05 October 2015

Rising Star Quilt Show 2015

Wall of floral-themed quilts.

Chilly temps, days with less sun - autumn brings a loss of warmth and light; however, there are compensations, such as the  Rising Star quilt guild annual show. On display October 9 and 10, this exhibit was a delight, and some representative quilts are featured below. (Click on any image to enlarge it.)

Summer in a Pot, Janice Shaw.

Many quilts explored a floral theme, including a raw-edge applique portrait of geraniums, by Janice Shaw, based on a pattern by Laundry Basket Quilts.

Summer in a Pot, detail.

It's sometimes difficult to utilize the large-scale fabrics which so many of us love, but Big Poppy succeeds in combing prints in different scales. Artist Bebe Fallick adapted the Big EZ pattern from Bloom Creek for her work.

Big Poppy, Bebe Fallick.

Large quilts and boutique area in Keilty Hall.

The quilts were hung in two areas: the basement of St. Brigid's church, in Lexington, Massachusetts, and in nearby Keilty Hall, seen above. In addition to quilts on display, there were vendors, the guild's own boutique of hand-made items -  a great resource for early holiday shopping -  and, of course, the wonderful bake shop.

Another quilt genre well-represented in the show is the landscape quilt, including Barbara Salamy's delightful original creation below.

Sea, Sky and Sand Dunes, Barbara Salamy.

Atara Halpern reflected on the challenging winter of 2014-2015, during which our entire region developed mass cabin fever.  Ms. Halpern's quilt  - a symphony of applique, beading, and embroidery techniques - showed us coping in our "cabins" by celebrating the holidays and, of course, curling up with good books!  Celebrations of color helped us get through "snowmageddon" too.  Peter Stringham's quilt, below, is based on a pattern from the book "Strip Quilting" by Diane Wold.  For her colorful quilt Love Wins 2015, Kathleen McCormick utilized the pattern "Prism Quilt" by Nancy Rink.

December in New England, Atara Halpern.

December in New England, details.

Autumn Orchard, Peter Stringham.

Love Wins 2015, Kathleen McCormick.

Love Wins 2015, detail.

Quilts can have an impact with a limited color palette too, as demonstrated in the modern quilts below. The quilt  by Missy Shay continues the venerable tradition of red and white quilts, and is based on the pattern "Diamond Alley" by Sassafras Lane Designs; a nice detail of this work is the pieced binding.

For the quilt commemorating her daughter's wedding anniversary, Pat Fryzel combined blocks won in a guild auction.  And in the third quilt below, Modern Sunset, the traditional T-square block becomes contemporary, based on a pattern by Kimberly Einmo, and beautifully machine-quilted by Sue Ahnrud.

Red and White, Missy Shay.

Happy Third Anniversary, Pat Fryzel.

Modern Sunset, Carolyn Bell.

While the modern quilts rely primarily on solids or geometric prints, my beloved plaids were on view too, in a beautiful string-style quilt by Nancy Soyring.  Melissa Radzyminski has combined a plaid fabric and prints in a quilt which, in the best tradition of the medium, makes a useful, lovely object from materials at hand, as the quilt is composed of nine-patch blocks leftover from other projects, and a plaid that was a fortuitous gift.  I love the way the plaids are a tad charmingly askew. 

Plaid X, Nancy Soyring.

Plaid X, detail.
Plaid and 4-Patches, Melissa Radzyminski.

Plaid and 4-Patches, detail.

One of the highlights of the show was a fun, educational display illustrating the History of Quilting, master-minded by Nancy Howard and Julie Neu.  Brief text described, concisely yet comprehensively, each major phase of quilt-making in America, with accompanying small stitched examples.

Quilts illustrating phases of quilt-making in America.

The contributions of quilters of color were acknowledged, with a rare example of a 19th-century menswear pieced quilt, in the Box Cars pattern and utilizing suiting fabrics, shown below.

According to the label information, supplied by quilt owner Delores McCravy:
This Antique quilt was owned by Mrs. Thelma Tate (1905-1998) a long time family friend.  She was born and lived in Rogersville, Hawkins County, Tenn.  Mrs. Tate inherited the quilt, along with a larger one, from her grandmother Louise Porter (1847) who made them. My sister purchased the quilts at a yard sale held, after her death, by her son and daughter-in-law. 

So, this quilt has made quite a journey, from rural Tennessee to suburban Boston.

Finally, a detail of a miniature Baltimore Album quilt, illustrating this genre, by master quilter Nancy Howard.  The block is approximately 3" square, but loaded with expertly designed and stitched detail, not to mention charm.

