Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preparing for a Noteworthy Guest

Hand quilting is the theme for tomorrow's visit with Ronda Beyer.
One of the best machine quilters in the world, Ronda Beyer, is coming to visit tomorrow. We're going to look at quilts, and I've been doing a little light housecleaning and pulling out some old quilts to share. Ronda recently won second place in the Merit Quilting, Machine category at the International Quilt Festival in Houston for her quilt, "Darwin's Diamonds and Flowers" and was one of several Oregon quilters to receive an award.

Quilt Making runs in the family for Ronda. Her grandmother was a well-known quilter, and her mother, Jane, first opened a quilt shop in 1981. Jane's Fabric Patch is located in Tillamook, Oregon, also home of the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center. In 2004, Ronda purchased a longarm quilting machine, and from there, here career took off. Recently, she mentioned that she started out as a hand quilter, something I didn't know. It is her machine quilting she's best known for these days.

Detail of Album with Lyre Medallion - the quilting is insane!
When I first saw quilts that were machine quilted about a decade ago, I frankly wasn't all that impressed. The squiggly, wavy-line "stipple" quilting seemed kind of cold to me, and I was unsure if machine quilting could ever be considered a form of artistic expression. That all changed the first time I saw Ronda's work. It's absolutely incredible, and she has convinced me that machine quilting truly is an art.

The first quilt I ever bought features great piecework and amazing quilting.
I've known about Ronda's work for a few years, and finally got to meet her in person this year at the Northwest Quilt Expo in Portland. At the time, I said I wanted to share some quilts with her, particularly the Album with Lyre Medallion made by Mary Couchman Small in 1850 and some of my "New York Beauty" Rocky Mountain Road quilts. Ronda and I have been in touch through Facebook, and I'm simply delighted we're going to have a visit tomorrow. I'm just in awe of her work, and happy that I can share some quilts that I know she'll enjoy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are you in the kitchen?

2008: my kitchen was remodeled. This is one of the "after" shots.
I have a feeling I know where many of you are today - in the kitchen. That's not a bad place to be on Thanksgiving Day. This year, my friend Roberta has invited me to dinner. I always love a good home-cooked meal, but won't be spending as much time in my kitchen as usual. Although I'm planning on making a big pot of stock and Ina Garten's famous French Onion Soup over the weekend, today my kitchen will get the day off. Not cooking on Thanksgiving made me realize I've become very attached to my kitchen since remodeling it two years ago.

2000: A "before" shot of the kitchen, as it looked just before I moved in.
The house was built in 1980 in the hilly northwest Cedar Mill neighborhood of Portland, and when I moved in the kitchen was workable but in need of an update. Many of the appliances, including a scuzzy Jenn-Air cooktop, were original to the house. The cabinets, floor, and countertops had been redone at some point, but it wasn't really my style. There was bad fluorescent lighting, whitewashed oak cabinets that looked pink, a white linoleum floor with little pink flowers - impossible to keep clean - and difficult-to-maintain gray tile countertops with dusty rose and teal accent tile. 

I made do for a while, and after many years of watching the Food Network and HGTV, I had some ideas about what I wanted to do. I decided to have the space remodeled in 2008, and it was a dramatic transformation. In July, the whole space was gutted to the beams. Windows were removed, the floor plan flip-flopped, new windows and doors were added, and all new appliances, cabinets, countertops and floors were installed. The whole project took about three months from demolition to move-in.

The new floors are hickory, the cabinets are maple, and the appliances are all stainless steel. The countertops are two types of granite, backsplash is slate with bronze and frosted glass accents, and the way we reconfigured the the floor plan really opened up the space. The remodel was actually more like a half-house remodel and included the dining room, front foyer, powder room, roof, a new heating and air conditioning system, and entertainment area connected to the kitchen. There is a built-in desk and bar with cabinets, a whole wall with bookshelves, gas fireplace, and plasma TV, and a large wall designated for displaying quilts.

In 2009, the remodel was showcased on HGTV's Rate My Space with Angelo Surmelis. In 2010, the house was featured as part of Portland's Tour of Remodeled Homes, and was highlighted on the local morning news in two segments of "Out and About with Drew Carney" on KGW channel 8, Portland. 

