Saturday, September 24, 2011

Masters Art Quilts

The good news is that my review copy of Masters: Art Quilts Vol. 2 has arrived, and it is certainly a beautiful book.  Martha Sielman was the "curator" who chose the 40 artists (actually 41; two of them work as a team) featured in the book.  Thanks to Lark Press, the publisher, I was able to give away a copy a couple of weeks ago to Julie Mackinder, one of the readers who visited my blog.

This is truly a beautiful book.  For each of the 40 artists, there's a short essay, and eight to ten quilts, printed large enough to really get a good look.  For some of the artists, the quilts are relatively recent work; for others, the images go back 20 or more years.  So paging through gives you a cornucopia of different styles, different times, different approaches to quiltmaking.  I was happy to see several images of quilts that I had admired years ago and not seen for a long time, and some that I saw quite recently. 

You could find a lot to drool over and think about in these pages, and I did.

Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, ¡Guerra! 1993, 58 x 97"

But I admit to some bemusement as to the concept behind the book, both how the artists were chosen and how the quilts were chosen.  The best I can articulate is that the objective was to present variety, in every sense of the word. 

To begin with, there didn't seem to be a rationale for which artists were chosen for the book.  Half are from the US, half from elsewhere.  Some achieved their stature decades ago, some are relative newcomers on the quilt scene.  Some are among the usual suspects in art quilt circles (multiple times in Quilt National, etc.) and some have evidently been achieving fame in venues that I have never heard of.  Some are still active in quiltmaking, exhibiting and teaching; others who used to be prominent on my radar screen have dropped off. 

I counted 25 of the 40 artists who make representational images, if not on every quilt, at least on some of those pictured -- which I found remarkable, given that quilts are so well-suited to abstraction.  While most of the works were in the standard quilt format -- flat, pieced, layered, quilted -- many featured hand stitching, 3-D installation, unconventional materials and other departures from the norm.  I was pleased to see very little embellishment, in my opinion the trend most overdue to become passe, and don't believe I found a single bead (although there were sequins).

Most of the work in the book is artistically excellent, but one or two of the artists struck me as embarrassingly low-end.  With all the fine work abounding in the field, this is hard to understand; perhaps Martha was under pressure to include more countries, more diversity, more people whom the US audience has not heard of.

Dorothy Caldwell, A Lake/A Bowl, 2002,
19 x 59"

Nor could I see a rationale for which quilts were chosen for the book.  For instance, it might have been interesting to ask the chosen artists to send in images for a "career retrospective," showing how their work has changed and developed over time.  Or to ask them to send their current work. Or to send their greatest hits from the past.  Or to send examples of different styles and techniques they have worked in over their careers.  Indeed, you could find an artist in the book to illustrate each of these possible approaches.

Perhaps I'm spoiled.  There are just too many opportunities to browse through hundreds of images right here at my own computer, idly noting that some are good art and some aren't.  If I'm going to buy a book, I want to get something more out of it.  Sielman's introductory remarks on each artist are perceptive and well-written, but short, and do little to put the person into a larger context in the art quilt world.

Bottom line, I wasn't sure what the readers are supposed to learn from the book, other than to enjoy the nice pictures.  But you sure can do that.


  1. Lisa Quintana has also reviewed the book on one of her blogs. She asked Martha Sielman about the content and organization and quotes Martha's reply in this post:

  2. Yes, Lisa's review is excellent - she clearly did her homework before publishing her educated and thoughtful response to the book.