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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Archive for the ‘The Moon’ Category

From Painting to Quilting, and Black

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

Back home in the bosom of my family for the Passover seder, I took the opportunity to see an art quilt exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art that’s been getting a lot of great press, which it richly deserves. It’s comprised of new work by Stephen Towns, trained as a painter, self-taught to quilt — for this body of work in particular. BTW, you can see it in the cloth if you get to the BMA before Sept. 2.

The piece above and below, titled “Birth of a Nation,” is the star of the show. A black mammy, tenderly suckling a white baby against the backdrop of an American flag of 1777, puts slavery and white supremacy in tension with each other. A coffee and tea-dyed dress, patched with toile prints and barely clearing the bed of dirt below the quilt evokes the humble status of the Madonna-like figure.

Surrounding this installation are seven smaller story quilts; whether portrait or landscape orientation, each is about a yard along its longest edges. These works depict key moments in the life of Nat Turner’s life and the rebellion he led against slavery in 1831. My favorite one featured another mother and child: Under the cover of night, when plantation work was done, Nat Turner’s mother teaches her young son to read, or schools him in gospel. The composition proves Mr. Towns’ incomparable talent as a portrait painter…just as the materials and techniques give away his seat-of-the-pants sewing and quilting skills. Fabrics are from an old stash (perhaps his mother’s?): those of us sewing and quilting in the ’60s, and ’70s will recognize the calicos, ginghams, and synthetics, and that proud feeling when you think to add translucent tulle and sparkly beads to skies, buttons to clothing.

Titled, “Special Child,” this piece is the first in the cycle, which all show what how the facts known about Nat Turner coalesced into myth and icon: slave, keenly intelligent child, preacher man, leader of an effective slave rebellion. It’s refreshing to have the story, told so often by whites such as William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner), reclaimed by an African-American living and working in the Black Lives Matter era.

Stephen Towns assesses his “framed” portraits of Nat Turner and his wife, Cherry Turner, which accompany the exhibit.

Stars, moons, or suns (plus the occasional butterfly) play a role in each work of art, connecting people with the universe, and with the spirit as creator. Celestial bodies stand in as haloes, symbolizing sainthood or martyrdom. And is the red scroll below an ecclesiastical stole, or a symbol of the bloodshed already committed and also up ahead?

In each work of another series of paintings, the halo is a blue moon behind an enslaved rebel leader who has been caught. A hangman’s noose and a fist figure prominently. Click here to read what happened with these intensely powerful, provocative portraits.

On a lighter note, quilters viewing this blog post may want to look back at the story quilts and note the minimal free-motion quilting in thread that matches the fabrics flattens the backgrounds, so they recede. In contrast, large stitches that most seasoned quilters would decry as “toe-hookers” become strong design lines in Towns’s narratives. Not only do they define important features, they add naivete, the mark of the hand.

As an art-lover, I have so much respect for Towns’s cohesive works within series, for his conceptual underpinnings and iconography–sun, moon, stars, haloes, butterflies, and the gold-leaf that recalls the elaborate frames on medieval religious art (as in the “framing” on Nat and Cherry Turner’s likenesses). The piece below is from yet another series. Each work depicts a child who experienced slavery, and each work bears a title from the Lord’s Prayer.

Riveting. Heart-rending.

And yet one detail resonates most for me as a quilter. Can you guess what that is?

 

Topsy-Turvy

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Do you remember topsy-turvy dolls? A bit like a Pushmepullyou from the story of Dr. Dolittle.

Do little, however, is rarely my modus operandi…quite the opposite, I tend to go overboard. So when–a long time ago, I took a class from one of the top dollmakers in the world, Elinor Peace Bailey, I didn’t make a doll from one of her kits. I didn’t make a doll…I made a topsy turvy doll. Here’s the basic body:

Here’s the Sun’s sun-dress, made today from a pillowcase that my grandmother had, and the Moon’s nightshirt:

   

Takes me back to my girlhood. I never played with dolls, but I made dolls and made costumes for them.

