03 September 2023

16th Quilt Japan exhibit, at the New England Quilt Museum

Flower Spinning, detail.

With a small group of friends I took in the an exhibit of award-winning quilts from the 16th biannual Nihon (Japan) quilt competition. This show is sponsored by the Japan Handicraft Instructors Association.  Quilts may be entered in three categories: Traditional, Contemporary and, a new category for this competition, Miniature. There are cash prizes and the winners are exhibited first at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and then at select international destinations. for a number of year now, the New England Quilt Museum has been one of the venues.

Flower Spinning, Kazuyo Minami.
The Director of the museum, Nora Palermo, introduced us to a delightful docent, Mary, who gave us some of the background on the competition. She noted some general changes in the "flavor" of the entries this year, including the addition of beading and other embellishments on some of the quilts.  Beads are used in the exquisite miniature quilt below; the color palette seems appropriate in this year of "Barbie" pink.

Heart Beating, Kaori Akamatsu.

It's a lttle difficult to see in my image but there are beads at at the centers of some of the blocks as well as on the ribbon bow motifs. The hints of blue and yellow balance all the shades of pink and mauve nicely.

Heart Beating, detail.

Another outstanding miniature quilt is below, a Mariner's Compass variation in vibrant colors. The curator and staff did a great job hanging the quilts so that the objects "played" nicely together, not an easy task with so many varied, strong approaches to color.  The maker says that the title of this object is a play on words.

Piece, Peace, Peace Sing, Miyoko Watanabe.
Another quilt with an intriguing title, and strong visual impact, is the work below, with the intriguing name of Octopus Arabesque. According to the wall text, the octopus is a symbol of good fortune, as the sound of octopus in Japanese, tako, sounds just like the word takko, or happiness. 
Octopus Arabesque, Chizuko Kojima.

 The quilt above has quite a visual impact from quite a distance, which reminds me of something a visual art instructor once told our class: the viewer should see one aspect of a work at a distance of, say, twelve feet, then something more at a distance of six feet and finally a distance of six inches should reveal some new aspect of the design, maintaining the interest of the viewer.

Although all the quilts feature breath-taking workmanship, not all the quilts have much impact from a distance - many are meant to be enjoyed primarily at a close distance I think, such as the quilt below, in shades of red and pink.  The Irish Chain pattern, normally a graphically emphatic design full of movement, is here disjointed and discontinuous. The applique and pieced motifs deployed  asymmetrically on top of the piecing make for a very busy surface.   However the applique, piecing and embroidery are masterfully done and the border is especially delightful.
Chatty little birds!, Kikue Nishiya.

Chatty little birds!, detail.

Below is a red and white quilt in miniature - about 30" square.  In the wall text the maker share that she could only work on this detailed quilt during the day, with natural light. The quilt is primarily machine stitched.
The Beginning is a Red House, Yasuyo Kon.

The Beginning is a Red House, detail.

As much as I love red and white quilts, the quilts featuring a variety of traditional fabrics - many vintage - were a special treat as I drank in the profusion of polychrome prints, stripes and hand-dyed materials.

With My Whole Heart, Toshiko Akashi.

With My Whole Heart, detail.
With My Whole Heart, detail.

One thing I really like about the quilt above, in addition to the fabulous Japanese fabrics, is the artist's use of a traditional technique called Cathedral Windows, where layers of fabric are folded to form a "window" into which a square of contrasting fabric is inserted. The method uses a lot of fabric thus resulting in a heavy artifact. The technique is not often seen in quilt shows, as it is perceived, along with the traditional yo-yo quilt, to lack scope for artistry and some quilt shows even banned quilts which employed the technique. 

However, as Lynne Edwards demonstrates in her wonderful book Cathedral Window Quilts, variation on the traditional approach can result in stunning results.  Ms. Akashi employs the technique very effectively in her quilt, providing a release between the central motif and the corner blocks. 

