What's not to love about Virginia Spiegel? She's an exceptional fiber artist, has raised nearly $200,000 for the American Cancer Society with Fiber Arts for a Cause (FFAC), and heck...we share the same birthday (October 2nd in case you wanted to mark your calendars)!
Recently, Virginia decided to launch ToteTuesday, her latest efforts to raise money for ACS. I thought it might be fun to learn more about the person and artist behind such an amazingly successful charitable endeavor.
long have you been a fiber artist?
I know you have a doctorate, my friend. What is your degree in
and how has it played a role in your work?
is in Planning and Policy in Higher Education. It was a personal goal and
something needed in my work at a university. I would say my M.S. In
Counseling and my undergrad degree in English and Teaching have had a greater
effect in that I am very curious about human nature, how we choose to express
ourselves, and the power of the word. Plus if you have ever taught high school,
you know everything you need to know about how to be successful in any venture.
also worked as a graphic designer for five years. I couldn’t find a
position at a university when we moved one time, so I started volunteering in a
hospital’s media department and worked my way up to a paid position. I
took university coursework in photography, design, typography, etc. at the same
time. Those courses have been a great help to me as a fiber artist.
Plus it was pre-computer design and I developed a love for wax which has
come in handy.
You do a lot of surface design work. Are all of your
fabrics in your artworks hand-dyed and screened? What is your favorite surface design process and with whom have you studied?
all my fabric is “made” by me. I generally only dye the fabric for the
backs of my artworks. The rest of my fabric is white cotton fabric that
is painted, stamped and/or screen printed. I love screen printing. It is
not only choosing photos and manipulating them to make interesting screens, but
also the building up of layers of interest on the fabric. It reminds me
of a geological process.
learned the painting of fabric basics from Natasha Kempers-Cullen. But I
have really developed my own way of doing things over time; I estimate that I
have painted almost 1000 yards of fabric. I have taken about three other
week-long courses, most importantly from Erika Carter and Joan Schulze. But
that’s it. I prefer to discover what I want to do and how I want to do it
taken 14 wilderness trips with your sister, and I'm amazed and awed by your
camping and canoeing skills. (Camping to me is staying in a three-star hotel!)
Tell me a little bit more about your trips.
Above: Nancy (left), Virginia (right)
sister, Nancy, and I go each Spring and Fall for 10 days. We like the
northern part of the Boundary Waters, which is almost on the Canadian border –
less people, more moose.
like to make loops – alternating camping and moving days. That way we
just kill ourselves on the travel days (and laugh, eat like crazy, see
wildlife, and generally have a great time) and appreciate the camping days.
The travel days are pretty much up with the sun, paddle, portage, repeat.
The camping days are spent doing NOTHING! Ok, journals and
photography and haiku writing and general sister goofiness. But otherwise
we just sit and look at the water in silence. For two women who are
uber-busy the rest of the year, it is a necessity.
sometimes do big journeys where we travel every day, but it’s a different
mindset. You go out in the boat no matter what, your boots never dry, and
if you are stuck at the backside of the loop in a big storm, oh, oh. Then
it’s rationing food and TP time! The big trips are always the most challenging
and the ones that give us our best stories and memories.
am addicted to the Boundary Waters because it is a challenge. You have to
carry everything you need, there are no signs, no one checks on you, cell
phones do not work.
it is up to us to know where we are, navigate the lakes and find the portages,
haul a canoe (our 43 lb. Kevlar canoe, Beauty II, goes over the portages
over Nancy’s head) and three 50 lb. packs over the rock and mud portages, pay
attention to the weather and try to figure out whether it is safe to go out,
sit out storms in a tiny tent, discuss portage priority with a bull moose, etc.
Water comes from the lakes and we treat it with a UV Steripen. We wear
the same shirt and shorts/pants for the whole time. The biting bugs in
the Spring are legion. You have to be either in pretty good shape or be
prepared to suffer. It takes a fair amount of problem-solving and just
adapting to challenges (such as your stove and Steri-pen both dying at the
beginning of the same trip).
either love it or hate it. We love it because you have to both be
in the moment, totally aware of your surroundings, AND have a brain empty of
Do you and your sister check in with Mom? She must be
worried about her two precious daughters becoming bear meat! And what's
your favorite insect repellant?
Mom does worry, but she knows our motto is “Safety First.” We are 5'2" and
5'6", but we have a system and stick to it so that we are very efficient
on the portages and lakes. Plus Mom taught us to do what we want and she
would be disappointed if we didn’t follow our dreams. She is happy that
we found something we enjoy together as sisters as we really didn’t know each
other that well before we started going to the Boundary Waters.
repellant. DEET gives me a headache, so I use some organic stuff that
kind of works. It’s pretty much cover up and tough it out. Fall is
heaven. It can be cold (even snow) in September, but no bugs.
When you are on these trips, what art supplies do you
bring? I take it you don't pack your Bernina and a generator.
each have a journal and two Uni-ball Vision pens, which are waterproof and
write upside down (good for when you are stuck in your sleeping bag in bad
weather). Also our cameras. 150 lbs. seems like a lot, but tent,
sleeping bags, propane - - it all adds up. So even a few ounces
makes a difference. We gave watercolor pencils the boot after one trip.
How do these trips play a role in
your Boundary Waters series?
inspiration. It is not just the “physical-ness” of the Boundary Waters
landscape (water, rock, tree, sky), but even more what these things evoke for
me: peace, freedom, an respect for Nature in all its power, a recognition
of my own fleeting time on Earth.
"Boundary Waters 44" • 13x12.25" mounted to a custom-made 18x18" stretched canvas. White cotton fabric, acrylic paint, artist’s photos inkjet printed on silk organza, ink, colored pencil, graphite, and rayon thread. Collaged, colored, lettered and stitched.
How long have you been doing Fibeart for a Cause (FFAC)
and what started it all for you?
2005. I started raising funds to support my sister who volunteered to be
the chair of her community’s Relay For Life. Our Dad is a colon cancer
do you balance making art with running FFAC?
hard as I am definitely an artist who needs a lot of uninterrupted time to
think and work. But I have retired all the big fundraisers. I figure as
long as my sister can devote so much time to being a Relay Chair, I can take
the time to run a little fundraiser now and then.
was your initial monetary goal for FFAC?
hoped to raise $90.
Were you surprised at the goals you've accomplished? What
factors do you think led to such incredible success?
more than $190,000 still surprises me, but I hope to go over $200,000 before I
stop. Fiber artists and their patrons are the key to success. We
all want to help, we all want to “do good,” we all want to promote fiber arts.
Of course, FFAC would have never taken flight without Karey Bresenhan,
our honorary chairperson. She donated a huge area at the International
Quilt Festivals for the Postcard Project and we raised over $120,00 at three
Festivals, $30 at a time. Obviously that was a lot of donated fiberart
postcards and a lot of generous patrons.
Tell me more about ToteTuesday. What are your goals for this
particular FFAC endeavor?
always, in addition to raising funds for the ACS, I want to promote fiber art
and artists. There is so much good art, so much good information, so much
creativity out there. ToteTuesday offers fiber art/supplies/information
in themed groupings that are unique, beautiful, and inspiring in a re-usable
Relay For Life or custom-made tote. Plus, who doesn’t need a little
cheering up in February and March?
Well, Virginia, thank you for your time! And I have a little surprise for you and for those reading this blog: I was able to dig up the segment you taped for Quilting Arts TV at the International Quilt Festival/ Chicago in 2008. Hope everyone enjoys this segment, and I'll post pictures of my own tote I'm donating for ToteTuesday very soon!