Helix Center Biotech Incubator Commission

This fall I completed a large commission entitled Dark Summer Sky: Mica, Stars & Fireflies  for permanent installation in the Helix Center Biotech Incubator  in St Louis, MO. This innovative facility created by the St Louis Economic Development Partnership, bills itself as a place for “startup bioscience, technology or plant and life science businesses,” with wet and dry labs, office space, mentoring and more. Currently, I’m told there are close to 40 tenants, and an expansion is planned. A perfect concept that matches my own interests in science and entrepreneurship.

My connection to this project started two years ago. I was contacted by Faith Berger, 652 Moderne Art Consultants about supplying a large textile piece for a shared meeting space. Berger found my work through the Fiber Art Collective website , which led her to my own website. (Ironically, the piece that caught her eye was Two Weeks in Autumn,  a large, 10′ triptych from a commission made for a client who found my work on the Surface Design Association website.)  At first the project was for a 10′ x 6′ piece. Faith particularly liked some of my works, like Pods 1. I supplied some ideas and sent some actual pieces to demonstrate potential textures and colors. I was told that earthy colors (mossy green, dusty rose red, browns) would be a good color palette, and that the piece would be hanging against a wood paneled wall with modernist furniture, necessitating a ceiling hanging device.

Accommodating a wooden wall as background meant that if I decided to do my usual triptych for this large size format, the wood grain and color would have to figure into the design of the piece. That was not a good fit; I felt the grain would interfere with rather than support the idea. Therefore, I designed this as one long piece.

The project went on hiatus for a while, only to be rekindled with a different concept in summer 2014. Project designer/architect Stacey Hudson, Professional Office Environments (POE), liked what she saw in my art quilt, Mica 2, above, taking the project into quite a different direction. This was a piece made in response to an experience I had while teaching at Penland School of Crafts. While walking back to my quarters on a dark summer night, the mica in the ground sparkled, forming one continuum with the stars in the sky and fireflies. Very powerful.

I went back to the drawing board, reworking the concept as well as the size to 15′ x 4′ based on the room elevations. I then submitted several ideas. Mica 2 worked well in the smaller scale in which it was made, but it wasn’t a design layout that lent itself to a larger format, so I had to rethink that. I divided the piece diagonally to provide forward movement and added a complementary color way. Mica 2 is a pleasing, “quiet” piece, nothing too visually challenging. It plays a supporting role to the ambience of the place.

This new design was approved in early August, 2014, for completion around the end of October. I quickly went to work creating fabrics using hand painting and mono printing techniques, always making more than I thought I would need.

Although I have made large pieces before, this was the largest to date and it was not a triptych. Simply creating the design and hanging the final product in one piece was challenging but one I knew I could handle. To assemble the piece, I used both the floor plus a large, end-to-end wall in my 100-year old house. Designing was done on the horizontal wall. When I was satisfied with the layout, I stitched it together. Then I took it apart to create three separate pieces for stitching/quilting. These were laid out on my 10 foot printing table to make the “quilt sandwich”, i.e. with backing and needle punched batting, then pinned. Stitching took place on an ordinary sewing machine, which I always use.

When I finished quilting/stitching the three separate pieces, I re-stitched them together. This diagonal seam was a little tricky in that the quilting had shifted and tightened up the fabrics. I had to make sure that the seams were correct, or else the piece would not be square.

During this time, I researched hanging rods. Because of the wood wall, I could not use my usual solution. Since my original intention was to ship the piece, the rods needed to be no longer than six feet. I settled on 3/4 aluminum tubing, which is hollow for added strength. A short length of dowel joined two of the tubes in two places, creating one long hanging device.

My last step was add top and bottom casings and bindings. My original intention was not to use a binding, but simply to finish the edges as they were. With the large size, this was not possible, because the piece needed to be squared up. In its finished form, it measures 175 x 42.”

In the end, I delivered the piece in person, driving the four hours through autumnal landscapes, wary of the deer in rutting season in early November. Northeastern Missouri, near the Mississippi River, is quite beautiful, and the thinning of vegetation meant that old Prairie family graveyards, ancient trees and southern-style architecture were all in view. Delivery was well worth the drive. It was rewarding to see the piece installed and meet the people involved with this project. And it is a treat to be associated with this facility, the Helix Center, as well as with Faith Berger and 652 Moderne.