Laura Stangel Schmidt: Mixed-Media Artist, Writer and…Herder of Ducks

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine guest contributor
May 14, 2014

Laura Stangel Schmidt might not have all her ducks in a row outside her house—especially when they’re loose and loudly foraging for slugs and other bugs—but everything inside is calm and orderly. Large windows extend the open feeling of the Langley home she and husband Kurt bought when they moved from Kansas nearly two years ago. Her mixed-media pieces cover the walls.

Laura’s studio reflects her goal to “simplify.” Scissors and other tools line the wall, the desk is neat, ideas for new work are pinned to a board and open work spaces are ready for her next project.

Her mixed-media process begins with surface design on fabric, paper and found material using techniques such as monoprinting, stamping, drawing, painting, dyeing, fusing and stitching. Then she combines the materials into layered compositions that reflect her fascination with dualities (the natural and manufactured world, serendipity and design, emotion and logic, simplicity and richness, permanence and decay).

She says she likes to reduce a piece to minimal elements, but adds, “It’s difficult for me to just stop there.” So she embellishes the work. Simply.

Pollen Count: Spring Fever  (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Pollen Count: Spring Fever (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)


Pollen Count: May Day  (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Pollen Count: May Day (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)


Pollen Count: Four Days In August  (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Pollen Count: Four Days In August (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Laura’s “Pollen Count” series uses a 3 x 3 grid known as Nine Patch. These pieces, she says, “are my attempt to organize the beauty—as well as the messes—that pollen issues forth in the world.”

Field Study: Mending Season  (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Field Study: Mending Season (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Her “Field Studies” pieces are based on the basic quilt design called “Log Cabin,” which begins with a center square and has rectangular “logs” added in an expanding spiral. She has reduced these to a minimal number of components and uses crumpled brown paper bags as the background for stitching. Laura says these pieces “recall my impressions of agricultural landscapes in Kansas and Pennsylvania, particularly those created in Mennonite and Amish families.”

After receiving a B.F.A. in design, Laura intended to work as an interior designer but, after starting a family, she became more interested in writing, later earning an M.F.A. in creative writing from Wichita State University. She has been a contributing writer for Whidbey Life Magazine and stays active in poetry by collaborating online with a friend in Kansas. They write a line of poetry independently every day, and usually the lines seem written together.

In the 1990s Laura saw a book on art quilting using traditional quilt techniques and ignited her love for working with textiles. Since then she has shown her work in many venues and galleries in the Midwest, Texas, New York and the Northwest. She currently shows work at Brackenwood Gallery in Langley.

Next month Laura will join Pat Morse as Co-Chair of Whidbey Island Surface Design, a group whose members will offer one-of-a-kind fiber, textile and mixed-media art during their annual “WISD at WICA Show & Sale” in Zech Hall at Whidbey Center of the Arts in Langley. The show begins at 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, May 23 with a “Meet the Artists” reception and continues 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 24 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 25.

Confluence  (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Confluence (photo courtesy of Laura Stangel Schmidt)

Laura’s framed piece, “Confluence,” will be available for purchase through a Silent Auction during the show and sale. The winner will be announced at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 25. All proceeds from the auction will go to the Orca Network to help in its mission to raise awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.

“Confluence” is hand-dyed fabric layered over recycled paper and then stitched with several layers of thread in patterns ranging from simple parallel lines to dense embroidery. The piece conveys a sense of disparate things coming together into a unified whole. Laura says, “Despite turbulences and eddies that may form in opposing streams—streams of thought, of philosophy, of attitude—there is always the possibility that the streams can join to form a more powerful force.”

And the ducks? She and Kurt started out raising ten Indian Runner laying hens, whose eggs she sells through Bur Oak Acres in Langley. There are nine ducks left (with netting over their pen now to prevent another eagle attack). This summer they’ll add seven ducklings (three Indian Runners and four Welsh Harlequins). There will be more noise outside.

Several of Laura’s pieces can be seen on her website, Check out, the blog she and poet Lisa Moser share. And for more information about the group, Whidbey Island Surface Design, see

Natalie Olsen is a fiber artist and writer who has no ducks.

(photo at top by Ruth Moritz: Laura Stangel Schmidt)

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