The rek Gallery in Tucker, Georgia, held an opening yesterday evening for a showing of the works of Santos Fernandez. I attended the opening, which seemed popular amongst others in attendance. Although a small gallery, perhaps 40-50 people enjoyed the viewings and perhaps made a purchase during the brief time I was there.
As a TrustedHousesitter visiting the area, I was favorably impressed by some of the work I saw. Vibrations of Picasso seemed present to my uneducated eye, but I loved the color palette present in much of Fernandez's work.
In truth, it's a palette that seems special to this part of the country, one almost carelessly adding large areas of deeply toned blue, turquoise, purple, red, magenta, green, and orange, a little like a full-saturation color wheel with accents of tints and shades. Indeed, the home I am in as I write echoes those colors, boldly displayed so as to add richness and depth to the space, much as Fernandez' strokes relied on the same colors to move visual objects forward and backward on the imaginary plane.
My sense of it is that Georgia celebrates color!
However, there were other artists whose work was on display yesterday evening. Imagine my surprise when I realized one of them is a quilter! For several reasons, it was exciting to see the work of Jennifer Hart of Lexington, Kentucky.
I was personally uncomfortable with the subject matter of Jennifer's work. Everything I saw was female in subject and virtually pornographic in approach. As an older woman, I am often dismayed to see the private parts of women used as subject matter for artworks, partly because doing so seems rather sensational, guaranteed to attract attention cheaply, and partly because I would like to think that some things are, and should remain, personal and special.
Nevertheless, Hart's work was meticulously executed and fully acceptable, to my mind, as art. Her skill in crafts(wo)manship was high. Every stitch counted, and if there was an imperfection, my trained eye could not detect it.
I especially appreciated learning about Hart's techniques. She works with colored pencils in most of her pieces, and she incorporates found objects like black lace in the most effective way.
Hart's pieces are not large, seemingly no more than about 30" on the longest side, and many works were smaller than that. Because they are small and densely quilted, and because she turns the outermost edges in to leave a clean finish without a frame or telltale quilt binding, the pieces hang beautifully flat, so much so that at first glance, I did not realize they were quilts.
Hart, I'm sure, and rightly, too, will argue that although craft is important, the content of her art takes priority. At least, that's what I discovered when I came across an article written by Katie Burkholder and published in February 2022 in The Georgia Voice. In the interview, Hart described a difficult and repressive childhood overcome by sheer force of will and determination. She is to be commended for her courage as well as her eye for meaningful content and intentional self-expression.
My takeaway from last night's opening, in addition to the enjoyment of imagery, color, and form present in the work of Santos Fernandez, was an enhanced understanding of the way in which art quilts hanging amongst other media fit into the picture beautifully. One has to look closely to appreciate that Hart's quilts are quilts, and they easily cross the barrier from the world of handicrafts into the world of truly fine art.
My compliments to the artist, Jennifer Hart!
Oh--and if you want to see Hart's (and other artists') work up close and personal, better hurry! The gallery is about to go close its doors and go digital . . .
Thinking again about Alison Sigethy's gorgeous Sea Cores exhibited in her gallery in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, let's talk about how best to capture such kinetic effects in patchwork quilting and why it is important to do so.
The term "kinetic" refers to motion and the force and energy required to create it. The quilter's challenge is to incorporate a sense of motion when the materials we normally use present few opportunities to do that. However, as we see ourselves passing a mirror or any other reflective surface, we understand firsthand the phenomenon of motion.
Psychology Today reports that it is important for us as human beings to see our own physical reflections. The report gives four solid reasons for this phenomenon as it urges us to take time to reflect upon ourselves:
Without detailing each of these four results of human interactivity, physical reflection gives patchwork quilt designers and makers a chance to incorporate movement into what would otherwise be a stable surface. Flashing lights, the movement of water or other substances, motion due to air currents: most of these and other such phenomena are not available to quilters due to technical difficulties.
However, a single mirror, such as the one in the center of Bubbles III (encircled with two recycled glass rings), will catch and hold a passer-by's attention for several seconds. Possibly uncertain of the movement they saw while passing, viewers pause and focus on the quilt's center, seeking and finding their own reflection. Given enough time without disturbance, important glimpses of their faces in the quilt's center reward the viewers every time. Bubbles III is one of my most popular pieces.