The remodel was a game changer. I can cook most anything I want, from Spanakopita to homemade thin crust pizza to braised pork shoulder roast carnitas. I've even roasted a turkey or two. It's a dream kitchen, easy to work in and easy to clean. So, while today may be a quiet day in my kitchen, it has served me well and definitely deserves a day off. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

For Lyn Foster

I am dedicating today's blog to Lyn Foster, treasurer of the Oregon Quilt Project, whose husband unexpectedly passed away on Saturday morning. Lyn is so much more than a treasurer to us. Simply put, she is a treasure. In addition to being a highly capable volunteer, she has been one of my biggest supporters as I've joined the "quilt ladies" here in Oregon. Wherever we've traveled with the group, she's always had smiles, hugs, and very kind things to say. 

Lyn absolutely loves old quilts. This quilt arrived on my doorstep today, a day spent thinking about Lyn, and now it will always remind me of her. I first found out about this quilt a few weeks ago when corresponding with a long lost swimming friend, Priscilla Kawakami of Salt Lake City, Utah, who happens to be an extraordinarily good quilt maker. 

It's been wonderful reconnecting with Priscilla, and our correspondence has evolved from primarily swimming to quilts. Priscilla knew me when I had just two quilts, and I stayed at her home when driving across the U.S. from New Jersey to my new home in Oregon. One of the few things I brought with me was my first "New York Beauty" quilt. Here is where I should say that the quilt, from the mid 19th century, is more correctly called a Crown of Thorns or Rocky Mountain Road.

During a recent e-mail exchange, Priscilla mentioned that Stella Rubin had advertised a great "New York Beauty" quilt in Antiques & Fine Art Magazine. I dropped everything, got in the car, and headed to Powells to find the magazine, but they didn't have it. I went to another shop, Rich's, which is a tobacco shop with a wide selection of magazines, and they didn't have the most recent issue yet - so I called Stella. Within the day, I had arranged to purchase the quilt.

I was immediately drawn to the quilt, just as I was drawn to Lyn at the Columbia Willamette Quilt Study Group meeting a year ago. Lyn approached me and introduced herself after I showed a Mariner's Compass from New Jersey, not far from where she was married. We've been friends ever since then.

This quilt is from Kentucky, made in the latter half of the 19th century, and is a very rare example. I've only seen three or four others with the vine sashing. It's appropriate that the quilt now reminds me of Lyn, because she is also very rare. She adopted me like a son at a time when I was just making my way into the mostly women's world of quilt history, and she's always been very supportive and made me feel welcome. 

Lyn Foster
So Lyn, this one's for you. My heart goes out to you and your family during this very difficult time. I hope this quilt brings a smile to your face, as you've always done for me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Four Quilts from The Esprit Collection

Crib Quilt was once part of the Esprit Collection
My collection has a connection to Esprit. Following the arrival of the quilt featured in yesterday's blog, I realized I had four quilts that were once part of the Esprit Collection. Two are Amish, and both are unusual examples because of size. The other two are high-style quilts made from the pattern known as New York Beauty, and both are exceptionally high quality.

The Esprit Collection, curated by Julie Silber for many years, originated when Doug and Susie Tompkins owned Esprit and decided to decorate the headquarter with quilts. The richly saturated colors and bold, broad patterns in Amish quilts seemed symbiotic with the Esprit clothing line. The collection is best known for richly saturated Amish quilts, many of which are now part of the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Over the years, the emphasis of the collection evolved, and occasional deaccessions allowed a few lucky collectors to get a small piece of Esprit.

I may be one of the luckier ones. Although four quilts is not a lot, I think the quality more than makes up for lack of quantity. Both of the Amish quilts came from a California eBay seller who had bought them from Susie Tompkins years earlier. There were a few others for sale at the time, but I couldn't afford all of them, so I decided to go for the two small quilts.

Trundle size Tumbling Blocks quilt
I think it was a good choice. When I flipped through "Amish: The Art of the Quilt" and "The Esprit Quilt Collection" catalog, I didn't see pictures of any crib or trundle quilts. I'll have to read through the collection notes more carefully to see how many crib and trundle quilts they had. My guess is not many. The larger, mostly square quilts worked well on the large, exposed brick walls at Esprit. They commanded the space.

