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Chair­woman of Art Barbara Bushey’s textile exhibit is on display until March 27. Col­legian | Brooke Conrad

For Chair­woman of Art Barbara Bushey, a daily outfit can be a work of art.

“The fall of 2017 was a bad semester, and I wasn’t able to get much art done,” she said. “The only cre­ative thing I could do was get dressed in the morning.”

So she decided to take pic­tures of her outfits and turn them into quilts. Decked out in festive com­bi­na­tions of col­orful cardigans, skirts, dresses, tights, and pat­terned scarves, Bushey staged a series of buoyant poses, com­bined the pho­tographs into her “Key” collage, and com­posed a quilt cor­re­sponding to each outfit.  The outfit quilts are cur­rently dis­played in the Fine Arts Building exhi­bition room along with several of her other textile cre­ations, and will be on display until March 27.

As one who always enjoyed working with a needle and thread, Bushey said her famil­iarity with tex­tiles was the reason she chose it as her primary art medium.  She enjoys taking a piece of cloth through the physical process of stitching, tying, dying, untying, and re-stitching into par­ticular pat­terns. One of her mantras is that art doesn’t come from waiting for inspi­ration; it comes from jumping in and getting your fingers moving.

“I always think work begets work,” she said. “Only ama­teurs sit around and wait for inspi­ration. It either works or it won’t; either fix it or start over.”

One of Bushey’s longer-term projects, entitled “We are mostly water but we cannot swim,” is meant to com­mu­nicate the unex­plored depths of the human soul. She created the project after the Jordan River Arts Center in East Jordan, Michigan, invited her to join a show called “Uncharted Spaces.”

“I had to answer the question, ‘What’s the most uncharted space?’ And I thought, it’s our own selves. You’ve got to know yourself. And this quilt is about how the unex­amined life is not worth living,” Bushey said.

She began by dying com­mercial fabric for a back­ground and then arranging rocks she had col­lected from the Great Lakes, sewing over them with a sheer silk layer of organza. Dis­played next to the work is the poem of a friend, David A. Walker, whose wan­dering lines encap­sulate the nature of the drifting rock heap stitched at the bottom of Bushey’s quilted lake:

“We are mostly water

but we cannot swim

Nev­er­theless we drift

to the bottom

back to the shore

over and over again

without under­standing

the ways of water

we are mostly water

but we cannot swim,” Walker’s poem reads.

Bushey cap­tured another local scene in her series, “Off Jonesville Road.” She said she loved the par­ticular arrangement of the road-side vines and wanted to re-create it in her artwork. To the right of a large, wintry roadside land­scape hang several smaller color vari­a­tions of the project, Bushey’s own process of free-spirited and imag­i­native exper­i­men­tation.

“She plays with color just for the sake of it,” said Patrick Lucas ’18, who cur­rently teaches art at Will Car­leton Academy. “It might not be a super intel­lectual sort of project, but the way she plays with color makes you aware of it. It’s casual, and she’s just exper­i­menting.”

Lucas added that his favorite vari­ation is the com­po­sition directly adjacent to the original snowy quilt — a warm, earthy com­bi­nation of reds, oranges, and browns.

One of the most tech­ni­cally extra­or­dinary pieces in the show, “Robin’s Yard, August,” employs complex stitching pat­terns that create texture in the fence and lawn, and also uses shade vari­ation and lighter threading to portray shadow and dis­tance in the back­ground trees.

Senior Dylan Strehle said he appre­ciated the way the piece exhibits the multi-layered capa­bil­ities of textile art.

“Every time you put the needle in, you add texture, you add a layer, whereas when you paint a new layer, you paint over the pre­vious one,” he said. “It makes a very cool 3D canvas that pops off the wall.”

Sophomore Car­oline Hen­nekes said Bushey’s use of rhythm, com­po­sition, and color in her pieces gave her a greater appre­ci­ation for abstract art than ever before. As an art major, Hen­nekes said she enjoys the way Bushey com­mu­ni­cates artistic ideas in class in a way that’s both cap­ti­vating and applicable.

“She can appre­ciate very majestic, large things in art but also treasure the little things that make you laugh,” Hen­nekes said.

Hen­nekes also noted that it’s easy to put tex­tiles in a box, lim­iting them to uphol­stery, quilts, or fashion.

“When you use them the way she did, as a canvas, you put them in a dif­ferent frame than some­thing that could be felt or worn,” she said.

And for Bushey, while textile art some­times does come in the form of a polka-dot scarf or a bright green cardigan, it can also operate as a tool of more fun­da­mental artistic com­mu­ni­cation.

“I just pay attention to the world around me and respond to it,” Bushey said. “The poet Mary Oliver once wrote, ‘What does it mean that the earth is so beau­tiful? And what shall I do about it?’”