Generally speaking, any light-reflective surface will attract attention, even if it does not provide a specific image. There are many such reflective elements we can add to patchwork quilts:
These items can take many forms. Mirrors, for example, are available in various sizes and shapes, including circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles, and they can be sourced in a variety of sizes, even cut and shaped to our specifications. Sequins, beads, and crystals share light refraction from segmented surfaces. Basic light reflection without imagery occurs on any shiny metallic surface like that provided by metallic threads and paints, as well as many found objects.
For my art piece, The Future is Now, a commissioned work produced for the Rockefeller Center offices in Kenya, I wanted to depict a stream of non-recyclable materials falling from the sky into the city of Nairobi. I used silver-colored silk and synthetic fabrics to define the landmark building towers of the downtown area. Then I embellished the quilt with recycled glass rings, sequins, glass and metal beads, a metallic mock-foil fabric, and even computer components!
So, be creative in your use of reflective embellishments as you turn any patchwork quilt into a work of art. Seek unusual reflective objects that might be applied to a quilt and use them with careful thought to maximize the reflective effects. From Swarovski crystals to sea glass, from mirrors to metallic cords, from aluminum pop-top tabs to stainless steel kitchen implements, and from holographic ribbons to holiday foil wrappings, the list of reflective surface materials is long.
Keep purpose and safety uppermost in your mind, but experiment joyfully and thoroughly.
After all, it's YOUR quilt!
Trip to the Torpedo Factory
I visited the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, last week. Traveling solo, I got to see everything I wanted to see, and because it was a Friday, traffic in-house was light.
Clearly, most of the artists do not spend all their time in their galleries/shops, which tells me they are still obliged to be making/selling art elsewhere. Some need equipment they cannot store in the TFAA. For example, hand-weaver Heasoon Rhee reported a need to work on a second, much larger, heavier, and noisier jacquard loom at home. Other TFAA artists go out to shop for supplies, visit corporate clients, or need a day off. Nevertheless, there were enough actively working artists present to make my visit there well worthwhile.
Photos are not generally, for obvious reasons, permitted within the Torpedo Factory. Instead of photos, I share with you here the names and links of the artists whose work impressed me most, along with a brief comment about why I liked what they are doing:
There’s an art jeweler in my family, so I’m accustomed to seeing and appreciating beautiful workmanship with carefully selected gemstones, but I found the addition of finely-worked cloisonné added much to the pieces produced by Holly Hague. There’s always a risk of looking overdone, that is, too much cloisonné for the gemstone, but Holly’s jewelry, I thought, balanced the stones and the art of enameling well. What do you think? (Comments welcome below.)
Along similar lines was the work of weaver/glassworker Ruth Gowell. I found Ruth’s work stunning and reminiscent of a time when I hoped to work with the Kitengela Glass Factory many years ago to combine patchwork quilting and glass. The possibilities are, of course, endless, but Ruth’s work is a nearly perfect combination of the two media. It’s often hard to tell, in her Glass & Fiber Wall Art, where fiber leaves off and glass begins. Ruth does quite remarkable work—and her craftsmanship is impeccable!
I was generally disappointed in the fiber arts section of the Torpedo Factory because it was so small! One relatively tiny gallery held the works of multiple fiber artists, each of whom should probably have their own space—economics at work, I suppose.
I was pleased, however, to see the work of artists whose names I know, like Cindy Grisdela and Eileen Doughty (an old friend from SAQA), as well as the kawandi technique expressed by Linda Warschoff. Now, we’re talking MY language! Funny, though—my impression was that at least some work was underpriced; you should get it at these low prices while you can!
Photographer Irina Rosovsky’s interior landscapes impressed me because I know those places intimately from my own Spirit Works. Her images depict foggy landscapes with forms barely recognizable. There’s a consistency to the work on display that revealed the artist’s search through her mind.
As for paintings, there was a wide range of styles and media, as we might expect in such a venue, but one artist whose work really stood out for me was Mina Oka Hanig. Mina is painting patchwork—and it’s gorgeous!
