Thursday, January 27, 2011

when the quilt begins to sing

Some blog posts are long and thought out--dealing with questions--what is art? what is craft? All those issues that I think about. These posts raise questions--more issues to think about--can functional work be art? what labels should one use? Other posts are short and too the point.

I feel like I was getting bogged down with the current quilt.  First I was excited--it was going to be great--I just knew it.  The pieces just flowed together. Then those periods of doubts--is it too dark? too red? are the colors too seasonal? The should-a, would-a, could-a phase. Don't you hate that--working on the faith that maybe there is something in the idea but not really sure if you believe it yourself.

There was too much invested in the quilt to quit now. I don't need another UFO if you know what I mean. Plus the Baltimore Craft Show is in less than a month--argh!! There is not time to do anything else. So I slugged onward. The hand finish work is the worst--so much time to think and worry. It seems like I will never ever get it done. You must know that feeling also.

Then today I added another row and looked at it. Suddenly the colors start to glow.  The color progression is starting to work. The repetition is adding to the piece. Now I have a purpose. No time for a long blog post. I want to finish it--take it to my photographer for its formal portrait. I can plan other items to get my display to work at the show.  Of course I still two more rows to add up at the top. Bindings. Velcro. Cleaning it up. Ironing it. I hang the almost finished quilt next to colors of autumn. Won't they look great together?

The snow has stopped, the sun is shining. I snap a picture--just a hint--since my readers are so great. What do you think?  Is this quilt starting to sing? Have you ever felt that sudden sense of relief?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

should we call them art or art quilts?

As I sit in my studio sewing my latest quilt together, I have been wondering what is an art quilt? Is the requirement that the art be quilted detrimental to the concept? Now I can also see how the term art quilt came into being when people began first exploring the full potential of quilts and needed to define the new movement. Quilts are something both familiar and accessible--indeed doesn't everyone have some relationship with a quilt?  But has the time for this term come and gone? I don't know.  In some works clearly the quilting adds to the meaning of the piece. I think of the quilts of Susan Shie who uses a crazy machine quilting on top of her intricate detailed paintings to reference the traditions of quilting. My friend Jude Larzelere who uses machine quilting to add texture to her explorations of light and space. Or the geometric abstractions of Lisa Call whose lines are accentuated by rows of quilting.

But then I remember Jeanne Williamson. Now she has been a very talented and innovative quilt maker with one of her quilts even on the cover of a recent Quilt National exhibit. However, a couple years ago she felt she was being limited by the process of quilt making and instead became a mixed media artist. Check out her art--the fences that define boundaries and the process of time at  Looking at her career, it seems to me that her work has grown exponentially by leaving aside the need to quilt her pieces.

During my lunch break I was reading in The Surface Design Journal a great article by Joanne Mattera Affinities: Fiber and Wax. If you don't already belong, the Journal of the Surface Design Association provides one of the most thought provoking analysis of contemporary fiber art that I have found and is well worth the price of membership. Do check out The Surface Design Association.

Joanne Mattera is a wonderful encaustic painter who uses color and geometry to create what she calls "lush minimalism." Her blog is another one that I follow regularly.  In the article she begins by noting that although Jasper Johns used fabric and wax to make his iconic flags, he was not interested in the materials but in--as Joanne Mattera points out--"things the mind already knows." And of course there is the art of Louise Bourgeois who is known for her use of materials including textiles to create her art--but again her art was not limited  or defined by her materials but instead by ideas.  Mattera wonders if this isn't the time "for all of us to eliminate the adjectives we use to define ourselves as artists."

An interesting idea. I think about it as I finish the quilt. My routine, sew the blocks together, cover the seam with a binding and whip stitch the binding down.

Lots of work but I like how it looks and feel that my quilts gain meaning by their references to traditional quilting and the use of commercially available fabrics.  I am intrigued by the repetition of the block formation and the intensity of the quilting--a human touch that brings memories. I even like the fact that some of my quilts could actually get put on a bed and used but I don't feel that makes them any less art.