Together again!
Most quilt people know about the Esprit Amish quilts, and many have also heard about how the collection evolved toward "Maverick" quilts. What you may not know is Susie Tompkins has also collected classic, masterpiece quilts. These two "New York Beauty" quilts were both part of her collection, and happily, they're still together in my collection.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Old Favorite

There's a reason why the "New York Beauty" quilt pattern has experienced such a huge revival in recent years. It was worth reviving! Just as applique lovers coo over Baltimore Album quilts, avid lovers of American pieced quilts get weak in the knees over a great antique New York Beauty. 

You can correctly call the antique examples by the name Rocky Mountain Road or Crown of Thorns, but the name isn't usually what triggers a reaction. It's the visuals. 

This quilt is from Kentucky, where many of the finest, earliest examples were made. It's a masterpiece - the kind of quilt that stops people in their tracks, especially in the age of machine quilting. Dense, decorative hand quilting is awe-inspiring. The quilt is dated from around 1875, and is included in Kentucky Quilts: 1800-1900, the catalog of the Kentucky Quilt Project. 

Good, basic design is what feeds the allure of the New York Beauty. The geometry refers to Victorian architectural detail, westward migration, the advent of the machine age, and in some examples, Native American design. The high level of craft suggests affluence and refinement, and the shapes act as early graphic designs.

The early name Rocky Mountain Road is also a clear reference to the westward migration. Covered wagons faced many rocky mountain roads - especially in the Rocky Mountains - during the journey west. In this quilt, cornerstones look like wagon wheels or suns, as do the blocked quarter circles. The sashing is reminiscent of railroad tracks, and the colors couldn't be more American. 

Who knew a rarely used bed covering could be such an apt expression of Post-Civil War American culture?

For most of the last two decades, this exceptional quilt was part of Susie Tompkins' Esprit Collection. Today, this amazing quilt is the newest addition to my collection. It will be included in my show next year at the Benton County Historical Museum in Philomath, Oregon. The exhibition will show an old favorite in a whole new light.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where to?

In the midst of planning the first big showing of quilts from my collection - "Beauty Secrets: 150 years of History in One Quilt Pattern" at the Benton County Historical Museum next year, I'm starting to wonder where it all could lead.

Certainly, research and academic study is one direction, although I admit to having more of a right-brain response to quilts. When I started collecting, quilts were simply wonderful wall decor, works of art. I didn't have research projects in mind, but now realize research is appropriate. The American Quilt Study Group is what comes to mind when considering academic work. A good side project, I'm thinking, but maybe not the primary goal.

A book would be another option, and it's a good option. I'm working on a self-published book about this collection, and there will be two versions - one for visual presentation, and one that's more like a traditional show catalog. The visual book will be mostly for show proposals, and the catalog will accompany the show, and will be available online. 

"What would be most fulfilling thing to do?" I ask myself. Back when I was doing journalism and editing a magazine, I was communicating with as many as 50,000 people. That felt good at times, but I have a stronger feeling about these quilts. They deserve to be part of the quilt zeitgeist, but 50,000 people will not automatically receive the catalog like the readers of my old magazine.

The other problem is, when working with mostly one-of-a-kind antiques, the quilts have needs of their own, conservation and preservation first and foremost. After the show at the Benton County Historical Museum, I will consider a few select venues, in places I've always wanted to visit, places where I could also bring my mother. Several places come to mind.  

I wish the quilts would tell me where they wanted to go, but they seem to be leaving those decisions up to me. At the same time, I feel like I'm just along for the ride. The quilts may say, "Take us to a safe place, where we can be together and many people can enjoy us. Take us to a place where people will continue to learn about us, even after we've traveled far from there." They may be saying something else. I don't know yet. Whatever it is these quilts are trying to say to me, I've started to listen more carefully. 

So, where to?

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Small Wonders" First Draft

First draft looks good, and it will get even better!
The first draft of the "Small Wonders: Doll Quilts by Andrea Balosky" catalog has arrived, and I'm very happy with how the book is coming together. This catalog is a softcover, 7 x 7" full-color book, 120 pages, less than 1/2" thick. Price is not set, yet, but we're trying hard to keep it under $30. Even though it's just a small book, it's worth having. How often has the quilt world seen one book with more than 100 undiscovered doll quilts made by a now-retired artist?

