Women Who Run With Scissors - Art Quilts - Arts Around Boston Magazine, November/December 1999
Hand Made Future - The
Arts & Crafts Movement -
Crazy Quilts Make Me Sane
As children we were taught not to run with scissors in our hands. Artists Mary Walter, Ginny Ruhe, Julie Brownlee, Karen Pulaski, Peggy Morris and Mary Clare Ryan belong to a group called "Women Who Run with Scissors" and no one is telling them to stop running. In fact, these six women are marathoners who are recreating the American quilt using some traditional and some not traditional art techniques. Through color, texture, shape and embellishments, pieces of artwork (art quilts) are created by the group that passionately explore and delight our visual longing. Each artist has a unique style yet together they collaborate, share hand dyed fabric and more importantly inspire each other to explore.
The Quilt As Art
Born in the 1950's and pioneered by Jean Ray Laury, the art quilt is just now reaching young maturity. Art quilts began appearing following a change in attitude toward cloth in the 1960's with the emergence of wearable art (embroidered blue jeans and tie dyed T-shirts). Modern quilters have taken the quilt off the bed and out it on the wall to be viewed like a painting. Using established quilt techniques, modern quilters are expanding the subject matter of quilts to reflect the diversity and complexity of our modern world. As in other forms of art, art quilt content and imagery can be serious or funny, wild or specific, colorful or dank, non-emotional or cathartic or be abstract studies in color, light, pattern and texture. Cloth, the basic ingredient for an art quilt offers a dimension not available to the painter. Tactile in nature, cloth evokes a sense of warmth and invitation.
New Options for Old Ideas
The art quilt reaches beyond the boundaries of traditional quiltmaking established primarily by American women during the nineteenth century. Modern quiltmakers draw on their life experiences and their skills as trained artists. They find inspiration in all that which has preceded, impressionism, realism, surrealism art, Baltimore albums, whole cloth crazy, Amish and African quilts, to name just a few. Mary Walter, a member of the aforementioned Women Who Run with Scissors said it so well, "We own all of its (quilting) past and now its future." Quilters' materials are just as finely inspired, African Kente cloth, Japanese Kimono silks, Bali Batiks, metallic threads, metal foils and a burgeoning market of exquisite hand dyed fabrics. Quilts traditionally shaped are now found in a wide variety of compositions. The "Ribbon" a quilt by Joyce Marquess Carey used as the cover art for the sumptuous book called 'The Art Quilt" by Robert Shaw is a trompe l'oeil that literally ripples to the eye while being absolutely flat.
Upgrading an Image
Quilting has a history of being a craft, the practical work of women. Until recently, craft has suffered from a somewhat devalued image as compared to fine art. Today, craft is becoming an important creative market producing unique products. Visit a gift shop at any major museum and you will see the majority of items are hand crafted. Art quilts are experiencing a slow but methodical acceptance into the marketplace. Most art quilters do not make a living selling their quilts. Well known art quilters like Nancy Halpern, Nancy Crow and Michael James also teach quilting. Demand by collectors is small but increasing. Corporations and interior designers are the largest purchasers as they appreciate the intrinsic value of art quilts as both motivating and pleasurable. Fidelity Investments, a large supporter of art installations in their workplaces is hosting a private exhibit in Boston for Women Who Run with Scissors. Massachusett's art quilter, Ruth McDowell's magnificent quilt (140" x 102") called "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" hangs in the stairwell of a prominent Boston law firm. Public access to art quilts can be found at numerous local exhibits, the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell and of course on the Internet. More visibility is in order.
Women Who Run with Scissors met at member Mary Walter's Marlborough store, A Quilter's Garden. Mary teaches quilt classes and the above mentioned women began to find themselves meeting often and having similar tastes and goals. The group formed and together they are finding new areas of creativity and new ways to get exposure for their art. In the past year they have exhibited in over ten exhibits. Each woman considers herself an artist whose medium is fabric. They are eclectic in personalities and their quilts echo that energy. Julie Brownlee started quilting after being inspired by her grandmother's quilt that was used as a curtain on her dorm window. Mary Clare Ryan hailed from an art background but worked in the computer field. She always sewed for practical reasons and found a creative outlet through art quilts. Karen Pulaski always wanted to paint and work with color. She never had any interest in the traditional. The diversity of fabric was the perfect medium for her. Peggy Morris uses her seamstress background and an intuitive nature to develop her art quilts. She finds the process very therapeutic. Mary Walter has made quilting her business. Her career is an extension of what she calls her "tactile" nature. Ginny Ruhe is perhaps the quilter in the group who is most uninhibited and expressive. She has a deep understanding of what she wishes to convey and approaches her art by saying, "You never know whom you are going to influence." Art Quilts by Women Who Run with Scissors are available through Sitta Fine Art.