01 October 2015

Whitney Museum of Art

The Whitney Museum.

The last few weeks have really been a bi-continental "tour de culture" for your humble blogger and her DH, as we visited libraries and museums in London and New York. This month we investigated the new Whitney museum, eight stories of art in southern Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River. That the museum happens to provide a southern terminus for the High Line enriches both destinations.

New York Times critic Roberta Smith's review of the museum is more or less spot-on.

An assemblage of volumes - rectangular and trapezoidal shapes of glass and steel are mounded together -  the new museum show-cased its own 22,000-strong collection in the inaugural exhibit featuring 600 works, entitled "America is Hard to See." The exhibit ran from May 1, 2015 to September 27, 2015.  The event title is from a Robert Frost poem in which the poet, somewhat sardonically, reflects on Columbus' figurative blindness in his inability to grasp that, while he didn't sail to the East Indies as planned, he discovered something monumental- exactly what, well, we're still discovering that ourselves, aren't we?

A nice place to chill.

At the ground floor, the museum "lifts its skirts," revealing a transparent glass wall in an open invitation to "come on in." The bushy bits of foliage growing in stairway planting pockets are oddly, but pleasantly, residential in scale, and the chartreuse lawn chairs scattered around add to the front porch vibe.

Gift shop.

We had ordered tickets online, so cruised past the gift shop, and the ticket line, and climbed the stairs.

Ticket desk.

Stairwell with light sculpture by Felix Gonzales-Torres.

The Whitney eschews the traditions of monumental stairs or central atrium, and the vertical pedestrian circulation can feel a bit squirrel-y for such a large building.  On the other hand, one remembers the now-defunct American Folk Art Museum, a tiny museum whose monumental stair ate up space which should have been given to exhibit space.  In addition, the Whitney's wonderful outdoor decks and stairs more than compensate for the utilitarian, fire-code-compliant interior stairs. 

Looking south.

The four outdoor terraces are splendid, and provide the best way to move between the upper floors, at least in fair weather.

Outdoor terrace and stairs.

Another outdoor terrace.
Ruth Asawa sculpture should hang here permanently.

But what about the art?  Well, when I said to DH, there's so much more art by women than the Whitney ever showed before, his response was "What, more than zero?" The work on display was incredibly diverse, in terms of historic period, style, and medium, as well as in those categories enumerated by the census, gender and race.  Let's hope future programming continues to be this inclusive, allowing patrons to make new discoveries as well as revisit canonical works.

Some works were old friends, such as Calder's Circus, seen below.  The gift shop has a DVD of Calder animating his figures made of wire and scraps of cloth and detritus such as bottle caps, or check out this youtube video.

Calder's Circus, Alexander Calder, 1926-1931.

Calder's Circus, detail.


In addition to becoming reacquainted with Calder's Circus, it was rewarding to see Lee Krasner's gestural "The Seasons," on the far wall, finally gets its due in a worthy, appropriately-sized setting. If you like to look at people looking at art, this is the place, as the generously-sized galleries make unobtrusive observation possible.  There is also a surprising amount of natural light, so the new museum avoids that entombed feeling which was a hallmark of the old Marcel Breuer building.

Looking at art.

The ubiquitous phone camera meets Chuck Close's Philip Glass.

Wayne Thibeaud's Pie Counter has its picture taken.

In the spirit of discovery, we met work by now-favorite artist Alma Thomas for the first time.  Here's hoping for a retrospective.

Mars Dust, Alma Thomas, 1972.

Some nuts and bolts: the admission price to the Whitney is steep - $22. However, each Friday the museum closes at 10 pm and has a pay-as-you-wish policy from 7 pm to 9:30 pm.  Be forewarned, the line for this low-cost admission began at 6 pm and had snaked down the block by 7 pm. In addition, there is a gallery on the first floor, celebrating founder Gertrude Whitney, that one can enter without paid admission, at least at the time of our visit.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Robert Henri, 1916.

The day of our trip to the Whitney happened to be September 11, and we walked along the river towards the Tribute in Light,  beams of illumination rising up from the former World Trade Center site. 

Tribute in Light, September 11, 2015.

Closing our day, the Tribute in Light from our hotel window.

16 September 2015

Agnes Martin and the Tate Modern, London

View of Tate Modern from Millennium Bridge.

On an overcast day, I strolled from my hotel, on London's revitalized South Bank, to the Tate Modern museum, a former power plant re-purposed to showcase art of our time. Business brought DH to London, so I tagged along on SardineAir, using frequent-flyer miles.  One nice perk of accompanying DH is that he, the frequent flyer, has TSA pre-clearance, and that status was extended to me on this flight, too.  No need to remove shoes, belt, watch and dignity at the security check-point - we just walked through fully clothed.  

