18 November 2011

Quilts at Newark Museum

Sunburst, made about 1840-1860, maker unknown.

In November, Jay and I were in New York City, paying calls on offspring. While in the Tri-State area, we ventured to the Newark Museum, a short drive from Manhattan. I learned about this exhibit at the American Quilter's Society website, a good source for the latest happenings in the quilt world. The AQS calendar of events can be found here: http://www.americanquilter.com/quilt_world/

Patchwork From Folk Art to Fine Art
is an exhibit of 30 quilts drawn from the Newark Museum's collection of 150 quilts, an unusual number for a small municipal museum. The museum's founder was a socially progressive polymath named John Cotton Dana, a sort of anti-Babbitt. Many thanks to the Librarian at the Newark Museum, Dr. William Peniston, who made me aware of a new biography of Dana, A Matter of Class: John Cotton Dana, Progressive Reform, and the Newark Museum, by Carol G. Duncan, and published by Periscope Publishing, Ltd., in 2009.

The exhibit runs through December 31. Learn more about the Newark Museum at http://www.newarkmuseum.org/

Left: the buildings that comprise the Newark Museum.
Right: interior details.

Wedding album quilt made in 1864 for
Mary Nevius Potter, Pottersville, New Jersey.

Quilts are material objects reflective of the time and place in which they were made. In the Potter Album quilt, above, a pieced and applique flag fits proudly, if somewhat incongruously, with conventional album blocks made by a community of women related in some way to the bride. The flag indicates their solidarity with the Union cause; these women couldn't vote, but they made their views known nonetheless. The blocks are not as fine or fancy as Baltimore album quilts; this may reflect a certain wartime pragmatism.

Left: Delectable Mountain, made between
1840 and 1860, maker unknown.
Right: Princess Feather variation,
made between 1840-1850, Catherine Fitzgerald.

Dana purchased the quilt on the left above in 1919, as he build up the Newark collection with objects made by ordinary, but gifted, people who were outside the Western fine arts academy tradition.

Hurley Family Album, 1867, members of the
Hurley farming family of Monmouth, New Jersey.

The central wreath of the Hurley Family quilt features small ink cartouches with the names of the six Hurley children. I wonder if it was a gift to their mother for a special birthday, or some other occasion.

Detail, Crazy quilt, ca. 1920, Mrs. Barbeau, Louisiana.

The quilt above was purchased by the Museum in 1998, and was made by an African-American woman who embroidered the names of her three sons, Alex, George and Henry, on the quilt. The elephant image, with its three-dimensional ear, is just one of the imaginative motifs on this quilt.

Detail, Chanticleer, 1935, made by Anna Phelps, New Jersey.
Pattern by designer Margaret Hays.

According to the exhibit label, the quilt was made from a commercial pattern purchased for ten cents from The Newark Evening News. Mrs. Phelps made this quilt, and matching sham, for her daughter's childhood bed; the daughter donated the ensemble to the museum. It would be interesting to track down the original pattern for comparison and to see if Mrs. Phelps personalized the design - she did a great job with the colors of those animated roosters.

Star quilt, 1984, Nellie Two Bulls.

I have read about the introduction of quilting by Anglo-American settlers to Native American women in mission schools, but hadn't seen a tribal quilt in person until this show. The women of the Sioux/Lakoda nation turned cultural imperialism on its head, and incorporated the pattern Star of Bethlehem into the Lakoda tradition of depicting stars in beadwork and paintings on animal hides. The star, an important symbol in Lakoda iconography, is a gift from the Great Spirit. Star quilts can be seen (and purchased) at websites such as http://shopping.aktalakota.org/browse.cfm/star-quilts/2,14.html

Child's quilt, Bibijan Ibrahimsahib,
India, 2004-2005.

