Forest Park artist Elaine Luther fairly bubbles over with energy and ideas, and her latest brainchild is a little bit crazy. Her project: a community quilt, made in collaboration with members of the public, entitled “Motherhood the Crazy Quilt: Love Ya Like Crazy/Driving Me Crazy.” The squares of the quilt will be decorated and contributed by interested people, as well as incorporated into wall installations.
Each item Luther makes is unique – from her jewelry and paintings, to her sewn pieces and shadowboxes. Her studio is an orderly jumble of fabric pieces, paints and glues, and found objects.
“I recently acquired a large bag full of piano keys!” The keys are squared-off acrylic nails at the tips of very long wooden arms.
“I thought the keys would be ivory. They were only plastic, but I will use them anyway,” she said. Previous art projects – including the thought-provoking “Our Lady of Perpetual Housework” pieces she displayed at the Chicago Public Library last spring – perch on walls and shelves. Another series of canvases look like paintings but were actually produced by Luther laying metals, such as iron and copper, on top of the fabric, in swirling repeated patterns. By wetting the metal pieces, Luther achieved beautiful designs using the resulting stains: a burnt orange for the iron, an intense green with the copper.
Luther teaches at Zenith Art Studio, 7756 Madison Street in River Forest, and the quilt project is a workshop out of that studio. She also offers a simple printmaking class there. Luther teaches at Oak Park Art League, too; a doll and a quilt are the projects for a summer class aimed at 9-12 year olds there. Luther also teaches at Unity Church in Berwyn at their art center.
Luther is even making new work out of another artist’s found paintings. Two large canvases, with Georgia O’Keefesque paintings are getting a makeover. They were given to Luther by a friend; she does not know who painted them, but says “I began adding to them with what I felt fit with what work the artist started.” Mixed media, including decoupaged objects, are going onto the canvases. Luther calls this project “Collaboration with an Unknown Artist.”
Luther homeschools her three children, ages 15, 8 and 6. Luther also makes clothing and quilts, though she defers most quilt-making to the expertise of her mother-in-law in Arizona. When Luther finds fabric she likes, she ships it to Arizona and gets completed quilts in return.
A lifelong Girl Scouts participant, Luther says “I was a Brownie, then a Junior in Texas for a couple of years” but found her childhood troop to be more like a youth group than the learning experience she desired. “I got a lot of badges on my own,” she recounts, “but mostly we did sleepovers and (remember, this was the 80s) ‘did our colors’.”
In contrast, her daughter’s troop – which Luther leads – “does sewing projects and tent-camping – much more than we did”. Luther likes Girl Scouting so much she became a leader in 1992, though she did not have her first child until 1999, and is proud to have been named “Outstanding Leader” in 2010.
Luther spent a semester learning metalsmithing at the University of Iowa.
“I got the last place open in the metalsmithing class there, and I loved it. I made a beautiful gold ring, a really cool design.” She spent the next 20 years happily making jewelry, and says “I feel bad sometimes about switching to painting!”
Luther says she processes her feelings and deals with life events through her art; “it allows me to access my emotions. Once I make whatever I make, I feel a release. It works because my art is so honest and vulnerable. That’s what makes it interesting.”
A grant provided the basis for the crazy quilt project; the results will be displayed at Zenith in August. The two workshops will be held in June and July.