13 October 2019

"Dear Jane" quilt at Bennington Museum

"Dear Jane" quilt, detail.

In October DH and I headed to Vermont; he practiced casting a fly-fishing rod, and I made a beeline to the Bennington Museum, to see the "Dear Jane" quilt, one of the museum's masterpieces.  The quilt is on display for only a short time each year, in a  gallery with very low light levels, to help prevent fading.  The museum is noted for a number of collection areas - it has the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings as well as an informative display and study center relating to Bennington pottery.  However, for textile enthusiasts the museum is a place of pilgrimage for this singular quilt, made in 1863 by Jane A. Stickles (1817-1896).

Quilt carefully displayed for a short time each year.

The quilt is a "sampler quilt"; that is, the design is a grid of unique pieced or appliqued blocks, as opposed to a grid of like-patterned blocks. From the display text:

Jane Stickle's ambitious quilt is made up of 169 five-inch blocks, each in a different pattern and using a different fabric.  Many of the block patterns are commonly seen in quilts from this era, however many more are unique, drafted by a skilled needle worker with a mastery of geometry.  Jane recycled a linen sheet from her mother, Sarah Blakely, for the majority of the quilt's backing.  The initials "S B" are embroidered in tiny cross-stitches on one of the scallops at the quilt's back edge, originally intended to identify the linen's owner.

Jane Stickle entered this quilt in the 1863 Bennington County Agricultural Fair.  In the Bennington Banner's article on the fair, her quilt received special notice:

Mrs. J. B. Smith of Manchester, Mrs. Taft and Mrs. Stickles presented each a very extra bed quilt.  Mrs. Stickles is an invalid lady, having been for a long time confined to her bed, but her ambition to do something to kill the time induced her to piece this quilt.  It contains many thousand different pieces of cloth, no two of which are exactly alike.  Upon one corner is marked in plain letters, "made in the war of 1863."

A week later, on October 8, the Bennington Banner published a list of premiums awarded at the fair.  In the "Ladies Section" it is noted that the "Best patched quilt" was awarded to "Mrs. W. P. Stickles" with a prize of $2, about $40 in today's money.

Quilt, behind velvet rope, as befits a celebrity.

Green circle block has yellow blocks in the "north south east and west" positions.

As I looked closely at the quilt I began to notice  the careful deployment of color in the composition. For instance, look at the center green square above, pieced in four circular segments. Above, below, and to the right and left of this block the pieced blocks feature yellow fabrics. Moving diagonally from the green block, the blocks next to the yellow ones are pieced using brown fabrics.  In the image below, blocks pieced from red fabrics are adjacent to the afore-mentioned brown blocks, with pink blocks next to these red-based designs.  Colors form diagonals, animating the grid.

Brown, red, pink blocks carefully placed.

Color placement was carefully considered, and results in a quilt not just noteworthy for the incredible number of pieces stitched into blocks.  Although as many aesthetic decisions are involved in needlework design as in "fine art," art history has not always acknowledged such skill.  Until relatively recently,  curators and scholars may have admired the technical skill exhibited in a particular textile and researched its provenance, but had little to note with regard to design.  It was almost as if the art historical world thought that women, rather than making  decisions with regard to color, form, negative/positive space, etc.,  just responded to some instinctive compulsion, like weaver birds making elaborate nests.


I don't know how this quilt came to be known as the "Dear Jane" quilt, but this artifact has inspired a cottage industry, including a book, as well as  patterns and templates for those wishing to make their own Stickles quilt. I had hoped to buy the book at the museum, but the volume is currently out of print.

Detail, scallop border.

One particularly delightful element of the quilt  is the scallop border, with wedge-shaped pieced and solid blocks. The curve of the scallops creates a bit of tension with the square grid, and is a masterful touch.

Scalloped border, detail.

Corner detail.

Bennington Museum, home of the Stickles quilt.

23 September 2019

Happy Autumn!

Graphic art by Tammis Keefe.

Patient DH recently uploaded over twenty new images of items by designer Tammis Keefe to our website, www.tammiskeefe.com.  The linen handkerchief in the picture above, which I've labelled Hayscented, after the hay-scented fern, features a lovely fall palette of brown, tan and orange.  So, happy autumnal equinox to everyone.

Hayscented, detail.

12 September 2019

Birds We Know: Ann Craven exhibit in Maine

Pink I'm Sorry, 2008-2011

Recently, DH and I visited Maine and, while making our way back to the Boston area, somewhat impulsively stopped in Rockland and visited the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.  It's a great space and we enjoyed the exhibit of painting by Ann Craven, Birds We Know, on view from June 29 - October 13, 2019.  A note on the captions - the year is part of the title of the work.

These birds move beyond Audubon-style realism, way beyond.  While recognizable as to species, and accurate in size and proportion, the color palette and painting technique result in feathery bird avatars; creatures we might meet in a dream or memory. 

Center for Maine Contemporary Art.

Installation, Birds We Know.

Portrait of a Robin (Looking Away, after Picabia) 2011

The exhibit lets us glimpse a bit of Ms. Craven's process  by including some of Ms. Craven's sketches and some of her sources, the traditional guidebooks used by bird watchers and naturalists.  Often  the birds in identification photographs are shown with plants native to their range. 


Bird guidebooks and sketches.

Research materials and sketches.

Ms. Craven's painted birds are given stylized botanical backgrounds; oversize blurry blooms and berries activate the canvas and create a surreal landscape.

