(top to bottom: Mary Maxtion, Mary Lee Bendolph, Mary Duncan, Addie Pelt, Sallie Gladney, and Yvonne Wells. please click through for specific attribution and dates.)
i had the pleasure of stopping by the de paul art museum/DPAM (on the de paul university campus) here in chicago this past weekend to take in the exhibit entitled from heart to hand: african-american quilts from the montgomery museum of fine arts. the exhibit "include(d) examples from Gee's Bend, as well as other styles and subjects from the region of western Alabama".
it was kind of like taking in a mini-Gee's Bend exhibit, and the usual quilt suspects associated with that genre of quilts and their quiltmakers were on display: loose, perfectly imperfect improvisational forms of quilt construction and hand quilting, plenty of saturated and surprising color combinations.
in april 2014, my friend erika sews and i took a road trip to AQS quilt week 2014 in paducah, kentucky. we both hail from chicago and are members of the CMQG, and decided we'd go check out the AQS show since it's just a state over.
i saw a lot of quilts in paducah that were impressively sewn and clearly carefully executed, and were arguably very beautiful quilts, but i have to admit, there weren't really too many quilts in the show there that moved me to stop and ponder, or even take my camera out to snap a picture. the quilts were so "perfect" and many were overworked and fussy (to my eye). many just didn't get me going aesthetically, though i am sure many there felt the opposite, and of course that's perfectly ok. the opposite was true at quilt con 2013...i saw so many things that moved me and i couldn't get my camera out fast enough!
erika and i had gone to the MQG's quilt con 2013 in austin together, and after attending both shows, we had several conversations in the car and over meals about our impressions, comparing and contrasting the overarching aesthetic and ethos of each event and it's associated genres of quilting (AQS leans toward the more "traditional", MQG toward the "modern"). i felt more moved by the quilts at modern show, or by exhibits and quilts like the one i excerpted above at DPAM, and i wanted to articulate what it was that seems so much more appealing to me about the latter.
and i think part of it is the following: quilts done in a looser, improvisational, sometimes sort of scrappy type of style, like the ones shown at DPAM, are, to me, more joyous, looser, and more full of surprise and vibrancy than their more "traditional" counterparts. they have more asymmetry where their counterparts have more symmetry. when the quiltmaker ran out of a fabric she probably filled in where needed with what made sense to her, or using what she had on hand. and i think that's part of the magic behind these quilts...it's the surprise. that perfectly imperfect little something different that stands out and catches the eye, that little thing that some quilting control freaks might argue is out of place. i'd argue that those additions, those differences make the difference...and make for a more visually appealing, energetic quilt. so-called "african-american" quilts like those above and the ones from gee's bend and well beyond, as well as a good deal of antique quilts and quilts made by a variety of makers from a variety of cultures not made for shows also often have this quality.
i love it when i see it, that looseness and surprise, like in the quilts shown above, and in many more "modern" pieces like those at the MQG show...and i am working, working, working to loosen up and embrace that imperfection and make-do spirit and surprise in my own quilts and art.