09 August 2009

Image Quilt Show 2009, Lowell, Massachusetts

Top: The Great, Great Grans Quilt, by teacher Roberta Horton
Middle: Spools of thread for machine quilting, vendor area

Bottom: Exterior, Tsongas arena

DH and I attended the Images 2009 show, part of the annual Lowell Quilt Festival. The show features about 160 juried quilts, and special exhibits. The highlights of this year's show were the exhibit of antique and vintage log cabin quilts, from the permanent collection of the New England Quilt Museum (NEQM) in Lowell, and another feature on the quilts of Miho Takeuchi.

Quilters negotiate the stairs from the vending area down to the show floor

First, some areas for improvement in the implementation of the show: there is little or no exterior signage at the arena. Why? Also not indicated is the best entrance, at ground level and around to the right of the arena. From the main entrance, the only way to access the show floor is by elevator - the enclosed stairway leads to the exterior. We were confused, and wandered around a bit, and encountered other visitors similarly lost and hesitant in their way-finding.

If the unwary visitor goes up the open stairs from the main floor, after purchasing admission and receiving an wrist bracelet, she reaches the vendor area, and there is only one minimally marked route back down to the arena - most of the stairs through the seating area are blocked. The show organizers might want to address these issues; the overall impression is one of disrespect for the visitor.

Three quilts by Miho Takeuchi
Top: Furoshiki
Bottom left: Autumn in Japan (detail)
Bottom right: Japanese blocks

I did reach my destination - the special exhibit of quilts by Ms. Takeuchi, who uses the traditional Japanese stitching technique called sashiko in her quilts. I've seen sashiko used as a quilting stitch, through all three layers of top, batting, and backing, but Ms. Takeuchi seems to use the technique primarily as embroidery of the top layer only. Her stitching is exquisite and detailed. Ms. Takeuchi teachers at the NEQM and other sites in New England and I hope to take a class with her someday.

Hexagon, Miho Takeuchi

In contrast to the refined work of Ms. Takeuchi, not to mention the older log cabins quilts from the museum, the works in the juried show seem almost gimmicky - loaded with beads, crystals, stitched with a myriad of novelty threads, and threatening to become, as my husband put it, "totchkes hung vertically." There was also an emphasis on literal recreations, in fabric and thread, of landscape scenes and figural images. Why? Are quilters inherently "tragically literal", to borrow a phrase from teacher Jane Sassaman?

A quilt, based on a painting by Picasso, by Diane Joe

At least one quilter, though, appreciates abstraction, and translated works she loves, by Picasso, into fabric and thread. Adapting an abstract painting into a quilt might be a good exercise for any quilter struggling to move on from the straight-jacket of realism.

Relief by Virginia Holloway

It was indeed a relief to find this quilt, by Virginia Holloway, showcasing excellent use of color.

Oil Spill, by Emily Fox

In the youth section, a very different use of color, by a teenage quilter who's not afraid of bold and bright. Good for her!

Bolts of marbleized fabric for sale

As always, there are lots of vendors selling fabric packs, fabric on the bolts, thread, notions, quilt patterns, even sewing machines and quilting machines. Quilting has become a big business, indeed.

DH works on laptop while spouse checks out vendors

A canal, en route from the arena to the museum

Fortunato's Italian restaurant, in one of the many wonderful old brick buildings in Lowell

After viewing the Images show, DH and I strolled over to the NEQM (about a five minute walk) and ate lunch at a decent Italian cafe, Fortunato, down the street. Our admission to the quilt show also included admission to the museum, and by lucky accident we were in time to catch a very good gallery talk by quilt appraiser and curator Vivien Lee Sayre, on Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth, an exhibit of antique quilts with links to Massachusetts. This exhibit is up until September 20 and is definitely worth the trip.

Exhibit flier, there is also a new book of quilts in this documentation project

For a brief review of the book, consider this link to a local press story: http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2009/05/03/a_patchwork_of_life_stories/