film: quilts in women's lives & artist radka donnell

ever heard of the film quilts in women's lives?  it's a documentary from 1981 by a filmmaker named Pat Ferrero.  i found the film while searching around on the internet for more information about afro-american folk crafts.

the clip above on you tube is only 2 minutes long, but you can watch about half of the 28 minute long film on a really cool website called folkstreams, which is an archive/database of documentary films that are "A National Preserve of Documentary Films about American Roots Cultures."

here's a bit about the film from the folkstreams website:


This 15 minute excerpt includes the sections on artist/teacher Grace Earl, the artist and Bulgarian immigrant Radka Donnell, and the African American quilter Nora Lee Condra. The complete film includes the work of seven women and is available on a newly remastered DVD from The Quilt Complex (for home use) and from New Day Films (educational use).

Quilts was a ground breaking film used by folklorists, anthropologists and historians of art and womens history that presented the lives, art, work and philosophy of ordinary women in the days when few documentaries came from women filmmakers. This deceptively simple film won most of the major awards for independent films during the years after its release in 1981, including Emily Grand Prize, American Film Festival; 1st Place Fine Arts, San Francisco International Film Festival; Best of Festival, National Educational Film and Video Festival, New York International Film Festival, Margaret Mead Film Festival.

”Of the seven women seen during the course of Quilts in Women’s Lives, some are indeed painters using scraps of material for their medium, and they take traditional painterly attitudes toward their work. But over and above painting, quiltmaking develops into a metaphor of life itself. Quilts in Women’s Lives is visual anthropology. It examines by implication quiltmaking as a system of communication, record-keeping and structuring principle. The film, like the quilts, embodies the reassuring care, the forgiving attention to detail and the fascination of detail and emerging pattern that animates the best of life itself.”

—- Charles Shere for the Oakland Tribune.


thoughts after watching the (15 minute long) clip:

i think the whole film, or at least what i've seen of it, is pretty great (though obviously dated!).  i am interested to see more of it; i ordered a copy of the film so i could.  i love hearing women (or anyone) talk about why they make and what they make and how they make it.  i love looking into people's homes or studios, especially those who are makers.  especially those who are quilters!  this is a total time capsule, too, you get to see the inside of the homes and workspaces of these women 30+ years ago...which is totally fun for someone who's into old crap and history like me.  :)  also, watching this film makes me want to say/feel/scream NOTHING IS NEW!!!  this whole recent movement of modern quilting (which i am a part of, somewhat, yes!) is not the first push to contemporize or redefine quilting in the 20th or 21st century.  it's merely the latest resurgence/manifestation of that movement, albeit with somewhat of it's own completely current ethos and aesthetic.  it's all related.

i was really really inspired by seeing the bit in the film about radka donnell and her quilts; i found a book called the contemporary quilt: new american quilts and fabric art  at a thrift store over memorial day weekend from the same era (c1978) that featured some of her work and i was really intrigued.  i was totally totally jazzed that she was featured in this film so i could learn more about her.  

have any of you heard of donnell?  she was a feminist, an activist.  her fractured, liberated, improvisational quilts would arguably fit right in with today's modern quilting ethos/aesthetic.  she considered her quilts art, but intended them to be used...ideas that seem opposing and challenging but really right on.  her work, in so far as her framing of her work and where her work was shown (in galleries, etc.) reminds me of the work of sarah nishiura, whom i wrote about last week.  both create beautiful, complex compositions that are at home in whatever context they are presented...on a wall or a bed.


who or what has been inspiring you lately?