However,  I wonder if some of the so-called art quilts add the quilting just to be considered an art quilt.  Some seem so far removed from a bed quilt that perhaps they should better be considered textile art than a quilt. Others seem to be painting on fabric where the quilting seems almost to hold down the power of the piece in a way perhaps not intended. There are those where the techniques seem the main focus of the piece. And others--well, in the words of a former poetry instructor of mine can be referred to as personal expressions. Not that there is anything wrong with that...

Now I don't have the answers but I do ponder. If the work is art--whatever that means--then it may not need to be defined as an art quilt but maybe--to use the words suggested again by Joanne Mattera--as art with a textile sensitivity or maybe art that references quilts--or maybe just plain art.  Interesting idea. I haven't worked it out in my mind yet but maybe it is worth thinking about? Or is it? Am I off the wall? Have you considered it? Or have I just been doing too much hand sewing?

Friday, January 21, 2011

quilts, the power of repetition and the wait

Oh this quilt. I sew and cut and sew some more--it seems to take forever. Change can happen so so slowly. Are the colors moving in the right direction? Will it work? Are the colors too rich, too lush? How will the black lines define the quilt, the color changes, the movement to the top? Can I get it ready in time for the Baltimore Craft Show?

I feel like a parent waiting for a child to grow up--did I make the right choices? Did I steer in the best direction? I snap a picture of it. I have already pieced together the bottom row and removed it from the design board.  But are the colors progressing enough? Because of the size of the quilt, I can only see parts of it at a time. I must trust in myself and my artistic sense until it is sewn together.

I read in the paper that the sun now sets here at 4:49. At its earliest it set at 4:16. Not something I notice every day but occasionally. It is the little things--I watch the sun-shadow line creep up on Massamont later and later in the afternoon. It is not dark when I get home. A couple days ago I almost forgot to turn my headlights on when I pulled out of my parking lot.  The seasons are indeed turning though we just had a snow storm, an ice storm, cold cold weather.  More snow is on the way. This is the point of this quilt--the progress of the season. The repetition of the days and the small changes that happen. I am intrigued by these possibilities--the rhythm of the seasons. As Eva Hesse said, this repetition can be an obsession--an absurdity. A way to contain and order life and art. Do check it out in Lucy Lippard's book--Eva Hesse. Isn't this repetition one of the powers of a quilt? The geometry, the patterns repeated over and over. The human touch of the artist piecing the quilt, combining the fabrics to create the whole contained within this pattern but then extending beyond the quilt.

I remember the first quilt I ever made--an Ohio Star. A traditional pattern. I made block after block sewing by hand--not really even sure why I did it until I sewed it all together and realized that all those blocks formed patterns within the patterns and I fell in love with quiltmaking. Isn't this quilt the same thing? Simple blocks put together to make the whole depending on the power of repetition. The trust that these blocks will form a whole.

I look at one of the blocks from the bottom rows of the quilt. The darker purples and greens. The black so intense and strong. The colors hard to capture in a snapshot--but I love the richness and the contrast.

I compare it with one of the blocks in the current rows--more red, green turning to tan, gold. How closely related the colors are--purple to orange to gold, green to gold to tan.

But still I worry if it will work? I sew the bottom two rows together and look at the colors. Wonderful. I must finish the bindings. Then a picture. I can't wait. But in the power of winter, in the repetition of this winter we are having another snow storm. I am stuck at home waiting for the driveway to be plowed. How absurd is that?

What do you think? Do you use repetition to add depth to your work? Do you ever worry about your quilts in progress? How do you deal with the suspense of waiting?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What is an art quilt?

Recently there has been a discussion on the Studio Art Quilt Association forum as to what is an art quilt? Good question. The particular quilt in question appears to have been done with great technique. The design is certainly original. The artist or should I say quilt maker seems a lovely, caring person. There have been a couple of comments assuring this lovely woman--and yes, it is a woman--that the work can be considered an art quilt.

But is it really art? Now I will not be showing you the quilt that is being referred to. I am sure the woman in question had her heart in the piece, but I am not convinced that it is art. Is the fact that the work is a new design sufficient to make it art--I don't think so. Being well done helps--but I am not sure it is sufficient. Shouldn't there be that certain pzazz to the piece? That certain je ne sais quois? (Is that even spelled right--I have forgotten high school French.) I think so.