Three draft copies for proofing. Some light editing, and we're ready!
The bulk of the book is visual, with doll quilts occupying a majority of the pages. There is also an artist statement at the beginning, which is well worth reading. It's one of the best artist statements I've ever read. In it, she refers to the quilts' names and says "Equivalence was never the issue. It was/is a simple gesture of thanks, a small offering like a flower, not the ceremonial launching of a battleship." She also says, "It's the small comforts, the little sweet nothin's, that buffer us from much of our self-generated ado."

Walt Whitman, July, 2002, 15" x 17 1/2"
This work is as far as it could be from "much ado about nothing" - although it may not be like launching a battleship, the discovery of this body of work is something of epic proportions. The 108 + 4 doll quilts represent the life journey of an artist over five years, including 9/11 and many significant life-changing events. On the surface, the quilts are eye candy, joyful and colorful. Below the surface, the whole body of work is more like a diary, an unabashed, intimate slice of life.

That's all for today - it's a good day!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Blurb P.O.D. Book Project

Two Goblet quilts raise questions about the WCTU
Over the last several years, I've experimented with print-on-demand (P.O.D.) books using iPhoto and Blurb. I have given books as Christmas presents, birthday gifts, and on Mother's Day. Subjects have included the Oregon Coast, remodel pictures, and favorite recipes, but I've never done a full sized book with quilts. One year, I made tiny booklets with quilts in iPhoto, but the books were nothing to crow about. They're sitting in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

Now more familiar with methods of customizing layout in Blurb, I felt ready to do a book about quilts for friends and family, and maybe offer it to others who like quilt books. My layout skills are very basic, and I'm still a little rusty, but the fonts and photos are looking good. That's a plus. 

Wonky New York Beauty challenges traditional standards
The book is my quilt melting pot, a celebration of 20 years of collecting, and a place to share quilt stories and talk history. It is for all readers, and offers a chronological journey, a slice of quilt history seen through quilts and our reactions to them. I've seen a first draft in print after ordering a copy last week. It included just ten quilts, and I decided to add another ten quilts when I saw how nice, and how thin, the book was. "More substance, 20 quilts for 20 years," I thought.

Restoration removal brings a Hexagon Honeycombs quilt back to life
It may take another draft or two, but I think I can nail it down in time for the holidays. The first edition of this book will be a limited edition of 25, signed and numbered. Several will go to friends and family as holiday gifts, and one will go to the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center Library. After the holidays, if there are any remaining copies of the first edition, I will offer them to the general public, possibly through eBay. 

There will also be an unlimited run second edition, available at future exhibits and events, and online through Blurb. The project is probably going to be just a break-even, but any proceeds generated by book sales will go to the Oregon Quilt Project.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two Outstanding Acquisitions Planned

A pair of best-of-kind quilts are planned as new acquisitions.
Just as I thought my buying season had concluded, two outstanding quilts popped up in the same week, and I have decided to acquire them both. Each is a classic and unique example of the "New York Beauty" pattern, in earlier days called Rocky Mountain Road and Crown of Thorns. Both quilts are from this earlier era.

The first quilt, a rare example with zigzag vine and pomegranate sashing, is coming from Stella Rubin. It was published in an advertisement in the latest Antiques and Fine Art magazine, and a friend who quilts had seen it and mentioned it to me. Of course, I was on the phone with Stella as soon as possible, and arrangements are underway. I have seen just three examples like it, and all of them are on the Quilt Index.

The second quilt may be familiar to those who have seen the book Kentucky Quilts 1800-1900. It is in on page 15, in the preface of the book, and is coming from Susie Tompkins of Esprit courtesy of Julie Silber. Tompkins had acquired the quilt from Shelly Zegart in the early 1990's, around the time I started collecting. I have known about this quilt for a long time, and I'm thrilled to be adding it to my collection. This group of quilts has grown a bit over the last year, and I'm now thinking about where it could travel.