Always nice to have a reason to finish a project. This topsy turvy doll is headed–pun intended–to a baby who is the sun, moon, and stars to her family. Only hope the dog doesn’t chew it up before she can enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well Past Midnight

Monday, February 26th, 2018

A class experiment at a Quilt Surface Design Symposium back in 2006: Cynthia Corbin assigned us to make and remake what she calls a black fabric sketch–a unique patchwork block from a sketch of lines. As happens in these intensive classes, I joined my classmates staying up quite late one night, making up a patchwork block in many different color and pattern iterations. Finally, I mutinied, and created the patchwork all in black fabric, and opted to show the side where the seam allowances are exposed. Soon after, I “sketched” on the piece, using tan thread to free-motion-stitch a figure. Years later, I embellished the “drawing” with embroidery.

Another sample stuck away in a drawer—a paint-dabbled moon. And when the Studio Art Quilters Association announced a call for entry: From Dusk to Dawn, I decided to combine these UFO’s (unfinished objects) and rise to the challenge. I slapped lots of different fabrics from my overflowing stash up on my design wall, trying for a pleasing, William Morris-style feeling.

I kind of like what I came up with early on, and should have stopped there with a sketchy expression.

But no, I kept auditioning other fabrics for backgrounds, and growing out the figure to complete it. I also tried miniature quilt projects under her hand, suggesting that she, too, was a quilter.

I found, however, that the quilting projects merely increased the cacophony of prints and negated the pensive mood I was after. So I ended up giving the figure a book instead. This allowed me to connect personally with the figure and the quilt, since I often stay up all hours of the night reading. I completed the piece with that pleasantly addictive, obsessive behavior in mind.

 

I call it, “Well Past Midnight.” Ahhh, to have and to hold a book so good you cannot put it down. Along with the supreme luxury of not needing to put it down. All is quiet. You succumb to the thrall of great literature, a world of enchantment, and a fantastical bower  grows around you long into the wee hours…

Far better, this poem expresses the mood and the moment: 

Just learned my art quilt did not make the cut for the SAQA exhibit From Dusk to Dawn. I never thought it would. It’s over-labored, tries to be too pretty and figurative, at a moment when the art world and the art quilt world savors abstract expression. I totally get it, because  I know that small exhibits must be cohesive, creating a flow around the room.

For me, a call for entry, particularly from SAQA, is often the kick in the behind I need to produce work, to hone my design skills and my technical skills, too. I am glad to have made this piece, to share it with any readers of my blog, and to put it away, not look at it for a while.  I do look forward to seeing the pieces that have been accepted into this show should it come to my part of the country. Bet you will, too.

Guilty Pleasures, Quilty Art: Part I

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Hold onto your soft, cushiony seats, folks. Over the next  month, Philly is a contemporary quilt-lover’s paradise, but if you cannot get here, I’ll guide your armchair-travels via this blog post and the next one.

Here, I’ll share three of my faves from the Fiber Biennale, now showing at the Snyderman Works in Philly. Think fiber is a  field for females? Think again. These pieces are all by men, and each is a legend in his own time.

mcqueen

 

I’ve never seen a John McQueen that wasn’t a shapely vessel. But this sculptor/basketmaker bar none has created a comparatively flat piece from poplar, pine, and birch bark. For me,  I’m reminded of a contemporary applique quilt…just not soft. “After Dark Comes Calling,” 2011, 36″ x 42″

 

 

 

Warren Selig, professor in the Fibers/Mixed Media program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia–who calls Rockland, Maine home– insists on redefining textiles.  Just as quilting stitches produce a play of light and shadow, so do the stainless, intersecting rods with clear acrylic spheres that extend 5″ from the wall. Titled “Shadow Field/Crystal Path,” it extends to 83″. Gallery co-owner Ruth Snyderman stands alongside for a sense of scale.

selig w Ruth

selig detail

Finally, no show, no collection of top-tier quilted art could be without a piece from Michael James. Professor in Textiles at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, James gives a nod to the traditions of cloth, piecing, and quilting stitches. Yet he soars by using digital textile printing to play with pattern in ways that reference dreams and memories. What a calm feeling washes over me as I study “Lands End: Quiet Hour,” 2014, approx. 51″ x 54″. Full view and detail:

MJames1

                  MJames-detail

 

Neither my photos, nor the greatest, most professional photography can come close to seeing these pieces “in the cloth”…er, or steel, or bark. Go to snyderman-works.com for more info. I must caution you, seeing only makes you want to touch, and you can’t touch–unless you buy. And these masterworks will cost a pretty penny. And why not? For all their humble materials, these pieces, and dozens of others in this extraordinary show that is always two years in the planning, represent the best contemporary art. The fact that it’s categorized as fiber art doesn’t make it less worthy of our esteem as any of the fine arts. In fact, for me, it holds a much greater interest. This show will challenge you to question what is fiber? What is art? And leads to that perennial discussion (and my next blog post) of what is a quilt? Man, oh man, oh man, we’re having fun in Philly.

 

 

 

 

 

Moony Over Quilting

Friday, May 4th, 2012

More luminous than any night so far this year:  this Saturday, May 5. Yup, we can all party heartier and longer for Cinco de Mayo, and after the Kentucky Derby.  Why? Cuz NASA predicts a Super-Moon: as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons of 2012.

Like everyone else, but especially women, artists, poets and songwriters, I get moon-struck, moony-eyed, over-the-moon-thrilled with a big, beautiful moon. It always makes me wax eloquent!

And I’d like to say that was enough to inspire me to make the quilt shown on the right. Alas, sheer desire just ain’t enough for this busy broad.  I had two impetuses (impeti??)—Take Two: I had two compelling reasons to make “Blue Moon” (which BTW means the second full moon in a month).   One: The Blue Moon auction to benefit one of my favorite causes: my local Planned Parenthood. And two, a place to complete work done in a workshop— a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to learn from the amazing Roberta Horton.  Roberta calls the class Japanese Patchwork, and it involves Yukata cloth, but for my mooney, er, money, it’s visionary—and fun— in terms of working with any large-scale print.

To extend and complement the patchwork, I made a great big circular applique. Starting with a mottled gray fabric, I sponged and stamped white and slate fabric paint to suggest craters and valleys. I cut out a perfect circle from thermal template plastic, and cut the painted fabric 1/4″ larger all around, then pressed the edges under with my iron. Almost as rare as a blue moon: me doing needle-turn applique!

My patchwork sections asymmetrically bookending the moon, I was ready for my favorite phase, other than lunar:  free motion quilting. Around the moon: song titles and lyrics referring to the moon. Elsewhere, phrases of a word-play  lunatic:

It was worth the frustrating struggles that glitzy thread often poses!

Another frustration was that auction: The auctioneer didn’t know enough to describe it in lustrous terms and started the bidding at an embarrassingly low figure. Attendees were left in the dark as to the amount of work, detail, and  customized connection to the cause.  My husband was willing to up the bidding and even win the piece, but that seemed looney or smacking of bad-sportsmanship. The following year, this quilt did only slightly better:

Ah well. Winsome, lose some. In quilting, I am an amateur—a lover of quilting who doesn’t sell her work. Charity auctions—especially annual ones—have me working in a series, trying out new ideas, and open up a way of assessing the value of my art. I say, if you don’t have what it takes (read, millions) to be a philanthropist, at least you can contribute a quilt!

 

 

 

 

That’s my seque into my current project: Just started my quilt entry for the Alliance of American Quilts 2012 contest. This year’s rules require a house shape…and my piece just might have a moon in the window! It’s a great cause, and a good way for those who lack confidence in the value of their art to be a star, show their work to very appreciative, supportive viewers, collect “votes” of confidence , and get a sense of value in what you do, and a sense of achievement, too.  The deadline is June 1, so we all better hurry! When the next full moon in June occurs (the 4th), it’ll be too late.

Oh, I forgot to mention–there are incredible prizes for the contest winner. I’m gonna shoot for the moon. How about you?