Now, I don't want to pick on this particular woman--after all, do I consider all my quilts art? Actually no I don't. Some are--some are personal expressions of particular times or places, some are the visions of particular customers that they have relayed to me--but are my potholders art--no. Are my placemats art--no. Indeed I would say that even some of my quilts are not art. I am not even sure that my new piece--the one I wrote about for the last blog post is art--it could be if the quilt manages to fulfill my image. But if it doesn't. Well then it will be lovely and decorative and that may actually be sufficient.

What do you think? Are all quilts art quilts if they are new designs? What about those that are old designs but somewhat different? Isn't there the need for the soul of the maker? How do you define it? Is it even necessary to be an "artist"--isn't being an excellent craftsperson sometimes enough?

Monday, January 17, 2011

the quilt begins to crystallize

Quilts always seem to have a life of their own. How do they come into being? How do I decide which quilt to make? There are so many ideas floating in my mind. Some I sketch and re-sketch for years before I finally see how to make them. Some are custom orders that I puzzle and re-puzzle to try to meet the dreams of the customer. And some just seem to happen. Like a good jazz piece. A design, a concept and then they happen. I wake up in the morning and get a vision of the piece. The time is right--it is no good to envision a new piece when I have an order to finish. If I do, I quickly sketch it out. I may or may not return to it.

As Anne Truitt says in her wonderful  Daybook (Pages 94-95): "These concepts hover, already complete, it would seem at the edge of my consciousness." She admits less than a quarter of her concepts will ever be made. How reassuring that is to read.

Right now I want a new quilt for the Baltimore Show at the end of February--a quilt that will surprise me, a quilt that will make my booth unforgettable at Baltimore. I have been thinking of the power of my grey landscapes. These long spaces that seem to have a mystery and rhythm to them. I am intrigued by the piecing and order of these quilts. Reading about Eva Hesse recently, I have been thinking about repetition.

This time I can see the rhythm of the piece. The basic design. The colors are at the edge of my perception. This is a piece that does have a purpose--a customer--my booth. I love the greys of the runners but for my booth I want more color. More power. I figure out the measurements. Spread out the colors I want to use. I want a color gradation. Arrange and rearrange the colors of the fabric. This time I just make notes with the fabric themselves and leave it as reference by my cutting table. I can play with it more later.

I start. Oh the little blocks are so small. Is the color strong enough? Will it just look mushy? I worry. Experiment. Make some more blocks. A long row for the bottom of the quilt. Don't they look lonely down there?

How to change it? What comes next. Again more experiments. Keep piecing I tell myself. Trust myself. Hmm--what do you think? How can I go from the plums to more rose--will it work? Is this quilt too strong? How will it look when it is sewn together? I take more pictures. Cut more fabric. Keep sewing.

In the morning when my cat wakes me up--her food dish is empty she says. She wants to make sure I know. It is too early. I try to picture the quilt in my mind. So many decisions I will have to make along the way. Today I hope to make the next row. A lighter green--can I get the colors right. How much tan to include? Decisions decisions decisions.

I keep piecing. Keep trusting myself. So what do you think?  How do you decide what quilt to make? I am impatient to see the quilt--to see if it will work. Does that happen to you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

fabulous, she said

"Fabulous", she said.  Or should I repeat--"Fabulous!!"  The woman who had commissioned the quilt I have been working on for a month. What a relief. I drink more coffee and relax. I knew it was a fabulous quilt--but would it meet their dreams? As you may remember from my previous post, this quilt was an anniversary present the couple had given each other. I  had shipped it off and then a snow storm hit. Twenty some inches. Delivery delayed. Of course I worried. I worked on smaller items--potholders, pillows, placemats--waiting. Not wanting to start another quilt until I knew.

Now I must get down to work. The Baltimore Craft Show is coming up at the end of February. Then I have Paradise City Marlborough and CraftBoston--what was I thinking. I want a new quilt for my booth. I have rainbows of summer and hills and shadows. I have summer sky. But these quilts have been seen already. There are a couple of customers who might purchase just the right new quilt. But what to make? What colors do I need? What sort of design?