Christmas is coming early! Both of these quilts should arrive in time for the Oregon Quilt Project summit I have planned on December 5th in Eugene, and I'm glad to bring along some new eye candy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oregon Quilt Project: Summit Scheduled, Dec. 5th, Eugene

The first OQP summit will focus on New York Beauties. 
The Oregon Quilt Project had a great summer, and we're looking forward to a productive year in 2011. We're scheduling events at the Oregon Garden in January, Mission Mill Museum in February, and with the Northwest Quilters in March. To brush up on our documentation skills and gather information for an upcoming show, I decided to schedule our first quilt summit. It is a one-day documentation event, December 5th in Eugene, Oregon, focusing on the "New York Beauty" quilts from my collection. 

The event will include Oregon Quilt Project core members and friends, and will be an opportunity to spend some quality time with a unique group of quilts, and with each other. Unlike most of our events, this day will not include any administrative tables, photography station, or appointments with members of the general public. It will be just exam tables and great volunteers studying the quilts, no deadlines, and hopefully a lot of fun.

The collection includes several best-of-kind examples.
This collection includes quilts and tops from 1850 to 2010, featuring several best-of-kind examples, unusual variations, and rescue quilts. These quilts will be part of my show at the Benton County Historical Museum in 2011.

Time span quilt, made around 1860, reworked around 1940.
So, I thought I'd share some pictures of a few of the quilts. I've collected these quilts over 20 years, and recently started studying and learning more about them. For nearly 20 years, I called them all New York Beauties, but name attribution has evolved into its own research project. 

Depending on the number of sign-ups, we may have room for a couple extra volunteers. If you're interested in learning more about the event or the Oregon Quilt Project, please send me a note.

One of the unusual examples of the pattern, in classic colors.

Two Quilts to be (Re)united

Quilt #1 (left) is in the IQSC Collection. Quilt #2 (right) will soon join it.
Does anybody out there recall seeing these two quilts together years ago at a Kentucky estate sale? That's the million-dollar question of the day!

Some background. Quilt #2 (pictured above right) was a Christmas gift in 2003 from my mother and father. We got it from Betsey Telford in York, Maine. I'd never seen anything like it, and thought it was a one-of-a-kind original design.

A few years later, I opened up a copy of Bob Shaw's book, "Quilts: A Living Tradition" and there was Quilt #1 (pictured above left) - same design, different borders and sashing, and missing the half-block panels seen at the bottom edge of Quilt #2. In the book, the information for Quilt #1 reads:

"Tinker's Tobacco Leaf and Tulip - Artist unknown, c. 1850. Kentucky. Cottons, hand applied and quilted, 77 1/2 x 74 in. Collection of Linda Carlson. According to Linda Carlson, who has done extensive research on the four-block form, four-block quilts originated in Pennsylvania German communities in the 1840's, about the same time that the multiple block quilt became popular. This example of the four-block form is distinguished by its unusual combination of motifs, the appliqued lightning streaks on the sashing, and the paired borders of large and small triangles."

When I discovered this quilt (Quilt #1), I searched the internet and contacted Linda Carlson. She replied, and said the quilt had been donated to the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. She recalled purchasing it from Marilyn Woodin, of Woodin Wheel Antiques in Kalona, Iowa, and said Woodin had mentioned buying it from an estate sale in Kentucky.

I got back in touch with Linda today, and she clarified the caption from the book. "My findings indicate that the large 4-block applique' quilt was more likely to have been constructed first and foremost by those of German descent," Linda said, "and secondly by Scots-Irish immigrants to Pennsylvania and the Carolinas or women influenced by the German Fraktur style of decoration."

She has noted in her study that quilters of Pennsylvania German heritage made more quilts in the 4-block style/set than their counterparts in other states, and it holds true for the four most popular 4-block patterns described in Roots, Feathers & Blooms: 4-Block Quilts Their History & Patterns, Book 1, Chapter 1, pages 107 and 112. Linda also noted that the "Tinker's" was a name added by the publishers, and it may have referred to traveling tinsmiths who created metal applique templates. The name she has for the four-block is "Kentucky Tobacco Leaf & Tulip Stencil" - so possibly "Tinker's" was generated from the word stencil.

I have already contacted Woodin, and heard back (see comments below), but thought I'd blog about it, too. The two quilts share such remarkable similarities, I am wondering if they were offered by the same estate, or if anyone else had seen the quilts together or heard about them.

