To understand Christine Meyers' "Muslin Ladies," it helps to know something about art. First, remember Auguste Rodin's sculptures of powerful, muscular bodies. Then recall the way light creates outlines simply by highlighting some parts of the body. Finally, imagine the outline of a Rodin nude stitched onto a piece of muslin and stuffed with batting in a way that lets light and shadow seem to create muscle tone.
Meyers, who lives in Fairfax, each year turns out "300 to 400" muslin sculptures, mostly nudes, for craft shows and art galleries around the country. She considers herself an artist, not a craftswoman. "Bread dough flowers are a craft," she says. "Art is fine craft: good design, a good arrangement of shapes and a certain amount of technical skill."
Meyers' skill at portraying the human body came through years of study at Tulane University, where she received a master's degree in drawing and painting, and through teaching at Audubon College in New Orleans. She started sculpting in muslin in 1977 after a visit to Cape Cod, where she "wandered in art galleries and saw how others were working with it."
It wasn't until she began to sell her works at craft shows that Meyers discovered her sculpting technique had a name and a history: trapunto.
Trapunto is quilting in which parts of the design stand out in relief because they are stuffed with batting or cording. Meyers says trapunto is "so old that it was the technique used to decorate the oldest known bed quilt."
Trapunto was used in this country--particularly in the South--to decorate women's petticoats and men's waistcoats in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Today it is being used to decorate living room walls and hot tub rooms. "I have a commission for two life-size pieces to go over a hot tub," Meyers says.
Though she usually depicts nudes, Meyers has noticed a "conservative trend" at the latest shows--a competitor's trapunto muslin chickens were selling like hotcakes--so she has started to concentrate on "hands, toes and feet."
Her designs, some of which take 40 hours to complete, are done from live models and made into patterns. "I like to keep my work simple," she says. "There's already enough to look at. I'll leave out lines deliberately; in one of my patterns I left out the head. The important part is the light and the way it makes shadows. In some ways, my medium is light."
She has about 50 patterns, which she pencils onto a double layer of muslin. The layers are stitched on a sewing machine and stuffed with polyester quilt batting. The whole piece then is framed, backed and ready for mounting.
"Before a show, I may turn out four pieces a day," she says. She does the sewing when her children (ages 10 months and 3 years) are sleeping, and the stuffing while they're awake.
Five times a year she heads for places such as the Rhinebeck Fair in upstate New York or the Baltimore Winter Market, where wholesalers view art works that have been approved by the craft fairs' jurors. Although she attends the fairs to make contacts and sell her works, Meyers says she also benefits from the "visual input--there's something inspiring and special about being around handmade things."
The fairs also give her ideas about pricing ("I hate that old idea that art has to be expensive"), selling, markets and the lives of other craftsmen and artists. "There's a whole group of people in Washington who go up to Rhinebeck, and the day the notifications went out, we were on the phone to each other all day. My mail was late that day, so by the time I got the notice I was sweating and shaking."
Meyers' works have been rejected by only one show, and she has learned to be philosophical about it. "They all have different juries each year, so if you don't get in one year, there's no reason to think you won't get in the next."
She believes craft shows are the best outlet for her type of work. "Why should it sit in some gallery on consignment, when I can sell it directly to a wholesaler?" she asks.
Picking up such tips has enabled her to sell enough works so she can afford to stay home with her children. "I do get sick of it some days," she admits, "but this lets me live the life I want to live, and keep drawing."
ADDENDUM: In addition to the drama camps in Northern Virginia listed in the June 2 Arts Column, three other groups report that they are sponsoring camps this summer:
* Assembly Children's Theatre, Springfield. July 6 through Aug. 22, three days a week, culminating in a full-length production of two musical plays and a Walt Disney review. Four staff members and outside specialists will teach acting, mime, voice, dance, improvisation and other techniques. Elementary through high school-aged children must apply by June 26. Cost: $70 for the first child, $35 for the second in the same family, and $21 for all subsequent children. For registration and information, call director Doug Andrews, 568-1074.
* Creative Drama and Dance Workshop, taught by the Arlington Center for Dance, Arlington. Five- to 7-year-olds, and 8- to 10 year-olds taught in six one-hour sesions over two weeks in June and July. Staff members emphasize dance and movement in drama. Cost: $25. Call 920-4340 for registration and information.
* Star Summer Theatre, held in Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax. Area youngsters in grades 8-12 will learn acting, clowning, movement, vocal and stage work from July 6 to 16, or July 19 to 30. Cost: $90 per session, with advance registration ending June 30. Call Chip Rome, 323-7500, extension 266, or 931-9339.