25 December 2015

Holiday Cheer

1950's holiday card designed by Tammis Keefe.

I'll begin this post with a big "thank you" to all my blog readers for visiting this site throughout the year. It's been a privilege to share my adventures with you, and I hope this blog has been helpful, instructive or entertaining in some way.

Above is a vintage card by artist Tammis Keefe (1913 - 1960), the focus of my collecting hobby, and whose birthday is December 27 (she'd be 102 this year.)  The card was published by the imprint "Irene Dash," originally part of the Associated American Artists group. This consortium of artists sought to bring art to the masses and is the focus of a new book and exhibit.  Evidently a successor firm still publishes the holiday cards, including another one by Keefe.

December found DH and I babysitting in Manhattan, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather as well as the holiday lights and decorations.  Whatever one's beliefs, the bright colors and lights are a tonic for the sunlight-deprived during these short winter days.

Tree guard on Madison Ave.

Outside a restaurant.

Apartment building near the Metropolitan Museum.

Joy and peace to all.

13 December 2015

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College at the ICA

Top: Albers teaching. Bottom left: Multiplex A, Josef Albers.

Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art  hosts a multi-media exhibit Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957  from October 10, 2015 through January 24, 2016. This very thoughtful exhibit, organized by Helen Molesworth, who is also responsible for the catalog,  reflects a growing interest in this small, rural school which had an out-sized influence on American art in the 20th century.  Cultural figures who studied or taught at the school include Robert Rauschenberg, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, M. C. Richards, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, and, although she is not mentioned in the exhibit, one of my favorite children's book illustrators, Vera Williams

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, Minutiae. Right, Ruth Asawa, Untitled.

Holland Cotter's  comprehensive review of the show - really, almost a mini-history of Black Mountain - appeared in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/arts/design/the-short-life-and-long-legacy-of-black-mountain-college.html?_r=0

Founded by educator John Rice in 1933, in rural North Carolina, the school hired professor Josef Albers, who became a refugee after the Nazis effectively closed the Bauhaus, and is best known for his classic book (and now appThe Interaction of Color.  Albers' wife Anni, a noted textile artist and teacher in her own right,  taught design and weaving.  Women artists, and artists of color such as Jacob Lawrence, found support in the progressive atmosphere of the school.  Images of women associated with Black Mountain College, and their work, can be seen at http://mondo-blogo.blogspot.com/2010/07/women-of-black-mountain-college.html

Top: Anni Albers, Monte Alban. Josef Albers, Variant/Adobe.

Knot 2, Anni Albers.

Necklaces, Anni Albers.

Anni Albers, necklaces, detail.

The exhibit showcases some of Anni Albers jewelry made with found materials; thrift was a necessity at a school with no endowment.  Bobby pins, paper clips, corks and hardware washers are all tranformed into wearable art.  The washer necklace, below, is among the best known of Anni Albers' works, and there are many tutorials to help you make one. Note that the original necklace features washers in three graduated sizes, with the largest washers in the middle.

The school began during the Depression; there was little money for art supplies so Josef Albers sent students into the woods and fields to collect materials.  The rural location continued to influence students throughout the history of the institution.

Josef Albers, Leaf Study, with natural leaves.

M. C. Richards (Mary Caroline), Platter.

After Josef Albers left Black Mountain to head the Department of Design at Yale in 1950, his student Warren "Pete" Jennerjahn took over the design and color class; Jennerjahn's teaching materials are shown below. The colored paper has discolored over the years from adhesive, but this material is a rare record of pedagogical methods in the teaching of art and design. More about instructional methods and student life at Black Mountain can be found here: http://black-mountain-research.com/2015/08/11/interview-with-pete-jennerjahn/

Teaching materials, Pete Jennerjahn.

Teaching materials, Pete Jennerjahn.

There was little in the exhibit on the influence of Black Mountain on the teaching of art, although this issue was perhaps addressed in the catalog, which I have not read. I suspect that Albers' legacy at Yale, which certainly built on his work at Black Mountain, was more influential with academic institutions as they developed studio art curricula.

Black Mountain, always on shaky ground financially and never formally accredited, closed in 1957. The loom below, made by North Carolina craftsmen, is a survivor from Anni Albers' weaving workshop. This manual shuttle-craft loom, restored in 2013 by Mikkel Hansen, features a weaving-in-progress by Massachusetts College of Art student Sarah Peloquin.  

Restored Black Mountain loom with weaving by Sarah Peloquin.

22 November 2015

Small Wonders at the New England Quilt Museum

The New England Quilt Museum recently received a gift of 29 doll quilts and doll beds made by husband-and-wife Maine craftspeople Lorayne and Lloyd Dodge.  This gift, and the loan to the museum of a collection of small Amish quilts, prompted curator Pamela Weeks to mount a show of over 60 diminutive quilts, entitled Small Wonders, on view through December 26, 2015.

In background, Lone Star crib quilt c. 1900.

Susan A. C. Burnham, Redwork crib quilt, c. 1880.

The purpose of a crib quilt is fairly obvious - a functional child-sized bed covering, but such quilts are also  physical embodiments of the sheltering protectiveness of parenting. But beyond utility, miniature quilts have an appeal all their own. Quite a bit of artistry was expended in the doll quilts on view - even the most simplistic have a thoughtful arrangement of colors, carefully designed borders and, although a doll has no need for a warm bed covering, the doll quilts are nevertheless layered and quilted like their full-sized cousins.

Dodge miniature beds and quilt.

Diamonds in a Square doll quilt, c. 1900.