Below is another quilt which features an enchanting assortment of fabrics; I've always had a special fondness for the Grandmother's Fan pattern, which Ms. Honda used for her border blocks.
Kaleidoscope, Mutsumi Honda.

Kaleidoscope, detail.
Kaleidoscope, detail.
Some of the quilts pack a punch without the intense embellishment but through emphatic pattern and contrast such as the quilt below, which makes the most of striped and gradient fabrics.
Crack of Time - Hazama, Mutsumi Honda.
View of gallery.

View of gallery.
One of my favorite quilts presented images of a small city with a fishing tradition. According to the wall text:
Salmon come up the Miomotegawa River in Murakami City, the northern part of Niigata Prefecture.  In winter, salmon are hung to dry under the eaves of ordinary homes in the streets where machiya (traditional townhouse [sic]) buildings still stand.
The artist has done a great job of rendering the objects and buildings without becoming too literal. (Iyoboya means salmon in Japanese.)

The City of Iyoboya, Miyoko Sekiya.

The City of Iyoboya, detail.

To finish up this blog, I'll just post more of the miniature quilts; that such tiny pieces could even be manipulated is a feat in and of itself but the designs are also delightful.  Apologies for my shadow on the images - these quilts were placed in a display case.  Each miniature quilt is about 20" square.

Hanabiyori [Flower Park], Yoko Yehara.

The Garden with Butterflies, Terumi Goto.
 Finally a little quilt which punches above its weight, below. Think those are beads creating the arabesques? No - zillions of Colonial knots; a Colonial knot is a kind of cousin to the French knot.  A symphony in texture - low relief sculpture in fiber.
Arabesque, Yuki Yokoi.

Arabesque, detail.

21 August 2023

Timna Tarr at the New England Quilt Museum

I Woke Up Like This, 2021.

In August a group of friends met me at the New England Quilt Museum. We journeyed to the city of Lowell to see the Quilts Japan exhibit, but there's usually more than one exhibit at the museum and, indeed, we got a "bonus" in the form of the show Circuitous Routes: the Quilts of Timna Tarr. Ms. Tarr lives and works South Hadley, Massachusetts. 
From the exhibit wall text:
Timna Tarr comes from a long line of quilters, but did not begin quilting until after studying art history in college.  She bought her first longarm machine in 2001 and began quilting clients' quilts shortly thereafter. 
Her nationally award-winning quilts are in private and corporate collections and [have] been seen in exhibits, publications, and on The Quilt Show and QuiltingArts TV.
Ms. Tarr's techniques include piecing and applique and she utilizes both techniques to create her  photo mosaic quilts, which remind me a bit of the work of painter Chuck Close and quilt artist Ruth McDowell. She explains her methodology in her book Stitched Photo Mosaic Quilting and teaches the techniques in workshops.

The Neighborhood Association, 2022.

The Hare Apparent, 2019.

Exhibit overview.

The Duchess of Dirt, 2018.

The Queen of Calico, 2018.

The last portrait is of the artist's cat, Caleigh.  This enjoyable exhibit is on view through September 30, 2023.

15 August 2023

Something Old, Something New at the MFA Boston

Wedding Dress, Arnold Scaasi, 1989.
We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, recently and enjoyed the exhibit Something Old, Something New: Wedding Fashions and TraditionsFor once, I am blogging about an exhibit well before it ends - this display is on view through October, 2023.

From the exhibit introductory wall text:
...Drawing from the MFA's collection of costume, jewelry, and photography, this exhibition explores the origins of American wedding customs and looks at how they've evolved - and stayed the same - from before the Victorian era and beyond.

The central focus of the exhibit is, not surprisingly, the wedding dress.  

