Collaborative Creativity   

Vogue Patterns Magazine June/July 2012
By Linda Turner Griepentrog

How does a printmaker and her look-alike twin, an oil painter, come together to explore fiber arts? Just ask artists Lisa and Lori Lubbesmeyer about their adventure in blended disciplines.

In the Beginning

The twins were born in Tacoma, Wash. and studied art at the University of Oregon, each in their respective disciplines—Lisa in printmaking and Lori in oil painting. Looking for a community supportive to the arts, and both determined to pursue their dream of being true artists, they moved to Minneapolis in 1992/93. Lisa worked for a greeting card company and Lori became a founding member of the Tilsner Artist’s Cooperative. Both were successful in their own rights, winning awards and exhibiting their work.

Having always been treated as a single entity—”the twins”—both were on a subconscious quest to be individuals; they actually grew apart emotionally, and essentially became artistic rivals.

Their mother died unexpectedly when they were 26 and the grief caused them difficulty in continuing to focus on their familiar works. On their 30th birthdays they decided to end the longstanding rift between them. At the time Lori was working on preparing an exhibit of her work and the deadline was looming, so she called Lisa for help. In the next two weeks time, both girls literally lived at the studio hand sewing buttons onto canvas.

Formulating Fiber Art

Lisa and Lori decided to work together and mend their relationship through a new medium—one with which neither was familiar. The options were to work in glass, metal or fiber. Fiber won.

As the youngest of nine children, neither had any formal training in sewing. Both describe their mom as a “reluctant sewer” who sewed out of necessity to clothe the family.  Lori had her mother’s forty-year-old machine, and had disassembled some of her mother’s clothes, keeping the fabric scraps. At the time, she had a passion for the color red, so created a memorial wall hanging using about thirty colors and textures of only red fabrics. The duo admits that their first two years working jointly was “bumpy, to say the least.” But they were determined to see what they could do together as artists in the newly discovered medium. Their focus was both on their artwork and their born-together relationship. They began working on their fiber art “paintings” and selling them at craft and art festivals, and selling prints of their work around the country. Through working with other artists and entrepreneurs, as well as a family background of independent business, they’d perfected their business acumen.

Being from the West Coast and missing the ocean, in 1999 they drove to Rhode Island for a beach adventure, and were captivated with Provincetown, depicted in their first whimsical “painting.” In 2002, wanting to leave the harsh winters and gray skies of Minnesota, they researched other locations, with the stipulation that their new community foster and support the arts (and that it didn’t have bitterly cold winters with never-ending gray skies).

Fast Forward

Today, they live in Bend, Ore. and their collaborative studio/gallery is housed in the city’s Old Mill District with other artist venues. Their work is known worldwide, they’ve won numerous awards, they exhibit in many museums and galleries, and work on commission pieces as well. In 2003, they were invited to exhibit with the Art in the Embassies program, where artists’ work is shown in U.S. Embassies around the world.

Work in Progress

Perhaps the most unique thing about these talented artists is the process involved in creating their exceptional works. Both work on the same piece, but without collaboration as to its intent or either’s vision of the finished piece. Creating about fifteen pieces per year, each work begins with what Lisa and Lori describe as “a response to color.” Fabrics of various shades and values are placed and stitched on a muslin background (by one or the other of them) and the “canvas” is hung on the wall. As part of the spontaneous evolution, the second artist adds layers to the work of the first, again without consultation. With Lori describing herself as an abstractionist and Lisa touting her love of realism, each brings their unique touch to the singular work. There’s no indication of theme, or any voicing of opinions by either.

They may trade the canvas back and forth fifteen to twenty times, each adding layers and stitched details as they work. They establish no deadlines for a piece to be done, and place no parameters on the collaboration. While on their work table, the entire piece is covered with glass to hold small snippets in place. When each snippet is precisely placed, often using tweezers, it’s pinned down, and then stitched in position using a fine zigzag stitch.  They don’t use a fancy machine, they don’t use fusibles and they use only “basic” threads to achieve the meticulous detail of their work. Most cut fabric edges are zigzagged in place, but occasionally they leave raw edges where it might be appropriate for texture or mood.

Is there conflict over the evolution of a piece? Not really—there’s a healthy respect for the other’s choices. Even though they may not be understood at the moment, those questioning thoughts quickly dissipate as the fiber painting evolves.

Are there days where one or the other might have the equivalent of “writer’s block” and not be inspired to work on a piece? Sure, but it will simply hang on the wall waiting for a continuation of the visual journey.

How do they know when a piece is “finished?”  Both agree that it’s just intuitive when they see it hung on the wall for the last time, and they’re almost always in agreement on its endpoint. Once complete, they prepare it for framing, mounting it on a mat board and trimming any errant threads. Then it’s sent off to a professional framer and returns to hang in their gallery, or be delivered to a collector.

Inspiring Moments

Where do they get inspiration for their masterpieces? Anywhere and everywhere, they say. Both women try to either ride their bikes or walk to the studio, giving them a mental transition time to think and admire nature. They’re inspired by sky, landscapes, horizons and cityscapes, and dutifully make mental images of things they like, only occasionally taking photos or making sketches.

Fabric Shopping

Where do they get the fabrics they use? Both twins love to shop at SR Harris in Minneapolis, Minn. as you can cut your own fabrics there. Why the trepidation of shopping in another store? Lisa and Lori shop once or twice per year and they buy only 1/4 yard of hundreds of pieces to get the variety of colors and values they need for their work. While they do collaborate about some of the fabrics they buy, they usually come to the cutting table with cart after cart piled high with bolts—each designated for the requisite quarter of a yard. “We’re a fabric clerk’s nightmare!” Lisa notes.

Their bounty is organized neatly by colors on the studio shelves, either rolled and banded, or folded flat if it’s a heavier textile like tapestry or upholstery. As they work with colors, many of the fabrics end up in a pile in the middle of their shared work table so both artists, working on their separate pieces, can draw from the stash. Like most sewers, there’s the need for an occasional clean-up and straightening to make room for continuing work.

Collection Cues

Most of the Lubbesmeyer customers are collectors of art in multiple media, and like Lisa and Lori, they enjoy the creation process of their unique works. For Lisa and Lori, selling a work is both a sad and happy moment. They’ve given birth to it with many hours of creative labor, but the painting is the beginning of a new relationship with the purchaser’s life and family.

People come from around the world to see their work. Some have a relationship to fabrics and sewing, others simply an appreciation for the art form. Sewers are of course intrigued by the meticulous detail displayed in their fiber paintings, and men seem to be interested in the technical elements of their work.

When Lisa and Lori work on a commissioned piece, they are often given only very vague guidelines, usually size and often what the business customer doesn’t want, but the imaginative process is left up to the artists. The process can take about nine months to a year to complete, and the client only gets to see the finished work, never a peek through the intermediate creative journey.

Lori and Lisa Lubbesmeyer truly subscribe to the theory that “Life is Art” and they live their dream.

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