Artists take pride in using wood, fabric remnants in their work Centre Daily Times By: Michelle Isham July 21, 2006
Artists Louise Fox and Steve Strouse are committed to recycling, and it shows in their work. The two, who have a joint exhibition at the Art Alliance Gallery Shop in Lemont, get many of the materials for their work from cast-off items. Fox, a quilter with a passion for fabric, employs scraps from friends' projects in her own quilts. Strouse, a woodworker who specializes in Shaker boxes, crafts his pieces from salvaged trees.
For Strouse, being able to obtain his wood locally has been a boon to his business. Tree-care companies and land owners will alert him to trees that have fallen down and need to be removed. He mills the wood in his own saw mill, then, after sending it out for kiln drying, he turns the salvaged wood into beautifully simple Shaker boxes.
In each box, he includes a tag identifying the type of wood used and describing where the tree came from.
He says his customers enjoy the Centre County connection. During the People's Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts, Strouse got an order from a family who wanted boxes made from a tree on its property to give as Christmas gifts.
"About 75 to 80 percent of the people who buy my boxes buy them to give as gifts. They like being able to give something from Centre County," he said.
With a longtime interest in woodworking and a wish to start his own business, Strouse began making furniture 13 years ago. Then he received a special order for Shaker boxes. He began to study how to make them and immediately fell in love with the process of bending, drying and curing the wood. "Each wood has its own working characteristic and bending characteristic. Cherry works the best overall in of terms bending, cutting and drying," he said.
Strouse uses several types of local hardwoods besides cherry for the boxes, including apple, walnut and several species of maple.
"I wanted to use different woods and really show off grain. The Shaker boxes, especially with their oval shape, are a great way to do that," he said.
Fox learned to quilt as a young girl in Kansas. Her grandmother was her quilting teacher, beginning her lessons, rather fittingly, with the "Grandmother's Garden" pattern, which is made up of clusters of hexagons that mimic a garden of flowers.
"My grandmother's quilts were very utilitarian. They all had scraps in them," Fox said.
After she grew up and began a family of her own, Fox continued to make scrap quilts, recycling the odds and ends left over from the clothes she sewed for her family.
"I had scraps I couldn't bear to throw away," she said.
Today, the self-confessed "fabric-aholic" says that scrap quilts are her favorite kind of quilts because they make use of every last bit fabric.
Fox continues to reproduce the classic patterns such as "Grandmother's Garden"; "Mariner's Compass," which looks like an ornate compass face; and "Kaleidoscope," a fabric rendition of the view through a kaleidoscope. "Mariner's Compass," "Celtic Kaleidoscope" and "Bargello" are three of the wall hangings on display at the Gallery Shop. Fox also has displayed pieces from her "Sun Bonnet Sue Goes to PSU" series.
After several years deeply involved in the quilt business, Fox has retired from the craft-show circuit. While she has geared back on her production, her love of quilting remains unabated.
"It's so nice not to have that pressure. I can work at my own pace," she said.
Throughout her more than 50 years of quilting, Fox has seen the craft rise in popularity. Especially, she noted, in 1976, around the bicentennial celebrations. It was at that time that she began teaching quilting classes. She credits technology, in part, for the current renaissance. Quilting machines and more advanced sewing machines now offer an attractive option for those who enjoy piecing quilts together but want to avoid the tedium of quilting by hand. Fox, however, still hand quilts all her pieces.
"I dearly love to hand quilt, especially in the wintertime. It's nice to have all that fabric hanging down over your legs, keeping you warm. It's not so nice at this time of year," she said.