My quilt will soon join Quilt #1 at the International Quilt Study Center, so the two will be together. I'm calling it a reunion, but would love to verify it. As soon as I get a little more documentation and an appraisal, I'll head to IQSC, deliver my quilt in person, and finally see the two quilts together. It is such a unique design, anyone who may have seen either quilt or both would remember something that could help us link the two.

Any clues appreciated!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Small Wonders: Doll Quilts by Andrea Balosky

Billy Wilder, October, 2001, 15 1/2" x 20"
I'm working on a little catalog for the February, 2011 "Small Wonders" show at Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon. We're doing a self-published catalog using Blurb print-on-demand services. The catalog will be 120 pages, soft-cover, and we're hoping to break even and keep the cost per copy under $30. That's a tall order, considering the body of work includes 108 quilts! But the first draft is almost done, and I wanted to share some more pictures.

Garrison Keillor, October, 2001, 19" x 21"
Andrea Balosky created this body of work over a four year period. During this time, many things were happening in her life and in the world. Things were changing. The world was changing.

Desmond Tutu, July, 2002, 14" x 15"
Balosky and friend Merrily Ripley were stranded in Africa after 9/11. Balosky had accompanied Ripley, who works with international adoption advocacy, and the two bonded. They eventually returned home and got back to their daily routines, but America was not the same as it was before they'd gone to Africa.

Hermias, a sponsored AIDS child in Ethiopia, June, 2002
13 1/2" x 18"
Balosky continued to make the doll quilts, and they seemed to evolve after 9/11. She had earlier started naming the quilts more specifically for family, friends, and noteworthy individuals - rather than just picking random names. But the post 9/11 quilts seemed to have a greater sense of purpose, whether by designated name or innovative design.

Mr. Rogers, February, 2003, 14 1/2" x 18"
The name choices are very intriguing, and range from Nelson Mandela to Homer Simpson to the artist's mother. A large number of tributes are paid to artists, choreographers, musicians, humanitarians - and Balosky was clearly giving a nod to the freedom of creative expression and the ideal of world peace. At the same time, she was honoring some of the people close to her. 

So, that's all I've got for today. Hope you've enjoyed these quilts! As the show starts to come together, I'll post some more. :)

Rosa Parks, October, 2001, 21" x 24"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ever Lost a Quilt?

This Lost Quilt is a pattern called Magic Tiles
Ever lost a quilt and didn't know what to do? One of the coaches at the local pool, Jill Black, heard about how I'm interested in quilts, and she asked if there was something she could do to find a lost quilt. "Magic Tiles" was made for Jill by her mother, Shirley Ann Black, at class given by Dianne Stevenson, in January, 1998. Jill thinks there is an inscribed tag on the back. In June, 2004 she may have accidentally given the heirloom quilt to Goodwill / St. Vinnies in Portland when she and her family were moving to a new home. The quilt is a 3' x 4' mosaic of purples, browns, and blues.

I had the perfect place for Jill to post information about her lost quilt. It's a web site called Lost Quilt Come Home (http://lostquilt.com) - a web site devoted to finding lost quilts. The web site publishes pictures and information about lost quilts, and helps owners retrieve family heirlooms.

Kathleen Bissett (http://www.kathleenbissett.com/Magic.html) - is the designer of the pattern, which is available for purchase, and Dianne Stevenson teaches it in a class. I told Jill if she was inclined to try a little sewing, it could be replicated. 

Remaking a lost quilt is sometimes how people will ceremoniously claim back a lost family quilt. The photo is great because it shows the fabrics and arrangement. If she remade the quilt, the two quilts could some day find each other. "It's been known to happen." I said. Someone comes along and says, "I've seen a quilt like that!" Even though it's not the same as the original, the quilt gods have been known to bring good karma to those who pay tribute to a lost quilt in this way.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"The Past Lives On"

"The Past Lives On" by Nanette Fleischman
The Alliance for American Quilts is holding its annual benefit auction this month, and is auctioning some wonderful little gems on eBay. This year's theme is "New From Old" and it is a contest for quilters of all ages that celebrates the past in the frame of the present. There were a bunch of quilts that caught my attention in the first week of the auction, but the bidding for all the lots was ending at the same time - so I had to pick one.

