Monday, May 01, 2006

My Hollis Rant - feel free to ignore~

I guess if you want to take a class first you have to have a teacher. That didn't happen. Our class with Hollis Chatelain was disappointing and IMHO a total waste of money. I have spent several weeks being totally angry and pissed off when I think of how her class at Asilomar was. I wrote a very long letter which follows to the lovely women who run Empty Spools Seminars and I hope that they take some of my rant to heart. I have edited the original letter and this blog entry to try and keep it semi-civil and without needing a XXX rating. Short note - I admire Hollis work and still think she is a genius in her skill as an artist. I felt lucky to find out that she had a 5 day class at Asilomar starting just days after my 50th birthday, and I had just been given my Holiday bonus, so the timing was perfect. Asilomar is not cheap the 5 days cost just under $1200. In addition we had to get to California, and we did do a little visiting and sightseeing before classes started, so I would guess that my cost for the class and travel only was around $1800. If you don’t want to read the long version – the short version is that if you want to learn dye-painting take the 3-day class if you want to learn threadwork – don’t bother taking this class, as you will get about 2 hours total out of it. If you want to learn about copyright – then this is the class for you! Oh and for added fun (assuming you stayed awake until the end) there are some special notes from friends who wrote me, most of them had also taken classes. I've stripped most of the identifying features from them. So here we go :-D eirdre Dear Gentlewomen: I have been trying to figure out a way to let you know how disappointed I am with the class I took from Hollis, while still expressing the fact that I think that The Empty Spools Seminar is a very nice venue. I enjoyed both the location and the people. Including, the pleasure of the wonderful drive that Suzanne took us on Monday afternoon. For several days after the end of the workshop – I could barely contain my anger, and then I remembered more incidents and was beside myself. My workshop with Hollis was my 50th birthday present to myself. I was able to convince my friend, Timi that we would have a wonderful time, and we made arrangements to come. Of course, it wasn’t hard to convince her! I would like to say that I am not a workshop novice, and would even call myself a workshop junkie – I am fortunate to belong to 2 guilds that get top-named teachers, as well as traveling to shows and taking classes in Chicago, Houston, VT, etc. I’ve taken fabric painting classes from Bonnie McCaffrey and Mickey Lawler as well as taking private painting classes. Quilting classes have included teachers such as: Caryl Fallert, Carol Doak, Ellen Anne Eddy, John Flynn, Cynthia England and Christine Fries – just to start the list. That being said – I will apologize in advance for the length of this complaint. I want you to know that this is not sent just to complain, but because I think you need to be made aware of a real Hollis experience. I also feel duped because I spent a lot of money to learn techniques described in her class description, which she was not interested in teaching. I have also enclosed several notes from others as confirmation of her teaching method. First the class description from her website: Class Description: In this workshop, you will first learn how to paint images with Procion dyes on cotton. Learning to control the dyes will be emphasized. Among other things, we will cover blending, layering, special effects and painting without bleeding. All of these techniques can be used to create images as complex as portraits or as simple as a line on a scarf. Each student is asked to bring two or three 18"x 20" designs or drawings that they will transfer onto cloth and then paint. These drawings can be fruits or rounded objects, still lifes, animals or faces. Any image can be used as long as it has been made into an 18" X 20" black and white line drawing. It would also help to have an example or an idea of your color choices. In the second part of the workshop, we will explore new ideas about how to use quilting to enhance the look of your painted cloth. The main objective is to use quilting lines to create depth, texture, tension, or shadowing which will give a new dimension to your quilt. Lines can be inspired by an endless variety of things (nature, architecture, technology, etc.) to add visual interest and reinforce your overall design. Even straight lines can become a design in themselves. You will be working with the images you have painted during the first part of the workshop. We had 23 people in our great big, bright room and we each had a nice size space. There were 2 women who had taken other classes with Hollis and IMHO I would call them groupies at the very least. There were 3 women over 80 who had all lost their husbands in the last few years and they were doing things that they normally wouldn't be doing, and the rest was a mix of talented regular people – and surprisingly there were no whiners. After the introductions, Hollis had lots to say about copyright and borrowing her patterns and not tracing her patterns unless we paid for a new $8 drawing. No photographs, etc. All things I knew and expected. Hollis explained that we would start by picking out 3 colors - we would leave one print powder clear, and would use it as a white and also a blender. She showed us samples of designs that she had available for us to use. One of the supplies listed included large line drawings. I had learned that there would be drawings available for our use, and as I was interested in learning technique and not having this be award-winning quality – I decided to use her designs. My goal was to learn the techniques listed in the class description. I was primarily interested in learning the thread-work technique. I didn’t really have a desire to learn dye-painting, but I did know this was part of the class, so I figured I'd learn as much as I could. If dye-painting was the only part of the class, I would have taken another class. Hollis described how some of these designs were harder to dye-paint than others. Sharp points and edges where ones she said were difficult to do. Other designs she brought included a flower and a large hand. She said that basically we would have a demonstration of how to safely mix our colors on Monday morning and then we would each mix our set of 3 - she also suggested that sharing was good. On Monday around 11:00a, Hollis concluded her demonstration of how to safely mix the dyes and we got started mixing our own. Hollis mentioned that she isn't a warm cuddly person. She said she would offer help but not coddle or lie, she would be truthful. One of the older women said, “You are like that Simon guy on American Idol.” Hollis said – “Oh NO!” But I think inwardly she was thrilled with the comparison. After lunch