Martha Bladen designs: ‘Artful Reuse of Purposeful Things’

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One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.

More specifically: one person’s trash is Martha Bladen’s “Artful Reuse of Purposeful Things.”

Bladen, one of the most well known residents of Switzerland County for her activism with historic preservation, will show off another side of her talents beginning tomorrow (Friday) night at the Community Art Center, when her artwork is displayed as the featured art for the month of March at the CAC.

The initial reaction is to call her art ‘quilting’, but that’s not the case.

“I use it as motif,” Bladen says of the quilt pattern that resonates through many of her designs, but then she points to framed prints of two fish hanging on the wall. “Some things aren’t. Here I used pressed flowers, and then I had it done as a print because the pressed flowers fade so much.”

One of the prominent quilt patterns that Bladen uses is the log cabin design; but one of the most fascinating collections that visitors to the CAC will see are the small pieces of artwork that use stamps to create quilt art.

“I use stamps to make little quilt designs, and then I do them so they look like they’re hanging on the clothesline,” Bladen said. “I have about 60 different patterns that are made out of postage stamps.”

Surveying the north wall of the CAC where her art is featured, Bladen points to what she terms as a “crazy quilt”, where she explains that a person starts with a five-sided piece of cloth and then other irregular-shaped pieces of cloth are sewn to it. From there it’s embroidered between the lines; and on the one that is being displayed she added re-purposed items that a person might throw away – such as old pieces from the game “Clue”, old watch faces, random buttons, broken necklaces, keys, and more.

Another eye-catching piece that she is proud of is a design that is known as ‘Faus Chintz’. Bladen explained that chintz is a type of old fabric that used lots of flower patterns in its design. Bladen used pressed flowers to recreate the chintz pattern; and then had the final design made into a print because it preserves the color detail in the flowers.

“Things don’t have to be a quilt pattern, but I call it ‘Artful Reuse of Purposeful Things’ because you hear a lot about repurposing things,” Bladen said. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m just taking plastic milk jugs and making something out of them, that kind of thing. So I just call it ‘artful reuse’ of purposeful things. Things that had a purpose as something else; and then I use it to make something new.”

Where does she find her inspiration?

“I started when I was doing the quilt things with postage stamps,” she said. “I took it as, there’s a literal thing as postage stamp quilts, or quilts that are made with little tiny squares. So I took it from that to the literal using postage stamps as my fabrics, and then I started making all of these different designs for those. The challenge is finding the stamps. I had been saving stamps for awhile, just because I thought there is such neat artwork on stamps. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them. Well, I found out that a lot of people have stashes of stamps. So people just give me bags of stamps.”

Bladen said that the first quilt that she did using postage stamps was for the quilt show in Rising Sun, putting them on a clothes line.

“That’s when I won, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is neat’,” she laughed. “So I kept doing more of them.”

Some of her most popular creations are actually re-purposed items from an unusual source – beer cartons.

Her series is titled, “Don’t Quilt & Drive.”

“When one of my sisters saw the stamp quilts, she told me, ‘I have an idea’, and she brought me a whole box of beer cartons, because she had a meat market and a deli in Lebanon, Ohio. They did all kinds of beer tastings; so she brings me these boxes of the carriers, because there’s some cool artwork on those,” Bladen said. “So that’s when I said, ‘I’ll see if I can put them into a quilt design’.”

The result is intricate cutting and attention to detail so that everything lines up perfectly.

“It’s tearing the cartons apart and cutting off the parts that you’re not going to use; and then I have them all organized by color and such,” Bladen said. “Then when I go to make a particular one, I decide what my color range is going to be on that, and then I start pulling them.”

Bladen said that in sewing there’s a term, ‘fussy cut’, where the might be a particular piece of fabric and the designer might want the same repeat pattern out of it; so the creator just trims out the part that they want. She explains that’s what she does with the beer cartons.

“In some of them, I might just go for the name of the beer, or maybe some verbiage about it,” she says. “So it’s fussy cutting until I can fit it in, but it is lots of precision cutting until I can get it to actually fit together.”

She’s done over 30 of them so far.

Other ‘artful reuse of purposeful things’ include creating bracelets out of old buttons; an old chair that has been adorned with bottle caps; and much more.

A trained artist, Bladen will be at the CAC tomorrow (Friday) night at 6 p.m. to meet the public as part of Vevay’s ‘First Friday’ event.

The Community Art Center is open for regular hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from noon until 4 p.m.; and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.