Saturday, August 15, 2020

Form, Not Function -- Best in Show

Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie is a show that has been at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany IN since 2004.  It has bounced around the calendar several times for various reasons, including bad weather (it used to be in the winter) and coordination with Quilt National (so people could catch both shows on a single road trip) and this year, coronavirus.  But it opened today, despite everything, and the museum is ready for masked visitors every day except Sunday.  The show will be up through October 31, a longer run than usual, so maybe you'll be able to see it in person.

Best in Show went to Marty Ornish for her 3-D installation "She gazed at the carousel through rose-colored glasses."

Yes, it's made of yo-yos, a slinky one-sleeve halter-top dress cascading into a train that extends up the wall.

Ornish's artist statement says she works in "salvaged textiles and found items" and the yo-yos all appear to be made from Depression-era prints.  I wish I knew more about the provenance -- did she find the yo-yos in somebody else's discarded stash, or make them herself?  Are the fabrics authentic Depression-era or reproductions?  In any case, the result is stunning, and the subdued pastel palette is calm and soothing from afar and endlessly interesting up close.

As I drove home from the museum it occurred to me to wonder whether this technically qualifies as a quilt under the FNF definition: layers held together by stitching.  I guess technically it does, because yo-yos have a front layer and a back layer, and though the layers aren't exactly stitched "together" (the back of a yo-yo is entirely free of thread), you can argue that each yo-yo is "held together" with its buddies via stitching.  (I have served as a juror in FNF several times, and it's this kind of nit-picking that you fall into ex officio.)  Anyhow, the yo-yo quilt is a time-honored niche, so I would give it a pass even though it's not the standard "quilt" format.

And I'm so glad this year's jurors did, because this is a wonderful tour de force and so much fun to look at.  When I was at the museum on Wednesday to choose the prizewinner for the River City Fiber Artists award, we agreed that this piece should be a no-brainer for the Viewer's Choice.  I still think so!


  1. and
    I am so glad you told us about this. Not something I would come across in my regular reading.......

  2. Oh wow, that is an amazing dress. It is an interesting discussion about whether that could be called a quilt. It reminds me that I have yo-yos I need to stitch together still.

  3. Kathleen. A friend shared your blog with me about the Carnegie exhibition. Thank you for your kind words about my installation piece.
    I will endeavor to answer some of the questions raised in your blog.

    These two circa WW2 quilts were made by three women. The youngest, Joan Crone, is now 86, and she sewed these yo-yo’s “to help pass the time during the war” and created the quilt with her mother and grandmother. Her own grandchildren didn’t want these quilts, and after she saw my other work at my solo show at Visions’s Art Museum, she gifted the yo-yo quilts to me with the explicit wish that I would incorporate them into my art, and she is thrilled with the response.

    Many of the yo-yo’s had to be repaired, and I deconstructed one of the quilts to create the dress.

    Regarding the issue you raised as to whether or not the yo-yo quilt that serves as the foundation for this piece meets the strict definition of a “quilt,” while, as you know, a traditional quilt has three layers stitched together, with the advent of art quilts many textile museums now accept two layers of a textile held together by stitching as qualifying as a quilt.

    For readers who may be unfamiliar with what a yo-yo is (known as a "Suffolk puff" in the UK), they are constructed by tightly gathering a running stitch sewn along the folded edge of a small round cloth, then flattened into a circle, with each one held together by stitching. Multiple yo-yos are then sewn together by butting the edges and then stitching them together at numerous points along the flattened edge to create what you see in this gown and quilt.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog entries.