I have been reading Lucy Lippard's book on Eva Hesse. Have you read it? Do you know her work--she was active in the 1960's--friends with Sol Lewitt and others at that time. One of the first women to try to stretch the definition of art. Lots of fiber--wrapped threads, translucent rubber.  Some dated by now--other work so relevant. One of those books that is so powerful that when I first got it, I could only glance at the images--not study them. Then suddenly she died. Where would she have gone? What did the art world lose? Repetition--the power and obsession of repetition. This seems so relevant to quilts. The touch of the hand, the power of her wrapped cords. I must absorb it and then not think of it.

My design board is covered with sketches. Experiments in fabric. I want to do something new. The table runner with strips of fabric. Interesting. But I have done it before. I know what it will look like.
I think of the pillows. I love the intensity and color of the squares. So simple. So profound. So hard to get the colors to coordinate and sing together. There is definitely a "there there" to quote Gertrude Stein. But have I found it? Not sure, yet. I wake up on the morning dreaming of new designs--new possibilities. Oh, if only I had more time, isn't that always the problem?

I look at the grey trees. Or are they landscapes? Remember I wrote about them a couple months ago here. There is a possibility there. What colors--probably not just grey? I can't yet envision the quilt in my mind. Bits here and there. Can I sketch it out? Will the colors come to me as I work?

Maybe. Let me see. I need to start soon though--like jumping off the high dive. I think of a quote that was going around the internet a while ago. I wish I had saved it--but the gist of it was that sometimes it is better to just get to work. Not wait for the inspiration. That seems true to me. What do you think? How do you decide what to make next?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the responsibility of making quilts--some thoughts

Today I finished my quilt the promise of dawn. It is an anniversary present commissioned by a wonderful couple--as I have posted before their home is lovely and full of carefully selected art. They have had many many years together and I feel so honored to be making the piece.  Don't the colors glow with a gentle promise of light?  There is such softness and warmth in the quilt--I love it. And yet given the news recently, is this enough?

I think of all the sadness and anger. The tragedy of the older gentleman in Arizona who threw himself over his wife to shield her--she survived, he didn't. The young girl. I won't even go there. The Congresswoman who kept meeting with her constituents despite threats to her life. It feels like we all know her doesn't it? I had just heard her  interviewed on the radio--so confident and full of life. The vigil as the country hopes for the best. The anger, so much  anger and the blame. How could this happen--again? Where did we go wrong? What can we do better? There is such a sick feeling in my gut that I can't wrap my mind around it.

I hear Elizabeth Alexander on the radio show--On Being--talking about the shimmer of words. If you remember she wrote the poem for the Inauguration of Barack Obama Praise Song for the Day. It was a long poem that in the excitement of the day emerged in glimpses. Great wonderful thoughts that I tried to follow.  The question it asks:

…What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

How deep this love must be.  How strong. As Alexander said this is a love that requires "deep, deep responsibilities." I remember a cold day last January. It had snowed and the ground was wet with slush. There was a special election in my state to fill the Senate seat of Ted Kennedy. I was standing outside a high school auditorium working for my candidate. Across from me was a woman who believed just as strongly in her candidate. During the quiet times we spoke--when we tried to speak of the issues, the conversation became too agitated. But there was still the common humanity of cold, wet feet, frozen fingers and the need for hot coffee and hats. And there was the unspoken knowledge that we both cared enough about the future of our country to be standing there as the sun set and our voices became hoarse. Yet after that election I felt sadness and separateness.

How do we bridge these differences? Tibbetts mentions that she spoke recently with the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain who felt we need to go from the universality of our experiences to embrace our differences. Alexander reminds that understanding the African-American history of America is important  to understanding American history. There is so much to learn. But if we have all these differences--and trust me my family has these differences--how do we show this love while remaining ourselves?

In Ars Poetica #100: I Believe   Alexander writes:

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

But with these differences, with the anger and divisiveness that surrounds us, what does this mean? How can we understand the different histories when our words are different and even mean different things? How can we hear each other if we don't even understand the words we are using?  Alexander mentions that she attended a Quaker High School--Sidwell Friends in Washington DC-- as a young woman. They began the day with a moment of silence which allowed for a clarity of thoughts and now feels that it is the silence--these tiny chunks of space--that are the essence of poetry and by implication all art. Through these unspoken events maybe we can reach each other and be of interest to each other? She uses words, images in her poetry. That clarity of thought and essence to try to reach the unspoken.

