Book Review: Quilting Art: Inspiration, Ideas & Innovative Works from 20 Contemporary Quilters

Quilting Art: Inspiration, Ideas & Innovative Works from 20 Contemporary Quilters Quilting Art: Inspiration, Ideas & Innovative Works from 20 Contemporary Quilters by Spike Gillespie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have spent some time, after my initial perusal in November of 2009, reading this book and did enjoy it. There are lots of good photos. I enjoyed reading what artists think about various topics concerning making a living (or not) and creating art.

Spike Gillespie provides a really interesting introduction. I have gotten a lot better at reading the introductions to various quilt books and I have found it to be a worthwhile endeavor. One of the aspects she remarks on is “I was further inspired to remember how important it is to carve out time to pursue the passionate side of one’s calling and to heed one’s muse, both of which are too often too easily lost in the shuffle of doing what we to get by day to day(pg.10).” This is partially what the Creative Prompt Project is about: a small step to begin devoting time to creativity. Ms. Gillespie notes that “all demonstrated a drive that might, at times, be set aside temporarily for work necessary to pay bills and time needed to raise kids. But, in the end, the muse will not be silenced…(pg.14)”

She also faces the “is it a quilt or not” question head on. I often don’t want to hear that discussion rehashed, but I guess an author of this type of book has to at least acknowledge she is aware of the issue. She remarks that asking a random quilt show attendees to deem a work a quilt or not is a false argument. She reframes the question to be “how do you feel about the way quilts have progressed and moved into the art world? (pg.11)” This is a much better question, in my opinion, regardless of whether you think a particular quilt is an art quilt. It is a better question because of the way quilts are constantly evolving. The whole Modern Quilt Movement has been on mind lately and comes immediately to the forefront when I think of how the quilt world is changing and evolving.

Gillespie asks various artists about the word quilt and says that she “did not want to collect opposing points of view and then splice them together as if there were some big catfight going on in the world of quilt artists. The answers [she:] I received were offered not to suggest that one way of thinking is absolutely right and another is absolutely wrong. Instead, I felt myself invited to contemplate how the word helps or hurts artist working to get their pieces out there for the world to see.”(pg.11) This concept is addressed by the artists throughout the book. The variety of the opinions mirrors the variety fo the works. Some I agree with and some I don’t. Joan Dreyer’s comment describes how I feel pretty well: “I’m less concerned with putting a label on it. I almost don’t care in a way. I don’t feel other artists have to make the same choice. For me I just need to make it for the reasons I need to make it.” (pg.11)

After the introduction, Spike goes straight into a brief bio and discussion with each artist that includes a number of photos of their work and, in some cases, photos of their studio. I found that I had something in common with some of the artists. Deidre Adams, for example, enjoys “working in a series, of taking an idea and working it over and over and developing and exploring it. (pg.17)” She also gets out of a rut by taking scraps from previous projects and starts sewing them together.

Pam Rubert says that she views the world with a “strange mixture of astonishment, dismay, and amusement (pg.25).” She is into the “concept and story line (pg.29).” I agree that I like my quilts to be about the story of the quilt. Telling stories is important, which may be why people don’t understand some art quilts. Block quilts are easy to understand because of the color and repetition. Abstract quilts are not because, it seems to me, that a lot of what is made from the fabric comes from a reaction to what is going on in the artist’s head.

Mary Beth Bellah works full time and says “I give forty hours a week to my mortgage and kids. Whatever I come home and work on it whatever I want. I don’t have to sell it (pg.42).” I think acknowledging that creating something goes beyond its monetary value. Of course, we are often judged on how much money we make or how much our art is worth, so not feeling like she has to sell her work is a breath of fresh air.

This book introduced me to some new artists as well. Angela Moll loves the visuals of handwriting. One reason I love the act of handwriting is because forming the loops and dips of cursive letters gets close to drawing. Moll uses the artistry of the cursive to create interest in her quilts. She focuses on opportunities for visibility and not necessarily ones that are commercially more attractive. Moll also works in series.

Another pearl of wisdom came from Joan Dreyer who is “not interested in putting things together just for the sake of being different….Materials should serve the content of the piece. (pg.63)” This speaks to me, because I feel design is important and design choices should be thought through. The idea also speaks to the layout of the book. The book is beautifully laid out. The hardcover edition has large clear photos and subtle stitch looking illustrations on various pages.

I had a hard time with the interview with Dominie Nash. She was new to me. She says that she “didn’t want to make pieces fit together. That was too against my nature and my level of ability. What I do is collage work (pg.85).” This statement made me wonder if collage work is a way of saying “I am too lazy to learn the techniques?” Such as statement makes me ask if there is value in learning rules, or is it just too much of a hassle? Nash is, apparently, successful. Does that mean she is allowed to not learn the rules? If art sells, can you bypass the rules?

This book brought up issues and opinions that made me think. I questioned my own ideas about right and wrong in Quiltland as I read the various opinions. Nash didn’t give me the impression that she thought much of quilting. As she talks about the quilt groups to which she belongs, she says “…we’re still a little too polite when we do critiques (pg.86).” Nash attributes this overpoliteness to a “hangover from the days of quilting bees (pg.86.)” Right after she says that community is essential to her growth (pg.86).” I think quiltmaking groups are about community and everything else is a bonus, whether you make charity quilts, do show and tell or critique each other’s work. We don’t need a quilt group to produce work.

I don’t see much fun or joy in Nash’s work, but I have some respect for her. She did said “I go to my studio every day. Because one day I may go and the angel may be there. What if I don’t go and the angel comes (pg.83),” which I like a lot, though I would change ‘angel’ to ‘muse.’ Jeanne Williamson says something that adds to Nash’s practice “Not all of the small quilts were beautiful. There are tons of I think are ugly…but the point was to always make something, not always make something beautiful (pg.153)”

Commercial fabric is also discussed in this book. Malka Dubrawsky discusses using commercial fabric in her work. She admits to looking down on commercial fabric, but coming around again to using it. She implies that by not valuing commercial fabric you are not valuing someone else’s artwork, which I think is very interesting to think about.

I was surprised at the number of people interviewed who said that they started out in isolation not knowing anything about quiltmaking or other quiltmakers in their area. It is interesting to me how, despite the variety of resources we have (web, blogs, guilds, etc.), people teach themselves to make a quilt and work in isolation thinking they are the only one. Karen Kamenetzky is one of those artists. I really like the stitching and verticalness of the pieces depicted in her article.

This book has an excellent and detailed index. I didn’t like all of the work, but I appreciated the variety and the high level of discussion throughout the book.

My first, brief, review of this book was in November 2009.

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