As a child, Elizabeth Busch learned to sew and embroider from her mother. She loved to sew, but she was bored by the table runners her mother had her working on. “I wanted to make my own designs, not follow the ‘blue printout’ on the dresser scarves that she had me do,” Busch said.
The desire to be creative led her to earn her degree in painting and art education from the Rhode Island School of Design, then begin a career as an architectural designer. She married, raised a family on a small Maine farm, and painted in her spare time.
In 1983, Busch’s art changed forever when she decided to cut up a painting she didn’t like and sewed it together with other fabric. “As soon as I cut up the pieces, I recognized that the cut sections had more energy than the whole uncut piece,” she said. “Serendipity!”
Now Busch creates her own material by painting on cotton canvas or Black Trigger cloth, then using it to make art quilts. She also paints clear acetate, cuts it into strips, then weaves them together, machine sews to clear sleeves, and hangs the pieces in large, public art installations. “My art has evolved from stretching paintings on stretcher bars to painting, sewing, and quilting by hand with a giant hoop,” she said. “I love to paint. I love to sew and quilt by hand.”
She works in two large studio spaces in a renovated barn on her property in Glenburn, ME. One bedroom in her large farmhouse stores her early finished quilts. “I am working on a new series with three pieces,” Busch said, adding that she only works on one project at a time, trusting her gut to know when to start. “I am not in the studio until that something inside tells me that it’s time to make art!”
She hand quilts 99 percent of her art quilts. “Hand quilting for me is like having dessert: the reward after the meal of composing the artwork, and piecing it together.” Because of the large amount of hand work, the number of projects she completes every year depends on their types and size, and whether she is teaching. Her projects are on opposite ends of the spectrum: art quilts that Busch considers her “personal work” and large sculpture commissions for public spaces.
“When that ‘gut signal’ occurs for art quilts, I have no idea what will happen in the studio: what color, image, or shapes will evolve,” she said. “It is as if Elizabeth is not in charge, but following some unknown direction. It is very exciting to see the results, and wonder where they came from.
“The sculpture commissions take me to the other side of my brain: problem solving for someone else,” she continued. “I worked as an architectural designer for 18 years and learned to use my aesthetic abilities to solve other’s design problems. That is what comes into play when I create a public art commission. I LOVE the problem solving aspect, using the mathematical side of my brain to make art for a given space.”
Her public art commissions have been Busch’s main source of income since 1984, with teaching providing the rest. She is looking forward to teaching at Quilting by the Lake, the Schweinfurth Art Center’s annual fiber arts conference held during the summer at Onondaga Community College, where she will teach a five-day workshop, “Color + Composition = Art Quilt.”
“I love teaching, watching others explore the materials I have used for decades to create something new,” Busch said. “It is very exciting to watch others’ process before the light bulb goes off. QBL is a perfect environment for such things to happen: the connection with staff, students, the place, the total support in an air-conditioned environment that I’ve had the privilege to work in for so many years, is the BEST!”
What: Quilting by the Lake, a two-week fiber arts conference run by the Schweinfurth Art Center
When: July 14-26, 2019
Where: Onondaga Community College campus in Syracuse, NY
Details: Fifteen different in-depth workshops taught by 10 renowned instructors from around the world. Also available is an option for an independent studio space to work on your own projects without an instructor.
Cost: Varies depending on number of days attending, classes enrolled in, and whether room and board are needed
More information and registration: quiltingbythelake.com
TOP OF PAGE: This installation, titled "Outside, Inside," hangs in the public atrium at New Mexico Scientific Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. At first glance, visitors and employees of the facility are drawn to the colorful, undulating landscape overhead. Upon closer inspection the viewer sees image fragments of microscopic cells that are hidden within the composition, thus creating the dichotomy between the "outside" and "inside" landscapes.
PROFILE: Elizabeth Busch will be teaching a five-day workshop, “Color + Composition = Art Quilt,” at Quilting by the Lake this summer.
BOTTOM PHOTO: Busch's art quilts are sewn paintings, acrylic on canvas that is then hand quilted. This one is titled "Boardwalk."