TopNav

Tag Archives | Gerald Roy

Art quilts in history – Gerald Roy

Like all other arts and crafts forms, the aesthetic value of an individual work is determined by the viewer. Beginning in the Victorian era with crazy quilts, art quilts have been appreciated by many. Gerald Roy continues his thoughts on the progression of art quilts in history in this article.

The Victorian era (1837–1901) (see, Art Quilt Phenomenon article) would soon be followed by 36 of the most tumultuous years in American history. World War I began in 1914 and Prohibition in 1919.  Wall Street crashed in 1929 and was followed by The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 and drew the United States into World War II through 1945, when it dropped of two atomic bombs. Five years of peace ended with the Korean War in 1950.

When men went to war, women took on their jobs as well as their own. Women who left their homes for factories and cities to pursue professions usually abandoned their previous way of life, even if their husbands did return from war. Being paid and having a career leaves little chance that women will return to the home or the farm. Time-consuming activities are abandoned in favor of labor-saving devices and products that are mass produced in factories rather than one-of-a-kind ones made at home. Quilting was just one of the many activities that suffered.

Yet, quilt making was passed onto the succeeding generations where it was still important to the economy of a region or where it was deeply embedded in the heritage and tradition of a family or community. This was how many rural areas were especially influential in enabling many of our nation’s early crafts to survive times until there was renewed interest in them. Pride and appreciation in traditional American art, crafts, architecture and just about all things American was later reinforced by the positive attitudes and activities established during and between the World Wars when private, public, and governmental agencies got people back to work.

The quilt which won prizes at the World Fair in Chicago is presented to Mrs. Roosevelt by E.J. Condon. L.T. Conway views the ceremony. Both men are connected with a merchandising concern doing business on a nationwiide scale. The prize winning quilt was made by Margaret Rogers Caden of Lexington, KY

E.J. Condon presents the winning quilt to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933. L.T. Conway views the ceremony. Both men were connected with Sears, Roebuck & Co.. The prize winning quilt was made by Margaret Rogers Caden of Lexington, KY. – photo from the Library of Congress.

We saw this occur in 1939 when the Work Progress Administration (WPA) employed 8.5 million workers, not only to construct buildings, roads, bridges, and tunnels, but also to create music, paintings, and literary works for public purposes. No wonder the WPA was responsible for the founding of The National Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The popularity of quilt making was accelerated when government, private, and corporate interests recognized the power of quilts to attract and engage huge audiences. With all the financial problems facing the country, the revival of quilt making and many other crafts was seen as a way of stimulating an economy that has suffered during the wars, and the depression.

Quilt by Aurora See Dyer for 1933 Sears National Quilt Contest

Quilt by Aurora See Dyer for 1933 Sears National Quilt Contest – photo courtesy of Merikay Waldvogel

By the late nineteenth century, country fairs across the nation included quilt contests and exhibits. A National Quilting Bee Contest was launched in 1911.  Little is known about the entries or the results.   The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of professionally designed patterns and quilt kits advertised and distributed nationally.  Companies such as Stearns & Foster Co., maker of Mountain Mist batting, suggested quilt shows and competitions to promote and encourage quiltmaking.  In 1932, The Eastern States Exposition at Storrowton, Massachusetts held the first national quilt contest. In 1933, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. organized a national quilt contest in conjunction with Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  Over 25,000 quilts were judged at local and regional levels.  At the final national round held at the Sears Pavilion, of 30 regional winners, a traditional quilt entered by Margaret Caden of Kentucky won the $1000 grand prize as well as the honor of the quilt being given to Eleanor Roosevelt. Then in 1939 and 1940, over $3,000 in prize money was awarded at contests organized in conjunction with the New York World’s Fair sponsored by department stores and Good Housekeeping Magazine.

Competition had always been a part of the history of quilt making; however, prize money of this proportion brought a whole new dimension to the effort.

These events changed the complexion of quilt making forever. Professional designers and artists from other disciplines adopted quilt making as their media of expression. Quilt making became a full-time career for many with an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the quilts from this early contest era maintained their sizes so their intended use was still assumed to be as practical bedcovers. However, this idea soon faded when their intent was clearly recognized and they were intended to be seen as art.

Gerald E. Roy at Pilgrim/Roy

Gerald Roy

Gerald Roy is an educator, painter, quilt maker and author. He is a quilt appraiser certified by the National Quilters Society and an administrator of the AQS Quilt Appraisal Certification Program. His This Old Quilt column is featured in the Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine. He currently serves on the following boards: New England Quilt Museum Lowell, Mass. – Acquisitions Board and the National Quilt Museum Paducah, Kentucky – Executive Board of Directors, National Advisory Board and Chair / Acquisitions Committee. He is the curator for Quilts & Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection opening at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston on April 6. To learn more, visit his website, Pilgrim/Roy Antiques and Interiors

Continue Reading 0

The Art Quilt phenomenon – thoughts from Gerald Roy

“Art quilts” and the issues they raise have been around a lot longer than most people think.

