As a fiber artist, I delight in the feel of fabric, lace, buttons, beads, and assorted passementerie. Hoarding vast quantities of “things” gives me the supplies I need to create my work. I guess I should confess, at this point, to being a fiber “junkie”. Even though the supply of treasures grows steadily larger, I never seem to have enough materials. There are probably many who would differ with me on this point, after seeing my studio.
When I first began as a professional quilter, I was often asked why my work looked the way that it did. I suppose the question was posed since my style, at the time, had an ethnic influence. My mother, however, had no hesitation when I asked her. She emphatically said that the reason that my art looked the way that it did was because that she drank a lot of tomato juice when she was pregnant with me. Who can argue with a mother? I guess she should know.
As for me, I suppose that the reason my work looks the way that it does is because I need a lot of visual stimulation. I just keep adding on pieces to my appliqué work until it “looks right” to me. I suffered greatly in art school during the Minimalist period in painting. I always felt cheated with just a few bare, lonely stripes in a piece. Now, I’m fortunate in that I can do work just to please myself, and not for some instructor.
Those who like my art tend to respond to it in three areas. Some say that they love my use of color. Others are amazed by the vast quantities of buttons and beads that are used to create texture, and want to know where I find them all. Still others marvel at “all those little tiny stitches”, which a friend has dubbed “needlework obsessive”. Yes, my work is my passion. I would like to think that buyers would sense some of those feelings that went into creating my work, and would use one of my hangings to visually warm their homes. Besides, people can’t keep their hands off of my work, and are always wanting to touch it.
For most of my pieces, I rarely sketch out a design ahead of time, unless a client needs to see something before proceeding on a commission. I am fortunate to be blessed with terrific dreams, so frequently, that’s where the image for an art quilt originates; in my head. I begin the construction of the top by pinning up a piece of solid colored fabric vertically on my studio wall. I then begin to cut out the pieces of fabric that will compose the design and pin them into place onto the background piece. Sometimes, a particular shape cries out for inclusion, so I search for the perfect fabric to meet that need. Other times, the color is picked out first, and then I play around with a shape that will best fit that spot.
While working, the cutting out process can be particularly “breathy”, since I sometimes can’t cut the pieces fast enough. This excitement comes from the fact that I don’t know what the finished image will look like until it’s done. Sometimes, hours fly by as I’m cutting, since I want to hurry up and see my mental image take its physical form. I hope that my audience senses some of the personal energy that I’m trying to project into each piece. These works are the “children” that I’m leaving behind, and each piece has a little of my own personal magic in it.
While working, I try to resist the temptation to start sewing down the pieces until all of the work is cut out. I then try to leave it hanging for a few days as I live with it to see if I’m pleased with the arrangement. I’m always amazed to find that a piece that looked perfectly breathtaking the day before, will the next day have a huge, totally unacceptable piece glaring out at me. I think that the cats sneak into the studio in the middle of the night and move the pieces around in order to confuse me.
The best thing that I can say about my work is that I really do like it. Not that there aren’t tons of things that I need to improve, or do differently, but many of the pieces still thrill me years after their completion. Sometimes, I turn a corner, and see the light play across one of my quilts. The surface becomes hills and valleys as the light moves over the quilting stitches. It’s at moments like this that I still get the aesthetic chilly bumps up and down my neck, even though I’m the one who did the piece. “Wow”, I think, “I made that!”
As of 2009, a friend suggested that I pick out one button and include it on all of my pieces as a signature of a real “Smeltzer” work. I chose a small hummingbird jewelry toggle that has a shank, so it acts like a button, Hummingbirds for me are some of Nature’s happiest creatures and always make me smile. I bought a lifetime supply, so all of my larger quilted pieces will have that small button