition entries as if they were our own.
In 2004 my work was stuffed into its shipping box, not folded, not rolled but stuffed. The plastic for wrapping was pushed into the bottom of the tube and when I removed everything I had unwanted enclosures: a set of used plastic utensils, the type provided with take-out food. I set a polite note to the organizer making them aware of this and asking for more careful handling. The response was that the people unpacking, hanging and repacking the work were volunteers and could not be monitored. I did not follow another call for entry form this organizer.
In 2005 two pieces that traveled one of Canada’s provinces was returned to me in pristine condition. I was thrilled – I prepared for repair time but was so pleased to receive my work back after such a long time and numerous venues without the need to even re-attach one bead. Naturally I sent a thank you note to share my gratitude.
Another exhibition, solo this time, was taken down prior to my arrival, the work was stacked up in a storage room and many of helpers piled the pieces into our car when we arrived. I spent a day sorting, and rolling the work only to find that two pieces has unexplained cuts in the upper right hand corners. This required substantial repair. Once I had calmed down I approached the museum director who was in charge of hanging and was told that she had used scissors to cut down the fishing line and cut into the pieces. There was no apology. I insisted on compensation and she complied – happy ending to a horror story. My point is: why did I have to contact the person, why did she not let me know that this happened when I picked up the work?
Another museum exhibition had taken down the work by the time I was picking up the show. Several glass pieces on the feature piece were broken. However, the museum director took the time to point this out to me, apologized and offered compensation. I was appreciative of this honest approach and let it go. I was able to replace the pieces without problems.
The longer we exhibit the more often this may happen. But this week was a bit disappointing: On Monday I was getting work ready for photography and to consider whether it meets the objectives for entry into an upcoming juried exhibition. I detected a few loose threads hanging from one of the hand-embroidery sections. Blue on blue, I hardly noticed it at first… Then I saw the hole, large enough to put my thumb through. Somehow the hanging rod had sliced through the layers (4 layers plus a fusible layer) and I was horrified. My heart sinks – I went to the box to see if there was a note. It had been traveling the province for a little over a year and was handled by gallery staff. There was no note. I set to work and spent the better part of the day fusing, stitching and mending the damage. I think I was successful – but the piece is flawed in my mind forever.
The second disappointment only happened a few days later. A quilt had been returned in a flat box after I had built a custom box to accommodate the dimensional elements of the work. I was nervous all the way back from the post office, rushed to the studio and opened the package. Luckily the dimensionality was in tact… but a distinct crease straight across the bottom third of the piece has everyone’s eye go there… and no further. I contacted the organizer. There was a nice note in the package and lots of promotional material for the shows the piece had been in as well as her her personal business – but no word acknowledging the crease. An email prompted an excuse but no explanation as to why there is a crease in the work – apparently it was displayed this way at the last venue.
Another story deals with return shipping. A very prestigious show had my piece for well over three years. I was juried into the show. The work had to be submitted by early October for professional photography. I met all the deadlines and was supposed to have the work back just under three years. It took several emails and another six months to receive the piece, only to spend another couple of days repairing. There were signs of poor stitching to keep the snaps in place using black and white thread. I had used waxed linen thread and included a little note on how to assemble the inset panels for exhibition. I was just glad to have my work back after such a long time.
On another note: I was approached by a local organizer to exhibit in a coffee shop. I took the time to check out the venue and was quite truthfully horrified: A fiber art exhibit was featured when I visited and every single piece was held in place with pushpins – the type you buy at the stationary store – inserted into the corners and pushed into the brick wall. I communicated my concerns but never heard back. This was an easy decision: I will not pursue this venue!
Exhibiting may be prestigious and may add to our professional CVs – but our work must be respected by organizers. I have had my best experiences with the Grand National Quilt Show, The International Quilt Festival in the US, the Alberta Craft Council and smaller venues across the globe. I will continue to enter juried shows as I complete work that is new and meets the objectives. At the same time I urge organizers who may be reading my “rant” today to respect each entry equally. Accidents happen, a button or bead may fall off – the artist will understand this as long as communication takes place. We are all human and we all want to be treated with respect, as do our creations.
Anna thanks for drawing these incidents to our attention. I fully agree with comments above, especially Kathy Strawson’s. The carelessness with which some people have handled yours and others’ handcrafted works is distressing to discover,let alone being faced with the personal challenges of repairing defacements. Greater courteousy and honesty of the part of some is clearly called for. Also needed, it seems to me, is greater knowledge among fibre artists about preservation of textiles to safeguard their own and others’ fibre works. I have the name of someone who does presentations on this. She also recommends several websites, and the book Preserving Textiles by Harold F. Mailand and Dorothy Stites Alig, 1999. May all those who are fortunate enough to display your finely crafted works ensure their careful handling of them and their timely, intact return in future, .
Thanks for your comment and book suggestion on the subject, Judith. Most exhibition experiences are positive and work is returned in excellent condition. However, lately I have noticed a definite relaxed attitude toward handling others’ work with care. Let us hope for an improvement in such practices.
Anna, All I can say to your “rant” is Hear! Hear!. Thank you for expressing this sentiment. I have heard of some experiences the border on the bizarre when it comes to art being returned. I agree… a little respect for the artist’s work is the least that should be expended. The artist has gone to the time and trouble to not only create a piece for exhibition, but to pack according to requests made. Surely that time and trouble should be reciprocated by the exhibitor.
Renate, thank you for weighing in with your supportive comment.
I keep wondering how many artists get a painting back with a rip in the canvas or backing – I am sure it would not be brushed off as a minor incident, brushed away like a pesky fly and considered a mere “little accident!”
Are we too meek and in the habit of avoiding confrontation? Has the sentiment that we create “women’s work” deflated our self-esteem? Maybe we have to band together and stand tall when it comes to exhibiting – expecting the respect back that we extend to the organizers. Don’t get me wrong – there are great organizations that treat entries with great care and respect, but maybe those who handle the work need a reminder about how important it is to treat each piece as an individual art work.
It is a topic that won’t be exhausted for a while.
I think if these people were artists and not volunteers they would now how much time and effort goes into making these beautiful pieces. it must be disappointing to have them treated badly – I feel your frustration!
Thanks, Dianne! The odd thing here is that most volunteers at the fiber art exhibitions are quilters and fiber artists themselves. It is inexcusable when peers cannot respect each others efforts and work. I appreciate your words of support!
Anna, I am distressed to hear about the disrespectful way in which some of your pieces have been handled and eventually returned to you. As well, very glad to hear that not all of your experiences have been bad and that you have given credit to those that have respected your work. This is a very important “rant” and thank you so much for sharing your experiences, good and bad. All the best in 2013 and all of your creative pursuits and showings.
Kathy, thanks for weighing in. I have always tried to focus on the positive side of exhibiting but when two pieces are returned in the same week with issues… and decided to share and make show visitors aware of possible issues.
Wow! I can’t believe the disrespect for your art! What kind of people are volunteering for the returned items – garbage collectors? I wonder if it would help if a packing fee was included in the entry fee – to pay real artists to package them up for return. They would have at least some knowledge and respect for another person’s art – at least I think they would. You can’t even touch the display quilt without white gloves, it doesn’t look as if the necessary precautions are taken when hanging or returning! I am not impressed at all!
Judy, I only wrote about my own experiences after talking with other fibre artists over the years – this has happened to most of us and it is not an isolated case and I don’t feel that people pick on me particularly.
The handling fee is a great suggestion, but most shows already require an entry fee and with paying for shipping we are essentially paying out. Not a lot of shows award prizes, cash or otherwise. Exhibiting is expensive – asking for respect in treating the work is the least we can do!