Complemented by white veils, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories, the wedding dress is the centerpiece of the ceremony and perhaps the most symbolic of Western nuptial traditions. While its perseverance is attributed to Queen Victoria's romanticized marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 in a gown that was "rich white satin trimmed with orange flower blossoms," many brides before her - especially from Christian communities - chose white to represent virginity, purity and femininity.  This choice was made centuries before by Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and other societies to symbolize wealth, status and power.  The romance and elegance of white silk, lace, tulle, and satin persists as the signifier of a perfect ceremonial gown.

Bridal gowns can often become family heirlooms, passed down through generations.  Nowadays, many modern brides seek dresses they can rewear and incorporate into their wardrobe.  In either case wedding gowns make a great case study for sustainable fashion as they rarely end up in landfills.  Perhaps due to an emotional connection to what the dress tends to represent - hope.  Do you still have your wedding dress or bridal ensemble?

Well, I don't have my ensemble (but still married), however I did have my daughter's wedding dress "preserved" by J. Scheer and Company, specialists in costume conservation.  

Wedding dress, American, 1889.

Wedding dress with leaf motif, English c. 1945.

Woman's bridal ensemble in two parts, Bob Mackie, 1980's.

Woman's wedding ensemble, Priscilla of Boston, c. 1986.

Detail, machine-made lace.

Wedding dress, Geoffrey Beene, 2002.

Wedding dress, Priscilla of Boston, 2011.

A word about Priscilla of Boston - this was a bridal boutique on Boston's fashionable Newbury Street until 2011. Learn more about Priscilla Comins Kidder at the Smithsonian archive.

In addition to the dress, of course, there are all the other wedding outfit accoutrements - undergarments, shoes, headpieces and veils, hosiery, and jewelry.  The MFA has a good collection of these artifacts too.  As someone who knits I was impressed by a pair of stockings from 1855, below. 

One of a pair of wedding stockings, American, 1855.

Wedding corset, made by Ann Priscilla Watson, 1839.

Although I didn't save my wedding dress, I do have an image of my cake topper, below. I used to have red hair, but, unlike the plastic bride figure, I still have both my arms.

Wedding cake topper, maker unknown, 1978.


26 June 2023

What That Quilt Knows About Me - American Folk Art Museum

Whole cloth quilt, detail.

In May DH and I joined a docent-led tour of the exhibit What That Quilt Knows About Me at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan. The title of the exhibit is from a quote attributed to an anonymous needleworker:
"My whole life is in that quilt...my hopes and fears, my joys and sorrows, my loves and hates.  I tremble sometimes when I remember what that quilt know about me."

My own sub-title for the exhibit might might be "if this quilt could talk..." People have long imbued inanimate objects with special meaning, especially objects made with precious materials or involving skilled artisanship.  From the wall text:
The notion that these objects [quilts] have the capacity for "knowing" - containing information or narratives about the human experience - expands the scope of the textile beyond its maker, exploring how material things can gather, retain, and pass down histories of the individual, family and community.

So, although remarkable, some of the quilts may not feature refined technique or look like the color-coordinated and sophisticated award-winning quilts seen at contemporary quilt shows. However, the works present insights into the life and stories of the women (and the occasional man) who made them.

Bird of Paradise quilt top, maker unknown, 1858-1863.

This quilt top, made in the Albany region of New York state, was never made into a finished quilt but was preserved and found its way into the museum's collection.  Not only did this quilt top survive but so did some of the paper templates used to make the appliques motifs; see the templates in the image below.

Paper templates for Bird of Paradise quilt top.

Mysteriously, the templates include designs for the the male and female figures but the finished quilt top omits the male figure.  We'll never know the reason for the omission - did the man die in the Civil War? Did a planned marriage not take place for some other reason? 

The quilt top features images of contemporaneous popular culture, including famed race horses and a circus elephant named Hannibal, who performed in the region.

Bird of Paradise quilt top, detail.