Yello Fello Yello, 2018

The cuteness of fluffy bird in the image above is somewhat blunted by the prominence of scaly talons and sharp claws, and the slightly sinister scrutiny as the bird returns the viewer's gaze.

Silhouette Birds (after Courbet) 2006

Most of the paintings feature the bird figures in a front of a seasonless, quasi-artificial floral entourage not located in any recognizable diurnal moment - it's always brightly light.    The sole winterscape, above, features two shadowless crows vocalizing.  Separated into individual paintings, below, another pair of silhouetted birds seems have a relationship which spans their separated canvasses.

L: Silhouette Fade on Red and Pink, 2006 R: Silhouette Fade on Red, 2006

I Wasn't Sorry (with Cherries) 2003

The birds above could be characters in an avian version of Harold Pinter's play Betrayal.  There are more combinations and permutations of birds groupings. One wonders, who is the odd bird out?

L: Portrait of a Bird #2 R: Portrait of 2 Birds (after Picabia), Brussels, 2006

L: St. Louis Cardinal (for Helsinki) 2010 R: St. Louis Cardinals (for Helsinki) 2010

Ms. Craven paints in oils, using a wet on wet technique which results in blending of color on the canvas, rather than on a separate palette.  This approach facilitates the blurring of the floral backdrops, which contrasts which the crisper images of the birds. 

I apologize for not having an image of the entire painting from which the detail below is taken, but the image does give an idea of Ms. Craven's brushwork, which creates a feathery texture approaching furriness at the edges.

Detail, Blue Song, 2003

One painting especially appealing to me is the owl image below, with a constellation of two moon-like calla lilies and a red poppy floating in the back.  This is not a composition I will ever see in "real life" but I'm so glad Ms. Craven created it.  For another take on this exhibit and more images visit: https://hyperallergic.com/515629/extraordinary-paintings-of-ordinary-birds/

Barred Owl (Howl), 2009

Singing Finch, 2001

Puff Puff, 2004

31 August 2019

Union Fair, Maine

Everyone likes Maine blueberries.

On August 22, 2019, DH and I ate small blueberry pies - one each, we restrained ourselves- at the Union Fair, an annual event in a part of Maine known for wild blueberry barrens as well as cattle and sheep.  Here are some of the sites:

Quilts and needlework in the Crafts barn.

Raffle quilt.

Rug hooking is a venerable Maine tradition.

More rug-hooking - not in competition but a winner in my book.

An exquisite piece of cross-stitch from a design available on etsy.

Delightful winter-themed quilt.

Now, we expected delicious wild blueberry pie at this event, but did not expect to find "the area's best kept secret" - the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage, housed in one of the utility buildings on the fair grounds. This is an Aladdin's cave of antiques relating to daily life in Maine. No precious objets, just tools and equipment owned and used by Mainers in their everyday lives.

A frame for hooking rugs.

Old laundry tub, paddles and washboards.

Vintage needlework items - those steel knitting needles look lethal...

Good weather for spinning.

On the day we visited the fair, a group from the Midcoast spinners demonstrated their craft in Sherman Park.  It was surprisingly meditative just to watch them at work.  I noted that one of the spinners, Penelope Olson, had yarn exhibited in the Craft barn.

Prize-winning yarn by spinner Penelope Olson.

Speaking of wool, a sheep says "hello".

Young people waiting to show their sheep in the 4-H judging.

Belted Galloway cattle resting.

Tasty traditions.

28 August 2019

Making a batch of play slime

Homemade blue slime.

Ingredients: white Elmer's school glue, baking soda, contact lens solution, food coloring.

In anticipation of a grandchild's visit, my kitchen became a laboratory for making slime, a toy currently popular with elementary and middle school kids.  This non-sticky but pliable, stretchable substance is a first cousin to silly putty and oobleck.

Equipment: bowl, spatula, measuring spoons, plastic tub for storage.

I tried two other formulas from random sites on the internet before finding this recipe, which worked for me.  A note on the contact lens solution: all purpose solution is fine, but the ingredients list must include boric acid.  And finally, utilize equipment - bowls, measuring cups and spoons, spatulas, etc. - dedicated to craft projects ONLY for craft projects, NEVER for food production, serving or eating!

First,  empty two four-ounce bottles of white Elmer's school glue into a bowl. (My bowl is the 2.5 quart Pyrex Smart Essentials product.) At this time, add food coloring. Only a few drop so food coloring are needed.

Two drop of blue food coloring added to glue.

Mix well.

Add baking soda, mix well again.

Next, add one tablespoon of baking soda, mix well.  Finally add one and one-half tablespoons contact lens solution, and incorporate into the glue and baking soda mixture.  The slime should form almost immediately. Keep stirring as mixture firms up and pulls away from the side of the bowl.  When the slime has formed a cohesive mass, begin kneading with your hands, and if the slime is still sticky add a bit more contact lens solution, up to another half tablespoon.

After adding contact lens solution, slime forms quickly.

I made slime in green and orange too.  One caveat -  I found that the blue coloring came off on my hands, so it's a good idea to wash hands after playing with darker colors.  Not a problem with the orange and green.  Slime is best played with at a table or another solid surface, as it might be difficult to remove from clothing and upholstery.  There's something very satisfying about it, though, and slime seems to stay "fresh" for quite a while in a plastic tub.

Bubbles are ok.