Let me be clear, Olan Reeves quilts are not folksy fabric scraps thrown together. He is a real artist with an impressive background who pursued a traditional, non-sartorial handicraft on his on terms. Based in South Philadelphia, he has me rethinking the classic coverlet and coveting one for myself. Not interested in dressing the human body, he creates beautiful pieces that dress the home. While fashion is thought to make one feel better, Olan believes that making your surroundings can have an equally profound impact, maybe even more.
I am originally from Bryant, Arkansas, and spent my summers as a child on my grandmother’s farm. We constantly had an abundance of feed sacks, and I used them to make my first quilts. I became more experimental later on – implementing cornhusk and other “fabrics” into my designs. I continued quilting throughout high school, but started diving into painting. I attended Savannah College of Art and Design first as a painting major, then as a photography major, and finally settling on a degree in fibers. I studied abroad my senior year in Berlin. My senior thesis was a juxtaposition of European graffiti merging with traditional quilting. Creating traditional quilts, I explored different distressing techniques by spray-painting and even dragging one behind a car!
Directly after college I moved to Philadelphia. For the first year, I designed and sewed for a leather handbag company. After, I worked at a sewing and knitting studio in Rittenhouse Square called Spool & Loop. I taught several classes covering a variety of quilting techniques. During this time, I lived and made work in an artist residency in Center city called Goldilocks Gallery. We conducted a variety of shows and were involved in several community art-related organizations.
I’ve taken a full circle and currently work part time at a paint center called Painting with a Twist. It’s a really silly non-traditional job which I needed. It’s silly in that its a BYO (bring your own alcohol) paint studio. The paintings are never too serious, but getting to make people laugh/paint at the same time and seeing how proud of themselves everyone gets is really rewarding. No matter what kind of instruction it is, I’ll always have a soft spot for teaching. I spend my free time experimenting and making work for my next show.
My most recent body of work was exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in Rittenhouse Square in December. I showed a few quilts, but my main focus was knitwear. I love experimenting with different yarns and found objects. I’m currently formulating a body of work for a show in February in the Italian Market at a cafe called Gleaners Cafe. In this show you’ll find a further venture in tubular knit pieces I’ve been developing for several months. Alongside will be some quilts and some paint studies I’ve been exploring of cactuses and succulents.
I have a lot of machines – it’s bad! For the most part, I have two main go-to’s. A Bernina Activa 210 and a Singer Confidence. Between the two, I’d have to say I use my Bernina the most. It’s my baby. In my work, I use a really diverse range of materials – from plastic to denim to silk. I don’t feel restrained with my Activa. It can handle almost anything with the exception of heavy leather. I also have a Brother, White and several vintage sewing machines as well.
The first step is my favorite – collecting. I gather old t-shirts, handkerchiefs, leaves, vintage calendars, tea towels, metal scraps or literally whatever I can get my hands on during an adventurous expedition. Whether it be a thrift-store or a junkyard, I’ll find something. I then cut/assemble the materials into pieces and lay them out until I come up with a design. The process is similar to a puzzle. I strive to figure out how to put the pieces together correctly and in a way where it is pleasing aesthetically, but still respects its conceptual integrity. The art of quilting isn’t really about the final result, that’s just a bonus. It’s more about the variety of processes it takes to get there.
I did this small body of work titled “From the Streets, To the Sheets” where I explored the geometric designs of the Man-hole covers in Philadelphia. I began doing “rubbings” (like a tombstone rubbing) with newsprint and charcoal. I then transferred those rubbings into screen-printable images and created larger-than-life pillows out of a variety of natural textiles. I used natural dyes and “rust dyeing”, which is a process of chemically dying cloth with a variety of old rusty objects – saw blades, screws, scrap metal. I then screen-printed the man-hole designs atop the rust dyed fabrics. I really enjoyed the process of creating that body of work.
I make both quilts to use and quilts to hang. The one in my hallway is constructed of fortunes from fortune cookies. Since a child, I’ve always been infatuated with fortune cookies, so I’ve held onto them. Appliquéd onto denim, I used a transparent layer of nylon tulle on top of it all. I then used channel stitching to bring it all together. Obviously. it’s not washable, but a piece you adorn your space with. I’m a big believer in luck and this piece consisting of 75+ fortunes definately vibes a lucky impression.
I’d have to say that my most impactful mentor would be Karen McManus. She’s an eccentric woman from Colorado who cared for her students self-expression/self-exploration more than any teacher I’ve encountered. She was my after-school art teacher in elementary school before I was old enough to take actual art classes. When I graduated to middle school, she transitioned to a middle school art instructor which was fantastic because I was able to take her classes during school hours, and I still continued to learn from her during our after school classes. She showed me that it was ok to explore materials from sewing with with cornhusk to weaving a tapestry out of pine-needles. When I advanced to high-school, Karen un-coincidentally did the same. I worked under her for over 7 years resulting her in her advising my parents that I should probably go to art School. I wouldn’t be the artist I am if it wasn’t for her.
Another artist I find really inspiring would have to be Andy Goldsworthy. He is a site specific artist living and working out of Scotland. He specifically works with natural objects like an installation completely constructed from leaves and thorns or a beautiful design from rocks and snow.
It’s a personal preference – I like making things look good as opposed to making people look good by creating a comfy yet harmonious space via quilts, duvets, pillows and more. It affects and can improve the way you feel. If our environment feels good and gratified, we will too.
However, I did recently come around to the idea of adorning people with different knitwear pieces. It can still have the same impression as a quilt or blanket, it’s just around your neck while your out and about.
I want to learn it all, which is my biggest downfall! I want to paint, knit, quilt, weave, make jewelry, the list goes on! I have a hard time focusing on one specific craft, but I believe that all my skills will combine to make me a unique artist that is contributing something to the art community. That’s why I feel that a textile designer really is the best job. I relish in not being restricted to one specific thing and I can wake up and make whatever I want.