Mary Pal Designs

Earth Stories - Part 1 (The Concept)

If you've never entered a "call for consideration" for an exhibition, it is a very different kind of artmaking experience. To start you off, you might read a call for entry like this one that I found:

There are many stories of hope across the globe. Both individuals and small groups are working on projects that when added together make a positive impact on increasing the quality of life on this planet. Earth Stories will celebrate the stories of people or projects that enhance the planet, make a significant difference in restoring and/or protecting the environment, increase sustainability and otherwise improve the earth we all occupy. 25 artists from around the world will be chosen to interpret a “story” of their choice. Each artist will feature a project or person of their choice; the views presented by the artist do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of SAQA or MSU, neither of which endorses any person, project or organization.

Then you read the requirements:

Artists will be asked to create a work or installation of works that are connected thematically, totaling no more than 72” x 72” total hanging space. In addition, each artist will create a fabric “poster” 12” x 14” that summarizes the project or individual they have chosen to use as the focus of their piece(s). These smaller works may be exhibited along with the larger works, or together on one wall as the collective good work that is being done around the world, depending on the available space at each venue. Each poster should reflect the overall goal of the project of person highlighted in the larger work. For example, each artist will choose a project of individual doing work to protect the planet to use as the theme of their works. The 12” x 14” piece will serve as an overview of the profiled project, as it may stand alone. The larger works can be either a single piece or several pieces designed to hang together that tell a more detailed story about the same earth-friendly project.

So you submit images from your portfolio, along with an application outlining what you might make for just such an exhibition ... and wait to hear if you've been selected. The juror in this case was Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi - well-known by fibre artists as a very talented author, curator and quilter in her own right.  Did I mention her PhD in Aerospace Engineering? Daunting!

Trust me on this one: once you get your email of acceptance, you feel very conflicting emotions: delight and amazement at having been accepted ... followed by that sinking feeling that you may have bitten off more than you can chew.  A piece six feet by six feet?  In the company of 24 very established artists? Be careful what you wish for! 

Then the relentless emails begin, quite literally hundreds of them ... here are your guidelines ... here is your contract to sign ...  questions from your fellow artists ... and reminders, reminders, reminders: don't forget the lead-in piece, remember to journal your process, the journal should look like this ....  Meanwhile, you carry on with life, wrack your brain for composition ideas, wait for brilliance to strike.  And then at some point, you just go into your studio and do it.  And here are excerpts from my Journal about how I created my piece for Earth Stories.  Full photos cannot be posted till it premieres in Houston at the International Quilt Festival in October.  But till then, I can give you sneak peeks. So here we go:

The Concept

When I applied to participate in this exhibition, I proposed to tell the story of George Archibald, who 40 years ago co-founded the International Crane Foundation. His lifelong dedication to saving the 15 species of cranes worldwide and the incredible lengths he has gone to in order to fulfill this commitment are nothing short of inspirational, though all accounts paint him as a humble man.

 George Archibald has made saving cranes his lifetime commitment.  It is easy to chart his progress with some simple online searches – there are several Youtube videos chronicling how he bonded with one of the last surviving whooping cranes, Tex, how he worked with his staff for years to get her to lay eggs, and the heart wrenching story of her chick, Gee Whiz, who survived only through a series of miracles and tireless efforts by George Archibald and his staff.  There are many accounts of the method he and his co-workers developed of rearing chicks in captivity that could be released in the wild to breed and raise chicks.  They designed special costumes for the human handlers, dressing them in a white hood as they hold a puppet with a cranelike neck, head, and bill so the birds would not set eyes on people. 

 The accounts about the frustrating years of attempts to release whooping cranes near sandhill cranes where almost all the young birds were killed by bobcats and the use of Ultralight planes to persuade the birds to migrate make compelling reading. The collaboration and cooperation between so many groups of people is astounding in itself: Canadian and American conservationists, biologists, farmers who allowed the birds to nest on their land, volunteers …. The impediments were daunting: hunters who mistook the whoopers for geese, predators, bad weather, power lines, and politicians who slowly and reluctantly responded to requests for laws to protect these birds.

 So my piece began with a sketch in my sketchbook that featured the figure of George Archibald, a well-known photo of Gee Whiz dancing, and cranes in the wetlands.

a page from my sketchbook

a page from my sketchbook