Monday, October 20, 2014

quilt (R)evolution

Just home from Athens OH where I visited the Dairy Barn for its current show, an exciting collection of work from most of the people who have served as Quilt National jurors over the 35 years of that exhibit.  It was special because the participants were asked to send three pieces: one from their earliest work, one of their work at the time they were jurors, and one of their current work. And most of them actually sent exactly what was requested!

The too-clever title of the show, "quilt (R)evolution" is silly but accurate, because the quilts do clearly mark the evolution of the quilts-as-art genre.  Several of the oldest ones are only a step or two away from traditional -- and Ann Johnston's 1979 piece could have easily been made in 1879.

I've been obsessively following Quilt Nationals via catalog since 1983 and in person for at least 20 years (can't remember exactly which one I first attended) so it's not a surprise to me that quilts-as-art started so close to its traditional roots and took a few years to escape the conventions.  But it's fun to be reminded of how the famous names we're all familiar with started out, and how they got going in their own directions.

For instance, Joan Schulze started by making a big quilt that was the California winner in the big Good Housekeeping Quilts of America competition in 1976 -- I remember that, even though I wasn't much of a quilter at the time.  After it was photographed for the book (I think I have the book, too) her quilt and others were destroyed in a warehouse fire but after a long period of grieving she decided to remake it.  The design was original, with a batiked landscape in the center, but its wide border is composed of the traditional Road to California blocks (she did shock the viewers by making them in different colors to extend the landscape -- blue for the sky, brown for the earth).

Joan Schulze, California II, 1979

Subsequently Schulze developed her signature style of using images appropriated from the media in collage-like phototransferred and screenprinted compositions that remind me of Robert Rauschenberg.

Nancy Crow started with huge symmetrical quilts that were meticulously planned and intricately pieced from templates using commercial prints.  Subsequently she found that improvisationally free-cutting shapes from hand-dyed fabrics and building her compositions gradually on the wall was a more satisfying approach.

on the catalog cover:  Nancy Crow, March Study, 1979

Katie Pasquini Masopust's early quilt was a daring pentagon but executed in impeccably traditional craft from teeny calico prints.  Subsequently she started incorporating easel-painted canvas into her quilt constructions.

Katie Pasquini Masopust, Heavens Reach, 1981

Other jurors went in different directions.  Michael James, after years of strip-pieced curves, embraced digital photography cranked out on a huge-format printer.  Yvonne Porcella started by making functional kimonos, then went flat (but kept her signature palette, brights with black-and-white).  Jan Myers-Newbury started by hand-dying solid gradations, then discovered arashi shibori and never looked back.

Practically all of the early pieces were hand-quilted, but as the years progress most of them switched to the machine.  Practically all the early ones were carefully pieced or appliqued with no raw edges, no messy craftsmanship of any kind, but as the years progress we see fusing, raw-edge applique, phototransfer, non-cloth materials and any number of experimental techniques emerge (for instance, Tim Harding's latest work is "quilted" with staples).

For those of us who have been tuned in to the quilts-as-art movement for a long time, the show is a great walk down memory lane.  Fortunately all the pieces in the show still look fine (although Ann Johnston's, used on the bed for decades, has faded dramatically into the muted colors of vintage quilts).  For those of us who aren't that familiar with the olden days of our little niche of the art world, the show will be an eye-opener: how far we've come in such a short time.

Unfortunately the catalog doesn't reproduce the artist notes that appear on the walls of the Dairy Barn.  So, for instance, readers will probably think that Wendy Huhn's extravaganza of female fairies perched on irons is about the drudgery of housework, when it's really about a lethal disease that causes too much iron to build up in one's blood vessels and joints.  (I know how easy it is to leap to that conclusion, because I eavesdropped on two young guys explaining to one another quite solemnly how women's work is never done, etc, before one of them thought to read the sign.)

The show remains up at the Dairy Barn through November 22 -- see it if you can!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stripes are back!!

Longtime blog readers probably recall my past rants on how difficult it is to find striped fabric (and just when I have decided that stripe-on-stripe is the design motif I am most excited to explore).  For a couple of years it's been polka dots 24/7, stripes zero.  But when I went to the fabric store last week for last-minute supplies I was delighted to find several stripes on the shelf.  The clerk told me they had just come in the day before.

As you read this I'll be starting my week of teaching at the Crow Barn, and I wanted to bring stripes for people to use if they want.  It's often fun to use stripes for these very skinny lines because they show up as dotted lines, more interesting than solids.

Crazed 8: Incarceration (detail)

Right now the stripes in the store are pretty basic -- white and a color, quarter- or eighth-inch stripes -- but it's a start.  Fortunately I've been feeding my habit online, where claims to have 5,376 items classified as "stripes."  I bought two huge orders of stripes from them in the last several months, which produced my Quilt National piece and left plenty for future projects.

But here's a thought -- if stripes are coming back, maybe it's time to buy dots before they disappear.

Friday, October 10, 2014

On assignment -- stitching about travel

When we were in London early this summer I had the pleasure of visiting one of my best Internet friends, Margaret Cooter.  We had a fabulous day together talking about art and life.  We exchanged some little presents; mine was to choose a sewing kit from a collection that Margaret has been making to sell at craft fairs (here is a picture of a bunch of them).  Here's the one I chose:

It transpired in the conversation that I had not brought sewing supplies with me on the trip, just a scissors for my daily collages.  I figured there wouldn't be much time for stitching, but Margaret thought it was a really bad idea to be without one's materials should the occasion arise.  So she stocked my kit with a couple of needles and a pack of assorted threads, and found a long piece of linen cut from the border of some past project.  It's 59 inches wide and somewhere between 5 1/2 and 3 1/2 inches tall, kind of like a small version of the Bayeux tapestry.

I asked her if she also wanted to give me an assignment for the project, and she said "travel."

Sure enough, there was a little time to sew during the evening presentations every night on the cruise, and here we were on a ship, so I began by stitching an ocean full of water.  Not much else got done on that vacation, but in the months since I have expanded my "Bayeux tapestry" to include several of the lasting images from our travels over the years.

Iguazu Falls

Greenland (usually we see its steep black mountains from an airplane, but once we got there at ground level and visited Viking churches and an old seamen's cemetery)

Rome, with St. Peter's and the seven hills

cargo ship

World Cup soccer fans with German-flag face paint

olive trees in Tuscany

There's still room for more stitching but I'm finding it challenging to come up with images that I can easily execute.  For instance, how can you embroider the Grand Canyon or the Metropolitan Museum?  I'm sure more ideas will come, so I'm keeping the piece right there by my TV place.  (Still have three hours of The Roosevelts on tape that we have to get through!)

And what a great format the long and skinny piece of linen has been.  It's so much better for random thoughts or long stories than a squattier rectangle would be, and it's so much more casual and intimate, with its raveling edges and uneven cutting.  Thanks again, Margaret, for a great visit and a great project!