Maybe the answer is just the silence of being. The spaces between the words. I know I don't have the answers--indeed frequently I don't even ask these questions--and yet after the news of this week-end I found comfort and solace in those poems and that discussion. Maybe even glimpses of answers? And maybe even the need for more quilts.

And you--do you find answers? glimpses of answers? Did you hear this show? I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

stumped--the refrigerator chronicles

Guess what? I was stumped. I had been making a wall hanging for a lovely couple for their anniversary gift to each other. The room is light and airy but intimate. There is a lovely piece of glass on the coffee table--ivory and lavender. Shades of pink and plum. Rich colors that sweep and swirl. The brown and rust quilt I took down looked perfect but brown is not the husband's favorite color. As I wrote in my last blog post, I made one quilt--gorgeous piece but I think it is too brown, too dark for the space. Ugh!!!

What to do? The anniversary is coming up soon. I want to get it done. I have lots of other orders to do. I remember that they also liked my quilt rainbows of summer. Obviously it is too bright for the location. The blues don't work in that room at all. It needs more browns and gold, more reds and plum. There is a soft Oriental carpet in the space. I review the pictures I took of the space.

Hmm. Time for a trip to The Textile Company, even though their sale doesn't begin for a week or two. I pull out so many fabrics I have to apologize to the staff--of course they don't really mind. Carol says she has never seen me so puzzled about a quilt. There are a few fabrics that are the right color--some of the reproduction fabrics are in very interesting combinations. Taupe and gold. Wonderful mauves. There are some wonderful new fabrics with great swirls of color.  I buy anything that I think will work. Keep looking and find a few more bolts that will do. Still not sure exactly how I will make the quilt.

When I'm stumped  I tell myself--make what I know. I know the yellow. Actually the couple wants it a bit more gold. A little less intense. This I can do. Then the next row. I cut lots of fabric and start piecing. I don't want it too bright. Try to avoid the blue lavenders. I listen to The Splendid Table on the radio--a fun show that I enjoy. They have a frequent challenge--list five things in your refrigerator and see if the hostess--Lynne Rossetto Kasper--can create a dish that you would actually want to eat.

Yes, this is what the answer is. I will go through all of my fabric--pull out anything that might work. The refrigerator challenge. A bit of gold, a little pink. Hints of mauve and taupe. What does it look like?

I come in early. Barely eat lunch. Get the colors for a row together--spend time on getting that palette right and then I sew.  Of course I have to look through almost all my fabric piles to get the ones I want. Go through the tiny strips I have previously cut--will this one work? What about this one? Check out the drawers of browns. The piles of reds. Even go through the blues.  This seems to take forever. Then I sew--this is the quick part. Keep going and repeat until finished. Now it just needs the green at the bottom. There is a bit of green in the room. A bright green plant. I don't want to be that bright. I pin up pieces of fabric, step back, squint.

Keep sewing. Try to include lots of colors in the green. Some browns, hints of rust. Remember this quilt is for a space above a sofa. It will be viewed from up close as well as a distance. I want it to be interesting.

Wow--I love the colors. They do almost glow. Up close so many different fabrics. Several used only once. Now to sew it together. Oh not my favorite part. Lots of seams. Long rows. Sometimes I fool myself. As I sew I think--what five items from my refrigerator would I try to stump Lynne with--peas, eggs, lemon, yoghurt and orange juice. Parmesan, bacon, bread, milk and humus. What about the orange marmalade? Lynne said that cooking schools use this approach to get students out of the ruts we all tend to get into. I like this concept.

