Society problems

Historical Society welcomes quilt artist Susan Lenz on October 1

Susan Lenz quilts with crazy antique quilt pieces. | Contributed

BLYTHEWOOD – Much of Susan Lenz’s artistic concepts and materials are based on giving old things a second life. Initially, this meant reusing fabric and fiber in his works.

During the pandemic, however, the Columbia artist began another form of repurposing: sewing found objects into old quilts in concentric circles. The result is a series of multimedia mandalas that contain everything from old toys and game pieces to fax phones and circuit boards.

This series debuted last summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, then went to the Smithsonian Craft Show and will return to Philadelphia in the fall. Her work appears in national publications, numerous juried exhibitions, and is part of the permanent collection of the Textile Museum in Washington, DC and the McKissick Museum in Columbia.

Finishing her fifth stretch as the national park’s resident artist last week, Lenz, owner of The Mouse House in Columbia, says she looks forward to showcasing her work at a presentation for the Blythewood Historical Society on October 1. . Lenz says the event will revolve around quilting — primarily art quilt — and combine storytelling and art quilts in one hands-on talk as she talks about family, memories, and passing on lasting treasures to the next generation.

“As a quilter, I don’t come from a traditional background. I did not make traditional duvets. I am an art quilter. Art quilts are simply layered and sewn structures,” she says.

“In the early to mid-1900s, quilts in America were often made by women using food sacks and old dresses that had lost their usefulness, and they put the materials together. It wasn’t about going to a quilt store and buying everything new; they reused textiles that had been used for different purposes,” she says.

“The first art quilts, in my opinion, were the crazy quilts of the Victorian era. If you think about it, a crazy quilt was not a functional item; you didn’t sleep under them. They were usually made by women who had the means to collect often exotic fabrics and put them together and show off their embroidery and sewing skills.

Lenz says a piece she worked on during her three-week residency at Catoctin Mountain National Park in Maryland — which she can’t wait to show at Blythewood — is constructed from crazy quilt blocks from the 1890s, which feature Minnesota and Presidential campaign ribbons and other interesting pieces from that era.

“There are several painted handkerchiefs, there is a lot of silk and lace that was put on this piece 120 years ago, and will finally be finished in the 21st century,” she says. “It kind of skipped the 20th century”

In the project, she says, she sees a connection between the present and the past – and an opportunity to talk about quilting as a reorientation in contrast to today’s throwaway society.

“I’ve been doing art since I was 43 and admitted I wanted to be an artist when I was growing up,” she says.

“I really don’t know why fiber and stitch have been my preferred mediums. I’ve always joked that the problem with paint is the brush; I need my fingers to actually touch my material.

Lenz says that when she first started focusing on her art, it wasn’t always with a head full of inspiration. Instead, she said, she would just go and work on something.

“There is an old adage: practice makes perfect. You must practice. So, I just went to work, and things got better and better, and I kept looking for new opportunities,” she says. “And eventually good things happened.

“I hope that by showing and talking about the quilt, it gives people the opportunity to think about doing with it, reusing it.”

The Blythewood Historical Society is hosting the Lens Art Lecture and Demonstration on Saturday, October 1, 1-3 p.m., at Langford North House located at 100 McNulty Street.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $10.