Friday, June 19, 2015

Dispelling Myths and Extolling the Unconventional

About ten years ago my Dad picked up a trunk from along side the road. When he got home and opened it he found an unbound quilt.
Carolina Lily owned by Nancy A Bekofske
It is not well made. The appliqu├ęd flower stems were applied after the blocks were sewn. The quilting is primitive, the batting is bulky and, and the quilt weighs a ton. The fabrics include Gingham, florals, solids, and bandanna prints.
And yet there is an exuberance to the quilt; it makes one smile. I love the orange backgrounds in several blocks.

This is the kind of quilt considered in Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe.  Kiracofe sees his new book as an extension of  his 2004 landmark book The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750-1950.

The quilt collector, author, and artist says that in 2004 he suddenly questioned, what were the everyday quilts between 1950 and the end of the century? The quilts that were made to be used? He started collecting quilts from this era.

These quilts will not win a prize in a national quilt show. They break every rule we quilters have been taught to obey. They are individualistic. They can inspire artists to use what they have and express what they love. They are 'functional' not show quilts that have been "under the radar" and only recently appreciated by collectors and historians. They tell a story. Their energy and a vision is unique to the quilt maker. The artist will discover that the untrained eye knows instinctively the importance of rhythm, value, and line.

Kiracofe's quilts were ten years in collecting. They are wonderfully portrayed in oversize images that allow us to see the total quilt as art, some with quilt back or detail photos. The essays included offer insights on quilts as history, as art, and as a craft.

Never Seen a Blanket by Natalie Chanin tells the story of growing up in a Southern community "raised to work cotton" from picking bolls to sewing garments. "In the South cotton is your birthright, your way of life, your punishment, and your legacy," Chanin writes. 

Amelia Peck, Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discusses the artistry of late 20th c. quilts in her essay In Dialogue With an Anonymous Quilt, considering color and pattern, vision, and how the quilt speaks to the viewer.

We learn about "M-provisational" quilts in A Texas Quiltmaker's Life: An Interview with Sherry Ann Byrd by Robert Kiracofe and Sherry Ann Byrd. Byrd explains that family use quilts were different from those made for sale, having "more swagger, colorfulness, and a bit of jazzy bling and slang."  
Detail of Eastside Detroit 'make do' quilt
Unconventional Wisdom: The Myths and Quilts that Came Before by Janneken Smucker, history professor, author, and quiltmaker, dismantles what we have believed about quilts over the last hundred years. Her research shows that scrap quilting was not part of our early heritage. 

Professor and author Elissa Auther discusses A Brief History of Quilts in Contemporary Art from Rauchenberg to the AIDS Quilt.
Barkcloth and Decorating Fabric Quilt circa 1960, found on eBay
From Under the Bedcovers: A Culture Curator's Perspective by Ulysses Grant Dietz, decorative arts curator, considers the "Gees Bend" phenomenon and the cultural and historical background evidenced in quilts.
1970s Gees Bend quilt owned by Anne Soles

Quilts Are Quilts by Allison Smith, artist and professor, explores categorizing quilts as art.

Kaffe Fassett writes about The Joyous Anarchy of Color and Pattern considering how these quilts give permission for quilters to break free into imaginative flights of fantasy.

The Beauty of Making Do by Modern quiltmaker Denyse Schmidt gives permission to experiment with materials on hand, taking the risk of improvisation.

This Picture is Not a Family Heirloom by Abner Nolan considers things not kept, not heirlooms, that find meaning in a new context.

This is a beautiful book that will inspire many.
Improvisational scrap quilt by Nancy A. Bekofske

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