The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft invited me to be a docent for a day. I was asked to be present during a reception for their very artsy quilt exhibit called "Storyline: The Contemporary Quilt." My job was to answer questions about how the quilts were made, and show the backs. It was great fun.
There were several Luke Haynes quilts on view. His message to curators is to display the quilts any way they want... and to be creative. I love how this one quilt is just plopped down on a display box. It looks like a hard sculpture, or something sitting on my couch.
This one is definitely not a quilt, but it certainly references one. It is made with discarded motion picture film from the Fashion Institute of Technology. The artist cut up bits of film and stitched them together with monofilament and regular thread using half square triangle block patterns. I love the creativity. It is displayed on a light box. Here's a closer look.
This black and white whole cloth quilt is by Carolyn Mazloomi. Beautifully done (detail image). The visitors to the Museum really responded to this quilt and I enjoyed pointing out the beautiful stitching that really 'makes' this piece. Some stitches pull the design forward, and some quilting pushes the image backward. Brilliant.
Now this one below is totally unique... weird and strange in a really good way. Look closely... then read more below.
You are seeing the whole quilt. It is a whole cloth quilt, hand dyed and hand quilted!
It looks fuzzy but the image is in focus. Anna Von Mertens created this. It is the 'aura' she imagines would surround Whistler's mother... and she has carefully stitched the pattern of Whislter's famous painting of his mother sitting. See the titghtly stitched pattern now? Then the echo stitching stretches out from there. Here's the description panel, which includes the original Whistler painting.
So to sum up this small exhibition with a critical view.... I love that this important Houston museum is featuring the quilt as art. And I think they have succeeded (for the most part) in choosing pieces that elevate and illustrate the craft of quilting as art, which is part of their mission.
They brought in some new pieces that I had never seen and I loved learning about these pieces and the artists who made them. I am particularly interested in the piece by Anna Von Mertens. She has created something I've never seen before and that always gets me excited. Her piece is so strange, so artistic, totally innovative, yet she created the most important element - the line - with hand stitches. So a mix of very old and very new forms. Totally cool.
For me, what's not so cool is that there were 6 artists featured in the show - 3 men, 3 women. No offense to the men who were chosen, but for an art form that is dominated by women, I feel the women were underrepresented in this show. And I think about this every time someone writes an article about the men of quilting, or hosts a show with men only. Don't get me wrong, I do not think this is undeserved, I just find it an interesting question to ponder. Men are a minority in quilting and needle arts and every minority deserves a voice and a chance to be recognized.
But I wonder. Are the men quilters more well known because they are men? Do museums give them preference because they are men? Are men quilters taken more seriously as artists because they are men? In some cases, and at some times, the answers are yes.
And my biggest example of that is the quilts by Luke Haynes in this particular show. Luke has done some really innovative work and I have enjoyed seeing his take, but none of his innovate quilts were here. Instead, there were 3 examples of his improv log cabin series, something anyone could have done, and many have done with equal measure of success. So, why was he chosen? Why were these quilts included? Is it because of their connection to Donald Judd's exhibition at Marfa, as the panel explains? Donald Judd is a serious artist, a man. So are Luke's log cabin quilts worth more because he made them with Donald Judd in mind?
I've seen lots of stunning log cabin quilts, many are infinitely more interesting than the ones shown here. But those quilts were made by women and the makers did not market their log cabin quilts as inspired by Donald Judd and they didn't hang their log cabin quilts outside in weird places and in unusual ways. Luke did. And because of that, his log cabin quilts have this "story" now, and an aura of art that other log cabin quilts do not. So there you go.
Lastly, here's my selfie of my docent for a day experience. Selfies always look better in front of a quilt!
One last little tidbit - I made the dress I am wearing. Its a pattern from Tilly and the Buttons, Coco dress. And I got this really interesting knit fabric from The Cloth Pocket (in Austin - great store!!!) I think they still have this fabric in stock and they sell the pattern too!