11 July 2011

Vermont Quilt Festival 2011

Feathered Star made about 1900 by Cynthia Lamoureaux.

The 2011 Festival, from June 24-26, was a popular event, judging from the crowds at the Champagne and Chocolate reception on Thursday night. The VQF is a judged show, meaning that each contestant receives a rating, with comments, from a panel of judges. This year the adjudicators worshiped at the altar of machine quilting, and, since I am an apostate, I'll not comment on this year's top contest winners, which may be seen at the Festival's website.

The website is found at: www.vqf.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=1

The evolution of stationary machine quilting into ever-more labyrinthine, fussy and congested stitchery, which often can't even been seen unless the viewer practically noses the quilt, has no appeal for me, especially as the dense application of thread renders the quilt surface flat and the quilt stiff. What's the difference between this kind of quilting and machine embroidery? The "More is Better" approach seems particularly pointless when all that stitching belabors a pieced or appliqued top that is essentially boring or awkward.

I don't understand the popularity of this kind of quilting, and can't help but wonder if it is linked to advertising revenue - the latest edition of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, the grandmama of quilt periodicals, has three full-page ads for machine quilting equipment, in addition to ads for expensive sewing machines marketed for both embroidery and machine quilting. To what extent is the promotion of machine quilting all about the business of quilting, as opposed to the art of quilting?

I'll get off my soapbox now, and, in any event, there were some very beautiful quilts at the Festival, and a special display, Patterns of History: Quilts from the Vermont Historical Society Collection, among other special exhibits. DH and I also had a great time exploring the sights of downtown Burlington.

Festival faculty Mickey Lawlor used machine-quilting
purposefully to evoke sense wind and tide.

In the past, I have taken a workshop with Mickey Lawlor sponsored by my quilt guild, so it was a treat to see one of the her quilts made from her hand-painted fabric.

Ice on the Sawmill River, Ann Feitelson.

Queen of Quilts, Leslie Justice Cook.
Pattern by Jeanne Kimball, with a fresh color palette.

Hot Flash, Allita Paine. (Quilted by Janice Cutting.)
A particularly nice border (Deb Tucker design) on this Hunter's Star quilt.

Sunny Lilies, Noah Patullo.
Old favorite pattern, in punchy colors,
with exciting corner treatment.

First Lorraine Went to Egypt, Barbara Polston.
Top prize, miniature quilt division.
Inspired by Egyptian artist Chant Avedissian.

Queen of My Heart, Holly Dominie.
One of the best portrait quilts I've seen.

Puzzled Yankee: A Tangram Quilt, Hope Johnson.
Tangrams are one of my favorite toys-for-all-ages,
and what a fun theme for a quilt.

Happy Days, Sheila Groman.
Nice to see the tradition of the crazy quilt continue, updated.

I spent much of my time admiring the quilts from the Vermont Historical Society and musing on the links between the antique and contemporary quilts.

Antique crazy quilt, in a zig-zag format. (Unknown artist.)

Top and bottom left: Redwork quilt with blocks
embroidered by
Mary Putnam in the 19th Century;
quilt assembled circa 1930 by unknown quilter.
Bottom right,
Cats in Plaid, Kirsten Barwood.

A love of pet cats spans the ages, and I would recommend Sandi Fox's book Cats on Quilts (ISBN 9780810957251) to fellow cat lovers. I was disappointed to note few redwork or sashiko quilts in this year's VQF.

Details of antique quilts.

Crazy quilt variation, Philea A. Spear, 1909.

One of my favorite antique quilts, with a very contemporary feel, was a crazy quilt made by Philea Spear in her eighty-fourth year. At first glance, randomness seem to rule, but each block center is carefully pieced and the color palette is very consistent, with enough contrast so that each minute piece reads individually in the welter of shapes and colors.

Detail, Spear quilt.

DH, in his patchwork shirt, examines an
antique quilt by Mary Jane Peaselee Vitty.

Program cover design by Mary Azarian.

Finally, kudos to the Festival for utilizing the talents of Caldecott medalist Mary Azarian for the cover artwork.


09 July 2011

African Textiles at the MFA

Examples of kente cloth, from Ghana.

Global Patterns: Textiles and Dress in Africa is on view through January 8, 2012; learn more here: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/global-patterns

Wedding outfit of extraordinary beadwork.
Note the ornamented broom, symbol of housewives everywhere.

Wedding ensemble, rear view with beaded train.

As I walked through this exhibit, I developed a heightened sensibility towards the garb and accessories adorning my fellow visitors, who included a tall young man, extensively tattooed, wearing "ventilated" shorts, a souvenir T-shirt and toting a messenger bag, as well as adolescent girls in crocs footwear, flowery t-shirts and, inevitably, women dressed like me, in sensible sandals, crop pants and jewelry or scarves, to distract from the wrinkles.

Left, photo of tribal leader, from 1959.
Right, detail of beaded crown, mid-20th century.

As Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee notes in his excellent review, this exhibit, for once, places African artifacts in a context - in addition to the textiles, there are sculptures and images, including postcards and photos, of people dressed in comparable items.

See Smee's piece here: http://articles.boston.com/2011-05-06/ae/29517367_1_textiles-african-objects-african-countries

We Westerners seem conflicted by the signals we receive as we view the costume of others around us and in the media - on the one hand we "shouldn't judge a book by its cover," nevertheless "clothes make the man." In Sub-Saharan Africa, the region from which these artifacts originate, there seems to be less confusion about the role of wardrobe and identity. As this exhibit demonstrates, in these cultures a highly refined approach to attire deliberately telegraphs characteristics such as level of affluence, personal aspirations, and even marital status, in a very direct way.

Wrapper, mid-20th century, imported for the African market.
A woman who wore this fabric valued education and learning.

Wrapper, early 21st century, celebrates the opening of a
bottling plant in Mozambique, in 2004.

Apparel fabric announces that the wearer is up to date,
and cognizant of technology.
(Apologies for the blurry photo.)

While we tend to view colonialism as purely exploitative, this exhibit also makes clear that Western imagery could be creatively co-opted by African artists, resulting in designs that became part of a textile tradition which managed to survive into the post-colonial era.

Resist-dyed fabric with design based on
Silver Jubilee
images of British monarchs.

Left, raffia skirt, Republic of Congo, 2oth century.
Upper right, Bonwit Teller ad for African-inspired frocks.
Bottom right, wide trim produced in France,
copying the indigenous cloth.

In addition, Westerners learned from African artists, particularly in the 1920's when artists such as Picasso and Braque were admiring African masks and other art, often brought back to Europe by Belgian colonists.

Beaded crown with bird finial.The human face, with cowrie-shell eyes, symbolizes that the leader is all-seeing.