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Earth Stories opens at MSU Museum

by Leni Levenson Wiener, curator

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Earth Stories will be on view at the MSU Museum until November 20, 2014. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong.

The idea behind SAQA’s Earth Stories exhibit was simple enough; artists were challenged to create large works (or installations) inspired by a person or project anywhere in the world doing something positive for the earth. The word positive was important—we wanted inspiring stories of people who were working to change the course of over consumption and decay, rather than to embrace negativity.

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The exhibit has 24 large quilts and 24 smaller summary quilts by the same artists.

Artists were chosen by a call for consideration. Each artist presented a portfolio of their work and Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi carefully chose the artists who would be included in the exhibition. They were given a little more than a year to complete their work in a very specific size—a footprint of 72” square or 72” on one side and at least 60” on the other.

As the curator of this exhibit I enjoyed watching the pieces develop and evolve and hearing the artists share their thoughts and progress. As one of the selected artists, I also shared the frustrations of finding an appropriate theme and creating such a large work.

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Palimpsest by Brooke Atherton, Billings Montana

Most remarkable about this exhibit is the breadth and scope of the projects that inspired the work of these twenty four magnificent pieces. Many of the artists in Earth Stories are QN artists, and although I do not have the space to celebrate them all, here are a few of their artworks.

Brooke Atherton, Billings Montana: Palimpsest

Inspired by: Floating Island International

Using a matrix formed from recycled plastic drinking bottles and native plants, floating islands manufactures artificial islands that are moveable or can be tethered in place to rebalance water ecosystems that humans have upset. Brooke has incorporated a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt which has outlived its original purpose and repurposed into a new story that centers on repurposing for the sake of our planet.

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A Source of Life in the Dead Sea by Maya Chaimovich, Ramat Gan, Israel

Maya Chaimovich, Ramat Gan, Israel: A Source of Life in the Dead Sea

Inspired by: www.onlinedeadsea.com

The Israeli government has invested more than a billion dollars in a project called “The Dead Sea Harvest”, the intention of which is to extract mineral rich healing salt that has sunk to the bottom.

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Wise Choice by Kathy Nida, El Cajon, Ca

Kathy Nida, El Cajon, Ca: Wise Choice

Inspired by: International Planned Parenthood Federation

Many world-wide die from starvation or limited access to earth’s natural resources. When women can plan their lives and care for their families as they choose, the strain on limited natural resources will be reduced.

Light Towers by Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, The Netherlands

Light Towers by Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, The Netherlands

Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, Waalre, The Netherlands: Light Towers

Inspired by: The L Prize awarded to Royal Philips Electronics for an energy saving bulb with light similar to that of a common incandescent bulb.

Mirjam’s husband wrote the patent for this bulb. She was inspired by the skyscrapers in the US or the enormous tower apartment blocks in the outskirts of St. Petersburg, Russia. The ‘Light Tower’ is the nickname of the Philips building where bulbs and tubes are tested.

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Crowded House by Kathy York, Austin, Texas

Kathy York, Austin, Texas: Crowded House

Inspired by: Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff)

Kathy York took Annie Leonard’s famous book about massive consumerism quite personally. She counted all the objects in her house over a period of six months. The Number, (which she calls the humiliating and nauseating number) spills out of the confines of her house.

 

Michigan State University Museum, the opening venue for this show and a partner in its development, is a center of regional, national, and international quilt-related scholarly and educational activities, including the Quilt Index (quiltindex.org), an online tool for centralized public access to quilt and quilt artist-related materials. The MSU Museum is also home to an outstanding collection of quilts and quilt-related materials, both historical and contemporary, from around the world. Earth Stories provided them with an opportunity to share a collection of contemporary quilts that reflect the power of this art form for personal expression, education, and activism.

Leni Levenson Wiener is the curator for the Earth Stories exhibit. She also created a piece in the show entitled it’s a shell of a problem this piece focuses on both the helping hands of humans and the desirability of turtle and tortoise shells. Her website is www.leniwiener.com

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Art Quilts — A primer

By Kathleen Loomis

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Little Fish in a Big City by Kathy York, QN2011

Every exhibit of contemporary art quilts has its quintessential moment of confusion as somebody walks in the door, looks around in bewilderment, and announces, “But these aren’t quilts!” No doubt this person was expecting fabric constructions big enough to fit on a bed, perhaps with traditional block designs, maybe even quilted by hand. This newfangled stuff, which you would never put on your bed, just doesn’t fit the definition.

Looking at the wide variety of works that have been accepted in past Quilt National exhibits, you may share some of that confusion. The rules are pretty vague: “the work submitted must possess the basic structural characteristics of a quilt.” That generally means multiple layers of fabric, held together with stitching, with some kind of visual design on the layer facing the viewer.

There are as many ways to accomplish that objective as there are stirrings of the quilter’s imagination. Let’s take a whirlwind tour of some of the possibilities.

First, a visual design.

Traditional quilters generally relied on two methods to make their design. They might sew pieces of different fabric together in patterns (called piecing) or they might sew a piece of fabric, cut into a shape, on top of a base fabric (called applique).

Our Dads at War by Mary Ann Tipple, 2007

Our Dads at War by Mary Ann Tipple, QN2007

Contemporary quiltmakers still use those methods, but they also have a wide range of other ways to get a design onto the top layer of the quilt. They might draw onto a background or use printmaking techniques, with paint or dye. They might print photos or other images or text from a computer. They might allow bits of metal to rust onto their fabric or bury it in the garden for six months to become stained.

Where the traditional quiltmaker would sew her appliques by hand or machine, today’s quiltmakers might use glue, staples, snaps or Velcro. And the bits of stuff applied might be paper, wood, buttons, beads or metal in addition to fabric.

Earth and Soul by Pat Owoc

Earth and Soul “To Go” by Pat Owoc, QN1999

 Second, multiple layers.

The traditional quilt is made of a top, a back and a middle layer of batting (usually cotton or wool for warmth). Today’s quilt might use kinds of fabric never seen in traditional practice: netting, chiffon, felt, canvas, knits, nonwoven interfacings, landscape fabric, plastic. One or more of the layers might be paper, plastic, hardware cloth, screening, wood, even metal.

Third, stitching to hold the layers together.

Traditionally, quilts were held together with a dense network of hand-stitching, although many makers were thrilled to use the sewing machine as soon as that invention became available. Today’s quiltmakers might stitch by hand or machine, or they might use fasteners such as staples or rivets. Reprising the traditional whole cloth quilts, in many cases the stitching itself provides part or all of the visual design.

No longer intended for the bed, today’s contemporary quilt art has no prescribed size or shape (although Quilt National sets a maximum of 100 inches to a side). Most quilts are still two-dimensional and hang flat against the wall, but many have 3-D elements sewed into the fabric or applied to the surface, or are hung on armatures that extend from the wall.

With this vast range of possibilities, it may be either surprising or comforting that so many of the Quilt National works are still so traditional in form, if not in their visual imagery. Most contemporary quiltmakers choose to make their art in the quilt form because of their love of and respect for its long and rich heritage, and the very choice of this process is an integral part of the art.

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