Thursday, July 24, 2014

African-American Life - 3D Folk Art Story Quilts, Cloth Dolls, Paintings and Collage work by Artist Denise E. Allen

Today I'd like to publish a story largely as it was originally written by its author. It's a great story and I welcome Artist Denise E. Allen to this community!

"My name is Denise E. Allen. The name of my store is Allen's 19th Century General Store and Folk Art Gallery. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. and have six sisters and two brothers. All of my sisters and myself take after our beautiful mother, Bernice Butler, who was a self-taught seamstress, needleworker, doll maker and painter. All of my sisters do some form of needlework art.

Although I do not consider myself a seamstress like my talented sisters, I also make clothing reminiscent of colonial styled dresses women wore back in the early 1900's. My needlework career began as a result of my mother's death more than 32 years ago.

After graduating from Jr. High School I wanted to attend a specialized High School to pursue a career in fashion. Unfortunately when I applied they told me that it was out of my district. It seemed as though my true calling would never come to pass and I felt kind of like a lost soul until the day that I walked into a Woolworth Store in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Fulton Street. I began walking around the store aimlessly until I found myself in the Needlework Department. Suddenly, I found myself looking closely at all of the beautiful needlework yarns, threads, fabrics and paints.

The thing that really got my attention was the embroidery kits. I was enthralled and mesmerized by them. Something in me changed that day just by going in that store finding myself surrounded by beautiful needlework art. I decided to buy a small embroidery kit. Once I threaded that embroidery needle and pulled the thread through the linen fabric I finally realized that I had found my calling and my destiny - it was needlework art.

What's exciting about my creative work is that I get the opportunity to tell stories that I feel are very important about African American life, culture and history. There are so many people who are not interested in our history but are more open to listening, looking and reading about it via the 3D story quilts, dolls and story boards I make. The other interesting part of the creative work I do is that I get the opportunity to meet all kinds of interesting people that add positively to my life. The last but not least exciting thing about my creative work is that I have been able to make a pretty good living selling my art to people who love and appreciate the work that I do.

My inspiration came directly from recurring dreams I had when I was just a little girl. I must have been between the age of 7 or 10. It all begin one night when I began having these recurring dreams night after night about hundreds of faceless African American people who were kind, loving, innocent and happy. Even though they were faceless I was able to see through through their beautiful innocent souls. In these recurring dreams these harmless people lived in a close knit old-fashioned community where everybody worked together in unity and joy.

My favorite tool/medium are a few things. The most important tool in my work is actually my hands. All of my creative energy flows from my vivid imagination and mind into and through my hands. Without the use of my agile hands I wouldn't be able to sew, paint and embroider. The next tool that I use that is extremely important is my 100 plus year old non-electric treadle sewing machine my husband bought me over 20 years ago. It works like a charm. Even though I only use it for straight sewing stitches it has served me well in the story quilts, dolls and clothing I've been making these many years. These are the same sewing machines that my Amish neighbors use to make their quilt tops, aprons, dresses and trousers and shirts for their husbands and sons.

I began by buying embroidery and needlepoint kits and teaching myself how to master the various types of embroidery stitches. I also studied and learned about famous needlework artists and designers - my favorite one being Erica Wilson, a well known and well loved embroidery artist. I also joined the Embroider's Guild of America, one of the most important and influential needlework organizations in the world. I decided I wanted to design and stitch my own embroidery kits but I had one big problem - I couldn't draw, so I taught myself.

Eventually, I was becoming more happy with how my drawings and coloring were coming along and kept working hard. Just when I thought it was time to go full speed ahead, I was introduced to a business woman who had heard about my embroidery work and wanted to take a look at it. She told me that I should consider making black cloth dolls instead of my embroidery work. I thought this woman had lost her mind.

After a few years passed I was still doing my embroidery work but not making the progress I had anticipated and hoped for. One day I said a little prayer and asked the good Lord to help me - guess what I heard Him say - you guessed it. Start making dolls. I couldn't believe my ears but I knew in instinctively that I was to listen to that small voice.

Once I began making Early American cloth dolls, I discovered something amazing; not only did the people enjoy buying the dolls but many of the buyers felt that these dolls seemed so real; they seemed to have a real personality. Case in point, one evening I had just completed two black slave dolls, a husband and wife. The next morning I awoke to see my husband sitting in front of the dolls. He felt my presence and turned around with tears in his eyes. I asked him what was the matter. He told me that the dolls seemed so real; he felt their pain and misery; their courage and strength to keep going no matter how great that pain. I began crying too.

One of the things I haven't been able to do very successfully is draw faces to my liking, nevertheless, most people seem to think that the faces have character and fit each individual doll. It could be that it's just meant to be that way, otherwise the dolls would just look like ordinary folk dolls rather than dolls that seem to have a personality of their own.

I am a member of VAGA - A NYC organization called Visual Artists Copyrights Worldwide. I've just completed a story booklet titled "The 911 Folk Art Story Quilt Booklet." It's a story about losing my only child in the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001. All the proceeds from the sale of these Booklets go directly to my son's endowed scholarship in Savannah, GA. You can learn more about the booklet on my website at

Currently, I am in the process of putting together another folk art booklet. This one is going to be a lot of fun. It will have small affordable folk art quilts for sale, limited edition art prints and folk art tiles, paper dolls, vintage antiques and some of my handmade dresses and blouses. I will also include stories about 18th and 19th needlework stories and history and will feature Needlework Artists personal stories about their work."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Art on the Road Series - Cathy Heck Studio

It's been quite a month of post-Surtex follow-ups and recharging batteries - basically letting the experience of Surtex settle in while also enjoying a nice trip to Europe on some family business. This year, I'm feeling particularly refreshed with some new creative ideas, including increasing the focus of this blog to merge two of my loves - traveling to new places and uncovering the local artists and manufacturers there.

The Moon from My Attic Presents: 

In this spirit, I'm going to start including a periodic feature on the blog we're calling "Art on the Road," where we'll try to meet artists in their own studios! To kick off this new series, we had the honor, privilege, and joy to meet and interview Cathy Heck in her studio in Austin, Texas!
Artist Cathy Heck in her Studio

It was a great experience - not only did we get to explore her creative vision and talk technique, we also got to really get to know each other and chat about life over lovely tea! And, like tasty icing on the most beautiful of cakes, we also got to tour her studio - and what a studio! The way she has set it up is like a mixture of the most creative environment you can imagine while also having a highly organized workflow - all with to-die-for indirect natural lighting and a stunning view overlooking downtown Austin.

Austin, Texas

Of course, it wasn't always so - she started her art career studying under a fabulous art professor who encouraged her to "use as much paper as you need" which gave her the permission to practice practice practice, such that now she can quickly sketch almost anything from any angle and in any position, literally from right out of her head. It has also resulted in her unique, highly recognizable hand, which is at once joyful, playful, and utterly charming.

Cathy Heck Studio

From there she ventured to New York, where she spent several years as an Art Director and gained extensive insight into the other side of the art and illustration world, working with artists and further developing her own craft.

As a result, she gained a wealth of experience and insight into how products are developed, marketed, and sold to retailers and eventually the end consumer. After making the leap to art licensing many years ago, her creative team has grown to include her husband and daughters - it truly has become a family affair!

Since she got her start in the art licensing industry when it was still in its early days, she has a great perspective on the changes in the industry as well as in the consumer marketplace. Consumer expectations have evolved and have become more personal as well as less static. As an example, she related how a good selling design might sell for five or more years in those early days, while now even a very popular design may last only a couple of seasons.

But perhaps the most surprising and enjoyable aspect of our visit was the opportunity to talk not just about the mechanical aspects of the creative process and the techniques she uses to create her art, but also about what it means to create art from the perspective of the head AND the heart. It was thrilling to explore how we surface our passion and purpose for doing what we do as well as analyzing and critiquing our work, ourselves, and the world around us in the process.

Vision, creative work, and joy - in many ways that sums up our visit!

(See the video tour of our visit)

For more information on Cathy Heck Studio,
visit her website:
and her blog:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Las Vegas Licensing Expo 2014 - by Special Correspondent and Artist Ming Platt

While I was off for a few weeks taking care of some family business and getting some R&R, our fabulous editor and fellow artist Ming Platt attended the LIMA trade show in Las Vegas. She provided us a summary of the show below. Be sure to also check out an additional great article about the show on her own blog!

Las Vegas Licensing Expo 2014
by Special Correspondent and Artist Ming Platt

Last month I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas during the annual International Licensing Expo. It was a fun and educational experience learning more about licensing and branding. I am really excited that Alex has invited me to share some of my discoveries with you!

The Expo is grouped into 5 industry categories: Art + Design, Brands + Agents, Fashion + Lifestyle, Sourcing + Production, and Characters + Entertainment. I focused mainly on Art + Design as it is the most relevant to my interests. But, I have to admit that I had lots of fun visiting the other areas as well - there were so many fun and iconic characters present in the entertainment area, my kids would have been in heaven seeing all of their favorite television personalities!

It seemed to me that the Expo is where you want to show if you have reached that point where you have experienced a lot of success in licensing and are ready to take yourself to the next level and establish your art as a brand. It may not be the best venue for a newer artist to debut but it could bring a great deal of attention and success to an established artist who is poised to expand and really go big.

I got the feeling that an unknown artist at the expo could easily get lost in the sea of celebrity status brands, agents and artists and from what I understand it is also quite a bit more expensive to show at the expo than at some of the other industry shows. The most successful Licensing Expo booths really took it to the next level and were extremely well designed - I loved seeing all of the amazing booth designs that went way beyond the standard set up. Exhibitors created memorable and impactful environments to really draw attendees in and experience their brands in a big way.

Despite feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the greatness, it was a wonderful opportunity to visit booths of art agents and talk with exhibiting artists. There were quite a few exciting new brands debuting at this years expo and they received a lot of positive attention. I think the show was an exciting peek into what is possible if that is where you want your business to go. Or, if you are simply looking for an agent, then attending the licensing expo could be a great way to see some of the successful agents that are out there and possibly find one that could be a good fit for you.

I hope that this information is helpful to anyone thinking about attending or exhibiting at next year's Licensing Expo. It sure was a lot of fun and very inspiring to attend!

To find out more about Ming Platt and her art,
see her website at:!