Leisa Rich uses quilting methods in her art, but she doesn’t consider herself a traditional quilter.
“I think of myself as an experimentalist,” she said. “I invent visual realities that transform tangible materials into touchable art, viewer interactive artworks, and pseudo-Utopian environments that offer a collective human experience by inviting and encouraging human envelopment and interaction.”
The materials Rich uses are also experimental. “Materials attract me. I employ usual materials in unusual ways, and unusual materials in new ways,” she said. “I also use both historical and current techniques drawn from fine art, fiber art, and fine craft in unabashedly alternative ways.”
Rich will be teaching fiber artists some of her techniques during Quilting by the Lake (QBL) 2020, set for July 19-31, 2020, at the Onondaga Community College campus in Syracuse, NY. Registration has begun and classes are filling quickly.
Among the techniques Rich uses are free-motion machine embroidery, hand embroidery, painting, dyeing, 3D printing, resin casting, melting, hardening, and photographic heat transfer. What’s unique is the materials she uses: beer filament in 3D printing, dryer lint, and nail polish, among others.
“I am not a purist,” she said. “I am not interested in sticking with one material nor one technique.”
Rich’s fascination with materials began at birth. As an infant, the Ontario, Canada, native had a special blanket with satin trim. She could only fall asleep if she had that blanket and could work her fingers along the satin.
Her need for touch was solidified as a toddler during frequent hospital stays. Her mother made clothes for her Barbie and Ken dolls, and she was fascinated by a dress made from fiery red satin and white lace. Her interest turned to art when she discovered she loved the squishy feeling of paint between her fingers in the hospital art room.
From age 4, Rich spent Saturdays with her father at his electrical shop, part of a construction company enclave that also housed plumbers, pipe fitters, and glaziers. “Wires, bolts and bits of metal became diamond tiaras and bracelets with which to adorn myself as I played,” she said. The other businesses became the source for other materials to make tables and sculptures.
“A trip to Disneyland in California at age 5 -- my very first real vacation after all of my childhood illnesses – and in particular the ride "It's A Small World" had a huge impact on me and most certainly inspired the fantastical worlds I now create,” Rich said.
She studied piano and dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a private boarding school, but had to take a break from the dance program when illness caused weight gain. She took a weaving class and fell in love with fiber, immediately changing her major to art.
Rich earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Michigan, a bachelor’s degree in art education at the University of Western Ontario, and a master’s degree of fine arts from the University of North Texas. She has been teaching art since age 15, when she taught a summer weaving class at a local community college.
“I love inspiring others to be experimental,” she said. “I try to find out what each of my students needs from the techniques I teach and inspire them to create in their personal style, and I discourage copying me.”
Currently, Rich, who now lives in Atlanta, GA, has been working with Fosshape. It’s a thermoplastic material that looks and sews like white, pliable felt but when heated can be shaped into lightweight costume helmets, armor, fairy wings, and more, or into sculptures. Rich has incorporated Fosshape into her art to create 3D pieces.
“I learned about it several years ago when a friend saw it and, knowing my penchant for experimenting, sent me info about it,” she said. “I immediately ordered some! It has the potential to be used in soooo many different ways.”
She said 2D quilters can use Fosshape in their quilts, then harden it to create a variety of new surfaces, including rigid quilted, collaged, or embossed surfaces. Experimental 3D quilters can use it as an armature to make quilts with mass and form that will hold a shape.
Rich will be bringing Fosshape to QBL for her students to experiment with. In her 5-day class, “Unexpected Inspiration, Extraordinary Surfaces,” she’ll be covering an introduction to Fosshape basics, 3D applications, collage applications, using Fosshape instead of batting, and artistic applications.
“I am really looking forward to expanding the possibilities of the quilt form using this unique material,” she said. “Since this is a material new to many, and one I am still discovering, explorations can lead the students to their own new discoveries of its capabilities.”
Rich will be teaching the “Unexpected Inspiration, Extraordinary Surfaces” class for the first time at QBL 2020, and she is interested in seeing what the students will create. “I have taught several workshops in Fosshape, but not to a specifically quilt audience,” she said. “There is a certain amount of trust I am asking prospective students to have in me. They can think of themselves as pioneers.”
AT TOP: Detail from "A Glorious Requiem for Beasts and Souls," by Leisa Rich
CENTER: Leisa Rich will be teaching the “Unexpected Inspiration, Extraordinary Surfaces” class for the first time at QBL 2020, and she is interested in seeing what the students will create. “(Students) can think of themselves as pioneers,” she said.
BOTTOM: Leisa Rich made these artworks with Fosshape, a thermoplastic material that looks and sews like white, pliable felt but when heated can be shaped into lightweight costume helmets, armor, fairy wings, and more, or into sculptures. She said 2D quilters can use Fosshape in their quilts, then harden it to create a variety of new surfaces, including rigid quilted, collaged, or embossed surfaces. Experimental 3D quilters can use it as an armature to make quilts with mass and form that will hold a shape.