Monday, November 1, 2010

Quilts=Arts=Quilts First Take

First prize, Stacked Mummy Bags 2010, Pat Pauly
I visited the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center for the Quilts=Arts=Quilts exhibit this past weekend. The show runs until January 9, 2011 and I really hope that I get to go back again. Why? There are 88 quilts in the show and it is a bit overwhelming to take it all in during one visit. Each and every quilts deserves attention.

I found the exhibit intriguing on a number of levels. As a metaphor, an onion comes to mind - except for the tears! The more you walk through the exhibit, the more you see in terms of levels of analysis and experience - a bit like an onion that comes apart in layers revealing more and more aspects of its being down to a core.

If I had to use one phrase to describe the art quilts in this show, it would be technical mastery. The stitching in each piece was impeccable. At times, in fact, I felt overwhelmed by the perfection. I had to keep stepping back and getting beyond technique to take in the compositions displayed. It was at this level that I could appreciate the diversity of the works. There were abstracts, landscapes and portraits. I would look across a room and notice the use of contrast to draw the eye - but then be drawn over to a piece that didn't use contrast at all. What fun! Similarly, there were many very linear quilts, but just when I would think this predominated the show, I would begin to notice all the beautiful curvi-linear pieces. There was indeed diversity of fiber - silk, cotton, wool, velvet, canvas, and linen to name a few. Many works used hand-dyed fabric but when I searched, I could find some that were all commercial cottons. There were some digital prints and quite a bit of hand painting. Viewing the exhibit from another perspective, there were pieces representing artists from around the world.

Foliage in Transition, Carol Taylor
All of this diversity left me intrigued about the jurors themselves. I didn't envy their task. I found myself wondering at times exactly what went on in their minds - in a good way, of course - as they made their selections. They had managed to represent many different facets of art quilts - was that intentional? There was such perfection in the stitchery that I began to wonder what didn't get in. Were there some rejections that were equally intriguing but perhaps less rigorous in rendition and therefore rejected? I am not even sure if that makes sense but it was fun to ponder it. I almost wish that there had been a folder of the rejects to glimpse at so I could have grasped a better understanding of why these particular quilts.

Any show that makes you think this much has to be good. Did I have favorites? Of course. I was delighted that a member of our local quilt guild, Pat Pauly, whom I had just taken a class from, won first prize for her quilt, Stacked Mummy Bags, 2010. There was something about Anthills, Study in Gold by Sue Dennis that I really liked - probably because it reminded me of a trip to South Africa where I saw unbelieveably big anthills. I found it impossible not to be drawn to the huge figures in Nancy Erickson's piece, In the Beginning, which greeted you when you entered the exhibit. I loved Carol Taylor's Foliage in Transition as it seemed to honor the traditional roots of quilting but express repetition in a wonderful display of colors. I could go on......

Anthills, Study in Gold - Sue Dennis
I guess the final layer for me as I peeled back my 'onion' of experience of the show was perhaps what touched my core, or heart. Every piece in the exhibit was, as I said earlier, awesome in a technical sense. My favorites, I think, spoke to me in a way that allowed me to go beyond awe at technique and enjoy their subject matter.  Finally, though, there were a few that touched me at a deeper level, in my heart. From the moment I walked in the show, I wished I could meet the men portrayed in Flight Crew by Kathleen Mc Cabe as I was drawn to them. Randall Cook's Tangled Timbre captured my imagination and sent me off pondering the story of those limbs. And, then over in a corner, was Hallowed Ground by Cathy Stechschulte and Paula Swett of Lewisburg, PA. There was no statement with the piece that I could find but the geographic location of the artists brought me to an interpretation of the piece that it honored the memory of those that died on 9/11/01. That touched my heart in yet another deep and profound way.

So, there you have it, my personal take on the show. If you live nearby, I hope you will take the time to visit Quilts=Arts=Quilts. I am sure you will find plenty to admire and to like. If you are unable to visit, then I hope you have the good fortune to visit another art quilt show soon and that it takes you on a similar journey of appreciation and challenge.
Tangled Timbre, Randall Cook

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