Thursday, July 29, 2010

how long does it take to make a quilt?

Did you catch the story on NPR about the person who bought old negatives that he claims are from Ansel Adams at the tag sale? He paid $45 for them and now claims they are worth over $200,000,000. There is a dispute as to whether the negatives are really those of Ansel Adams--one of the pre-eminent black and white photographers of the 20th century. But that dispute is for the experts--we don't have to go there. The more interesting discussion is what value the negatives have by themselves--especially in the case of work by Ansel Adams who was known for manipulating the images in the dark room to create just the right feeling. 

Indeed the former head of the Ansel Adams Center for Photography Andy Grundberg told Michelle Norris said that the negatives don't have any significant value.  Without Adams around to process the negatives--to get the intense contrasts he is known for--what are the negatives? Merely guideposts. Could someone--not Adams--take the negatives and make art from them?  At best, Grundberg said, they could be considered the score but the score needs the conductor to bring out the flavor and art. Otherwise they are only historically relevant. Indeed Grundberg explained how Adams changed the look of his most famous Moonrise, Hernandez photograph over the years as his vision changed. The art is in the vision and process of the artist. Adams had the skill to create the photographs he wanted from the tools he had available. I wonder how many photographs he threw away in the dark room because they did not turn out right. Did he examine the ones that almost worked--pin them up and study them to learn? Did he tear them up and toss them in a fire? Did he sigh? Take notes? Go for a walk? I confess I don't know that much about him.

I remember reading once that Georgia O'Keefe sketched a hundred jack in the pulpits until she got it just right. I love that story and her determination. It has gotten me through many a rough quilting session.

Now I am not Ansel Adams or Georgia O'Keefe, but sometimes I do console myself thinking that if they struggled, struggle itself just fine. When I  last wrote, I was trying to finish a quilt for the PA Guild Craft Show this week-end. The quilt started off easily enough. The colors were the faded dusty colors of rolling fields in late summer.  I have a vision of gentle prairies stretching  forever that is haunting me. I like the intrigue of the land doing gentle dips and rises--almost as though it is breathing. It is at once soothing and asking a question.

I like most of the quilt at this stage but then it got lost and became simply a sketch for a quilt I will make--later. Ugh!! An idea--actually several ideas in this quilt but not what I want. I will pin it up, study it. Maybe even pick it apart. Anger is not my style. At first I am sad and then I get determined. There is something to learn here. I may get more greys and dusty browns.  Eventually I will either make the quilt I see in my mind or move on to another challenge. A few years from now I may look at it--wonder what was I thinking. Or maybe figure out finally what I was thinking?

Ugh! and Ugh!! Ugh!!!

Does this ever happen to you? What do you do? How do you process a vision that doesn't work out just right?  And how do you explain to those who will ask at the craft fair this week-end--and invariable I will get asked a lot-- "How long does it take to make a quilt?"

Check out the full NPR interview transcript here:


  1. I like to hang things up and look at them also. Then, if the answer does not come, it goes to the UFO pile. There it sits until I am in the middle, wanting to make something, not happy with my stash but not in a place to add to it, and then go to the UFO pile, sometimes it is months or years, but, finally, they speak and let me know what they need, I search for it and if I am lucky, they can be completed this time. :D How long does it take to make a quilt, ahahah. good one. ;D

  2. Glad to hear I am not the only one Carol.