Another applique quilt is below, and conveys the maker's love of color and of chickens. This quilt was made by Mississippi life-long quilter Pearlie Posey (1894-1984) shortly before she died. Ms Posey's mother died young, so she learned techniques from her grandmother.  From the wall text:
Posey saw quilting as part of her legacy to her family.  Perhaps remembering her mother, she said, "...if the Lord take me and I leave you...I say you'll have some covers."

Hens Quilt, 1981.

Sacret Bibel [sic] quilt top, Susan Arrowood, 1875-1895.

In this quilt the maker depicts stories from the Old and New Testaments and lively scenes possibly from her place of worship. She's labelled some of the vignettes with earnest, if not scholarly, hand-writing and spelling. The detail below show John the Baptist immersing Jesus in the River Jordan.

Detail, Sacret Bibel quilt top.


The exhibit also includes applique quilts from the tradition of Baltimore Album quilts (image below), made by women with the resources to use purpose-bought materials and the time to construct elaborate blocks and border designs.  From the wall text:

Although many Baltimore quilts are associated with Christian communities, this spectacular example is part of a group possibly linked with the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  Founded in 1830, by the time this quilt was made the congregation was meeting at the Lloyd Street synagogue, one of the oldest in the United States.
Baltimore album quilts are known as an exceptionally colorful and playful regional tradition, springing in part from the accessibility of a wide range of textiles imported into the city's bustling port.  At the height of popularity in the mid-19th century, they are recognizable for their use of pictorial applique - free-form fabric cut-outs applied to the larger background of the quilt.  Each block consists of an individual vignette, highlighting the creativity of the quilter(s) and coming together to form an "album," from which this style takes its name.

Reiter Family Album Quilt, 1848-1850.

Some quilts include both piecing and appliqué techniques, such as the quilt below, one of the oldest in the exhibit.  This quilt includes fabulous antique printed fabrics, including a central block printed by printer John Hewson (1744-1821).  The dating of the quilt itself is given as a range from 1790-1810. It's important to remember that women would have collected fabrics -  remnants from dress-making, home decoration etc. - for some time before these pieces would have been combined into a quilt, along with special fabrics such as the central panel and the lengths for the exuberant borders. I have a quilt made in the 1920's for my mother by my great-grandmother using fabrics from the 19th century.
Hewson-Center Quilt, maker unknown.

This quilt has interesting connections to early American history. From the wall text:

The textiles of British-born American patrior John Hewson demonstrate the trans-Atlantic popularity of natural motifs, such as the lively birds, butterflies, and flowers seen in the center of this quilt.  However, this charming imagery presents a stark contrast to the histories of conflict in which textiles and other luxury products were embroiled in the 18th century.

Block-printer John Hewson immigrated to Philadelphia from London in 1773, a time when the trans-Atlantic exchange of textiles and other trade goods, like tea, were a great point of contention in the growing Revolutionary clash.  Although British regulations hampered domestic textiles production, Hewson set up his own printworks in his adopted city, bringing his London-honed skills to the American market.

Later in his career, he would further advocate for the American textile industry by sending yards of his fabric to Martha Washington, encouraging the President's wife to sport locally-made chintz with pride.  During the Revolution, Hewson also supported the American cause by joining the Philadelphia militia. He was captured by the British but returned to his business after his release.

Hewson panel quilt, detail.

Hewson panel quilt, detail.

Another 19th century is shown below, and it's interesting not only because of its stellar workmanship but because an old note attached to the back indicated it was made by Black needlewomen who were enslaved and worked in the household of the Kentucky plantation called the The Knob. Based on stylist similarities to another masterpiece quilt in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this quilt has been attributed to sisters Ellen Morton Littlejohn (c. 1826-n.d.) and Margaret Morton (c. 1833-1880). Both quilts feature blocks enhanced by trapunto technique; that is stuffing the motif with additional batting or other fill, embellishing the design in low relief.

Whig Rose and Swag Border Quilt, 1850

Whig Rose and Swag Border Quilt, detail of trapunto.