Like Boston, London is booming with new construction, and the Tate Modern is getting an addition - that's the whitish structure next to the construction crane in the image above; the addition will be brick-clad when completed.

Turbine Hall, awaiting an installation.

Turbine Hall, originally.  Photo: Marcus Leith.

Even the smokestack of the former power plant has been adaptly reused - during my week-day visit, representatives from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) set up scopes so visitors could glimpse a pair of peregrine falcons who've set up housekeeping on a corner corbel.

Friendly volunteers and staff educate visitors about falcons.

Small, light dot at smokestack corner is a falcon.

The brick detailing gives the smokestack, and the entire building, a majestic presence, celebrating both the literal power of the facility - producing electricity from oil - and serving as a symbol of Britain's post-war recovery. The Bankside Power Station, as the complex was originally known, was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) and is a testament to the art of masonry and the skill of the anonymous bricklayers who mortared the 4.2 million bricks into place. 

Brick detailing.

Spare, functional interiors.

The interior of the facility is a good example of "industrial chic" - exposed mechanical systems, energy-efficient no-nonsense lighting, and plain white oak flooring.

There were three large exhibits in the galleries; nevertheless, with the Turbine Hall empty, and its largely bare hallways, the museum felt a bit under-inhabited with regard to art, although it was packed with visitors by 11:00 am.  There are also three gift shops, so the art-to-commerce ratio felt a little skewed too. But all was forgiven when I arrived at the Agnes Martin show. Photography was forbidden, but I did sneak one image, below.  Agnes Martin's work defies mechanical reproduction - in photographs, the work would seem to embody the perception of modern art as "Pictures of Nothing." The late Kurt Varnadoe used this phrase, first coined by William Hazlitt in response to the work of J. M. W. Turner, as the title of his book defending modern art. 

However, in person, the work is transformative.  In Martin's breakthrough pieces from the 1960's, the reduction of composition to a large field of horizontal and vertical lines elevates the humble grid into a presence simultaneously mundane and cosmic. The so-subtle manipulations of color mean that minor changes in tone are at once barely perceptible and monumental.  Each painting is an invitation to brave these contradictions; for this viewer, the outcome is wonder.

This show will arrive at the Guggenheim museum in New York in October, 2016. It's worth the trip.

Despite the diminished impact of Martin's work when reproduced, the catalog produced for this show is recommended, ISBN 978 1 84976 268 7, paperback.

Stealth photo of Agnes Martin works.

The banner says "See Art for Free".

We did get some sun during our trip, as you can see in this last image of the smokestack tower. Plans to install an observatory in the tower were sadly shelved due to lack of funds, but one can hope.

06 September 2015

The British Library, by the numbers

British Library, near St. Pancras station.

Exterior of the library; roof is Welsh gray slate.

Entry, piazza and clock tower.

Number of boxes of books my DH and I recently moved: 41
Number of boxes donated to More Than Words: 8

Number of books in the King George III collection: 65,000
Number of items in the British Library: 170 million+

Date of my General Library Group Tour: 19 August 2015
Cost of tour: 10 pounds (about $15)
Length of tour: one hour
Number of visitors in our group: 5

Glass tower housing King George's books, the centerpiece of the British Library.

Date British Library (BL) became separate from British Museum: 1973
Date of completion of new, purpose-built facility: 1997

Entry atrium and information desk.

Natural light floods entry atrium.

Reading rooms are only accessible with a Reader's Pass.

Number of researchers allowed to use an item from the collection without a Reader's Pass: 0
Minimum age to obtain a Reader's Pass: 18
Number of documents needed to obtain a Reader's Pass: 2 - signed id and proof of address
Number of new passes issued annually: 30,000

Most book storage is below grade, as shown in this model.

Number of minutes between on-site book request and arrival at reader's desk via UPC-coded bin: 60
Number of hours between item request and its arrival from off-site storage: 24
Percentage of items stored off-site: 70

Books retrieved from onsite storage via automated book handling system. Source: mikepeel.net

Hours spent in the first floor Treasures Gallery, after the tour: 1.5
Cost of admission to the Treasures Gallery: 0
Number of manuscript copies of Beowulf extant: 1
Number of manuscript copies of Beowulf in the Treasures Gallery:
Date of publication of Shakespeare's First Folio: 1623

First page of Beowulf manuscript. Source: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/02/beowulf-online.html

Shakespeare's First Folio. Source: http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/shakespeares-first-folio
Hours spent in the wonderful shop: 1.5
Amount of money spent: never you mind!