You are invited: Unexpected Art Exhibition

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Art often shows up in unexpected places. A brass doorknob, a painted feather, or a pacemaker can become an evening dress — if you know how to look at them. Artist Becka Rahn dug deep into the collections at The Museum of Russian Art, The Bakken Museum, and Hennepin History Museum to find items that have been hidden away, unnoticed, or overlooked. Drawing inspiration from these forgotten objects, Becka created new surface designs which were digitally printed onto fabric and paper, transforming unexpected items into new pieces of art.

About this project
Several years ago, I was approached by the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum for a project that they were working on in an effort to bring some new life and relevance to their collection. They asked artists to respond to a piece in their collection, and these pieces and corresponding artistic responses (poems, essays, art) became an online exhibition with an objective of presenting a new way to look at old objects. Several years later, inspired by the same idea of an artistic response to a museum piece, I created two more designs, drawing from a woodwork detail and a feather fan from the collection at Hennepin History Museum. I loved the idea of looking for museum pieces that were overlooked, forgotten, ignored, or even maybe were just too odd to be on display in a typical exhibition and finding a way to put them in a spotlight.

My work for this exhibition continues the idea of an artistic response to an item from a museum collection. I worked with curators and staff at each of my museum partners — The Museum of Russian Art, The Bakken Museum, and Hennepin History Museum — to choose quirky pieces from their collections. In response to these pieces, I created original surface designs that were digitally printed on to a variety of fabrics. The designs were created from a variety of sources: photographs, hand cut paper, and original illustrations. I designed and sewed a garment from each original fabric design, choosing a silhouette or style to compliment the inspiration piece.

In 2016, I received an Artist Initiative Grant from the MN State Arts Board and that is what has made this project possible. An important component of that grant was doing hands-on art activities with members of the community. With the grant funding, I was able to purchase six laptop computers, giving me a mobile computer lab to use for workshops. Grant funding covered the materials costs so that we could make these workshops affordable for both the participants and the partner organizations that I was privileged to work with. I also had the support to create a body of work and put together a solo exhibition of that work. As an artist, I can’t put a value on that kind of opportunity. Many thanks to the MN State Arts Board and the voters of Minnesota, who make this Legacy funding possible. We live in an amazing community.

The opening reception is Thursday January 26 from 6-8 pm and if you are in the Minneapolis area, I hope you can make it. I will also be doing 3 mini-workshops in the gallery throughout the run of the show. More details about those will be posted soon, but you can come and make your own origami dress just like the ones that will be in the exhibition.

Digitally printed faux suede from a photo of an antique feather fan.

Digitally printed faux suede from a photo of an antique feather fan.

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Fabric design inspired by a Geissler tube from the Bakken Museum collection.

Announcing: It’s a Spoonflower Handbook Master Class

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Registration is now open for my March 2017 Spoonflower Handbook Master Class. This session uses Adobe Illustrator as our main design tool, so it’s a great intro if you have ever wanted to learn about Illustrator. All of the details are on the Master Class page here. Hope you can join us!

Heroes don’t always wear capes.

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A few weeks ago someone on Facebook posted a thing from Singing in the Rain. I forget the thing and even the context now, but my mom commented that it was her daughter’s favorite movie. And she is right. Hands down, 100%, no question, my favorite movie of all time. Halloween2015I wanted to be a costumer because I wanted to make costumes for movies like that. (Nevermind that I was a generation too late.)
In fact I commented back on that post that among my top five movies were Singing in the Rain and When Harry Met Sally

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Fierce. Confident. Unapologetic. Sharp. Witty. Imperfect. Creative. Royalty.

I feel like a deflated balloon today. On one hand it seems completely dumb to me to write a post about celebrities; people I have never met. But we all have heroes we’ve never met: historical figures, fictional characters, family legends. And I think we need to have people that we admire to help us figure out how to be the kind of people we want to be. These two were the kind of people I want to be.

The thing I admire most about both is how brave they were. Both stepped in to blockbusters at age 19 and lived in the spotlight for their entire lives. Through divorces, drugs and all kinds of things I am certain you would never want to share with a million strangers on the internet. But they both shrugged and said if you are going to point that spotlight at me, then I will talk about something important. Mental illness, ageism, sexism, equal pay, objectification of women, addiction. I never want that spotlight, but I hope that I would have the guts to use it to talk about something important too.

I had a funny conversation with a group of middle school girls in a class last year when The Force Awakens came out. The girls didn’t understand why they had to make Luke and Han and Leia soooo old in the new movie and when I told them that the original movies came out when I was a kid, they just couldn’t wrap their heads around that.leia I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was 9, because my dad thought my sister and I would like the Ewoks. (He was right.) I am not a huge Star Wars fan, but I don’t know a single girl my age that didn’t want to be Leia. We all wanted her hair. We all wanted to ride around on a speeder and shoot like the boys. We all wanted to tell Han Solo he was being an idiot and hug Chewie. She was the princess that kicked ass and not one that needed to be rescued. There are a few more princesses like that now. (Thanks Joss and JJ.) I have seen and read interviews that Carrie was a little uncomfortable knowing that she was the slave bikini pin-up poster for a whole generation of boys but we girls knew she was so much more than that. And Carrie was. Turns out maybe Leia was too.

