24 June 2012

Paula Nadelstern Kaleidoscope Quilts

Kaleidoscope XXVII: September 11, 2002

I caught an exhibit of quilts by Paula Nadelstern on the last hour of the last day it was up, June 15, 2012.  Shown at the arts center of Endicott College, on Boston's North Shore, the touring exhibit of work by New Yorker Nadelstern was organized by the American Folk Art Museum.  In addition to the textiles, the show featured several actual kaleidoscopes, including one by Kennebunkport artist Sue Rioux.

Collage of images from Snowy Egret kaleidoscope by Sue Rioux.

Snowy Egret kaleidoscope, Sue Rioux.

Kaleidoscope XX: Elegant After Maths.

Most of the exhibit quilts are published in a new book, Paula Nadelstern's Kaleidoscope Quilts An Artist's Journey Continues, in which Ms. Nadelstern also explains her methods. The two images below are from this book.

Diagram of cutting and assembling kaleidoscope components.

Basically, Ms. Nadelstern positions wedge-shaped templates over printed fabric, cutting multiples of the same motif from the fabric pattern repeats. These wedges are then stitched together to construct her symmetries. Ms. Nadelstern did not invent this technique but she has refined it to a level achieved by few other artists.

Kaleidoscope XVII: Caribbean Blues.

The quilt above, Kaleidoscope XVII: Caribbean Blues, was used for the promotional materials, and is a masterpiece.  Unlike some of the quilts in which a variety of deployed pieced kaleidoscopes, unified only by a vaguely similar color palette, sit in uneasy relationships with one another, in this quilt only one motif is seen in its entirety.

This geometric mandala is joined by identically-patterned, partial motifs. Since they are cut from the same cloth, literally, all the pieced kaleidoscopes reinforce one another, and the repetition of the motifs creates a surface of elements in harmony, not competition. The kaleidoscope motif is so complex, its repetition gives the viewer needed opportunity to absorb and comprehend the pattern. The continuous unbroken border contains the energy, and there is no awkward field/border relationship to distract from the glowing geometry of the kaleidoscope units.

The background is clearly delineated through color and, rather than being just leftover space, forms a glowing interstitial matrix containing and framing the exploding bursts of color.

Caribbean Blues, detail.
The centers of the Caribbean Blues motifs were simplified for technical reasons, but this construction allowed the introduction of a fabric with a lot of white, a perfect foil for the saturated tones of the background. Let's hope this work enters a sympathetic museum someday.

Caribbean Blues, detail of wedge construction.

Also on view were pieced, individual kaleidoscopes, which hold their own masterfully, without the need for placement into a quilt.

Eight Kaleidoscope Blocks.

Viewing Kaleidoscope XXXIII: Shards.