photo farm-home_zpsa3f89177.jpg  photo farm-about_zps5ca590aa.jpg  photo farm-books_zps4b857550.jpg  photo farm-activities_zpsba432778.jpg  photo farm-writing_zpsb4bb8fe2.jpg  photo farm-contact_zps6eab4e56.jpg

Friday, April 27, 2012

Salley Mavor

Today, I am beyond excited to be interviewing Salley Mavor, fabric relief artist.  Salley
has had a lifelong fascination will tiny things and needlework.  She has found a unique way of combining those loves into a very successful career as an artist and illustrator.  And she is one of my idols.

In 2011, Salley received the 2011 Golden Kite Award and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for her book Pocketful of Posies
Three years in the making, Salley HAND SEWED each and every illustration using a variety of wools, threads and bits of nature to create these one of a kind works of art.
Recently, Salley agreed to an interview for my blog.

1.  In your latest book Pocketfull of Posies, you illustrated some of the traditional nursery rhymes.  How did you decide which ones to use?

To select the nursery rhymes for the book, I looked at every collection I could find at the library or on the internet. I also considered including verses from old folk songs that I was familiar with. If I could immediately picture a character or scene in my head, then a rhyme would go on the list. It didn’t have to be a detailed, perfect imagining, but a visual impression that was strong enough to stay with me every time I heard the words. I can’t remember the rhymes that stumped me, but they usually involved punishment or were more nonsensical and bizarre than usual. There were hundreds to choose from and picking the ones which I found inspiring helped me stay focused during the long project. Because the pages had different rhymes, the 3 year process of stitching wasn’t as tedious as it could be in a one-story picture book. Every month or so, I could engage with new characters and create the world they inhabited with a fresh eye.  

2.  When I was little, I played with acorn caps and made them into tea cups, saucers, hats, etc.  So often in your work I see those acorn caps along with twigs, driftwood and other bits of nature.  Is this sort of a trademark for you or just a coincidence? 

I have vivid childhood memories of playing outside with pieces of nature, arranging and homemaking on a miniature scale. I still try to keep my work playful and feel a compulsion to add “real” things to my artwork, whether it’s pieces of wood or hook and eyes. Somehow, found objects are a catalyst for my imagination and allow me to venture into new artistic territory. Sometimes an object will guide the whole piece and other times I’ll try adding a lot of different materials and reject almost everything, until the right object is found.

My children went to a Waldorf School, where playing with natural objects was a part of their daily experience. Waldorf Education incorporates the arts and physical activity into every lesson, imparting knowledge through the head, heart and hands. I was already inclined in this direction, but found the school’s approach fascinating and inspiring. This is where I found out about naturally dyed wool felt, which I use in my illustrations. In the 1990’s, I led handwork workshops for parents at the school. Through this experience, I learned about teaching in a step-by-step manner, which helped when I was ready to write my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.  
3.  When you illustrate something, do you start with the little dolls or animals, or do you make the background first?  Tell me a bit about the process of setting up your fabric reliefs.

Before I can start sewing anything, I draw thumb-nail sketches, which I blow up on a copier to full size. These need to be approved by my editor, who may suggest changes. The sketches are quite simple, showing important characters, basic scenery, composition and text placement. When I’m ready to go, I pick out felt colors for the background and position them flat, without any stitching or embellishment. Then I usually construct a major figure, building or prop, keeping in mind the juxtaposition of color and overall design. It’s best to make the main character first, as a way to connect with and focus on the subject of the rhyme. The people and animals hold the spirit of an illustration and are the most fun to make. After all of the 3 dimensional parts are made, I’ll embroider the background. Then I stitch the parts to the background and mount the finished piece on a stretcher. Each page takes from a few weeks to more than a month to complete. The original artwork is usually the same size as the printed illustrations. Sometimes, to accommodate a found object, I work a little smaller and have the photo blown up. The artwork is then photographed by a professional and printed in the book.

  1. I have watched your Rabbitat film over and over and I just love it.  Talk a little about the reason for making it and tell me if you plan others?

Last year, I commissioned my son’s friend, Daniel Cojanu, to make a short film about my work. I didn’t have a clear idea of how it would be used, but thought that moving images, narration and music could communicate more effectively that still photos. I had just started making a large piece (which was later named Rabbitat), so I thought this was a good opportunity to show my process from start to finish. Over a period of months, Daniel filmed and recorded me in my studio and outside. While he was working on the film, Pocketful of Posies won the Golden Kite Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, bringing enough prize money to finance the making of the project.

The film has been very well received and has become an important promotional tool. I’ve shared Rabbitat with many audiences, since last July (2011), when we first showed it at my hometown library. I show the film at lectures, art exhibits, show and tell presentations, and online, where it’s been viewed over 4,000 times.

Daniel and I worked on the animated title sequence together and I’ve been inspired to try some more stop motion animation. My husband, Rob and I spent the winter working on a simple story, using dolls, sets and scenery that I’ve made. Now that the weather is warm, we’ve put the project aside, but plan to resume making the parts and filming next winter. We are learning as we go and hope to have a few minute film when it’s completed.

With this new animation project, it has become obvious that I’m hopelessly attracted to time consuming methods of working. The growing period is lengthy, but I like to think that strong roots are taking hold and that my artwork will reach out to children and adults for a while to come.

I cannot thank Salley enough for taking the time to answer all my questions so completely!  Please check out her site.  While you are there, watch Rabbitat, but be will find it enchanting and begin stalking Salley's blog on a regular basis just to see what charming little worlds she is creating.  If, like me, you want to try your hand at fabric relief or doll making, Felt Wee Folk, Salley's how-to book of enchanting projects is a must have.  I bought it a while back and have played around making a few little miniature wrapped wire's addicting!

I also invite you to visit Salley's ETSY SHOP which she recently opened!

Thanks again Salley....having you on my little blog is a dream come true...I can't
wait to see what you do next!

Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. Sharon: Thank you for interviewing Salley and sharing her talents with us! And, Salley, your work is extraordinary--and good things do take time.

    Thank you both again!

    ReplyDelete happy to hear from you.........