The curator, a man with the wonderful name Ulysses Grant Dietz, has included two quilts from India made by members of the Siddi ethnic group, people descended from African immigrants to India. This underscores the international scope and pervasiveness of quilting. The quilts are made from sari and other scraps, and the actual quilting on these pieces suggests a less formal version of Japanese sashiko stitching, which also evolved from a tradition of fabric re-use. Find more information about the history of Siddi quilts at http://handeyemagazine.com/content/stitching-history

Phantoms in a Chinese Restaurant, Debbie Lee,
New Jersey, 1991-2.

The exhibit included contemporary quilts by Michael James and Teresa Barkley, and the quilt above, by Debbie Lee, a piece evocative of the Chinese restaurants in which so many immigrants worked upon their arrival in America. The back of the quilt, which is meant to be seen, utilizes a large rice grain sack as part of the composition. It was refreshing to see a quilt which depicted and celebrated the experience of working people, as do the murals of Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

Left: Kitchenette. Right, top: Kefi,
Right, bottom: Sated diners.

Of course, art wasn't the only item on the menu, so to speak, during our trip, and I can recommend two new (to me) restaurants: Kitchenette (we ate at the one in Battery Park City) whose diner-style comfort food everyone likes, and Kefi, a Greek restaurant on the Upper West side. Kefi's Greek cuisine is not the stick-to-your-ribs slab of moussaka style, but lighter and quite good.

Kitchenette, http://

Kefi, http://kefirestaurant.com/

10 November 2011

Streamlined Irons

Image from http://www.arthursclipart.org/
I call this image "The Indoctrination."

Unless the family wardrobe consists solely of knitwear, sooner or later someone has to break out the iron and companion board. Ironing is one of those tasks that does give immediate gratification, as shirts are transformed from rumply and wrinkled to smooth and crisp. Mostly I use my iron these days for patchwork, as the iron is an essential tool in quilt-making. I still iron a few shirts too.

After electricity arrived in American homes the electric iron wasn't far behind. In this day and age, when everything is Made in China, it's good to have a reminder that our shores used be home to hundreds of appliance manufacturers, from national behemoths like General Electric to now-defunct regional firms, including several in my hometown of Detroit.

On October 31, DH and I attended a fascinating lecture at the Newton Free Library. Presenter Jay Raymond gave an illustrated talk on streamlined irons, appliances manufactured from about 1934 to the mid 1950's. Many examples from his collection were on display in hallway cases for the month of October. (Most of the irons have lost their original electric cords.)

Ultramatic, made in France by Novex-Siebert.
The invention of bakelite, an early plastic,
made curvaceous styling easier.

Streamlined design was in part an effort to entice consumers to buy newer, more modern models, even when their old cars or irons were perfectly functional. It was also a response to the embrace of progress, and the idea that faster and sleeker meant better. No iron was going to race in a Grand Prix, but the aesthetic was almost universal and hence applied to objects like irons, which did at least move during use, as well as to completely stationary appliances such as toasters.

In this early attempt at a practical home steam iron
the water reservoir also functions as the stanchion for the handle.

As steam irons became more popular, the need for a larger water reservoir increased the bulk of the appliance, but designers were still able to create reasonably streamlined profiles.

The Feather Way #130 steam iron.
(From the book.)

Irons on display at the library.

The Knapp-Monarch company produced many intriguing designs,
with great appeal for iron collectors,
of whom there are more than you might guess.

Mr. Raymond, speaking at the library.

Mr. Raymond, an enthusiastic collector and meticulous researcher, has produced an excellent book, Streamlined Irons, ISBN 978-0-615-25656-6. The book features gorgeous photography, by James B. Abbott and Jay Texter, of almost 200 irons, an excellent essay on the streamlined aesthetic and even a section on early electric irons, for comparison. It's a must read for anyone interested in the history of American design and manufacturing, or in object-centered material culture, or just curious about those everyday items we use in our homes.

Streamlined Irons, by Jay Raymond.

