Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Material Matters: Quiltmaking in the 21st Century

Tomorrow I'm off to Columbus, Ohio. I've been lucky enough to be included in: Material Matters: Quiltmaking in the 21st Century: the show is up from June 20 to August 31, 2008 and is at the Columbus Museum of Art. The Museum website describes the show thus:
"This exhibition presents works constructed by thirty-nine international contemporary quiltmakers. From the basic description of a quilt (layers of fabric held together by stitches), these artists have pushed technique, concept, and style in new directions. Many of the quilts challenge the traditional concept of a two dimensional pieced object in both their sculptural presentation and use of unconventional materials. On the leading edge of such innovations are the quiltmakers applying surface design techniques to their materials, making their art form personal from its inception."

I would like to clarify and deepen their description: while quilts using sculptural presentations or unconventional materials do challenge traditional concepts, I think the really important changes from tradition are much broader. To me, the most momentous break from tradition is that each contemporary quilt is made as a single piece of art - designed and made one time by one person in the same way that a painting or a drawing might be. Traditional quilts were nearly always made to a particular pattern -though some quilters clearly used much more imagination than others.

Using “unconventional materials” can so easily be a gimmick - quilts made from wood, animals made from bushes, clothes made from paper etc – it is important to be sensitive to the medium itself and to justify it. To simply make a quilt from something other than fabric doesn’t say much – unless the entire meaning of the piece relates to the substitute.

The other important difference from traditional quilts is that many makers of "art quilts" do dye/paint/print etc their own fabric. This makes each piece so much more individual since you don't recognize the same fabric that you have in your closet!!!

However, while I love and breathe surface design (see yesterday's blog), it can be a trap that leads the quiltmaker into thinking they are being a lot more innovative than they actually are. Simply putting pretty pictures onto fabric and then stitching a backing to it is hardly a challenge to a strong traditional quilt!! The bold designs of the traditional quilts that have stood the test of time will beat such spineless efforts every time! The pretty printed picture or the gorgeous hand dyed cloth should be the starting point for the quilt, not the end in itself.

The Material Matters Members Opening will be on Thursday, June 19 at 5:30 pm;

I look forward to seeing you there! If they allow pictures, I'll be taking them and will post them when I get back home...meanwhile above are pictures of the two quilts I have in the show (and do check out my website where you’ll see many more!)


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