GREENFIELD — As a child, quilt artist Joan Webb got tired of waiting for her mother to find time to help her sew and finally just taught herself. She remembers the first thing she made: a dress.
“I just cut it out and sewed it together,” said Webb, a Greenfield resident.
As a high school student, Webb and her siblings weren’t allowed to take any art classes.
“Dad wouldn’t let us take what he called ‘basket-weaving classes’,” Webb said. So any artistic avenues had to be explored on her own.
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Knowing how to sew came in handy for Webb when she became a parent. Her daughters participated in dance and gymnastics, and Webb made all their costumes. Eventually, she gained a reputation for her skills and was soon doing commissions. She even made costumes for the Pacemates back in 1981.
However, she soon quit that business when her customers failed to recognize the value of her artistry and the time factor involved.
“People wanted stuff yesterday and they wanted it for $30 instead of the $300 it was worth,” Webb said. “Worst mistake I ever made.”
Her favorite machine is a Pfaff sewing machine, purchased in 1992 for $2,600 as a graduation gift to herself for finishing nursing school. At the time, it was a top-of-the-line machine. Webb is serious about her sewing.
Webb had always enjoyed quilting and has made numerous traditional quilts, but in 2002 she created her first art quilt. Art quilts use both traditional and modern techniques to create an object of art rather than a cover or blanket. Most art quilts are hung as works of art rather than placed on a bed.
After taking a workshop with Mickey Lawler, an artist known for painting and dying her own fabrics, Webb began taking as many classes as she could, making up for the fact that her early education included no artistic training. She enrolled in classes throughout central Indiana to learn more about fabric painting and dying, and she has been at it ever since.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” Webb said about dyed fabric.
Webb uses her hand-painted and dyed materials for art quilts and to create covers and pages for handmade books.
Webb has experimented liberally with not only dye, but also other methods for coloring cloth. She has created original cloth using old rusty metal and corn syrup, which will hold rusty filings onto the fabric to create a stamped print or pattern. She has used red dirt from her grandfather’s farm to create a book cover for family stories.
As for selling her work, Webb surely could, but she finds it hard to part with it.
“You put so much work into it, and you want to save everything,” Webb said.
Webb has more than made up for the lack of art training in her early years, as she recently graduated from Ivy Tech with an associate degree in fine arts, where she apparently got her money’s worth.
“It was as hard as nursing school,” Webb said. “Just as demanding.”
She has set a goal for herself to get her work out into the galleries. She recently won the 3-D prize for an art book about pain that she created with hand-dyed fabrics. She also has several pieces, including a hand-painted art quilt of the skyline of Indianapolis.
Webb has many creative ideas. In addition to art quilts and fabric dying, Webb is also exploring print-making with her fabrics. She has used an ear of corn, a rubber hot pad, and numerous other objects to create prints and patterns on fabric.
“It’s all about looking at the world in a different way,” Webb said. “It’s about asking what if.”
Webb is one of the Artists Upstairs, located on the second floor of the Creative Arts and Event Center, 2 W. Main, Greenfield. Judging from the looks of her studio — walls covered with art quilts and paintings, and shelves crammed with handmade books and bolts of fabric — she has many projects in progress and ideas to work out, even at age 64. She still works part-time as a nurse and manages to fit in 15 town 20 hours on her art.
She is interested in combining her art with her professional field of healthcare and hopes to get an art program at the hospital where she works.
“It’s really not about how good your art is,” Webb said, “but how good art is for you.”
This is the first in an occasional series about creative people with Hancock County connections.