In the midst of a divisive election, pandemic, and unprecedented weather disasters across the country, we could all sleep well now.
“My Bed: Enchanting Ways To Get The World To Sleep” is a picture book for children, but its message – see, here’s something we all have in common – is timely and comforting.
The illustrations of the book made of fabric and found objects are by the Falmouth artist Salley Mavor, who has illustrated many picture books for children in her long career.
The original artwork for the book, along with other work by Ms. Mavor, is part of Bedtime Stitches, which can be viewed at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit through December 22nd.
Ms. Mavor’s art is both breathtaking in its complexity and completely accessible to young children. The hand-sewn art has the warm, homely feel of a beloved soft toy.
Given that picture books are often a child’s first encounter with art, Ms. Mavor takes her illustration work seriously. Her goal in this book is to make children feel that the world is a safe place. “It definitely hits the right notes,” said museum director Sarah Johnson, adding that, given things that are even more digital than usual at this moment, people appreciate the handcrafted quality of Ms. Taste’s art.
The fabric relief illustrations by Ms. Mavor are completely hand-made with tiny beads, buttons, hooks and eyes and other tiny decorations that were incorporated into the elaborate scenes.
The book explores the different ways children go to sleep around the world, from sleeping in a houseboat in the Netherlands to sleeping in a courtyard in Iran. Children sleep in different places and in different incarnations of a bed, from futons in Japan to hammocks in Brazil.
Along with her hand-sewn artwork, Ms. Mavour’s research on the different cultures for each illustration was extensive. In addition to studying architecture, furniture, and landscapes, Ms. Mavor also includes animals, plants, and trees that are specific to each location. After receiving the manuscript, Ms. Mavor initially spent time visualizing the various illustrations.
“She started off and researched the various places around the world,” Ms. Johnson said. “After creating the children, she fell in love with them and wanted to build places for them to live. It’s amazing how it incorporates pearls and fibers and all of the hand-sewn details. It is very special. We are fortunate to have talented artists like Salley on Cape Cod. “
The entire project, including the research, took Ms. Mavor two years to complete. That’s roughly two months per scene – a fast pace for such meticulously detailed artwork. “It’s a combination of craftsmanship and artistic vision,” Ms. Johnson said.
Countries in the book include Ghana, Mongolia, Russia, India, and Afghanistan, and the United States. Children sleep on rooftops and under mosquito nets in warm climates and, through heating from stoves and built-in bunk beds, in colder environments.
Shelves full of tiny books, sewn smoke from a fabric fireplace, tiny slippers, a loyal dog that sleeps while running, and clothes that hang on a leash are just some of the many details that Ms. Mavor has created.
“There is so much detail in the scenes that people really got immersed in it,” Ms. Johnson said.
Seeing the work of art in person also means seeing the beautiful fabric borders, which are also hand-stitched and surround each scene but are cut out of the book. It is also noteworthy that the illustrations in the book are enlarged from the smaller original works of art, meaning that the artist is working on an even smaller scale than the book suggests.
Nine panels designed by Cahoon explain the parts of Ms. Mavor’s process using text and images. This includes sketches, fabrics, figures, wire, found objects, animals, beads and seams.
The exhibition at the Cahoon also includes some previous work by Ms. Mavor as well as some of her sculptural creations.
One case contains a collection of Ms. Mavor’s felt figures from Wee Folk. The compilation includes a skier, pirate, fairy, bride and one of Mrs. Mavor’s recent additions – a tiny Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a black robe and iconic lace collar.
The case opposite contains some of Ms. Mavor’s earliest work, including an essay in elementary school in which a young woman explains to Mavor that she wants to be an artist when she grows up because she said, “Art is everything. Everything in a house or school is art. “
As if to prove this point, the exhibition also contains a doll’s house that Ms. Mavor made in 1975 after taking a woodworking course at an art school. The artist renovated it for the show and set it up with scenes of children playing in an upstairs bedroom while a mother and two other children are rolling out dough in a kitchen scene. The rooms are all intricately decorated with textured carpets and wallpaper, precursors to their future interior illustrations.
The 2015 “Grate Hall” – a fabric sculpture that uses a cheese grater and other common items such as a whisk, glove, and door handle connected to vines and fabric – also recalls Ms. Mavor’s claim as a 10-year old that everything is art.
A second large sculpture, “Lichen Lookout”, also contains found and natural objects and fibers. It was founded in 2013 and was part of the first Fairy House exhibition at Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth, which Ms. Mavor helped organize.
“Self-Portrait,” a piece that will be familiar to Woods Hole Library customers, depicts Ms. Mavor’s life as a series of rag dolls spiraling into a circle that begins with a tiny baby in 1955. She became who gradually grows up with the dolls and the years. Ms. Mavor includes milestones in her life; For example, she portrayed herself in a wedding dress in 1982 and with two young children by her side in 1987. The development also highlights various fashions, including ponchos and tie-dye dresses in the 1970s style.
Full information on the show and work of Ms. Mavor can be found on Cahoon’s website, including a short video interview from Falmouth Community Television showing Ms. Mavor at work in her studio.
“We’re trying to add lots of online content to our exhibits for people who may not feel comfortable coming to the museum,” Ms. Johnson said, adding that the museum is receiving a grant from the Coby Foundation in New York got help with the exhibition. The group supports projects in the field of textile and needle art. “It was amazing to be sponsored,” said Ms. Johnson.
Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, Ms. Johnson still hopes people can watch the show. “We’re trying to encourage homeschooling groups and pods to visit the exhibit, and we also hope to plan a virtual studio tour with Ms. Mavor,” she said.
An open day on Sunday, December 6th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., gives the community the opportunity to watch the show for free. In order to comply with capacity limits, advance booking is required to visit the museum, which is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 508-428-7581 or register at www.cahoonmuseum.org/visit.