the rest of us mixed our dyes and we got started painting. (She had shown us a demonstration earlier). Now imagine a thickened dye - thickness of heavy cream, putting it on dry treated fabric with a dry brush. You paint and blend what you assume are the colors you picked. Most dyes don't look anything like they will end up - so you just trust yours will look ok. The schedule was supposed to be that we complete 3 paintings by the end of Wednesday and Thursday morning we wash them out, iron dry and start sewing. I did the sharp pointed painting on Monday, the Hand on Tuesday and on Wednesday, I did an abstract using up the table's dyes. We had mixed up 2 additional dyes on Tuesday, the rest were basically shared and borrowed. Each of us had mixed 5 dyes and that was enough for the whole class to share. We were at the same table with Hollis at lunch on Monday and she was talking to some of the women about her problem child and how things were, just normal kind of stuff. We went back after lunch and painted, we covered our work as we went to keep it wet, so that the chemical reaction could take place. I have to say that Hollis appeared to be very giving in her instruction for this part - of course there were a lot of variables, including how wet we were able to keep the painting (you cover your finished pieces right away with plastic) and continue in another place. She told how she does her big pieces, and how long they take, etc. Everything was fine. On Tuesday we started in by mixing dyes and painting - we were not really getting any additional help but it wasn't overtly obvious, because she was coming around and checking or offering suggestions. I decided to do the hand because most of my work is of larger people and I figured that this might actually show me how to do some of the skin threadwork. I signed up for this class specifically because this is what she is famous for. One other person did the hand. Several people did figures but all of them featured small sized heads and bodies. Hollis was good with explaining how to do skin color and I am very happy with the way the colors came out on the hand, it was very lifelike. We saw slides of her work and also had her work hanging in the classroom, she answered any questions she felt like answering, but more often than not, the answer was; “It’s magic”, or “I'll talk about that during another part of the class” (which never happened), or “It just takes practice.” You always had a feeling you were going to be bit if you asked a question. Painting continued on Wednesday, we all pretty much knew what we thought we should be doing but because we hadn't rinsed anything out - it was hard to tell. We broke on Wednesday night with directions and handouts telling us how to rinse things out. We all rinsed out, in our rooms on Thursday morning and ironed dry, then headed to class and we all looked around. Nothing looked like we expected - but most of the pieces were actually pretty good. Even Hollis with years of experience doing this seemed surprised to see how many of them washed out - I still think that it is the nature of the technique, and that with trial, experimentation and luck you can get what you hope for. We started Thursday out showing our 3 pieces and discussing what we thought of them in the classroom - this took all morning. We all told her what piece we wanted to work on - everyone who had done a figure said that they wanted to work on their person, Hollis offered every one of them this suggestion, “Oh just outline the lips, nose and eyes” - this was her answer 100% of the time with reference to doing a person. So when I said I was doing the hand because I often made large figurative quilts she didn't comment. Then she said, she wanted to tell us something that was really important to every quilter - she told us about the Hilton carpet and how it was a design which was stolen from Paula Nadlestern - I think this probably took 1/2 hour, she was going to get us copies of the form we could all sign - if we really saw the carpet and then we could all chip in to fax it to Paula's attorney. Then it was time for lunch. After lunch Hollis came back from her Massage at 1:15 ready to show us how she does her design work. She took one woman's piece and placed a piece of tracing paper over it - she showed us how she worked out her designs. She did a great job and it gook about 20-30 minutes - then she picked up the paper and showed everyone the difference adding the design makes - then she crumbled up the paper - and when someone said they would iron it out and use it -she stuck it under her dress - after a few minutes she took it out and tore it up! Finally it was time for her to start showing us her quilting - she took a painted sample of fabric she had and thread painted a shape like this ) ( Then someone asked her to do the nose which was painted on the same sample - she explained that it would take too much time and that maybe if she had time later she would get to it - it was never mentioned again. Everyone started back to their spot and I said in a loud voice, “Hollis could you come over and get me started on the HAND?” She said sure - then after a few seconds said – “Hum, I'll be back in a while I have to go to the bathroom”, instead of using the restroom that was outside our classroom, she went back to her room for 20 minutes. She did come over when she came back and looked at it a few minutes and said, “You know, in my 3-ring binder is a hand, just use that as an example and see what you can do, oh and btw start with the little fingers its easiest that way.” Ok, the hand I had was shaped like it had a shot put in it - the fingers were curled up and the wrist was bent backward. Your view was as if you were looking from the wrist at "shortened" fingers. The example in her binder was a flat hand with the fingers splayed. I started with the small fingers as best I could - but it was wrong. I decided to try and ‘figure out’ what I really needed to do - which was start in the middle of the hand (the triangle of the palm), and do long sweeping strokes. This worked - then I did the other large portions and finished by filling in the highlights and shadows. Everything looked pretty good except the first 2 little fingers. I asked her to come back and look - she said “It looked good.” I asked what she would do differently on the 2 fingers - she took a pencil and drew 4 or 5 tiny light, light lines on the fingers and said – “something like this.” Some of us sewed - unfortunately the rental machines were terrible, which of course was not her fault. After doing just the palm I decided to wait until I got home to do the rest. Most people in our class could not sew with the rental machines! This is a separate issue, and one I think should be addressed with the Quilt shop – My suggestion would be to offer a higher quality rental for a little more money, even buying Wal-Mart sewing machines for $99 would have eliminated problems for ½ the people. The