Another quilt from this time period helps demonstrate the breadth of quilt designs and traditions.  I love the deep orange referred to in quilt studies as "cheddar" and the quilt top below glows with it.  The quilt top was made by Sarah "Sallie" Ann Garges (c.1833 -c.1901.)

Applique Bedcover, Sallie Ann Garges, 1853.

 From the wall text:

This quilt top conceals a mystery: at center right, beside the two white cow, an amorphous yellow patch obscures a male figure. Why was he cover up?  We will probably never know the quilter's reasons for removing him from the scene.  Garges' determination to conceal him suggests the specific and personal nature of her work.  Rather than generalized figures, the characters populating her quilt may well have been intended to represent people from her life.

According to family tradition, the bedcover was made to celebrate the engagement of Sarah "Sallie" Ann Garges to her groom Oliver Shutt.  Scenes from agricultural life enliven the geometric composition, likely draw from everyday experiences on the family farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Grounding the design with a house and a barn at either end of the central diamond, Garges depicts men at work, hunting, plowing, and chopping.  Distinctive motifs such as a beehive, squirrels, and bugs further personalize the scene.  The quilter intialed and dated her work in the center with the year of her engagement, 1853, and signed her initials "SAG." Garges had three brothers, but one died young, suggesting a possible candidate for the covered figure.

Of course, another mystery is why the top was never quilted - was it meant to be more of an informal throw?   

Applique bedcover, detail.

The exhibit is not only wide-reaching with regard to time period, but also geography. The quilt below is attributed to Mary Sherman Thompson and is thought to be a wedding gift. 

American missionaries introduced Anglo-style quilting to the islands in the 19th century but the native Hawaiians transformed this imported craft into a style all their own.  Moreover, quilts often featured symbols of heritage and culture from many sources and polities. According to the curators:

Also referred to by the title Ku'u Hae Aloha or "My Beloved Flag," this rare 19th-century quilt carries powerful political meaning.  Consisting of four flags centered on the royal crest, the work follows a 19th-century pattern expressing pride in Hawaiian sovereignty.  In a complex entanglement of ideals, these flags are based on WEstern symbols, includ the Union Jack of Great Britain, who royal government provided a model for the Kingdom of Hawaii when it was founded in the late 18th century.
Hawaiian flag quilts gained further symbolic potency when the monarchy was later deposed.  In 1893, a coup was staged against Queen Lili'uokalani - carried out primarily by Americans or Hawaiians of American descent - leading to the eventual annexation of Hawaii to the United States.  Flag quilts took on the additional poignancy of stolen independence.  Quilting practice also inserted itself into Hawaiian political history when, while imprisoned during this era, the queen herself turned to the craft.  Her work can now be seen at Hawaii's Iolani Palace.

Hawaiian Flag Quilt, attributed to Mary Thompson, late 19th c.

Another quilt which features a melding of traditions is the pieced quilt below, made by a woman born in Japan who learned to quilt in the United States.  The many small, expertly pieced blocks in this work utilized antique Japanese kimono fabrics.

Yuen no Akari: Light from Far-Away Space. Setsuko Obi, 2001.

Light from Far-Away Space, detail.

Finally, more about the quilt which opened this blog post. That first image is a detail of the quilt below, in the detail image that is the first picture of this post.  I've considerably lightened the image to show the texture of the quilting, which the wall text notes as "...lavish ornamental stitching across the entire surface of the bedcovering." More from the wall text:

Referred to as "whole-cloth" quilts, such works are made of large pieces of fabric in solid colors.  The tradition of pieced quilts, which join together many small patches of fabric, developed later in the 19th century.

Whole-cloth quilts were also made in England, and immigrant women brought the practice to the American Northeast.  18th-century petticoats could also be intricately quilted.  Women covered themselves with the skilled work of the needleworker's hand - perhaps their own, that of a family member, or a professional seamstress - throughout the day and into the night.
Whole Cloth Quilt, maker unknown, New England, early 18th c.