Quilter Profile: Ann Fisher
Ann Fisher's development as a quilter depended upon her solving a problem: her wrists were in splints.
It was a classic case of life dealing lemons. She got hooked on quilting but was soon rendered unable to make them: "Quilts became a passion in the late-eighties, when I started going to a lot of auctions," Ann says. "I kept seeing old quilts and unfinished tops... and I started buying them. One day I decided to make one. My first quilt was in the Amish style. I hand-quilted them and perfected my stitch. My sewing skills were already highly developed, and it wasn't at all difficult. I thought, 'So? this isn't very challenging.' I made a few more rather traditional quilts and then realized I was bored again with following patterns. Then I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and had to stop entirely. In fact, I sent the last traditional quilt I ever made out to be hand-quilted by someone else because I couldn't do it with my wrists in splints."
This disability turned out to be an opportunity, and it wasn't long before Ann was making lemonade. "During my hiatus away from quilting I was buying books and looking with amazement at what was out there. I was sure I could never do anything like THAT. Then a combination of circumstances conspired to totally change my work. The carpal tunnel forced me to seek alternatives away from tiny hand-stitching, and as I was casting about for something I could do, a new fabric store called Thimble Pleasures opened up near-by. I visited and was astonished at the fabric selection. It was such a departure from what I was used to seeing, and I went wild buying a wide array of fabrics which were calling my name. Soon after that I took a string-piecing class with Sherri Wood. I had seen a lot of Sherri's work because she sells and shows at our local farmer's market, and because she was becoming highly visible as an up-and-coming quilt artist. Her teaching style was, 'Be intuitive in your cutting, don't worry about being perfect, anything can be made to work.' And she suggested hand-quilting in large even stitches with pearlized cotton. Wrist problems solved! That's all it took to get me going."
Besides these influences, Ann had a strong family tradition to assist her in the odyssey that led to her very individual and interesting work. It was not, however, a quilting tradition. It was something more basic.
"My family never quilted, so far as I know, nor were there any 'family quilts' to be seen," Ann recalls. "I did begin sewing at an early age-- clothes for my dolls and then my first dress when I was ten. My mother is an excellent seamstress, and this was an area we could enjoy ourselves in. My grandmother was 'do-it-yourselfer' from way back, running a cattle ranch with my grandfather, cooking huge meals, growing most of what they ate (beef included) and making anything that needed making for the ranch or the house. I remember when they retired, Grandma designed their new house. She had it built so that three sides surrounded a courtyard, where she installed a waterfall and fish pond-- all herself. So the possibility of simply figuring out how to make something was always a strong influence on me. For years I made all of my own clothes, then lovingly made clothes for my three children, and finally got bored with following patterns."
Once Ann broke down these barriers, she began to explore what was possible through her own imagination and developing style: "For about six months after my class with Sherri, I would say my work was fairly derivitive. Then I began to obey the fabrics I was working with. From there I found that I had no lack of ideas.
"I don't know if I have any particular style. I am still developing and I seem to utilize anything that comes to mind. I still love what can be done with strip-piecing, and I have a fondness for making kaleidoscopes with that method. I believe that the pieces I conceptualize and make are determined by what's happening in my life, and by the fabric I find in my hands. I get ideas from everywhere. I am fascinated by color, and I have been working a lot with all shades of grey.
"I often conceive of pieces as I lie in bed. Last night I thought about one to symbolize the expansion of myself as an artist over the last three years. I visualized a small dark grey/purple circle contained tightly in a box. And then another lighter shade of grey in another circle outside the first box, but in a second bigger box. Then more and more concentric circles in stronger and stronger colors all pushing out of boxes until the last circle is wildly multi-hued and the box is just a few broken lines tumbling out of the way. Will I make this piece? Maybe.
"Last month I walked around for weeks with an angry image in my mind... put up a piece of black fabric, made some photo-transfers, considered it, reworked it, and finally ended up with a sad (not angry) self-portrait entitled Unraveling The Mommy Box. And I never did use the black fabric."
If you go to Ann's page at the Quiltart Gallery, you will find examples of both her strip-piecing and kaleidoscope styles. She refers to one technique as "random strip-piecing."
