Monday, April 07, 2014

Quilts and a celebration of Boston Strong

On Thursday, I met two friends at the MFA (Boston) to see their new acquisition, the Pilgrim/Roy Quilt collection.  The exhibit was beautifully arranged with an emphasis on color theory.  After total satiation in stitches, fabric, geometry and color, we had lunch,  a breezy stroll through "Boston Loves Impressionism" and a meander through one of their four gift shops.

A picture of some of the 1700+ fabric flags offered from across the country is posted at the end of this post. The recognition that so many students from so many places made tangible what I think is best about the United States: caring, cohesion, and creativity. Nice to have so many bits and pieces in celebration and in honor of the Boston Marathon, the runners and the injured while the quilts are in the vicinity exemplifying how diverse bits and pieces can make a beautiful whole... 

Perhaps instead of using a "melting pot" metaphor, we should look at the United States as one HUGE crazy quilt!

I'm not a quilter (at least yet), but I've been to several big quilt "shows" and exhibits and always find them inspirational.  The amount of work, talent and affection they represent is huge and often breathtaking. 
There are lists of upcoming quilt shows here, here, and here. And if you are near Lowell, MA, don't forget the New England Quilt Museum!

Mr. Pilgrim and Mr. Roy were both trained artist and collected quilts for more than 5 decades.  They themselves were interested in abstract expressionism and op-art.  Their quilt choices reflect their artistic sensibilities, while honoring the centuries old traditions in quilt making.

The first room included quilts that used complimentary colors (i.e., opposite each other on the color wheel).  It turns out that Pilgrim and Roy both really liked the color orange... so there was LOTS of orange.
(I really liked the sunflower stitching pattern in the detail shown above).
Red orange and blue green are just as vibrant.

Identified as Scherenschnitte, the quilt above and below consisted of nine major blocks each made with a SINGLE piece of red fabric, carefully snipped and appliqued, then quilted with a textured pattern of triangles and loops.
Another set of complimentary colors: red and green, with darks for spark and challenging stitching.  Nowadays there are computer programmed sewing machines that can practically quilt a quilt top all by themselves:  these were done by hand!
This green and rose quilt wasn't about the piecing, but the stitching.
If you right click or double click,  you can see the details even better.

After "compliments" there was an area of quilts made of analogous or more closely related colors. I was delighted that their explanatory panel quoted (verbally AND artistically) one of the foremost color theorist, Josef Albers.

This one uses the primaries:  Red, Yellow and Green

This blue has some red in it and the "red" has some blue in it (believe it or not)... so they soften each other and blend a bit more than the complimentary colors which (ironically) are a bit more combative.
I think this quilter was daring to combine yellow, green and three different "reddish" colors: the pink octagonal stars, the 15 point red star bursts and the reddish brown "back ground."  This was also one of the few quilts shaped to fall straight at the corners of the bed.
This variant of a flower-basket pattern uses analogous green, yellow and blue with the surprising and almost complimentary pink triangles.  Again, I was pretty amazed by the stripes of straight stitches (at irregular distances in parallel lines), contrasted with the loopy flowery shapes in the largest triangles.
This pattern is apparently known as "snail's trail." It looks like it has curved pieces, but it is actually made of small and smaller geometric (i.e., straight-sided shapes) like you can see here. At the same time, notice how related colors run on the diagonal, the top and bottom rows are the same, but none of the other squares fit any recognizable (to me, anyway) pattern.

(Sorry this explanation is so fuzzy.  The room was VERY dark to protect the colors, flashes were prohibited, and I don't travel with a tripod...:-(  )  But Amish quilts are famous for their intense yet compatible colors.
The colors of this quilt are somewhat muted... and each main color actually has a pattern which adds to the interrelatedness of the stripes.

The "Thousand Pyramids" quilt below uses amazingly fresh colors with lots of lavender, salmon and Prussian blue, combined with very light and dark neutrals and that nifty green. Note also the almost Celtic style braided pattern on the border. More about this quilt pattern here.

I wish I knew what the Amish used to make their dyes.  They are famous for these colors as they used them not only for their textiles in the home, but for their clothing as well. They might have tried to live a "simple" life, but they didn't scrimp on beauty.

Again, muted contrasts and simplicity in piecing, but elegance, even extravagance in the stitching and rich colors.

Sol Lewitt was especially known as a conceptual artist and minimalism.  I think of his work as being celebrations of DESIGN.  The quilts shown in the category of "Variation"  emphasize gradations of the same colors... either working around the color wheel, or ranging lighter tones or darker shades of the same hue in rows, diagonals or squares.

Even though these black diamond seem to be "just" black, the log cabin pattern uses blue-black, brownish-black, reddish black along with the varieties of red, blue, yellow and tan.
Neutrals (browns, tans, buff and black) are set of with  shocks of orange and red. Again, the piecing isn't particularly complex, but the workmanship is disciplined and excellent.