Art quilter and Juried Artist Member of SAQA, Katie Pasquini-Masopust (not part of the Torpedo Factory) does something similar, but her work is very different. Although Katie has a background in painting, she seems to come at the work more from the quilting side, whereas Mina’s work seems to flow from the painterly angle. For me, it’s interesting that both artists find their voices with paint and patches.
Other artists at the Torpedo Factory whose work I want to mention as noteworthy to my way of thinking include:
Lesley Clarke for encaustic as well as other paintings
Sally Veach for paintings
Guido R. Zanni for fluid acrylics (if you like this kind of thing)
Cindy Lowther for tapestry and other hand weavings
Carol Takov for interesting stone mosaics
Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention the kinetic glass art of Alison Sigethy whose work has to be seen to be appreciated. Okay, I know it’s reminiscent of lava lamps, but Alison’s pieces have so much more to say. Kinetic work of any kind draws us in like a magnet, whether it’s good or bad, but these seemingly underwater scenes of delicate glass imagery offer much, much more. The rich colors and delicate structures of glass forms within each Sea Core are mesmerizing. Enjoy her video here, and find others on YouTube:
The photos on these and other Torpedo Factory artists’ websites do not do the work justice. If you are in the D.C. area with a few hours of time on your hands, don’t miss seeing the art up close and personal. If you have space in your home or office and a bit of loose cash to spend, you can easily go home a proud owner of one of these amazing artists’ works.
Special Tip from Dena:
Give your patchwork quilts added painterly and kinetic qualities with these special artists' materials: acrylic fabric paint, glittering crystal beads, and shiny, light-reflective metallic threads.
New video on my YouTube channel:
Rachel Derstine and the many words of wisdom she shared with me yesterday over coffee in her Philadelphia home and studio are much on my mind today. Rachel is not only a highly skilled teacher and a remarkable fine artist, but she is also generous and kind. She easily shares her experiences and what she has learned from them.
We talked about the difficulties of selling patchwork quilts as works of art. Rachel recommended The Art Storefronts Organization and The Academy for Virtual Teaching, as well as Global Quilt Connection. I'm definitely interested and will be investigating these and other sites in coming days and weeks. If you know of any other useful resources for quilters selling art, please leave a comment below.
Find out more about Rachel from her website, https://www.rachelderstinedesigns.com.
Stack to the Back
Some years ago, I was asked by an interior designer to make four quilts for the Nairobi Serena Hotel. The quilts were intended to hang on four cupboard doors in a cocktail lounge, the Axum Bar, that was decorated with an Ethiopian theme.
The room, nearly finished, was full of cultural elements that offered more than enough inspiration, so the design part of the commission was fairly easy. I decided to make the four quilts out of silk dupion fabrics in luscious, rich-looking colors to coordinate with the furnishings. Even that part was easy. The hard part, compounded by working with fabric cut on bias, was making sure that all four quilts were exactly the same size!
The solution was simpler than I expected. I measured, marked and cut four backings, squared and of the same dimensions, upon which each top had to fit! The quilting involved a process known as “quilting out.” Quilting out means easing a little more top onto the backing, forcing the fabrics to fill a predetermined area. I made the four quilts by this method, and was very pleased with the results!
Learn how to stack to the back of your quilts, and discover much more useful information in my ebook, Bind Quilts by Machine.
The popularity of African quilts has increased in recent years. More and more, quilters turn their eyes toward the "Mother Continent" as we seek inspiration from the colors and forms of design of Africa. With more than 50 countries and literally thousands of different ethnic groups, there's something to delight every aesthete. And when it comes to patchwork quilting, Africa does not disappoint!
Visit a local art museum and inquire whether they house an African art collection; you may be pleasantly surprised! Otherwise, good online places to experience the wonderment of African art include The National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum. And don’t forget to explore online African art galleries, whose sites can provide you with contemporary and traditional expressions of African culture.
For quilters, however, the first question that arises is, “What, exactly, is an 'African' quilt?"
Consider the following possible definitions:
This last opens a real “can of worms.” Many fabrics that look like African prints and weaving traditions are actually manufactured in other countries like Holland, China and Indonesia, not to mention India which supplies vast quantities of materials to Africa.
As we can quickly appreciate, the notion of “African quilt” is not an easy one to define. It is made even more complicated by the historical reality that African cultures seldom quilted, and certainly not in any form that resembles the kind of art quilting we see today.
