MAKING CHANGE artists for change

MAKING CHANGE artists for change


Thursday, April 8, 2010

First Interview with Penny Richards

painted backpack[visual description: a backpack painted bright orange, black, and white, with images of a performer from a 1913 suffrage pageant, and "Votes for Women" in a small half-moon at center]

Q: Please tell us what issues are important to you.
disability rights, feminism, public education, community arts, the environment

Q: How is the idea of activism apparent in your art? Do you think political and environmental issues can be effectively addressed in art?

Well I try! The goal of my purses, which mostly have themes from women's history, is to spur conversations. A purse is something personal, but it's also something public and visible. I know, from carrying my own bags, that they invite questions and comments, and they open opportunities to explain and talk about women's activism. Because the purses are also "upcycled," each one is from a thriftshop and would likely have landed in the landfill. Each one serves as a reminder that other things can be remade--we don't need so much new boring mass-produced stuff when we can turn something old into something unique and wonderful.

Which artists do you admire who have an activist agenda?

Wow, okay, this is going to be an interesting group! Alex Chiu, a young artist here in Southern California, has a real passion for building community and collaboration. The Australian fiber artist Prudence Mapstone works with such joy and the kind of eclectic gathering of materials I like to see in any medium. And I'm going to draw from history to add Hannah Frank (1908-2008), a Scottish artist who made striking art-nouveau prints mainly featured in local community newsletters, programs, and other small publications--but before she died at 100, she got to see them appreciated and recognized more widely. painted purseAlso want to add Helen Carter to my favorite makers/artists--she makes these amazing recycled-fabric garments, for a wide range of bodies, and she's a wiz at using Flickr and Etsy to share her work.

[visual description: a purse painted turquoise, featuring the image of suffragist Susan Walker Fitzgerald and a 1908 quote by her, " long as the men alone are the source of power of the government, it is not a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. It is not a democracy."]

Q: Tell us something about your process of creating.

There's no mystery here: I posted a tutorial in case anyone wants to try for themselves. I thriftshop enough to have a stock of purses to play with. Usually I paint them first--without really knowing what their eventual subject will be. Then I search my favorites from the Flickr Commons project for some cool no-known-copyright images that have the right size, shape, and story for the bag--each bag is different, so this is always a new hunt. Some images work best in duplicate, or very cropped, or otherwise working with the features of the bag. I usually also add a cartouche explaining who the subject is. After the image is fixed to the bag, I start playing with inks and sharpies and more paint, adding details. There are a lot of layers of modpodge all along, and I usually have a few bags in progress at any given time.

[visual description: a bag painted yellow and orange, with a 1921 image of French chemist Irene Joliot-Curie at center, in academic regalia]

painted purse
Q: What is the name of your etsy shop?

Pennamite. It's an 18th century word for a person from Pennsylvania (where I grew up), and a play on my name. And except for references to the Pennamite-Yankee Wars, it's pretty googleable. ;)


  1. You are one of the most creative and talented people I know and your purses are so stylish! Thanks for sharing your talents with the world!

  2. Super interview Penny and thanks for your help!!

  3. Very cool interview from one of the most talented women I've ever "met" (well, in person, anyway). WTG, Penny!

  4. A great interview with a lot of interesting content that I was enchanted by so much I followed the links. Thanks so much for the historical lessons!

    I love the art work applications and use of materials. Penny's recycled bags are intriguing, thoughtful and elegant. Poetic purses !

  5. Great to see your wonderful purses here Penny, and to hear your story in your own words. You know I'm a fan :)