And you--what do you do when you get stumped? How do you make the quilt? And if you had to choose five items to stump Lynne Rossetto Kasper what would you choose?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

racing to dawn--the search for the promised land

OK--this morning there is just a hint of light in the sky. I am sitting by the woodstove with my three cats lounging at my feet. I am reading my e-mail, drinking my coffee, feeling very snug and warm. But I keep glancing out the window. Already there are just a few wonderful colors in the sky. I look at the clock and--yes I can still  hike to the top of nearby Helicopter Hill and watch the sun rise. It's a lovely journey--just the right length. Through the woods--up to that grapevine--now down--watch out for the rock. I know it well. It used to be easy--I had done it so many times I had worn a path--snapped just enough branches. The ice storm a couple of years ago changed all that--snapped trees in the path, brambles grew up. But still I have been up there enough since the storm there are sketches of a new trail.

Do I want to leave the comfort of the woodstove? Brave the cold and the faint light to see the dawn. Will I be sad if I don't try? I debate. Read a few more messages. The sky hints of more colors. There is more coffee in the pot.

I have just finished a quilt for a custom order. I love the combination of colors--the glow and warmth. The roses and plums. The rusts. I know it will look great in their home.

But I worry. As I wrote in a previous blog post--the couple doesn't want too much brown. Doesn't want it too dark. This couple has a vision for their home--I am not sure if I have met it. I need to ponder this just a bit. This is for their anniversary--I can't wait too long.

I look at the colors in the sky--the soft peach and the rose. The mauves. Maybe if I surround myself with those colors I can see a new quilt. A softer version of rainbows.

There is still time but barely. I put on my boots, my coat. Find my ski poles--there is no snow right now but still there are a couple of patches of ice. I love using walking sticks--the rhythm of my stride through the meadows and woods. Already the sky is getting lighter.  I must hurry as fast as I safely can. Will I make it in time? Through the trees I can catch glimpses of the sky. It is getting lighter very quickly. I try a new path--maybe it will let me avoid some brambles--no, this is taking me down the hill--not up. I cut through the woods. Already I can see that the sky has lightened just where the sun will rise. I walk just a bit faster. Out of the woods--now I am on the crest of the hill.

Soft pink clouds overhead. In the distance I can hear a generator from a nearby farm. How wonderful it is up here.

I watch the sky lighten. A distant air plane leaves its trail reflected in the light. The colors change as the dawn approaches.Oh there are so many ideas for quilts here.

My hands get cold even though I have only been up here five or ten minutes. I put on my gloves and stamp my feet. The blue of the sky becomes alive. As the sun breaks through I turn to watch the light on the nearby trees. Yes, these are the colors I must try to capture in the quilt. Now I can envision it. Oh am I glad to back to that woodstove. I add another piece of oak and then head off to the studio.

I have been thinking about what is The Promised Land after I posted a blog about the radio show. Emily Torgrimson of the radio show had asked what was my promised land? How do I know if I get there. I realized that for me it is the search, the hike through the woods, the waiting as dawn unfolds, the new quilt that I will start today that is the promised land.As another reader of my blog commented, for her the promised land is...just to be immersed in creative process. How true I think this is.

And you--what do you think? Is it the process of hiking to the dawn, making the quilt? Or is it dawn itself?

Monday, January 3, 2011

the quilts of Ann Brauer--January news

Ah the new year.  The last few days of 2010 have been unusually warm here--much of the snow is gone--and New Year's Day held the promise of spring.  There is still light in the sky when I leave the studio.  But now the wind is rushing in from the North with a reminder that winter has only just begun. There is an energy and purpose there.  So many good things have happened to me in 2010--I redid my website, started a blog,   and became active on Facebook and Twitter. There is so much to learn about the new social media and of course it keeps changing. Oh well, I do love a challenge. And speaking of my web site, I just went through the studio and posted my first ever January sale. Most of these are the quilts that I find that I no longer bring to shows since they are from older series that no longer fit in with current work. Do check it out here.

This month I will have quilts in two shows. I am honored that my quilt rivers of autumn is included in  River Quilts at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. Meanwhile my quilt daybreak will be in the No Holds Barred Show at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA. The show runs from January 20-April 9 with the opening planned for January 29 at 1 pm. I  hope to make it to that opening and will have several of my smaller items in the gift shop at the Museum during that show.

Meanwhile I am working in the studio most days finishing several orders and getting ready for the Baltimore Craft Show in February--but more of that next month. As usual I welcome visitors although do call first to make sure I am there.  And of course you can follow my progress more closely on Facebook and my blog.