I think this example IS about the piecing.  Those little squares (pixel-like!) are SMALL.  I'm thinking this quilter didn't have a cat or toddler to "help" with the layout or basting.
I'm not sure what the name of this next category was.  (I was overwhelmed by now).  But these quilts all used a lot of white, and tended to be of an older vintage than most of the rest.
Most of the other museum patrons sounded as if they had at least some quilting knowledge.  I was tickled that this couple was talking about how some of the squares weren't perfectly aligned.  They loved the quilts and weren't really complaining... but I think we all like to find fault!  (And are sometimes proud of our ability to find fault with things we can't do ourselves).
Even though the leaves and the flowers appear to be large single pieces of fabric, they are actually made up of multiple curvilinear shapes: ellipses, parallelograms, etc. AND there's all of that inter-connected stitching.  Remember, NO computers!

I was especially tickled by the dual toned peaches (apples? pears?) on the trees in this quilt. It gave an impression of light and shadow and roundness to the fruit. Of course the crazy diamonds were rather mesmerizing!

Several quilts surprised me by NOT being bilaterally symmetrical.  I am assuming that there may have been matching or coordinating pillow shams used where there was not a formal border.

More Variations!
This was one of the first quilts in which I noticed that there were lots of patterned fabrics.  Most of the others used solid colors.  I think this variation of the "log cabin" quilt block is known as a Trough Log Cabin, because of the diagonal bands of colors.

This quilt, which is also constructed with Log Cabin squares was entirely made of silk.  Ties, perhaps?  The border was velvet, and upon close inspection, the silks were patterned, varied and luxurious.  The ability to use scraps and remnants allowed people to make sumptuous quilts yet be thrifty at the same time.
Detail of silk quilt.

And two more Log Cabin variants:

Who isn't fascinated by optical illusions?!
How sneaky is our brain to convert light and dark (flat) shapes into advancing and receding three dimensional forms?

Doesn't it seem as if some squares are closer than others?

Can you see squares, diamonds AND hexagonal "flowers" here?  If you look for very long, it's as if your brain gets tired and shows you a different view.

This Fan block quilt has lots of energy because of the tension between straight and curved edges... no to mention the graded colors against a black ground.
This "Orange Peel" block quilt alternates colors the way many op-art pieces do.  For more traditional Orange Peel quilts, look here.  Some are definitely more recognizable or obvious than others!
Another version of Thousand Pyramids.  You wouldn't believe how long I looked at this before realizing that only the outer triangles were patterned!
Other wise, the colors seemed to be pieced randomly.  I'm surprised that their wasn't an accidental "glob" of one color, though.
Be sure to let me know if you DO see an organizing principal!
Detail of another Thousand Pyramids Quilt using lots of differently patterned fabrics.

Remember that only simple geometric pieces were used to make these complex shapes.  This one made me wish I had a huge box of Tangrams to play with! It's hard to wrap my head around the rick-rack effect and mere triangles and squares.

The final gallery of the exhibit showed quilts that had individualistic, inventive and unusual approaches to color, design and tradition.
This quilt reminded me of the paintings by Sean Scully.
Naming it Crosses and Losses seems brilliant.  Perhaps a work of art AND healing.

I wish I'd known Corita Kent.  Who knew a nun would advise that one Throw Caution to the Wind?

The quilt above has spirals of fabric which were called bullseyes.  It gave a 3D aspect to an otherwise two dimensional quilt.

The quilt below, with it's much more modern color palette is tied rather than quilted... but the colors of the ties vary depending on the color of the fabric.  (Another opportunity seized to use compliments... and lots of orange!)

Note that most of the ties are orange.  But ties on orange pieces tend to be blue!
This quilt seemed remarkably masculine:  black gray and tan.  Again, simple and elegant.

This whimsical Double Wedding Ring patterned quilt uses colors and contrast to pump up the energy of the work.  The non-traditional scalloped edge is another sign of artistic independence.

This asymmetrical quilt combines "seven sisters" in a different way for each block.  Again, MORE ORANGE.

Of course we spent some time in the gift shop.  I might have to get the book... and I might wait until the price goes down!  Don't you love the slumped glass trays (a la Kandinsky) in the background?
The felted necklaces were a bargain and tempting. I believe they are made by women in India who are contracted by a California company, owned by an Indian woman.

For my InterLibrary Loan list!
They had beautiful, (pricey) quilted silk ties.  They definitely deserve the title "wearable art."  I'm wondering if I could make some! Robyn Susan is on FaceBook and is from Florida.I wonder if she'll be at the Boston Arts and Crafts fair next week.
My lunch buddies in front of the Boston Strong flag festoons.

Sometimes I miss having sisters.  These two would be  PERFECT!


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