My choice was "The Past Lives On" by AAQ member Nanette Fleischmann of Burnsville, North Carolina. The quilt is made of cotton with raw edge applique, machine quilted, with a nine-patch star on the back. It is 16" square, as are all the other quilts in the auction. Fleischman provided a lovely description of the quilt.

"Living in nothern Indiana for close to forty years, I witnessed the Amish people in their quiet ways of faithfulness to God, to their communities and most of all to their families. These women didn't have zigzag, metallic thread, batik fabrics, rotary cutters, cutting mats or computer sewing machines. They simply cut up their old cotton and wool clothing and recycled them into masterpieces."

I absolutely love pictorial quilts. The irony in that is I haven't collected many, but the reason is I've collected mostly pre-1900 quilts...until recently. The Amish buggy with the orange safety triangle is what drew me to this quilt. I remember seeing these in Pennsylvania when I was 12 years old. My mother and I would drive to Pennsylvania for weekend swim meets, and the buggies with their triangles opened a window to a culture I had not known before. Fleischman's quilt beautifully captures my memories of driving through Pennsylvania with Mom, and for that, I give many thanks.

The auctions will continue this week on eBay. For more details, visit the Alliance for American Quilts web site: http://www.allianceforamericanquilts.org.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NEWS FLASH- Lucy Mingo Made This Quilt!!

Bible Story, by Lucy Mingo of Gee's Bend, Alabama
Last week, I blogged about a quilt from Gee's Bend, Alabama, which had been attributed to Polly Raymond, daughter of Lucy Mingo. During the week, I discovered that Carolyn Mazloomi had purchased the quilt from Lucy many years ago, and sold it to Kyra Hicks, who sold it to me. Carolyn told me Lucy Mingo had made the quilt, and said it was common for the quilt makers of Gee's Bend to sign other names to their quilts to avoid potential repercussions with the IRS for the $50 they were making on each quilt sale. I was stunned by the revelation, and it seemed I had a little mystery on my hands, but I was perfectly happy to do a little detective work.

It was Lucy Mingo, not Polly Raymond, who made this quilt.
Earlier this week, I got Lucy Mingo's address from Joe Cunningham, who had traveled to Gee's Bend with Julie Silber a few years ago, where they met and befriended Lucy. So, I wrote a letter. In the letter, I said I had the quilt and I thought she might be able to tell me something about it. I included a picture of the quilt for her reference, mentioned that I had ceremoniously welcomed the quilt into my life by sleeping under it with my little old cat, who's my very best friend, and included a picture of little Boo.

Black cats are good luck, not bad. This is little Boo.
Lucy called me yesterday evening, and I was so excited, I was literally shaking. She giggled when I told her that. Lucy verified that she had in fact made the quilt, and was so happy to have a picture of it. She also verified the whole story about why it had been attributed to her daughter, Polly. When she'd seen the picture I sent, she recalled selling it to Carolyn Mazloomi. Lucy also gave me permission to publicly make the correct attribution. Wow!! and hooray!! The quilt is part of her legacy, and I am very grateful to be the one to set the record straight.

Once again, little Boo brought me good luck. Lucy enjoyed the picture of Boo, and we both enjoyed our conversation. She had fond memories of meeting Joe and Julie, including cooking dinner for them. I said they had told me what a good cook she was, and she giggled some more. I love Lucy!

Lucy Mingo is part of the group scheduled to travel to Sisters, Oregon, next summer for the Quilter's Affair and the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. I look forward to meeting her! To add to my good fortune, I also get to meet Julie and Joe on November 20th, when I travel to San Jose for their next Quilt Adventure. I hope to one day meet Kyra and Carolyn, as well. Facebook can be so amazing, even more so if it leads to meeting such extraordinary people in person.

As I said to some of my friends, I am now avoiding feathers, because you could knock me over with one.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting My Feet Wet

Baby in Tub quilt, published in "Black Threads" by Kyra Hicks
I feel like a toddler stepping into a washtub and really feeling the warmth of the water for the first time.

The purchase of two quilts through eBay two weeks ago fueled my desire to learn more about African American quilts and quilt makers, and there's a lot to learn! I purchased a quilt from Gee's Bend, Alabama, which, as it turns out, may hold some big surprises in terms of attribution. More about that another time.

