The Artistry of Madeline Arnault (Summer 2012)

By Marion Weeks with Reflections by Madeline Arnault

Madeline Arnault – Artworks Exhibit
Cape Cod Museum of Art
May 10, 2012

I first became acquainted with Madeline Arnault’s artwork when she was selected with nine other Sturgis artists for the Best Work Showcase of Cape Cod High School Students at the Cape Cod Art Association March 20 – 26.  Madeline’s entry in the exhibit was her meticulously detailed Vivian Doll. I was immediately intrigued by the creativity of her work, her choice of gorgeous fabrics and her detailed embroidery and beading.

Soon after the exhibit, I saw the award winning (Sundance and Emmy!) documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey about thelife of Kevin Clash.  The film made me think of Madeline. I was interested to learn how her interest in sewing and doll making began.  In


May, I was invited to attend ArtWork, an exhibit at the Cape Cod Museum of Art celebrating Schools to Careers student art interns and their mentors. I photographed the art work of Sturgis interns featured in the exhibit including Madeline who had several dolls in the show as well as a very interesting piece entitled Sad Pippy which was later selected to be exhibited at the Massachusetts State House.

I am so pleased that Madeline’s creative work is being appreciated and recognized. I found her story very interesting and told her I would like write an article about her for Soundings. I asked her to tell us how she got started, who influenced her along the way what her plans are for the future. Her reflections follow:

How It All Started

Early Doll

My mother taught me basic sewing skills when I was very young. They were enough to sew on buttons and girl scout patches. I didn’t really connect sewing to soft sculpture until my friends and I made pillows in summer camp. Eventually my parents grew so fed up with the dozens of small pillows cluttering up the house that they hired a sewing teacher. Of course some of my earliest creations were crafted with clay and rags but they were the height of my technical ability at the time.

Influences and Teachers

Robin McLaughlin, my sewing teacher, is the greatest influence in my creativity. Not only did she teach me the basics of machine sewing and following patterns but she also encouraged my design choices such as a pencil skirt decorated with pink skulls. Her acceptance and encouragement of my projects helped me grow in my independence to the point that I started experimenting with doll making and designing. We worked together for many years and even now that I’m no longer taking formal lessons she still helps me with issues and encouragement. Through Robin I discovered the costume side of theater, I was involved through my parents before. Robin started me with small repairs during tech weekends and eventually the theater would call me in for mid-run costume difficulties. Last summer with Robin’s encouragement I costumed my first show alone, Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse at the Harwich Junior Theater.

During my senior year of high school I took part in an internship offered with the Cape Cod Museum of Fine Art in Dennis. The Schools to Careers internship pairs students with working artists for a period of weeks at the end of which the museum hosts a reception showcasing the students and artists work. My mentor during the internship, Toni Newhall, was also a fabric artist so she was very enthusiastic about my plans for artwork. I had been told before hand that there was a fine line separating art and craft. Toni helped me define that line as it applied to me and explore the different aspects of textiles in art. My eventual piece, Sad

Madeline with Senator Dan Wolf at the State House

Pippy, was a hand sewn ribbon portrait on muslin. I’m very glad I got to work with Toni as she presented a new view of textiles. Instead of the traditional sewing she had me stand back and view fabric as just another supply and not the only media. She did this not only through her instruction but also through her artwork.

Future Plans

I’m more of a short term person so right now my plans are focused around finishing the summer and starting college. I plan to major in art at Hampshire College with some emphasis on soft sculpture. Although I hear there is a blacksmithing club at Hampshire and it sounds pretty cool. I would eventually like to be a working artist and right now that includes making and selling stuffed animals and dolls.

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