Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An African-American Quilt

Pieced quilt, c. 1935, Sarah Nixon (b. 1902, NC) made for Elizabeth Draycott Ost, NJ
If you know anything about quilts, the term "African-American" may conjure a very specific type of image, perhaps a quilt made with improvisational piecing. The quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama made the improvisational style well-known, but often lost in the shuffle is the fact that African-American quiltmakers made (and continue to make) all kinds of quilts, from traditional block quilts to pictorial storytelling quilts.

The style of the quilt is not what determines 
the ethnicity of the maker.

Quilt Historian Cuesta Benberry (1923-2007) devoted much of her research to the subject of African-American quiltmakers. In her book "Always There: An African-American Presence in American Quilts" she shared diverse examples of African-American quiltmaking heritage. Improvisational style was one aspect, but certainly not the whole story.

Pieced quilt, "Bible Story" by Lucy Mingo, Gee's Bend, Ala. 1979
Even though Benberry's work was published a decade before The Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibition, the improvisational style became strongly associated with African-American quiltmaking because of the success of Gee's Bend. The unfortunate, underlying suggestion was that sewing skill was somehow lacking in African-American quiltmaking heritage, which could not be further from the truth.

an example of highly refined African-American needlework, c. 1820
Consider the stunning appliqué counterpane, c. 1820, attributed to Achsah Goodwin Wilkins, now on display at the DAR Museum. Wilkins arranged the chintz in fanciful, kaleidoscopic designs, but she did not do the sewing. African-American women did, and their sewing skills were exceptional. The counterpane has some of the finest appliqué stitches you will ever see, if your eyes are good enough to see them!

Sarah Nixon made this pretty blue and white pieced quilt for my mother, Elizabeth Draycott Ost, in Verona, New Jersey around 1935. Sarah was African-American, born around 1902 in North Carolina, and is listed as a servant in the Ryan household in the 1940 census. Mom remembers Sarah, a lovely woman who could not read but thoroughly enjoyed making quilts. She was in her early to mid 30s when she made Mom's quilt. Clearly, Sarah had a great sense of color and design.

The style of this quilt may not say "African-American" to those who are more familiar with the improvisational style of Gee's Bend. We know the maker, though, and that's an important distinction when discussing African-American quilts. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove it was African-American if we did not know who made it. The same is true with Amish, Pennsylvania German, and Southern quilts. The style of the quilt is not what determines the ethnicity of the maker.

Thanks again to my mother for the gift of this beautiful quilt, the stories about Sarah; and special thanks to Suzanne Antippas for digging up the census records through Ancestry.com. The quilt is very special, and it's wonderful to have more information about its maker, Sarah Nixon. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Over the Rainbow

Collector Marjorie Childress found this wonderful 1970s pictorial quilt at a Goodwill. It took a while to persuade her to let it go, and who could blame her? One of my quilts will be going to her as part of the deal, and we are both over the rainbow.

The pictorial is rendered in a chunky, Pop Art style, and black ties add an element of quirkiness. It is 68" x 90" and is inscribed in the lower left corner, with the date, 1977.

What a wonderful quilt. It's even better in person, a quintessential expression of the 1970s. Such a cheerful object, too. I love it! 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Elephant's Child Kit Quilt

one of Mom's neighbors has a wonderful and rarely seen kit quilt from the 1930s
Still in Maine: Mom wanted me to meet one of her neighbors today because she had a rarely seen kit quilt from the 1930s. It is called "The Elephant's Child" and was inspired by a Rudyard Kipling story and designed by E. Buckner Kirk. An image of the quilt with a description appeared in Woman's Home Companion Magazine in February 1934, and the quilt owner had the page as well as pages with instructions.

magazine clipping from Women's Home Companion 1934
one page from the instructions
The owner was kind enough to let me take some pictures with my cell phone, and I am sharing the pictures thinking there may be a little more information out there. One record appears in the ephemera section of The Quilt Index - click here to view - and one image was found on the Kentucky Historical Society web site - click here to view. Other than those two records, I couldn't find much else...so I think that makes it kind of rare.