rentals jammed, broke needles and generally were the worst things I’d ever used. On Thursday afternoon for the ‘Open House’ we chipped in to buy cheese/crackers and wine for our ‘guests’. Hollis sat around - and when people came in and said, “Oh how do you do that?” She usually indicated that it was something way beyond their knowledge-base even to understand the idea behind her technique; the other answer was that it was just magic. She was smug and arrogant to everyone. In the meanwhile, kiss kiss kiss was being handled by the groupies who were pushing her $900 prints! Believe it or not I think that 2 or 3 were sold, so good for Hollis, I guess she must use Thomas Kinkade as her role model. Her groupies also put signs around the entire place and entrance saying NO PHOTOGRAPHY - we went to a few classrooms and guess what - none of them did that! Some of them even said Photography OK. Its fine that she would prefer not to have photographs taken, but the way it was presented was totally obnoxious, and I heard her telling one of the other teachers that it was all the student’s idea to put them up – I don’t think so! Before we left for dinner, Hollis spent some more time (this is in addition to the 2 talks we already had which I am estimating to have taken over 1 hour), talking to the class to review her 3 minutes that she was going to be given to speak about copyright issues - she had asked other teachers to come up on stage with her to show their solidarity. We decided to pass on her presentation. Instead we packed up - after all we had already spent approximately 1 hour working on quilting and maybe another hour on the design - and apparently this was really all she was going to show us, so I guess that it qualified as our design and sewing portion of the class. 1.5 possible hours from us and less than 1.5 hours from her qualified as our sewing portion of the class – out of 5 days! On Friday it was pouring and we got to class around 9 - we stayed for a while but nothing was happening except 2 people were sewing and everyone else was just sitting. Apparently Hollis was done teaching - she did however ask if anyone noticed if one of the teachers who had said she supported THE CAUSE was up on stage with her - she received a negative reply and I'm sure she hunted the villain down to shoot her in the knees later that day. We decided to try and get an earlier shuttle out of Asilomar and went to get our suitcases. My opinion is if you want to learn dye painting take her 3-day class, if you want to learn how to do her sewing technique - go to her website and look at her quilts - make sure you don't copy them or she will come hunt you down and beat you up. If you want to kiss kiss - she has a few spots open. Make sure that you bring spare change as you will be asked to chip in for anything that she thinks the class should have. She is fair, so don't worry if you didn't share in the wine you only have to pay $1 instead of $6. Truth is I don't have any problem paying $6 for the wine - it was good. What I don't understand is her asking for donations to pay for a fax - she made plenty on the class, on the supplies she sold and on the fee paid to the teacher. We each bought our brushes from her ($45 to $100) and many bought threads for $100 . For our $45 class fee, we got three 20 x 22 pieces of soda-ash treated fabric, the plastic muffin tin, in addition we each used approximately 2 tablespoons of print paste mix and 5 half-teaspoons of dye. That was it. She could spend the $5 for the damn fax! I think that if I ever went back to Asilomar - I would make sure it was a class that would be fun - I knew Hollis wouldn't be fun but I did think she would teach what she had listed in her class description. My suggestion to you would be to plant a person in one of her next classes – have that person see what the class is really like. When you are handed the class review, you are told they will be anonymous, but it doesn’t really seem like it is, since Hollis is the one who collects the reviews. Maybe this was because her “helper” was ill for the last 2 days of class. I know that several of the people I spoke to were very put off by her condescending attitude. In my opinion – her work is genius. Maybe she should make art and leave the teaching to someone who is interested in actually teaching what they have contracted to teach. Thank you for taking the time to read this long letter – I sent it because I resent spending a considerable amount of money on a class with a woman who didn’t feel the need to teach the class. I sent a note to several of my friends regarding this class, and many of them replied with emails speaking of the same experience with Hollis. I’m including excerpts from these emails page. Regards, Deirdre Abbotts Your reports of the class squares 100% with what I've gotten from three other very different students of her classes. (Not that any of them lacked credibility or creativity in the ways they described The Aforementioned.) I'm sorry I didn't warn you (given enough attention, I should have heard you were making plans for THAT class and said something), I didn't want to color your experience such that you created a reality based on my reports. I agree with all of what Deirdre had to say. For the money, I was very disappointed with the class. I've been to a lot of classes with a lot of well known quilt artists and have never come away feeling so disappointed as I did with this class. Even the crappy two day design class my sister and I took at VT Quilt Festival didn't leave me feeling this disappointed. At least that guy tried to teach. Although I went wanting to learn more of the dye painting technique than the quilting technique I found the "teacher" to be less than sharing when it came to actually "teaching" her techniques. Now if you wanted to listen to how good she is, she was quite willing to share with you what she thought of herself. I will say that I think she is quite talented, and is supporting her family with her art, and has had a lot of acclaim for her work so I do suppose she has a lot to be proud of. But being proud and humble is a lot different than being proud and haughty, egotistical, condescending and self-important. If an artist does not want to share their knowledge and their techniques, then don't sign on to teach them! I won't be taking another class from her anytime soon, and Asilomar is not on my list of "great experiences can't wait to do it again." OK...that about covers what went on in our two day class too. Lotsa dye painting and a little threadwork advice, but our class wasn't about threadwork....sounds like you got about as much threadwork advice as we did and it WAS supposed to be in your class! Sounds like the dye painting part of her class is what she plans for and nothing else matters. I'm sure “C” will agree with everything you wrote...she's the one that wrote to me after Asilomar last year and said "she wasn't very giving of herself and her techniques


Anonymous said...

This reads all too much like my experience with another big name quilter last summer. She was at the end of her US tour, just going through the motions and picking up a paycheck before heading home (pretty much all she talked about). I left before the lunch break of the first day and didn't regret it especially after I heard how several students pieces were ruined. After praising their hand-dyed fabrics over and over on day one, her only remark after her dye pens ran all over their fabric was "sometimes that happens."

Teachers can burn out and its important for them to recognize that fact and stop going through the motions when their hearts are no longer in it.

Anonymous said...

And the so called teachers at this place are probably worse now 10 years later. What did you do for your 60th birthday. My 35 I treated myself to a month in Italy and southern France. For my 40th my dad gave me money for a month in England, Scotland, and Paris.
50th I had a broken neck. 55th nothing now I am 3 years from 60. I live about 3 hours south of Alsimar on the coast so no need to go anywhere, but just the other day I heard the women my age all are going 2016 and where so excited. I think it is a waste of money, And the classes on are so awesome and only $20. Why leave the house. I loved reading your story even if it is 10 years old. I bet you're fun and should have thrown a fit in the class spilled paint. The part about putting the drawing up her skirt is priceless. When I taught quilting I would also do imatations of all the teachers of the time.
Freddy Moran, Sally Collins, Jean Wells. Ricky Tims, Gwen Marston. I have met them all and taken classes form most back in the days. It is amazing how many of the new crop I know personally of course none will talk to me because I know there past BS. I think if I could write better I would right a tell all about most and this "Quilters are the Nicest People" BS.
Most would slit your throat with a rotary cutter, and if you're not fat with short hair and dress like a muppet and talk none stop about grandkids you're not in the click. What a bunch of whores.