Mr. Raymond also has an informative website at: http://www.streamlinedirons.com/

06 November 2011

A Quilter's Gathering 2011

Top left: Patrons examine quilts
Bottom left: detail,
Life in a Northern Town, Jeanne Aurelio.
Middle: quilter in patchwork jacket.

Top right: detail,
Irish Cream, Linda M. Roy.
Bottom right: Blue Hawaiian Hibiscus, Janet A. Elia.

On Sunday, November 6, DH and I went to the regional quilt show, A Quilter's Gathering, in Nashua, New Hampshire. This year's show showcased the theme "Sisterhood Swirls" , focusing on collaboration and collectivity in quilt-making. For example, the invitational exhibit featured works by textile artists who work together, sometimes literally fashioning one work of art through a collaborative process, or through providing mutual support and expertise as each member fashions individual works. These sustaining groups can be families, friends, communities and guilds.

Kesa for Wu-Men, Carol Anne Grotrian.

Carol Anne Grotrian, with whom I studied the shibori dyeing techniques featured in the quilt above, belongs to an ensemble of women called "The Crit Group," who have been meeting for over twenty-five years. More about "The Crit Group" at Carol Anne's website: www.carolannegrotrian.com/About/critgroup.htm

September Fabulous Imperial Gloriosa,
Barbara Persing and Mary Hoover.
Left: detail, machine-quilting on reverse of quilt.

The work of actual sisters was on display, too. Barbara Persing and Mary Hoover are the creative team of Fourth and Sixth Designs, named, aptly, for their birth order in their family of six children. Barbara and Mary lead several classes at the show this year.

Their engaging website is http://www.4and6designs.com/

Left: Paniers du Soleil, Maribeth Schmit.
Right: Feedsack Baskets, Ildiko Tary.

Sometimes the theme was expressed in sister quilts - two quilts gestated from the same pattern. I have no idea if the makers of these two quilts - one resident in Massachusetts and the other from Wisconsin - know each other. Although the one on the right won an award, I like the way the baskets "pop" from the background of the quilt on the left.

Cynthia's Quilt, Amy Fitzpatrick.

This quilt was made in memory of a deceased member of a group of quilting friends. The beehive motif, which is just charming, is especially poignant, as the beehive is a symbol of harmonious community endeavor, and is particularly appropriate given the quilt show theme.

Top left: Thyme to Water, Terry Burris.
Bottom left: Applique on Black I, Maggie Judd.
Center: Birds & Blossoms, B. Foote-Lacroix.
Right: Needs Full Sun, Mary Ginn.

For whatever reason, excellent quilts featuring imaginative applique motifs and techniques were plentiful and varied in this show. Even when using a commercial pattern - Needs Full Sun is from a pattern by designer Cynthia Tomaszeski - the implentations featured inventive borders and colorways.
Top left: Mom and Auntie Jean Play Gin, Rana O'Connor.
Bottom left: detail, Inside Out, Catherine Berry.

Top right: Finnagin, Jaci Lawson.
Bottom right: detail, Two Roads Diverged, Patricia Washburn.

The quilt show was packed, the parking lot full, and quilters had to watch their elbows in the crowded vending areas. Quilt shows are an interesting phenomenon - well-attended exhibits of non-commercial art, mostly created by people with self-taught artistic and technical skills. Women used to be enslaved by the burden of sewing and needlework, but affordable, mass-produced clothing has made stitching and sewing a leisure activity for self-expression.

This is the last time this show will be mounted at the Radisson hotel, as that facility is closing, and I hope the new venue, which rumor has it will be in Manchester, New Hampshire, will have better illumination. Kudos to my little Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 for capturing these quilts in tough lighting conditions.

Stone Cottage, Kathy Rich.

While many of the quilts on display are the work of experienced artisans, the basic log cabin design above, executed in a very pleasing color combination, is beginner-friendly. Ms. Rich credits Judy Martin's Log Cabin Quilt Book as her pattern source.

Pinwheels in Provence - my quilt gets its fifteen minutes of fame.