So, you may ask, how can a quilt be rare if it's from a mass-produced kit? The simple answer is: not many were made. But it's such a charming quilt...why wouldn't everyone want to make their own?

I have a feeling the quilt was designed and marketed to quilters, but the quality and amount of appliqué made it a project for more advanced quilters. There must be a few unused kits somewhere out there in the world, I'm thinking. I have never seen one for sale, and had never seen anything other than a picture of one before today.

Interestingly, the owner found the unfinished pieces of the quilt when she was cleaning out a relative's home, and commissioned a quiltmaker in the 1970s to finish it. Good thinking, I said, because it's all together, and they have enjoyed it.

The owner displayes on the wall, out of the light, and is saving all the documents saying what it is and how it was made. Saving everything is good sometimes, and especially with this type of quilt.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Quilt Sarah Made for Young Elizabeth

Sarah worked as a housekeeper for acquaintances of my grandparents in Verona, New Jersey. Some time in the 1930s, she made a quilt for young Elizabeth Draycott Ost, my mother. The quilt is a blue and white Indiana Puzzle, and I have always admired it. According to Mom, Sarah lived  on Park Avenue in Verona, New Jersey in the late 30's and 40's, with Mrs Worthum's daughter and her family. Their name was Ryan. Mom could not recall Mr Ryan's name, and wasn't sure if she ever knew it, but his wife was Grace and their daughter Patricia.

Sarah was illiterate but loved to sew. She spent her free time sewing. She made the quilt especially for Mom in her favorite color, blue. Many years later, the quilt would hang in the summer home on Rangeley Lake in Maine each year, and it was the only quilt Mom held on to after selling the house and giving me all the other quilts. I didn't blame her for that. It's special.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the quilt in one of my Christmas packages yesterday, and had to ask Mom if she was sure she wanted me to have it. She was, and I thanked her. Sarah was African-American and absolutely loved making quilts. Mom has such fond memories of this lovely woman who made the quilt. It would probably be a miracle if there was a way to discover more information about Sarah, but miracles do happen! Thank you Mom, and Sarah, for the gorgeous quilt.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Oma, Her Samplers, and How She Got Her Wings

Helen Ludeke Ost - my "Oma" was an amazing person
This is her confirmation photo from 1911. She was 14.
Oma, my maternal grandmother would be 117 years old if she was alive today. She was born in 1897 and was almost 104 when she passed away. When she was a girl, she went to school at Hoboken Academy and she made several samplers. One was a needlepoint alphabet and two were darning and buttonhole samplers. These samplers were done over a period of several years, the first being the needlepoint sampler of 1906, when Oma was just 9 years old.

Which letter is missing, and why?
In 1911, Oma was 14 years old. 

She graduated from Hoboken Academy in 1913, the year after her father passed away. Mom still has several of the documents from finishing school, including penmanship books, an autograph book and the program from her graduation and closing ceremonies.

one of several penmanship books
one of Oma's many penmanship samples
Hoboken Academy 1913 Closing Ceremonies program 
Considering Oma was a young teenager when this entry was written, the
autograph book has some very racy moments!
We also have Oma's confirmation certificate from 1911, when she was 14. The picture at top was taken that day, and what a lovely, refined 14-year-old she was. She would turn 15 the following month.

One of the most remarkable things about Oma was when she was an adult, married to Opa. She helped rescue a German immigrant from an insane asylum when the woman had been wrongly committed following the death of her husband. The woman, Anna, could not speak any English at the time, and her children were taken from her, but Oma and Opa fixed it. They employed Anna for the rest of her working days, helped her learn English, and helped her get her own home. Decades later, Anna was really part of the family. Whenever I went to visit, it was like having two grandmothers and a grandfather under the same roof. Oma lived her life with grace, and rescuing Anna was a sure sign of it. I think it's how Oma got her wings.

We love having all these family objects, and today was a good day to pull them out and look at them-- Christmas, a day Oma happened to love, and Throwback Thursday. Of course, 100-plus years ago is more than just a throwback, and Oma has been gone more than a dozen years, but I remember her like she was here just yesterday. So, Merry Christmas, Oma! And thank you for being such a wonderful guardian angel along with Opa, Dad and Anna. Mom, Libby and I wish you were all here in body, but we know you're here in spirit. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pantone's Color Blindness

2014 Pantone Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid, not so radiant next to a real orchid

The year 2015 will be the 16th year Pantone has presented a Color of the Year, and just like the previous 15 colors they didn't nail it. Just the opposite...they were way off. The 2015 color is Marsala, but instead of selecting the golden or amber color most people would recognize as Marsala, they picked an obscure variety called Rubino, or ruby Marsala.

The solid color swatch looks like a shade of brick red. It does not in any way conjure images of Marsala wine, but it could be a lipstick color. Speaking of that, Pepper Cory wrote a great blog post on this topic and talked about how the Pantone colors might appeal to cosmetics bloggers. To read Pepper's blog, click here.

Cerulean, the very first Color of the Year in 2000, kicked off the legacy of ineptly named colors. Just take a look at the cerulean pigment (above) next to the swatch. It's more like a dull sky blue, what folks in the antique and vintage textiles might call Cadet Blue. It was a popular color during the Colonial Revival of the early 20th century, but bears little semblance to Cerulean, a "straight-out-of-the-tube" paint color. The 2014 Pantone Color of the Year was called Radiant Orchid (pictured at top). If you look at this color next to a real orchid, Radiant Orchid doesn't seem so radiant.

There have been several discussions about Pantone's Colors of the Year online, but I'm not sure if anyone has really come out and called it what it is. The head-scratching disconnect between the colors and their names is, in my opinion, color blindness. I guess that's why Marsala, Pantone's 2015 Color of the Year, will always remind me of the lipstick on the rim of the glass rather than the wine.

So, what do you think of Pantone's Colors of the Year?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Portland Modern Quilt Guild Medallion Pictures

2014 Portland Modern Quilt Guild Medallion
Last week I won the Portland Modern Quilt Guild (PMQG) Medallion Quilt in a raffle. This magnificent quilt was made by the 2014 PMQG officers: President Mary Mary Ann Morsette, VP Susanne Grey, Secretary Kelly Cole, Treasurer Lisa O'Conner, and Programs Director Cath Hall; with quilting by Nancy Stovall and binding by Chris Pera. The quilt is a new spin on a traditional medallion quilt, with modern fabrics, fresh colors, great quilting and a strong sense of graphic design.

the center block is an appliquéd Dresden Plate
The project was a year-long "medallion-along" and at the December meeting there were close to 20 quilts and tops made by fellow guild members who followed along with the project all year. Here are some more pictures of the Guild Medallion, with a full view of front and reverse sides and close-ups. Thank you, PMQG, for the amazing quilt. Enjoy the pictures!

the quilt is made of a wonderful selection of soft and bold colors
Nancy Stovall did a beautiful job with the long-arm quilting
the reverse side of the quilt includes a central column of pieced blocks
all of the blocks, front and reverse, are very graphic 
nice selection of modern fabrics
detail of quilting on reverse side
Portland Modern Quilt Guild has monthly meetings in North Portland, and other events such as charity-sew-ins and retreats. New members and visitors always welcome. For more information about the guild, click here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

perspective: about juried shows, contests & competition

This photo received an award in the 1991 Photo Review National Photography Competition
After seeing the reactions to the QuiltCon notifications this week, particularly the ones sorting out feelings after not getting in to the show, I wanted to offer some perspective on juried shows, contests and competitions.

The first time I entered an art contest was in 1976. I was 10. It was the "Smile America" Dental Health Week Poster Contest, and I won a ribbon. The thing was, the ribbon was only an Honorable Mention. Not what I had in mind. Trying to wrap my brain around the terrible injustice while concealing my disappointment, the unfiltered reaction was to find fault with the other entries and the judges. You could say it was the first time I was unhappy with judging in an art contest, but I might call it the beginning of a mostly unfulfilling ride on the validation merry-go-round, which ended with an epiphany.

one of my photos from high school, Peddie School, NJ Chapel during Vespers
Over the years, I continued to participate in art contests, such as the 1984 Scholastic Arts competition in high school, where I received a regional Gold Key Award and an Eastman Kodak award. By college, I had graduated to juried shows and was an old pro at concealing disappointment if things didn't work out as well I hoped, but there was enough success to keep me going for a while.

"work from the heart rather than letting 
the whole thing get into your head"

One of the highlights was winning one of the top cash awards in a juried show at the Hudson River Museum in New York, for a photo of hanging laundry taken in our neighbor's backyard in New Jersey. The photo was also selected for "American Photography 6", an annual coffee table book published by Rizzoli around the same time. It was one of just a few images to occupy a double-page spread.

The Johnson's Laundry, Moorestown, NJ, 1984
Hudson River Museum Open Award for Photography, 1989
Another highlight was the Photo Review National Photography Competition in the early 1990s. I entered a few times, got in twice, and got an award in 1991. All of the selected works were published in The Photo Review, and top prizewinners were always placed in the beginning pages. The juror who gave me the award was Peter MacGill of the Pace MacGill Galleries in New York, and the photo was a color print of some graffiti discovered on a rock wall at the side of the road in Maine (pictured at top).

Farview's Gold Dust (Dusty), Moorestown, New Jersey, 1989
selected for the 1990 Photo Review National Photography Competition
Toward the end of my period of entering hundreds of photography contests and juried art shows, the idea of competing with art felt unfulfilling, narcissistic, and I was trying to please the judges. I did please the judges, but I didn't please myself, so I got off the merry-go-round some time in the middle to late 1990s.

(far right) "Look at me, I'm a winner!!" (NOT!!)
During my semi-retirement from juried shows, I hopped on to another validation merry-go-round and swam competitively in masters swimming events, ending up with a large box full of awards. The awards couldn't be less useful to me today.

How many of my blog readers knew I was a US Masters Swimming National Champion, FINA Masters Swimming World Champion, US Masters Swimming Long Distance All-Star, and the first and only person in the history of US Masters Swimming to compete in all 12 national championship events in the same year? How many of my friends know I won the Newsletter of the Year award? You probably didn't know, because it doesn't matter to me anymore.

Usually I flat-out refuse to talk about any of it, but one of the good things about that experience was it squelched my urge to compete and gave me a completely new perspective about what healthy competition really was. It wasn't what I saw in that arena, nor was it what I saw with juried shows.

In 2008 I retired from swimming competition after competing in 21 national pool championships and more than a dozen long distance championships. The retirement was not the Phelpsian kind, when you come back the next time around to get on the validation-go-round again. I was really done with it, but not knowing what to do with the remnants of a defeated competitive spirit, I entered a few juried photography shows, mostly local, starting around 2009.

"And wouldn't you know, I received an award!" I said, rolling my eyes. It was in a juried show at Lightbox Photographic in Astoria, Oregon and was a second place for a photographic work called Zauberspiegel. So, there I was, riding that other validation-go-round...but it was different this time around. The ride wasn't as fun as it used to be. It wasn't much fun at all. It seemed silly. All I wanted to do was share the work, it didn't need it to be judged against other people's creations, and I certainly didn't need to be singled-out. "How awkward," I thought.