The tradition of small quilts continues, as artists find the small format conducive to techniques such as embroidery and bead embellishment, which  might be overly time-consuming on a large project, and for the sheer enjoyment, perhaps, of what Tasha Tudor, in reference to doll houses, called "perfection in miniature." 

Ethel Shulam, Golden Ladies, 2004, detail.

Also, with  a reduction in scale comes a freedom to experiment with form, to break free from the rectilinear tradition of bed quilts altogether.

Carol Henry, Callen's Comet, no date.

Many of the quilts, however, use traditional patterns and techniques to create quilts with powerful visual impact in spite of their small dimensions.  Unfortunately, the makers of the 19th and 20th-century small quilts are, for the most part, unknown, as the works were not signed or labelled. If the artist is known, I provide this information in the caption; otherwise the maker is unknown.

Lone Star crib quilt, c. 1900, detail.

Amish Sunshine and Shadow doll quilt, c. 1900.

Nine-patch crib quilt, c. 1900.

Diamonds in a Square doll quilt, c. 1900.

Triangles crib quilt, c. 1850.

The traditional log cabin quilt pattern seems to lend itself particularly well  to just about any scale - the fabric strips, or "logs," can vary in size, the number of logs can vary per block, and the number of blocks can vary as well - the pattern remains visually intact.

Square within a Square doll quilt, c. 1880.

Log Cabin doll quilt, c. 1870.

Miniature quilt-maker, and former Marine, George Siciliano, introduced to quilting by his wife Virginia, creates miniature quilts, using silk fabric in jewel-like tones, which are each a  technical tour-de-force of small-scale log cabin piecing.

Betwixt and Between, George Siciliano, 2012.  2874 pieces.

6522, George Siciliano, 2014.  Title refers to the number of pieces.

Some Assembly Required, George Siciliano, 2013.

Another contemporary quilt maker working in a small scale is Nancy Messier, whose work is shown below, and who uses a variety of techniques in addition to piecing.  On the top row in the image below, the quilts are: left  Shadow Play; right Winter Tree.  The bottom row, from left: Heart Bursting with Love, Shell Seeker, and When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple High Tops.

Small quilts by Nancy Messier.

Nancy Messier used applique techniques is many of her works on display, and although most of the historic small quilts in the show were pieced, there were some examples of quite imaginative applique.

Moon Heart and Star doll quilt, c. 1870.

Since the quilts were made for children, many of them feature wonderful collections of juvenile prints, including the Double-Wedding Ring quilt below.

Double Wedding Ring crib quilt, c. 1930.

An assortment of doll quilts, labelled using Scrabble tiles.

Curator Weeks used an intriguing  method to key her quilts to the wall labels -  Scrabble Set tiles, as shown in the image above. This seems appropriate, as so many of the quilts were accessories for playthings.  Books, in addition to toys, explore our fascination with  the realm of the small as well - Gulliver's encounter with the Lilliputians, and Mary Norton's The Borrowers, the fictional tiny folk who would have loved to have had bed coverings such as these. 

DH photographing miniature quilts by Sheila Holland.

Raggedy Ann, snug beneath her doll quilt.

31 October 2015

By the Yard - two fabric stores in London

The neo-Tudor Liberty store.
During a recent vacation in London, I journeyed to two wonderful fabric stores. No, I didn't visit Liberty, although their Tana lawn is a favorite, and is widely available here in the US and through mail order.   Using my convenient prepaid subway Oyster card,  I went a bit further afield than the Regent Street location of Liberty, to Islington in fact.  After arriving at the Angel Tube station I walked about 10 minutes to Ray-Stitch, my first stop.

Ray-Stitch, in Islington.

Helpful store associate cutting fabric.

This store sells fabric for actually making clothes, as opposed to so-called "quilt" fabrics.  I use many apparel fabrics for my quilts, as the quality is much better, and, honestly, if you are going to spend 100 hours to make something, shouldn't the materials be worthy of your time?

Lots of patterns, notions, other goodies.

Bolts of fabric; cutting table.

Books, magazines and mannequins with samples. Inspirational!

A rainbow of buttons.

My way back to the station took me along a pedestrian street called Camden Passage, with a variety of small boutiques, including vintage clothing stores, and a special destination for this chocoholic: 

Truffle flavors include Bakewell Tart and Pimms Cocktail.

Vintage clothing store, Camden Passage.

I also enjoyed the Loop yarn store, although I have a moratorium on any yarn purchases at the moment.  London shop windows are rewarding for those of us who are easily entertained.

Papier mache mascot by Julie Arkell in Loop's window.

Well, I was almost back at the station when I realized it was lunchtime.  Food is expensive in London, so I went to the Tesco's grocery store across from Islington Green park, bought a salad and a bottled iced tea, and found a bench back at the park. Cheap, good, and with a side order of people watching for free.

Next, onto Berwick Street  (Tottenham Court Road station) and the Soho location of Cloth House.

Shell and horn buttons, ticking, shop sign.

All kinds of fabrics - linen, cotton, technical, knits...

Well, I could have bought everything in this treasure house, but limited myself to some hand-printed fabrics from India.  Students receive a discount here. 

Downstairs for velvet, special occasion fabrics...


Shopping is thirsty work, and I enjoyed tea at Yumchaa, around the corner from the store.  My only regret is that I neglected to buy some of Yumchaa's loose tea to bring home. Maybe they'll come to the States, she thought, with hope...

Busy tea emporium.

Some of my purchases at Cloth House and Ray-Stitch.