Quilting has long been a traditional art form passed from generation to generation; but beginning in the 1960s, a few academically-trained artists began exploring the quilt medium.
As the movement has grown, hundreds of people around the globe are making quilts that are intended as a work of art, to be hung on a wall rather than displayed in the bedroom.
In celebration of this artistic movement, the Susquehanna Art Museum is hosting “Color Improvisations 2,” a special invitational exhibition of contemporary quilts curated by Nancy Crow, one of the most celebrated and influential quiltmakers of the past 40 years; featuring quilts by 18 artists from Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the United States.
All of the quilts Crow chose for this exhibition are large, abstract compositions that were machine-pieced, primarily from hand-dyed fabrics, and also quilted by machine.
Rather than working from patterns, the fabric was cut, pieced and quilted “improvisationally.” Each work was made specifically for this exhibition, including a new piece by Crow.
Crow says she has always compared pieced quiltmaking to painting. “Both require a strong classical sense of figure/ground composition, and experienced knowledge of how to mix and create colors (for quiltmakers, through dyeing cotton or silk fabrics), a strong sense of proportions and drawing ability.”
Her analogy to painting is evident in many of the quilts on display, but especially so in Karen Schulz’s “Say Whaaat?” with its bold color blocks topped by large, gestural swirls in black and white. The swirls resemble Abstract Expressionist brush strokes in the foreground, which contrast to the accompanying solid geometric forms.
Denise Roberts’s “Sisle #7” also employs an blended background of earthy colors, much like a camouflage pattern, which is topped with a contrasting red forms, with a color so vibrant it appears to leap from the surface.
“Terra Verde” by Ellen Wong, features a pallet of warm greens and browns, as ribbons of color span across the quilt. Yet more intriguing is her use of texture, with the browns having a bubble-like appearance and the greens resembling sweeping brush strokes in thick paint. The use of not only color but also texture to portray movement within the quilt is fascinating.
Ayako Yamabayashi’s “Sunset” is a dizzying assemblage of color that not only blends horizontally but also vertically as the color travels from light to dark hues. The placement of the colors from ground to sky, without using any realistic imagery, truly pays homage to a setting sun.
Crow’s contribution to the exhibit is “Riff #4: Calm” as deep blues and violets impart the truest sense of serenity and tranquility. As tracks zigzag across the surface, the rich, muted tones keep the scene’s atmosphere soothing and relaxed.
A final piece, while not part of the “Color Improvisations 2” quilts, is not to be missed as one exits the exhibition. Luke Murphy’s “Log Cabin Lightening Strike for Small Child” is a “quilt” formed from LED Matrix panels, arranged in a traditional log cabin quilt pattern. As a preview of an upcoming exhibition by Murphy, it demonstrates the ability of modern technology to be used as an artistic medium. It serves as an ideal reminder of the continuous evolution of artistic technique.
“Color Improvisations 2” reinforces the understanding that even items that we live with every day can be elevated into the highest of art forms.
Crow pays tribute to the intense work of the quilt artists by describing their process. “Unlike painting, fabric colors, shapes and lines are not brushed on or glued together, but sewn together. And to be able to cut parts, shapes and lines by eye and then to manage color and value, demands hours and hours of practice. The quilt-maker’s eye must be able to coordinate infinite calibrations with the muscle control of hand, wrist and arm. The entire operation is physical and requires strength. It takes obsessiveness, intensity, practice, practice, practice and a great eye.”
“Color Improvisations 2” shares with us not only the beauty of the result but also the story of the creation of these masterpieces.
“Color Improvisations 2” is on view in the Main Gallery at the Susquehanna Art Museum at The Marty and Tom Philips Family Art Center through Jan. 20, 2019.The exhibition was coordinated by Color Improvisations 2, NA. It is made possible at the Susquehanna Art Museum thanks to the sponsorship of the Carole DeSoto Foundation.
The Susquehanna Art Museum is located at 1401 N. Third St., Harrisburg and is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday with extended hours on Wednesdays until 7 p.m. and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Free parking is available to museum-goers in the lot immediately adjacent to the rear of the museum at Calder and James streets.
General admission is $8; $5 for teachers, seniors and veterans; free for children younger than 12. For additional information on the museum and exhibitions, visit the museum’s website at www.SusquehannaArtMuseum.org.
Joseph George holds a degree in history and art history from Dickinson College. He and his wife, Barrie Ann have spent over 25 years together traveling and visiting art galleries locally and throughout the world. They have been writing about the local art scene for five years. Their tastes range from fine art to street art.