"Aquarium" 2012
One of the images displayed at Lightbox was a photographic work called "Aquarium", composed of many elements. It is about a vivid dream during a summer heatwave, when I was floating through the universe. When the piece was on display, it was unlike anything else in the show, but did it stand out or was it out of place? Maybe both. The next year I entered it in the Photo Review National Photography Competition, my first time since 1991, and "Aquarium" didn't make the final cut.

Although I was familiar with the Photo Review contest in the 1990s, I had no idea what had been included since then. Photography had progressed since 1991, hadn't it? I tried to push the envelope, but the judge wasn't having it that day. "Meh, no biggie," I thought.

It was some consolation to appear in a web gallery of favorite also-rans, but the work was better than that in my opinion. The thing was, it just didn't fit in, and I also appreciated that. Most of the photos in the Photo Review National Photography Competition are brutally realistic, hard, and not manipulated. "Aquarium" was far too fanciful and was completely created in Photoshop.

"House of Wonky" 2012, Viewer's Choice in Sisters, Oregon
Small Wonders Challenge
Then came quilts. I made my first quilt in 2012 after more than 20 years of collecting, and of course, I had to test the new theory about entering contests; the theory that they weren't what drove me. It was folly. Whatever the outcome, it wouldn't diminish me or the work. How would it feel to get back on that validation-go-round, I wondered. Would it be any different with quilts? And would it be any different with work made to please me and not the judges?

I made a little quilt called "House of Wonky". The quilt was about that feeling of having to figure things out from an isolated place. I entered it in the Small Wonders Challenge in Sisters because Mom would be visiting from Maine and I wanted to surprise her. It was open, all entries were accepted, but there were also prizes.

Since my goal was to get a rise out of Mom, there was nothing more at stake. Other people would get the prizes, I thought, and hopefully that would make them happy. My prize was the look on Mom's face when she discovered the quilt. The fact that I also received the blue ribbon for viewer's choice made the whole thing even more hilarious. Mom knew nothing of my quiltmaking activities before that moment. She is almost impossible to surprise, but I got her that time.

"Wild Eyed Susans" 2013, Honorable Mention, Small Innovative
Pacific West Quilt Show
In 2013, I made a quilt called "Wild Eyed Susans" for a guild challenge with the Northwest Quilters. The goal was to have something I made in the show for the very first time, and that was it. Later that year I entered it in the Pacific West Quilt show. I really had no business entering the show, but wanted to share the work with more people.

It was fun to get in. That, for me, was like winning a big prize. There was also an honorable mention ribbon...memorable...but it was not at all the defining moment of the quilt or my experience with it. Don't get me wrong, I was honored! It's just that juried shows, acceptance and awards really were not what drove me anymore. They were more like funny things that happened along the way.

The epiphany was: work from the heart rather than letting the whole thing get into your head.

just happy to be there
So, that is some of my perspective on juried shows, contests and competition. Been there, done that, wrote the book on it. As unfulfilling as much of it was, it brought me to where I am now. I don't take juried shows too seriously, even though I may want to enter one from time to time. For me, a juried show is a fun, if not silly thing to do. After all, art is subjective, and the whole idea of judging it is preposterous. And in case you were wondering, I did not enter the QuiltCon contest. A wise friend told me it didn't look good to get juried into a show where you're teaching, and with my luck, I would've gotten in and people would've been pissed about it. Maybe next time if I'm not teaching...and just for fun, nothing serious.

Today I do not feel unhappy about that Honorable Mention ribbon from the "Smile America" contest back in 1976. Actually, it's pretty cool, and green is my favorite color. The blue ribbon winner, which I can still picture, really was more deserving, and admitting it didn't cause me to keel over. If you entered QuiltCon, didn't get in, and you're feeling bewildered, unhappy and unfulfilled, I hope my perspective helps. Everything will be OK. Perhaps the experience will even lead to the same epiphany I had. Juried shows aren't the end-all-be-all. You are, because you know how to make quilts. Also, remember to do the work to please you, and don't just say that you are. Really do it. You will always be fulfilled.