Milliner - Hattie P. Dyer  1895  - Crazy Quilt - 7 North Temple Place, Boston, Mass. 70 “ x 70”

Milliner – Hattie P. Dyer 1895 – Crazy Quilt – 7 North Temple Place, Boston, Mass. 70 “ x 70”

During the last half of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution not only enabled a privileged few to acquire enormous fortunes, but also brought about a broader distribution of wealth to the American middle-class than ever before. With this new-found prosperity, many people built and furnished their homes in the latest of fashions. The Crazy quilt became a popular symbol of “having arrived.” No home was considered fashionable without one. Instead of being made as bedcovers, they adorned tables and upholstered furniture. The surface was highly decorated with embellishments through complex embroidery techniques, and even hand painted vignettes. That’s because the Crazy quilt was not made with the functional purpose as bedcovers, it’s no wonder it later became regarded as the first “art quilt.”

J.R.H.1886

JRH 1886 – 52” x 60” silk, satin, brocades and cotton lace.

 

It’s important to note that they technically aren’t quilts because most aren’t quilted. In addition, they did not evolve from traditional quilts. In fact, very few skilled traditional quilt makers ever made them. Having perfected their needlework skills and ability to accurately piece and appliqué, they did not find the style, materials, techniques, and embellishments of Crazy quilts appealing. Instead, most Crazy quilts were made by women who possessed minimal quilt making skills but had the time and the money to focus on beautifying and decorating their homes in the latest fashion. (Quite often this was evidenced through excess and often vulgar displays of wealth and poor taste.) Whereas bedcovers tend to get worn out, Crazy quilts more often survived the test of time. This factor coupled with their serving only an aesthetic purpose increased their likelihood of being regarded as objects of art.

The surface of Crazy Quilts are highly decorated with embellishments through complex embroidery techniques.

The surface of Crazy Quilts are highly decorated with embellishments through complex embroidery techniques. Detail of the Milliner – Hattie P. Dyer 1895 – Crazy Quilt

The controversy between art and utility has been ongoing. Because paintings serve no practical purpose and often are associated with art museums, there is a misconception that all paintings achieve art status. This in turn has led to another misconception – an object made for a practical and useful purpose is not art. Of course this premise is absurd because objects, regardless of purpose, are displayed in major art museums worldwide. Yet, even most quilts represented in museums were relegated to craft because of their association with their utilitarian purpose as bedcovers. Therefore, they generally were selected for their workmanship or historical significance and not because they were valued as works of art.

Unfortunately, this mindset has caused too many quilts to be evaluated exclusively by “The Two-Inch to Two-Foot Method,” which describes the distance from which they are scrutinized. Workmanship appears to have been the primary concern after which only its historical value was given consideration. I have often seen viewers with their noses practically touching a quilt saying, “Now this is art”

Whenever I see this occur I suggest, “Step away from the quilt and see that there’s far more to the quilt than only its technique.” This rarely occurs in art world, where most works of art undergo “The Twenty Paces Test.” Only after evaluating a work from this distance should the viewer go closer to examine technique. That’s why even utility quilts with less than masterpiece techniques can rise to “art” status.

G.R.  1886  - 56” x 58” silk, satin, velvets, brocades.

G.R. 1886 – 56” x 58” silk, satin, velvets, brocades.

Like all other arts and crafts forms, the aesthetic value of an individual work is determined by the viewer. Aesthetic response is personal and depends upon the ability of the maker to connect with the viewer on some level. Often the connection is made by sharing or stimulating a common experience, exposing the viewer to a new point of view, or reaching aesthetic sensibilities. As viewers we have the luxury of determining whether or not a work is art. The aspirations of the maker are irrelevant and no amount of their wishing can make it so. It is how others respond to a work that makes it “art.”

Gerald E. Roy at Pilgrim/Roy

Gerald Roy

Gerald Roy

Gerald Roy is an educator, painter, quilt maker and author. He is a quilt appraiser certified by the National Quilters Society and an administrator of the AQS Quilt Appraisal Certification Program. His This Old Quilt column is featured in the Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine. He currently serves on the following boards: New England Quilt Museum Lowell, Mass. – Acquisitions Board and the National Quilt Museum Paducah, Kentucky – Executive Board of Directors, National Advisory Board and Chair / Acquisitions Committee. He is the curator for Quilts & Color: The Pilgrim/Roy Collection opening at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston on April 6. To learn more, visit his website, Pilgrim/Roy Antiques and Interiors

Continue Reading 0

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes