Artist Deanna Wood wasn’t planning to submit her work to exhibitions. But she had some material and an idea.
That and two weeks of work earned Wood the top award in the Visual Arts Society of Texas 29th Annual Members Juried Exhibition.
“The Lives of Birds” is made of memories and possibilities. Wood took a book discarded by a North Texas public library (the old hardback book wasn’t a candidate for recycling due to the glue used on its binding, she said) and linens, tea towels and handkerchiefs she found at estate sales and turned it all into a new creation.
“I knew I wanted to make a book,” Wood said. “A friend of mine works at the Richardson library, and they were getting rid of these old books, books with hardcovers.”
Wood had created some fiber pieces before making the award-winning artist book. Her work on fabric punctuated her painting and encaustic works, a technique in which an artist applies melted wax to wood or canvas. She’s been creating fiber pieces for about a decade.
“I taught myself how to quilt about 10 years ago,” she said. “My friend, the same one who works at the library, was making a patchwork quilt, and I tried it out. The actual quilting part, I wasn’t so good at that. But I started painting on fabric and sewing it a while back.”
“The Lives of Birds” happens to be the title of the vintage book Wood used in the work, and she had linen and tea towels with hand-stitched birds on-hand from estate sales. Wood cut out the needlepoint birds, gathered old lace and handmade doilies and created five pages out of fabric. She clipped chapter titles from the original book, and stitched sheer cotton pieces over them to hold them into place. She removed the binding of the book and replaced the pages with the handmade fabric pages. The pages depict small birds nestling together, and a peacock with crocheted tailfeathers trailing to the bottom of the page. Wood clipped hand-stitched wreaths of flowers and a few embroidered snowflakes to sew into the pages, too. She used a glue stick to arrange the collage of needlework before sewing.
“I know a lot of people use personal symbols in their work, but I don’t do a lot of that,” she said. “For me, it’s important for the form and content to go together. I like for the form to follow the function.”
Once Wood created the fabric pages, she used a sewing machine to quilt the pages, using random, messy stitches. The quilting gives the book a crumpled, worn quality that harmonizes with the antique cross-stitched and embroidered birds, flowers and patterns. It was the same technique she used on an earlier series of wall hangings.
The only embroidery Wood did was the cover title, styled in an antique font.
“On the bigger pieces I’d done before, I liked how the stitching puckered the fabric. I liked how I looked, and the texture.”
The piece, which Wood said could be considered an altered book more than an artist book, didn’t immediately strike her as a contest entry.
“I really wasn’t sure what I thought of it. I texted some pictures of it to friends, and I asked them ‘Is this stupid?’ But they said ‘no, I like it.’ But you never really know what a juror is going to like.”
Juror Lynné Bowman Cravens said in her exhibition statement that she was drawn to the fiber and watercolor submissions.
“I feel the artworks presented in this year’s VAST Juried Members Exhibition demonstrates the range of skill, media and experimentation I have come to admire about the North Texas artist community,” Cravens said.
As for Wood, she said she was shocked to learn “Lives of Birds” won Best of Show.
“I have a few other books and I’m trying to figure out what to do with them,” Wood said.
This year’s members exhibit includes painting, mixed media, fiber art and photography.
The exhibit runs through Aug. 15 at UNT on the Square, 109 N. Elm St. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information, call 940-369-8257.