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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More on Quilts

Art on the fence.
Several years ago (the early 1990s, I think), I competed in a local art-in-the-park competition which had attained a significant area following and prize money. I don't remember which painting, but the general consensus among viewers and participants alike was I had a good chance of winning first prize in the painting category and perhaps even "Best of Show." Instead, to my chagrin, I came in second in the painting competition.  The first prize went to a quilt (without a drop of paint, I might add). It was several years before I managed to live down that peculiar episode.

Outdoor art shows, with their spacious
venues, are ideal for quilts, as seen
here in the work of Michele Bilyeu of
Salem, Oregon.
In yesterday's discussion of the rise of the quilt as "high art" (the entry below) I took a light-hearted turn at a perceived problem with the terminology and the mental baggage accompanying such a traditional household item. Historically, the quilt as high art dates back much less than fifty years--thirty, forty at the most. Yet the skillfully crafted quilt has been a staple of feminine patience and prowess for centuries, along side embroidery, knitting, crocheting, and other endeavors involving tiny pointed shafts of metal leading twisted fibers.

Actually the tapestry has traditionally been more closely associated with painting than the quilt. I guess the reason I chose quilting as the nearest female (I'm well aware that men now quilt, too) version of painting over embroidery is the fact that tapestries were often male-designed (by painters) and female-rendered, usually with the designer being well-remembered and the actual needle-workers being well-forgotten. Unfortunately, until recently, this has usually been a fact of life with quilting as well, except for heirlooms quilts when the creator's name and place on the family tree is passed down from generation to generation within a given family.

Unlike the quilt, the design and making of
tapestries is still largely a female province.
In the previous blog item I was contemplating the art of quilting as compared to fresco painting as much as anything, rather than trying to make the quilt an "exclusive" female art form vis-a-vis painting. In so doing I was trying to deal with narrative art forms and media rather than those that were "merely" decorative or utilitarian in nature. Thus, there are quilts, and then there are quilts--hence the perception baggage I spoke of earlier involving the art now and then.

A painting quilter, Eric Claypoole. Yes, the two
art forms can coexist. Or is he a quilting painter.
As far as the penchant judges have of integrating quilting into painting, in all fairness, there was no "quilt" category in the show I was in; and the judges were unwilling to cast the works involved into the "soft crafts" category because of the high quality and creative, "painterly" energy these works exhibited. The fault was, of course, not with the judges but with the show's organizers for forcing them into such a corner. It has only been in recent years that quilters have had the audacity to step up to the line and go toe-to-toe with traditional painters, and the show's (painter dominated) art guild simply hadn't reacted to this phenomena. I should add, the following year they did. "Fabric Art" became a separate category.

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