As a very comfortable and determined introvert, Debbie Reynolds was just pure effervescence to me. I can’t watch her without smiling; a little part of me wants to be her in another life. A friend and I have a theory that when you know your day is going to suck, that the best way to get through it is to put on your very cutest shoes and your favorite dress, be fierce, and power through. I think you also have to put on a little Debbie Reynolds. I watch Singing in the Rain at least once a year, every year. She was pure love and determination and will always be my hero. debbie2

 

Holiday Ornament Tutorial: Goldfish Bowls

img_0700I love goldfish. My logo has been a goldfish for years and years. (His name is Smee.) I have 2 goldfish named Harold and Henry that spend their summers outside in the waterlily pond and the winters in my living room begging for someone to feed them. So goldfish might not seem like an obvious ornament choice, but I love ornaments that are a little whimsical.

Materials

  • 4 x 8 inches of blue felt
  • 2 x 3 inches orange felt
  • assorted small seed beads; gold, brown or cream colored
  • 1 white 8-10 mm sequin
  • thread to match your blue felt
  • green embroidery thread
  • 6 inch piece of narrow ribbon
  • 2×3 scrap of fusible paper backed webbing (Heat & Bond Lite, Wonder Under)

Tools

  • small sharp scissors
  • beading needle, embroidery needle
  • sewing machine with straight stitch (optional)
  • iron & ironing board

Instructions

1. Right-click or option-click the pattern pieces below and save them to your computer. Then you can print them out. Cut two bowls (circles) from the blue felt. Set one aside.

2. With the embroidery needle and a piece of green embroidery thread, use a feather stitch to embroider a plant in the fishbowl. Here’s a great feather stitch tutorial

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3. Use the beads to add a pebble bottom to your fish bowl. With a beading needle and thread, stitch individual beads in a random scatter. Be sure to keep your beads about 1/4 inch from the outside edge of the bowl.

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4. Iron the fusible webbing to the back of the orange felt piece, following the instructions on the packaging. Trace the fish pattern and cut it out.img_0686

5. Peel off the paper backing and fuse the fish in place.

6. Using the beading needle and thread, stitch on a large white sequin and dark colored bead to make the fish’s eye. Tie a knot in the end of the thread. Bring your needle through from the back and add the sequin and then a seed bead. Bring your needle down through the same hole in the sequin. Pull it tight. The bead will hold the sequin in place and makes the pupil of the eye. Tie a knot on the back. Add a few small clear sequins to make bubbles around the fish, if you like.

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7. Layer the two fish bowl pieces together. Fold the ribbon in half and place the cut ends inside the top of the bowl between these two layers. Pin the ribbon in place.

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8. Machine stitch 1/8 inch from the edge of the bowl (shown in photo). Or you can handstitch using a blanket stitch and matching thread to go around the edges.

Pattern Pieces

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Holiday Ornament Tutorial: Peppermint Candies

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Materials

  • Felt – two 9 by 12 inch sheets in different colors
  • 4 x 8 inch piece of fine bridal tulle in a pale color
  • embroidery thread

Tools

  • rotary cutter, mat and ruler
  • scissors
  • sewing needle, thread

Instructions

1. Using the rotary cutter and ruler, cut the felt in to strips 1/2 inch wide by 12 inches long. You will need 2 strips of felt for each candy.

2. Choose two different colored strips. Layer one strip on top of the second, matching the long edges. Starting at one short edge, roll up the two strips. You will now have a disk with a two-colored spiral. This is your candy.

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3. Stitch the short ends of the felt to the roll with a couple of small stitches to hold them in place.

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4. Cut a rectangle of tulle about 4 by 8 inches. It should be wide enough to wrap around your candy with a little overlap. This will be the wrapper.

5. Wrap the candy in the tulle wrapper. Cut two pieces of embroidery floss or ribbon. Use a square knot to tie the ends of the wrapper on each side.

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6. Trim the ends of the wrapper so they are even.

7. Thread a piece of embroidery thread in your needle. Stitch through the candy and then back again to the other side. Remove the needle and tie the ends of the thread together to make a hanging loop.

Holiday Ornament Tutorial: Frosty Polar Bears

img_0620Materials

  • 6 x 6 inches of white felt
  • 6 x 6 inches pale blue, grey or green felt
  • white embroidery thread, white sewing thread
  • an assortment of white, clear, silver and pale blue sequins, any shape or size
  • white, clear or silver seed beads
  • narrow ribbon, about 6 inches long

Tools

  • Small sharp scissors
  • Beading needle
  • Embroidery sewing needle

A note about the sequins I used: I found snowflake shaped sequins in the scrapbooking section at the craft store and I think they were really perfect on this snow bear. You can also find squares, stars and other shapes.

Instructions

1.  Right-click or option-click the bear pattern below and save it to your computer. Then print it out. Using the pattern, cut out one bear from white felt.

2.  Thread your beading needle with a piece of regular sewing thread.  Tie a knot in the end.  Poke the needle through from back to front, where you would like one sequin to be.

3.  Thread a sequin, then a seed bead on to the needle.  Stitch back through the hole in the sequin, back through the fabric and pull the thread snug.  The bead will hold the sequin in place.  Cover the bear shape with as many or as few sequins as you like.

4. Continue to stitch the rest of the sequins in the same way.  Be careful not to pull the thread too tight between stitches making the felt pucker.  When you have finished adding sequins, tie off your thread on the back and trim the ends. You can add just a few or cover the bear with sparkles.  That’s up to you.

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5.  Place your be-spangled bear on the colored felt. Thread a needle with embroidery thread and tie a knot in the end.  Poke the needle from front to back just inside the edge of the bear.  Pull the thread until it stops at the knot.

6.  Blanket stitch around the edge of your bear. As you get to the top of the bear’s back, fold the ribbon in half, place the cut ends of the ribbon between the layers of felt and stitch them into the blanket stitch as well.

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7.  Trim the extra colored felt about 1/8 inch bigger than the bear, leaving an outline of the colored felt.  Be careful not to trim the ribbon.

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