Thursday, June 5, 2008

Featured Artist: Christina Ward

I'm Christina Ward and live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I love my town and have been active in neighborhood politics; though I'm now retired from that nonsense. In the late 1980s, I lived in Manhattan. I spent time in London and Krakow in the 1990s. I like to think of myself as a diletantte, in the best sense of the word.

Growing up in Milwaukee in the 70s & 80s really shaped my sensabilities. My dad was a machinist at Allis-Chalmers, which was a world-wide company. Milwaukee was the manufacturer to the world. Our industry was industry. But starting in the late 70's through to the Reagan 80s we saw our world fall apart. Factories closed. Inflation. Gas lines. People losing their homes. My dad lost his job when Chalmers one day just locked the gates. It was over.

All of this was happening at the same time as Punk Rock. Punk then had a more political edge to it. It felt like we were really rebelling against something. That we were building a newer way. A way that was completely independent from big business. Something that we built ourselves.

How did you get started making plush creatures?

I was lucky enough during this time to spend summers with my grandma on her rural Wisconsin farm. From her I learned of our family's odd political past... Her great-uncle was Col. Robert Ingersoll, the great agnostic; her father was a Wobbly organizer on the railroads who was blackballed and moved to Weywegua, Wisconsin to start a second-hand store and farm... and I learned more about my own father: A highly decorated VietNam combat medic dismayed and disowned by his country. And I learned from her: How to can jam. How to quilt. How to weave. We made stuffed animals.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

In hindsight, It was an amazing experience. Gramma never thought twice about me with my mohawk and I was just eager and hungry for her knowledge. In my mind, her independence and self-sufficiency were the things I was striving for in my fledging idealogical machinations.

I played in bands. Dated band guys. I was always up to something. In 1986, Jimmy von Milwaukee (notorious art purveyor) created the Christmas Crap Show, in honor of all the church-lady craft shows happening around the holidays. I found that there were a few others like me. We knew how to "make". It wasn't traditional fine art. And it wasn't craft. I remember I made Christmas tree ornaments out of plastic birth control pill containers. Jimmy made "Holy Ghost Seed" ornaments with a white gelatinous substance oozing in the bottom of a glass oranament. Dan Clark (d. 1992) made these great vignettes inside a plastic globe of real cockroaches holding families hostage in front of a Christmas Tree. Photographers J. Lindemann & J. Shimon took sienna poloroids with a drag queen dressed as the Virgin Mary. I guess that was the start for me.

I find it interesting and irksome at times when people talk about indie-craft starting about 5 years ago. There have always artists and artisans working outside normal and accepted boundries.

Twenty-plus years later, and I find myself still driven to "make" stuff.

How do you feel your work represents you as an artist? Can you describe your process?

I work primarily in Plush. Making animals (both real and cryptozoological) satisfies my need to anthropomorphize my work. Most often, I work from memory. I have a memory of farm stories about my grandfather's wild pigs and immediately see the finished thing. It takes me a few times to prototype something new. When I've got a creature completed to my satisfaction, I make a final pattern--out of grocery bags. My local coop knows me well. I don't get scolded for not bringing my own bag anymore-- they know I'm recycling!

Quilting is something that is also very important to me. My quilting is much more political or arty. I usually incorporate embroidery in all my quilt designs. A project completed in 2007 was the "Devil's Dictionary" quilt. I created 26 panels that I then embroidered a single entry from The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. It took FOREVER. Another reason I enjoy working in plush, is that I can complete a Chupacabra or Feral Cat in about 2 hours and have the satisfaction that it's DONE!

What has joining Etsy meant to you?

Etsy has been great for me. I don't look at my art, my stuff, as something for mass consumption. My goal is not to be the top seller of all time. I appreciate the wider audience and networking opportunities Etsy presents. So far, my creatures have gone to W. Virginia, California, Arizonia and all over the U.S. Most satisfyingly, my quilts have found a wider audience. One even went to Italy--that kind of connectivity could not have happened without Etsy.

What has joining the Etsy Plush Street Team meant to you?

Plush Team is a great thing! Maybe it's just the old punk in me; but I love the idea of a collective of diverse people working together for a common goal. I love looking at all the photos we post in our Flickr group. Each time I see new items, I'm inspired to get off my dupa and make something. I'm constantly inspired by the wild creativity of our group. Sometimes I'm afraid that my stuff isn't good enough, but I think that's a healthy thing. I'm one of those type-A whackadoos who is always striving towards perfection.

What's next for you?

This spring/summer I'm applying to Renegade Chicago. I'll also be doing Milwaukee's Art vs. Craft in late November. This is also my first year applying to some of the more arty plush shows. I never heard back from Plush You, but I also applied to Crammed Organisms, so we'll see! I look forward to oraganizing a Plush Team Booth at a big indie craft fair this year. As to creatures: My cousin recently gave me about a dozen of tanned deer hides that he won't be able to use. I want to make some Chupas out of the deerskin. I made a Bunny Rabbit for my niece 13 years ago out of deerhide; I think my fingers are now healed enough to try working with leather again.

On the personal front: The Theatre I manage ( is about to embark on a huge remodelling plan. This will suck up a lot of time! I'm in charge of the strawberry harvest for our local CSA, so I'll be picking like a demon in late June. (See, more farm experience put to good use!) Then cleaning and canning strawberries. We've got some bands scheduled. I've got tickets to Clinic at the Empty Bottle on May 12th! Still waiting to see who will be playing Bummerfest. I'm the rockin mom, so I'm taking a crew of girls to see My Chemical Romance (bleh)in late April and I end up taking all the kids to the Warped Tour every year.

As I get older, I find that there is a lot to be said for just sticking it out. I'm doing alot of what I've always done; it just seems like the times have finally caught up to me!

The tips of my pointer, middle and ring fingers are "tattooed" by the thousands of needle pricks and dirt from over 25 years of quilting and plush making.


patti haskins said...

Fantastic interview with a fantastic artist. I wish Christine lived closer to me so we could hang out together. Well done.

moogan said...

me too patti!

great interview christina!

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