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Lisa Kristen-Scott
Threads of life
by Kathy Anderson

inding time to work on quilt art can be tough for Lisa Kristen-Scott. Her list of projects is a long one: teaching art to at-risk students in middle and high schools, facilitating two ongoing support groups for women artists, performing wedding ceremonies and rites of passage, sewing pillows and making jewelry to sell in stores and craft fairs, cleaning houses and doing finish work for an internationally known quilt artist. A San Diego native, Lisa settled in Portland almost 10 years ago after stops in San Francisco and Seattle.

Stitches in time
Lisa Kristen-Scott combines bits and pieces of old and new to create mixed-media quilts that tell the tales of her life, hopes and dreams.

"At first I used only fabrics in my quilts," she said. "I learned the nuts and bolts of quilt construction from Elaine Spence at the Oregon College of Art and Craft four years ago. But to better convey my ideas, I began to incorporate different objects into the quilts – framed photos, feathers, bones, shells, metal, beads, ceramics and other found objects."

"Hand-Made Memory," 25 x 21 inches, hand-pieced, hand-quilted, using antique lace, sheers, hand-dyed cotton, burlap, shells, beads. [Quilt photos by Grace Weston.]

"I'm often trying new things, so I'm inventing in the moment," she said. "There are a lot of logistical details to work out when combining fabric with heavy objects. I also incorporate sheers, which create a stained-glass transparent effect, but which are a challenge to finish cleanly on both sides."

Technical issues aside, it's the internal process that's most fascinating to Lisa. She's learned to trust her feelings and let the inner messages reveal themselves in the quilts. Personal symbols fill her quilts, yet they are also transpersonal.

"I've noticed that others respond deeply to my work in the same spirit that I make it, even without knowing my personal story," she said. "That's how I measure artistic success: a work that has the integrity to reflect the artist's intentions and then reach beyond the artist to others, creating an interconnection.

"Quilts are the perfect metaphor for interconnection; they integrate seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Mixed-media quilts also connect the resourceful and valuable tradition of what I proudly refer to as women's work – quilts, clothing and cloth production since the beginning of human societies – with present-day artistic themes.

"Labyrinth and Door," 44 x 49 inches, machine-pieced, machine- and hand-quilted, with antique fabrics, a miniature wooden door, beads, feather.

Lisa is sometimes asked why she refers to her art as quilts rather than wall hangings. Her response is self-confident: "I'm proud to be a quilt maker. I use traditional quilting patterns like Nine Patch and Log Cabin in my work to honor my ancestors. I claim all women who stitch, past and present, as my people."

Dream weaver
The mystery, power and endless expanse of the ocean inspires Lisa. She likes to be surrounded by the enormity and complexity of nature, where she feels she's "merely a thread in the vast intricate quilt of life."

Lisa is also inspired by connecting deeply with others, women who go for their dreams, the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, teaching art to at-risk teens, dancing to live funk and blues, tall tales and dizzying heights.

Besides other quilt makers, Lisa's favorite artists include: Hannah Hoch, Joan Miro, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe and local artist Leanne Palmer.

"As a Dadaist and a pioneer in turning mass-media collage into an art form, Hoch was groundbreaking and brilliant," she said. "Her sardonic humor and scathing satire questioned the hypocrisy of post-World War I society. I admire her courage and conviction.

"Deer and Motorcycle," 62 x 62 inches, hand- and machine-pieced, hand-quilted, with cut-up clothing, leather, metal, deer bones and hair, sheers.

"Miro's dream-inspired paintings feed my creativity the most," she said. "The expressive lines, the sumptuous, evocative colors and shapes, the whimsical creatures all make me want to get into the studio and make something," she said. "His skill was uncompromising, yet he never lost his spark for life or his spontaneity, and didn't seem to take himself too seriously.

"Kahlo and O'Keefe have been crucial role models – women who remained true to their artistic visions, no matter what, against many adversities," she said. "Their drive and dedication sustain me.

"Palmer uses surrealist imagery to evoke the wide-open spaces of consciousness and unconsciousness – like the horizon line across the ocean – that opens doors in my imagination."

Rip what ye sew
Lisa remembers the joy of doing art in elementary school, but especially in Brownies after school.

"We did a lot of collage and mixed-media-type stuff involving dried macaroni on paper plates and mobiles made of plastic hair-spray bottle caps," she said. "Sounds cheesy now, but I loved that stuff!"

"Deer and Motorcycle" detail.

The most important artistic skill Lisa learned was sewing. Her grandmother Margaret, a professional dressmaker and mixed-media artist herself, began teaching Lisa when she was seven.

"First I sewed Barbie clothes and then clothes for myself," she said. "Grandma taught me the importance of discipline in creativity. 'If it's not right, rip it out and do it again,' she always said, not from being controlling, but out of respect for the work.

"Her discipline and integrity have been the foundation for my art today. I work spontaneously and intuitively, always pushing the medium farther, but I stay grounded with grandma's detailed precision."

Lisa's father is a classically trained musician and teacher who "often experiences the world from a right-brain, creative perspective" and has always supported Lisa's creativity.

"I studied music throughout my childhood and I believe it enriches my visual work," she said. "Other family influences have been my sister, my great-grandmother and great-aunts, and all the women who came before them who sewed out of necessity and for creative expression."

"Grief," 58 x 61 inches, hand- and machine-pieced, machine-quilted, with hand-dyed cotton, sheers, metallics.

Lisa took one art class in high school and loved it, but was intimidated by the art scene in college. She minored in art history; diligently studying the work of others throughout Western history.

Peace by piece
In her 20s, art became an emotional necessity for Lisa.

"I was working through some intense trauma and profound personal losses at that time, and art became an outlet," she said. "I studied drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and ceramics in San Francisco and then at Portland State.

"Most of the stuff I made was horrible – just throwing up all the trauma! Yet I worked deeply and trusted my process, not worrying so much about the finished product," she said.

"I learned to draw and paint representationally, but kept finding myself ripping up my work and then stitching it back together. Ripping and stitching, over and over. I also made ceramic pieces to be stitched together after firing."

Ten years ago Lisa discovered several beautiful old quilts, hand-made by her great-grandmother, and was fascinated by how she had used items from everyday life – bed sheets, work clothes, aprons, etc. – to create something new, useful and skillfully designed.

Never ending stories
A visit to a modern quilt-art show was the nudge Lisa needed to redirect her focus.

"Bundles of Joy," 39 x 55 inches, machine-pieced and quilted, with antique satins, hand-dyed cotton, velvet, copper, beads.

Last year Lisa had a quilt-art residency in Rachel Baldwin's Women's Studies class at the Portland International Community School. The class included 11 high-school girls who were primarily immigrants or first-generation students in the U.S.

The girls hand-stitched their own quilt block, which included a photo of themselves in the center, transferred onto fabric, and then stitched them together to make the quilt. The quilt was displayed in the annual student art show.

Lisa considers herself an emerging artist, only having had small, intimate public showings of her work thus far.

"I'd like as many people as possible to see my work," she said. "And, of course, I'd love to have it sold to private collectors. Being accepted into the biennial National Quilt Show would also be fantastic.

"That said, I mostly want to keep telling my stories, and letting them come out as they will, without worrying about marketability or potential buyers. Authenticity and skillful execution are the primary goals for my work."


E-mail Lisa at kristenscott@earthlink.net. Reach Kathy at kanderson138@attbi.com, and draw on other Sketch Pads.



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