We do not talk about appliqué here, which is a different matter. Appliqué and reverse appliqué have their African basis in Bakuba cloths and Fante Asafo flags, among many other wonderful indigenous African textiles.
Many years ago and early in my career as an art quilter, I asked, “What is an African quilt?” Seeking a clearer understanding of “African” in its stylistic sense, I took a simple design and modified its colors to mimic those I saw in the fabrics around me in Kenya. What do you suppose happened?
The same design expressed in African colors assumed a distinctly African character. That simple experience led me to deduce that the first and most important ingredient in the making of an African quilt is color.
The African color palette derives from two sources. The first is traditional and utilizes earth pigments and natural dyes. This palette is full of ochres, browns, rusts, burgundies, blacks and the whites of raw, untreated cotton cloth and other natural fibers. This is what I call the “natural” African color set.
When synthetic dyes were introduced to Africa a new range of colors appeared. The cloth dyers had not much experience with dyes, so they used each one on its own and at full strength. The result was a set of brilliant, strong reds, rich full blues, emerald greens, and golden yellows, colors never before seen. These form the “dyed” African color set.
When you want to make an African quilt, use fabrics from one or both of these color schemes, but be sure to add black and white.
Forget about pastels and, to a large degree, anything shaded unless it is one of the dyed African colors. You won’t find much sky blue and baby pink in African quilts, will you? With an understanding of African colors under your belt, you might well ask about subject matter.
Certain images are recognized as African – the traditional Maasai with spear and shield, often rendered in silhouette, is one such icon. A round hut with thatched roof is another. A calabash like the one shown below can become a printing motif or the subject of an art quilt. Such images abound and can be sourced from books, photos and sketches.
A quick search of the Internet for “African clipart” produces more sources of inspiration for icons and imagery than I can possibly discuss here. Use caution, however, when downloading or copying what you discover; copyright rules may apply.
Traditional African art supplies inspiration in the form of masks used for ritual and celebratory purposes, as well as household wares like calabashes and pottery. These contain rich examples of African decorative embellishments in the form of engravings, beading and other media applied as trims and ornaments. African jewelry falls into this category of source material, offering surface patterns as well as cast forms to inform you.
Like dyes, embellishments follow two trends in African art. There are those natural materials – wood, leather, feathers, fur, porcupine quills, bone, seeds, and shells – that were commonly used in traditional African decorative arts, for the simple reason that they were just about all that was available in a traditional setting. They make wonderful additions to contemporary African quilts, however.
Natural materials are sometimes eclipsed by man- and machine-made trims and details, like the aluminum beads in the photo above. Metals – brass, copper, tin, pottery and glass are found in a variety of ornaments and beads.
One talented South African quilter, Sally Scott, heavily embellishes some of her work with flattened soft drink bottle caps. These are popular additions to children’s toys in Africa and to the work of native African artists, so Sally simply picked up on a local theme and maximized it in her work. Sally shows her African quilts in the South African National Quilt Festivals.
Styles of quilting construction hardly play a specialized role in an African quilt, with many piecing and appliqué methods incorporated into any given piece. However, traditional African art is seldom geometrically perfect, so we expect African designs to be somewhat irregular in form. Improvisational piecing is a natural for African quilts, deriving circuitously from the quilting of Africans in the New World.
Historic textiles from across the continent are many and varied in technique, color, design and pattern, a rich source of inspiration for contemporary African quilts.
Studies of motifs, like those of adire and adinkra designs, can yield a plethora of images for replication in surface design. Before adding any of these motifs to your own work, however, it might be worthwhile to investigate the significance of any symbols you plan to use. Many represent religious and other cultural ideas and objects; you would not want to get them mixed up and risk offending anyone.
The answer to the question “What makes an African quilt African?” has to do with its connections to the history and traditions of Africa. These include color, form, fabric, print, texture, technique, and embellishments as well as imagery and subject matter. Those quilts which reflect a love of Africa and people and things African can thus be said to be African quilts. If the color and spirit of Africa touch your soul, let that communion be made visible through the medium of textiles, and then let anyone try to tell us it is not an African quilt!
So, how about it? Are you ready to try your hand at making an African quilt?
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© 2016 Dena Dale Crain