"Quilt 21 - American Art Quilts for the New Century" will premier in Lowell, MA in August 2000 and will become an annual show that will travel around the country for two years. For information call Maxine Farkas at Brush Art Gallery at (978)-459-7819
The Art Quilt, Robert Shaw, 1997, Hugh Lauer Levin Associates, Inc.
New England Quilt Museum - 18 Shattuck Street, Lowell, MA
World Wide Quilting Page - www.quilt.com/MainQuiltingPage.html
Sitta Fine Art - (508) 376-2676
Crazy Quilts Make Me Sane
Crazy quilts are my link to sanity. Each crazy quilt that I piece together becomes a symphony for me, yet others stare and think cacophony. I dont mind. I have finally created the form and function that works for me. I am a busy mom (three kids), business owner (home based marketing services company), artist (writer and quilter) and community activist (publicist for local arts association). Each day is an exhilarating race to see just how many tasks can be accomplished. I never finish and the next day is a frantic carbon copy of the previous day. Everyone tells me to slow down, but I know I wont. Sanity comes in stolen, quilted moments. I am not alone. Most of the people that I meet, whether in business or socially, are experiencing the same circumstances. Modern life has us caught in a busy whirlwind that is next to impossible to stop. Sanity is precious.
I can sit at my sewing machine or I can sit in my favorite chair and hand quilt, quietly, meticulously, for hours. Quilting is my art, my stressbuster. The mad world goes away and I am at peace with myself and the world. I became a quilter quite by association. Twenty years ago, I began sewing clothes for myself and my children. I started sewing out of necessity. Money was tight and I saw a way to economize. My sewing adventure quickly turned into a passion. The real passion though, wasnt about sewing but about fabric. Fabric excites me and turns on my creative psyche. I will never have enough fabric. Each trip to the fabric store, each catalog that comes in the mail, each fabric/quilt web site I locate, entices me unmercifully to add to my stash. And it is the stash that has led me to quilting.
As the fabric stash grew, I periodically would survey the overflowing boxes, shelves, shopping bags and closets with disheartening guilt. It became obvious to me that I was never going to get around to making that dress, skirt or blouse. Then I would chastise myself and make foolish promises not to buy any more fabric until I used up what I had. But like a New Years resolution that we almost always forget within a months time, I would find myself at the fabric store buying yet another yard of fabric that caught my eye. About five years ago, my aunt Theresa sent me a pile of quilt books that changed everything.
One day, as I was reading through the quilt books, I started to see my fabric stash in a whole new dimension. Suddenly, quilt designs were filling my brain and making my fingers itch. I bought more books (and of course more fabric) and I began making quilts. It has been a fascinating journey and one that has had many triumphs and many disappointments. At first, my quilting leaned toward traditional designs. I bought templates, patterns and I studied all the intricate possibilities. Each time I worked on a traditional quilt, I would become bored, put it aside and go back to sewing clothes. The quilts would nag at me from all corners of my sewing room to finish them but instead I would usually start yet another one. I was frustrated and had almost convinced myself to give up quilting and perish the thought give away my stash or worse yet, throw it away.
Somewhere between frustration and a stroke of genius, crazy quilting surfaced as the consummate solution to my creative need and the corralling of the fabric stash. Today, I spend my time reveling in each and every piece of fabric. Each piece is always the right amount, the right color, the right texture. The quilts virtually put themselves together and I am proud to give them as gifts or to display them in my home. I havent stopped buying fabric but I have learned to value my time piecing and hand quilting. Crazy quilts make me sane.
Not published but interesting...
"Idle Time is Advantageously Occupied"
Crazy quilts came into vogue during the last two decades of the 19th century. They were a departure from traditional geometric design and some believe a rebellious response to the rigid social standards of the time. Yet, history reflects that crazy quilts were borne out of the Decorative Arts Movement, started in England. The movement was inspired by the writing and works of William Morris and John Ruskin. William Morris believed that commercialism had subverted the work of the individual craftsman. The Decorative Arts Movement was formally introduced to America during the Centennial Exposition in 1876 by the Royal School of Art Needlework. This movement united domesticity, morality and art. Cassells Household Guide (1869-1872) published in London said the following about patchwork: "The advantages of making patchwork, besides the useful purpose it is put - and indeed, to be reckoned before those purposes - are its moral effects. Leisure must either be filled up by expensive amusements, mischief, or by listless idleness, unless some harmless useful occupation can be substituted. Patchwork is, moreover, useful as an encourager of perfection in plain work, because it must be neatly sewn with white sewing silk patchwork often plays a noble part and idle time is advantageously occupied."