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Making Ocean Waves: A Floating Quilt Studio posted: 2/24/2003
by Anne Copeland Printable Page
Category: Art Method: All Series: In the Studio
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Carolyn Lee Vehslage

With wind-brushed clouds dancing by in a richly changing blue-gray sky, Carolyn Vehslage, husband Peter and their 17-year-old cat Buzzy, cruise from April to November up and down the Mid-Atlantic coast aboard their 36' Mariner Yacht, Fandango. To a casual observer, Fandango is just another attractive yacht out for a sail, but for Carolyn, it's her floating "art studio."

"Water is very important to me," Carolyn states. "I grew up on a peninsula in Rye, NY overlooking Long Island Sound. Most of my quilts have water--ponds, lakes, bays, and gulfs, the familiar scenes I love." Barnegat Lighthouse at the north end of Long Beach Island has served as a major inspiration for many of Carolyn's quilts.

Half Mast At Anchor

Carolyn notes of her work, "Currently I'm working on an underwater scene. To achieve the flow of water on a static medium, I use several patterns of textured looking fabric in a variety of shades blue and green. Since water sparkles in the sunlight as well as the moonlight, I often use silver, gold, white, and blue metallic thread to highlight the waves and ripples. Pearls and crystal beads become bubbles and surf. One of my first commissions was to create "Moon Dance" with dolphins dancing in the moonlight along Long Beach Island, NJ."

Most of her Spray Beach Collection has been quilted aboard the yacht. Peter custom frames the pieces to her client's specifications. To accommodate Carolyn's storage needs, Peter created four special bins under their "bed" in the v-berth section of Fandango. In addition, he plans to create siding doors to enclose the two six-foot long shelves that run along either side of the bunk.

Most of Carolyn's art quilts are created by hand to accommodate Peter's and her lifestyle on living aboard the boat part of the year. For a recent commissioned art piece, "Hall's Hobies", Carolyn used the portable sewing machine to apply the binding. "I placed the machine on our navigation station and stood while sewing," Carolyn noted, "at least until our AC/DC converter failed. Then I ended up hand-cranking the needle."

Yellow Rose of Texas

Carolyn graduated from Lafayette College with an Economics and Business degree and Computer Science Concentration in 1983. While in college, she took every Fine Arts course available. Selecting quilts as an art media was perhaps partly influenced by her studies under instructor and professional artist Ed Kerns. His early 1980s abstracts were much like quilts with layers of paint and canvas that were slashed and then stitched together again.

Although Professor Kerns helped guide her as an artist, it took until June of 1999 for Carolyn to create her first art quilt. "It's all my mother-in-law's fault!" Carolyn claims. "After Peter's parents built their retirement home on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, his mother, Sue, created backyard very much like an English country garden. Each time we visited them during the summer, there were always be different flowers at different heights and stages in different colors. "Nana Sue's Garden" took shape from that garden and inspiration from a book by Gai Perry, Impressionist Landscapes.

For the "English Garden" and "In the Vineyard" series, Carolyn assembled "sandwiches" of fabric, batting, and backing in bunches, and stored them individually in Baggies. "In this way I had something portable to work on while sailing on the boat."

Valentine Bouquet

Carolyn's work generally involves her own hand painted scenes or commercial fabric, which is then accentuated with trapunto (additional stuffing added to the front of the quilt from the wrong side), beading and three-dimensional embellishments, and acrylic iridescent paints. She notes: "My work is extremely stylized and dimensional from the use of the trapunto and a technique I've developed that I call "layered appliqué". Some of my pieces are up to 4" deep in some areas - not including surface embellishments. Luckily, I have always had a fondness for acrylics over watercolor, oils, or pastels. They are easy to store and use aboard a sailboat."

Carolyn has adopted some innovative techniques for marketing her work as well. "For commissions, since my studio is our sailboat for over six months a year, my work is highly visible. I keep my gallery book on board and show it to those who ask about my work. Like my web site, it features stories for the artist to read about the photos of each of the pieces.

"Years in the computer network sales and installation business ingrained the need for 'tickler files'," Carolyn states. "I have several email lists that I send announcements to on a regular bases. One targets prospective leads; one that's of galleries with which I have had actual contact, and one called Update that consists of 'good contact people'; and miscellaneous others.

Valentine Bouquet Detail

"I think that one of my strongest tools is having an online gallery that I update at least monthly. Several commissions came about from people who 'surfed' into my web site: 'Underwater Odyssey,' 'The Fathom Elephant' series (Lone Calf at Sunset), and three others that were sold to a couple in the United Arab Emirates. I also consign my work to retail galleries and museum shops, and work on having a solo exhibition once a year." Carolyn notes. "To date, I've sold over 50 art quilts."

Carolyn and Peter are renovating Fandango for a two-year cruise in beginning in 2003, first to Maine and then down the entire East Coast before extensively voyaging the Caribbean.

Carolyn's recent work may be seen at her web site: Other recent work was featured at the following exhibits:

  • "Peace Among Nations One Piece At A Time" Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games special exhibition Salt Lake City, UT January 15-April 8, 2002 "Gardens of the World"
  • "Art Quilts at the Sedgwick" Sedgwick Cultural Center, Philadelphia, PA April 6 - May 5 2002, "Lake at Chatsworth"

For commissioned quilts or quilts for sale, contact Carolyn Lee Vehslage, CLV Designs, 24 Pine Glen Drive, Erial, NJ 08081, or (856) 232-9109 or hail her on the VHF next time you see Fandango sail by...

Click on the Pictures of the Quilts to find out more about them.

Read an article written by Carolyn Lee Vehslage

©2003 Anne Copeland

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