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Archive for the ‘Exhibitions’ Category

Guilty Pleasures, Quilty Art: Part II

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014



Hurray! Art Quilt Elements (AQE) 2014 opened this weekend at the Wayne Center for the Arts, just west of Philadelphia. This biennial juried show of 43 works–chosen from hundreds of entries–commands the well-deserved respect of the quilt world, and SHOULD command the respect of the comtemporary art world. Let me share my snaps, which in no way represent the grandeur, the texture, the tactile delight. Note that I’ve linked each artist’s name with her website–go and learn more if you have the time. Above, my picture of the Best in Show, Zeitgeist (fondly nicknamed Grumpy Cat), by Kristin LaFlamme. I think it’s got a real pop art meets 70s vibe meets anime, with a bit of Missoni stuck in. About 7 feet high, so it commands the space. Click on Kristin’s name above, and check out the personal musings, including her response to winning Best in Show, plus her thoughts on the Snyderman Works show which I reviewed in my last blog post.

On to other highlights of the show. There are MANY, and I don’t want to test your patience, and will also limit this show ‘n tell to those works of artists  who were present and granted me permission to share. Again, let me urge you to click on the link of anyone whose work resonates with you, and get to know these amazing and innovative talents a little better.


Marianne Burr explains her lavish use of hand-stitching and layering, as evidenced so richly in “Eleven 3 Thirteen,” above.

Below, Cynthia L. Vogt, “Otaru Winter” is elegance incarnate, with an Asian accent. Silk log cabin blocks set off the lines that represent Japanese rooftops peeking through in the snow.



















Quite possibly the largest piece in the show: Elizabeth Brandt‘s Random Thoughts,” 130″ x 81″. Part of her Karma series, and for me, the karma is abstract expressionist art that rivals any work at MOMA. BTW, her improvisational process is followed by lots of free motion stitching —  on her regular sewing machine. Did I mention the dimensions–130″ x 81″? Rolled into the harp of a regular machine?!?

I took a day off to bask in the community of my creative betters, having signed up for a Studio Art Quilts Association (SAQA) symposium. Fascinating to see how quilt artists work fiber into their lives, peering by way of PowerPoint into a few studios to understand how they live and work. It was such a nurturing environment of artists who share the results of their struggles, experiments, and relentless journeys from perceived failure to success. I am absolutely in awe of those who make it their business to make art.

Joy, joy, lucky me, I got to sit at a table of uncommon women, all whose work has been celebrated in major shows:

  • Dianne Koppisch Hricko, the mistress of transparency
  • Amy Orr , the high priestess of used credit cards and other post-consumer ephemera (see my post about FiberPhiladelphia 2012–which Amy directed, and specifically my visual rave of her House of Cards)
  • Katherine Knauer, whose art quilt, “Fracked,” went deep to make a powerful environmental statement
  • And the tres charmante Benedicte Caneuill — her piece in the show, “Jungle Fever,” had me begging her to teach a workshop where I, too might drag combs, rubber styluses, and trowels over wet painted cloth, then cut it up, trade with other students, and compose away. She is waaayyy too humble.




AQE and SAQA events fill my head with inspiration and aspiration. Why am I blogging….and cooking and cleaning and catering to loved ones and doing volunteer work and…..when I could be playing with cloth? How do you set aside the mainstays of living for art as a pastime, and find the time to create? How do you lose the guilt to quilt?

And who am I to kvetch, when I get to see such glorious creations up close and personal, and meet the unique talents behind them?!

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.



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:




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.






Hair Comes A New Concept

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Must confess, the Inside/Outside juried exhibit at the Crane, a big part of Fiber Philadelphia, was sooo conceptual, so avant garde it left me feeling left behind…Here are two pieces, with their labels that are hairy–with respect to being made of human fibers AND to being risky… the hair–er, heir apparent of high fiber art in 2012:

I will bring you more high art, jaw-dropping, serious stuff…do comment on the significance as you see it!  Keep visiting… I’ll also be sharing some much more accessible fiber art: to simply make you laugh!

Storytellers at Art Quilt Elements 2012

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Awed, Quivering, and Elevated, I took in the AQE show at its opening this evening.  Art Quilt Elements (formerly Art Quilts at the Sedgwick) is a biennial, juried show taking place at the Wayne Art Center, on Philly’s Main Line through May 13. And let me tell you, it is one of the crown jewels of not only Fiber Philadelphia 2012, but of the international fine art scene. Because after all, quilts of this caliber are just that: fine art.

And as with all great art, the story or narrative embedded in the work is a big part of what makes it so amazing. Almost every piece spoke to me, but there were three artists present who also spoke to me, graciously granting me permission to photograph them with their work and share it on my blog.

The most traditional of these art quilts was a most riotous, joyous riff on the American flag. In Colors Unfurled, aka If Betsy Ross Had My Stash, Maria Shell  celebrates diversity. “Each stripe tells a story, and each star represents a state,” she explains.

Another quilter gave a nod to tradition: whole cloth quilts, simple black and white contrast, the expected squarish format. But oh, does she ever throw in a curve. In Same But Not, Paula Kovarik is inspired by “yin and yang,  one line pathways, right brain, and left brain.” That one line pathway phrase is key: while Paula marked the semi-circles on white and black Kona cotton, the rest is pure, freehand doodling–with one continuous line of black thread on white, and one continuous line of white thread on black. The winding pathway, defined by the absence of quilting, certainly takes this viewer on a miraculous journey!