I purchased a second quilt, Baby in Tub, published in "Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook" by noted scholar, author, and quilt maker Kyra Hicks of Arlington, Virginia. Hicks was selling both quilts and two others from her personal collection, including a Smithsonian reproduction Harriet Powers Bible Quilt.

As we know, Gee's Bend received a staggering amount of media attention and acclaim from the arbiters of connoisseurship the art world when the quilts were first brought to the attention of the art world in 2002. But it seems the non-objective aesthetic seen in the quilts of Gee's Bend is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to African American quilts and quilt makers.

"The Wedding, The Lover's Trilogy: #1" by Faith Ringgold
When I started poking around on the internet, I learned that the non-objective works may not even be the most representative of what a majority of artists are doing today. Pictorial, narrative, storytelling quilts seem to be more prevalent among artists. One of these artists is Faith Ringgold, whose work I first saw in New York nine years ago as part of the "Heritage of Genius" exhibition sponsored by the Durst Organization.

The exhibition, curated by L.L. Powers, Eleanor Bingham Miller and Shelly Zegart, was displayed in three locations, and Ringgold's quilt "The Wedding, The Lover's Trilogy: #1" was one of the contemporary works that stood out to me. It was visually engaging, and contained a potent narrative. At the time, I was just at the beginning of my journey as a quilt collector. Two of my antique quilts were part of the show, and admittedly, I knew nothing about contemporary quilt artists. Ringgold's work was almost too much for me to process at the time. It seemed like it was more of the realm of contemporary art than quilt making. Something I would've seen in a New York art gallery or museum of art rather than a quilt show.

Another artist whose work I have recently started to learn about is Carolyn Mazloomi of West Chester, Ohio. Mazloomi, like Kyra Hicks, is a noted scholar and author. Her work also appears to be more part of the realm of narrative, storytelling quilts than the world of non-objective art. How fortunate I am to include Mazloomi, Hicks and a few other artists on my list of Facebook friends. I ask them lots of questions! During one of my Q & A sessions, there was a comment about how some folks have marginalized the work of African American quilt artists. That took me by surprise. Marginalizing this work is probably the last thing that would ever occur to me. I've loved everything I've seen.

The immediate result of all this learning, for me, is a rapidly growing book list. I've had the Gee's Bend catalog for years, and recently received Black Threads and ordered the "Freedom Quilting Bee: Folk Art and the Civil Rights Movement" by Nancy Callahan, and "Threads of Faith: Recent Works from the Women of Color Quilters Network" by Mazloomi. But I'm really just getting my feet wet. If you're reading this blog and have more book suggestions for me, please send me a comment.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chalice / Goblet Quilt, c. 1910, from Missouri

Chalice / Goblet Quilt, c. 1910, from Missouri
About a month ago, I blogged about the Goblets quilt pattern and the Drunkard's Path. Both patterns had been identified as symbols of the Women's Christian Temperance Union as anti-alcohol messages, and it didn't make sense to me that these patterns were invented by the WCTU as such.

The discussion trailed off with a theory I presented to the group discussing these patterns, and it was that I felt the WCTU adopted pre-existing patterns as vehicles for their political messages. Others seemed to agree. The basis for my theory was the way the imagery was presented, the celebration of the Goblet, the humor in the trail blazed by the Drunkard's Path.

I looked at these patterns in this way because my orientation toward quilts is as a student of art history from a family of collectors, and as a lover of art. I see quilts as great works of art, and feel quilts are truly the most indigenous form of American art expression. I feel the quilt makers, not the painters, invented modernism and non-objective art. I feel quilt makers invented pop art, decades before the pop art movement.

This Chalice / Goblet quilt came from Ann Durley of Mostly Quilts in Independence, Oregon. Originally, it came from Missouri. I had seen it last summer at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show in Sisters, Oregon but couldn't buy it because my bank account was really tapped out at the time. Luckily, when I attended the Palmer/Wirfs Antique Expo over the weekend, Ann was there. So I bought the quilt. I love it because the goblets are facing both right side up and upside down.

Earlier today, I was speaking with a friend and I asked her, "Why me? Why do these great quilts just seem to find me? Why do the amazing stories fall into my lap the way they do? What in the world did I do to deserve such good fortune?" She told me it is because my heart is open. What a wonderful thing to say. If my heart wasn't open already, it is now.