Ann explains: "When I speak of 'random strip-piecing,' I mean cutting a set of fabrics into strips and creating a new cloth without planning too much the placement of each strip. I know ahead of time that random placement wil work because I have carefully sifted through my stash, and I have chosen fabric that works together. Afer I have created this new piece of cloth I hang it up and look at it for awhile. Sometimes I recut it and run new fabrics through it, as in my Color Studies. Sometimes I use a template (very unusual for me) and recut the fabric into units, such as those for the kaleidoscopes. Sometimes I cut very straight strips, using a ruler, and combine them deliberately on my design wall. This is not at all random, and I have a landscape which sings because of this method.
"Lately I tend to hang a full yard of fabric on the design wall and then lay other fabrics over it until I get a composition I like. That is how Interiors I came about. And how at least three or four more of that series will be put together. I have already started several, and now they are just hanging around waiting for me to get back to them."
Another very distinctive group of quilts is Ann's mourning kaleidoscope series. This would appear to grow out of the very long and honored tradition of grief quilts which can be found in American quilt history. Ann says there was no conscious influence, however: "I didn't have that in mind at all when I made these quilts. I was sad with too much time to wallow in it, I was a quilter, I had things to express. I made these three pieces during the ending of a cherished relationship. All I could bear to work with were somber fabrics. In fact, at Thimble Pleasures, Julie would see me come in and say, "Hi Ann, I have a really anguished-looking new fabric in." And I would buy it. So there was this growing pile of somber colors and I remember thinking that I was seeing life through dark glasses... and then thinking perhaps through a shattered lens. The shattered lens reminded me of those little toys called dragonfly eyes, where everything is sort of fragmented. I felt fragmented. The dragonfly eye lens lead me to the idea of a kaleidoscope... and the Mourning Kaleidoscope Series was begun. They are bound in black velvet to signify mourning-- like a black armband does. I wrote all over them, poems, mostly."
As Ann has made her stylistic transition, she has been engaged in a development of another sort as well, from casual quilter to artist. "I don't know if I consider myself a professional yet. I don't make a living at it. I'd like to, but that's pretty rare. I do consider myself an artist, though, and as an artist I expect to be paid for my work. I gave my last quilt away a year ago. Now I consider them too valuable, and can't afford to let friends pay anything but full price. Consequently I am selling to people I don't know. I have the Mourning Kaleidoscope Series in a gallery in Black Mountain, N.C., and recently won Best of Show in Raleigh. I have a commission based on a postcard of my work I sent to an artist in Maine, and I have a very small show coming up in Chapel Hill. It's a start. I haven't felt myself ready to submit to the really big shows like Quilt National or Visions, but someday I will."
The internet, particularly Judy Smith's Quiltart maillist, has had an enabling impact on Ann's development. "For me the internet has had a profound effect on my self-image as an artist," she says. "I belong to the Quiltart list and just putting my work in the Quiltart gallery was a huge advance for me. I had never had the chance to show before such a wide audience before. Then there is the daily affirmation that the list brings me. I can converse with other artists who 'get' my passion. When I have a technical problem they are there with help. When I have a triumph they are there with best wishes. When I am stuck or uninspired they are there with new ways for me to consider my problem. I have made friends with a number of the people on the list, and their humor and wisdom have become very very important to me. Out of this list a small number of us have formed a support group we call 'The Friendly Five.' We send each other photos of recent work with only the information we would give the general public. It's very helpful to get feed-back about my work from people I don't know... as it seems so much more objective that way."
Ann's slow, patient, and often painful passage to becoming a quilter with a style and vision of her own parallels that of many artists. Her own wisdom in seeing the paths around her disabilities not only allows her to develop as a quilter, but shapes her style and approach, enhancing its individuality. Blind poet Jorge Luis Borges said he wrote rhymed and metered poems because in his blindness these were the only kind he could remember. So we have the blindness to thank for beauty of the poems. As for Ann Fisher, a low boredom threshold, a broken relationship, and yes, sore wrists, have given us these lovely quilts.
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