Many years ago, I was privileged to show Susan Else’s Captured on Film, a masterful composition full of set-in seams and minute pieced sashing in the Rodale’s Successful Quilting Library volume, Innovative Piecing. I only wish I had been able to show it full page. Susan looks back on that as the time when, ho hum, she was still making flat quilts. Baby, get a look at her work now:

This piece (which shared the top juror’s award with Red Stones #2, the sheer Dianne Firth piece  you can glimpse in the background on the right) shows Susan’s continued mastery of technique–but taken now to exquisite heights, or rather, dimensions. Forever Yours illustrates such contradictory ideas as “love and death, tenderness and creepiness”…and also flat quilts vs. machine quilted fabric collage sewn over modified armature!

Huzzahs to Art Quilt Elements, for not imposing any sort of definition of what an art quilt is or requirements for the art quilt entries.

Kudos to the jurors, who whittled 800 or so entries down to 50 or so powerhouses of technique and composition, each with a compelling narrative.

And congrats to YOU, if you get the chance to see these extraordinary storytelling art quilts in the cloth. If not, consider ordering the catalog–a beautifully done chronicle of this, the 10th anniversary show, from www.wayneart.org. There, you’ll also get to see the work of the talented and accomplished committee members behind AQE, and also exemplary pieces of the fiber artists who have been jurors for this and the past AQE shows.




Aprons to Reflect Who You Are

Friday, March 30th, 2012

When I was growing up, aprons had a really bad rep.  They were the pitiful junior high school Home Ec project meant to be your maiden voyage into Sewing-Machine Land. I was fortunate to have a mother who sewed, and who had taught me the ropes back when I was in fourth grade.  I already knew how to insert zippers, make buttonholes, fit sleeves into armholes.  I had skirts, dresses, and jumpers to sew. I had no need for aprons.

From college on, I was a feminist set on making my mark, if not saving the world. Aprons symbolized “the little woman”–submission, domesticity, a denial of your strengths and talents.

In the ’90s, I certainly identified with Cynthia Myerberg’s tongue-in-cheek Kitschen Help series. She used the apron shape with all its demeaning meaning. And photo-transfers from 1950s advertisements that brainwashed women into believing that domestic life could be so joyful, as long as you had the right appliances.  Plus chains as the occasional neck strap. Cynthia’s aprons, which I originally saw at the juried exhibition Art Quilts At the Sedgewick (AQATS–now Art Quilt Elements–more on that show soon!), were the delicious attire of satire. [Check out more about the advent of art quilts in America in my book: American Quiltmaking: 1970-2000, available elsewhere on this site.]

But just when you thought we’d all string aprons up by their, well, apron strings, flash forward to the new milennium.  Vintage aprons suddenly have panache.  They’re collected–I couldn’t resist buying a few sweet ones at flea markets myself! They’re oohed and aahed over at the quilt guild show ‘n tell, worn when hosting coffee klutches with your quilting friends, hung as charming valances in retro kitchens.  Young women in Modern Quilt Guilds make them up in contemporary fabrics and wear them everywhere, layered like tunics or back-wrap dresses over tank tops and skinny pants. Very cute–if you’re young.

Well, ladies, tonight I saw the humble apron rise on up in respectability–way past cute.  Launching the Fiber Philadelphia 2012 weekend events was my very own synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Shalom. There, we were treated to a spectacular one-person show, The New Sacred: Ritual Textiles by Rachel Kanter.  Rachel is a young, innovative fiber artist, yet she seems incredibly secure in her traditional family roles as grand-daughter, daughter, sister, wife, mom of 3 young children. But it’s her Judaism that pervades her life and her art. Once she decided she wanted a tallit–prayer shawl–for herself, she set out to create a uniquely feminine one. On her website RachelKanter.com and in person, Rachel explains that her inspiration is the four cornered robes worn by priests in biblical times. However, in using vintage apron patterns from the 20th century for her designs, she finds “a means of connecting her story as a woman with her story as a Jew.”

My favorite piece in the exhibit was this apron/tallit with stitches outlining the demarkations on patterns for darts, shortening and lengthening the shape. Like all the ritual aprons, it has the knotted fringes common to every tallit, with a knot or twist for each of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

Called God’s Aspect, it’s made of sheer fabric, so that God’s image may be glimpsed in the wearer herself. (Rachel’s preaching to the choir on this one: for me, God is definitely female!)

Other aprons depicted the environs of Jewish female farmers. Huh? Who knew they existed in America today? Nice to see that environmental and ethical concerns color their lives, as they color these pieces. Especially nice that one of the farms is a wind farm!  (See the  pole and blades of the wind mill on the natural linen apron.)

Rachel’s art in this exhibit extended to wimpels and mikvehs, themes of binding together, of renewal, of family and community. I snapped the artist in front of one of her ritual tablecloths (below). She elevates the kitchen table to altar-status by appliques of cherished family objects, imbued with food, feasts, conversation, and memory.

She accomplishes the same thing with the lowly apron, don’t you think? Still, you wouldn’t wear these out in public, let alone to a worship service. Progressive Judaism relegates “Sunday Best” –or in our case, Sabbath Best–for the High Holidays.  Rachel herself admits that she doesn’t wear these tallit-aprons, at home or in synagogue. She’s successful as an artist, and her work is widely exhibited. Wouldn’t do to get them stained. So these aprons will remain as ritual objects…the new sacred.

Rachel Kanter, in front of her Mikdash Me’At, a ritual tablecloth in the exhibit.