Quick Update from Instagram…

Quick Update from Instagram...

Bee really digs her copy of #QuiltDesignColoringWorkbook. She got her copy early; that's one of the perks of being the author's daughter. You can pick yours up starting August 9th… https://www.amazon.com/Quilt-Design-Coloring-Workbook-Art-Inspired/dp/1612127851 #storeypublishing

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Quick Update from Instagram…

Quick Update from Instagram...

I love that my official author photo for @storeypub include the #Lemmy tribute facial hair (aka the high chinstrap). Still can't believe Lemmy is gone, but at least he'll be forever remembered in the new book: #QuiltDesignColoringWorkbook. I'm guessing the homage will be another first in the quilt world under my belt…

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The Discontinuation of an Icon: Some Thoughts on the Quilting Industry…

Today it was announced that Quilters Newsletter will no longer be published after its October issue; news that brings a major loss for the quilting world, one that I believe is a harbinger of things to come. QN has been around for 47 years; it is both godmother and godfather of the quilting industry as we know it, a magazine not simply about making quilts, but one dedicated to the extraordinary tradition of quiltmaking. I have been lucky to write for QN these past three years, and feel privileged to have contributed to the enduring legacy it will leave behind.

So, in the light of that news it only seems fitting to share my answers to some interview questions Mary Fons sent to me for her upcoming MQG Webinar. Below you will find Mary’s questions and my answers, though I have tweaked (but not significantly changed) my answers for the sake of grammatical decency (sorry I didn’t proofread before sending these to you Mary).

Here we go…

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1. Who, in your view, in painting, sculpture, etc., are close cousins to the modern quilt? (E.g., Albers, no?) And looking at the trajectory of the Albers-like artists, what do you think could come next in terms of style for quilts in America? Are we going to go totally like, floral and Laura Ashley again after all these hard lines?

Let me start with a bit of honesty. I don’t really see the influence of Albers and the other colorists/minimalists (Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Warhol – he was such a colorist with his series, Donald Judd, et al) very much in modern quilting. To me it feels more like modern quilting has associated itself with those names as a means to clarify its aesthetic without really connecting with those artists. It was a logical connection as so many of the shapes and color approaches that those artists used naturally lent themselves to comparison to quilts, but the substance of their work rarely if ever shows up in the modern quilting universe. Albers used color in remarkably subtle ways to explore the visual effects of color interaction, not just in pleasing ways, often in radical and jarring ways as he worked through many of the implications of gestalt psychology for the nature of perception and color; his work was so much more than just simple colorful shapes. For the most part modern quilting seems to draw much more from existing elements of traditional quilting: most of what is done in the color field genre borrows more from Amish quilts and stained glass windows than Albers. Same for minimalist quilts, but with some mid-century aesthetics added in; I see almost nothing of Agnes Martin or Kazimir Malevich. In short, I don’t really see modern art as a major influence on modern quilting.

That isn’t to say I don’t like the quilts, just that the influences are coming from different areas. Really it feels more like a freshening up of quilting for a post-Ikea audience. I think most modern quilts are essentially traditional quilts that have adapted to another visual styles, which is what quilting has always done. Much of this likely comes from my belief that modern art was not so much about style as it was substance, which is why there are more schools of modern art (Isms) than you could shake a modern stick at (would that be a highly polished stainless steel rod?). If modern quilting were really about responding to modern art that radical diversity would be reflected. I am not saying that it is a shortcoming for quilters to not be responding to modern art, nor do I think quilters need to be looking to the art world for ideas and inspiration (the quilting tradition is no less important and has profound depths to offer). It is just an explanation of what I see as happening in modern quilting.

That said I would love it if quilters looked more at artists like Agnes Martin, Rauschenberg, Duchamp, Picasso and Matisse, Futurism in general, Stuart Davis, Kurt Schwitters and Jean Arp, Charles Sheeler, Lee Krasner, and Paul Klee. There is so much to be gleaned from these artists even without going very deep into what they were thinking about. I think that would provide a much richer vocabulary for modern quilting than simply appealing to the artists that made work that already looked like quilts.

As far as where I see quilting going, I expect modern quilting to essentially fold into quilting in general within about five years; it will be another style in the panoply of quilting. The word modern will likely survive for a while longer after that, but as far as being seen as distinct from traditional quilting I think it has a limited run left. In the absence of some major and readily affordable technological innovations in the quilting world I don’t imagine the future of quilting will be very different from it is right now. In many ways, the industry feels like it is kind of exhausted, like it is trying to figure out how to maintain the expansions of the last decade more so than really looking to the future. I don’t see anything new on the horizon; handwork will rise a bit more and then fall back just as the period of idolizing longarm quilting is already receding (that whole rock-star status for longarmers has already diminished so much). Fabric is going to go more and more toward pop-culture tie-ins with TV shows and popular novels. We are going to see an even greater surge of make-it-simple quilt publications as the wave of modern enthusiasm ebbs and the industry tries to find ways to grab new quilters to fill the vacuum, and as the Mods buy less and less stuff because they already have their machines and tools, their stashes have grown adequate, and the realize they don’t need patterns.

In short I don’t really see quilting going anywhere new; if anything I think the industry is in for a contraction as the salad days of the Mods wanes.

2. Why do you design quilts instead of, say, paintings or drawings? Why is it that a quilt communicates your particular/personal message/art better than another medium?

For me it is all about making things that are genuinely part of the world. Over my career in art academia I went from sculpture, to installation, to performance art, and finally to net.art in order to get closer to viewers interacting with the work in world at large rather than in a gallery. In essence it was about breaking down the inherent distance that arises between individuals and art on walls or pedestals, about getting away from the problems that arise when work is seen first as art and second as what it tangibly and conceptually is.

Though I found myself in the quilt world largely by accident because of extreme illness, quilts actually achieve almost everything I want to do as an artist. They have an extraordinarily rich tradition that means they hold deep cultural resonance, the making of quilts allows for almost any form via standard piecing, foundation piecing, appliqué, handwork, and computerized machines. And finally, they are used; they are a part of people’s lives and homes. Even as they are incredible things, quilts are still just blankets when it comes right down to it. So for me quilts are a perfect vehicle to deal with serious issues and embed those concerns in my own home and other people’s as well. In no longer making work that is so explicitly art I have found a medium that I believe allows me to make the best art of my career.

3. The internet isn’t quite as new as it was before. People have stopped believing no one will ever, ever read a real book again or ever, ever make anything with their hands ever again. Do you agree that handmade is safe? What can quilters today do to make sure it stays that way?

Books may go somewhere eventually, but that time is not particularly near. The same holds true for quilts, though the timeframe for quilts is probably several generations longer. We still need things: silverware and sofas, tables and chairs, beds and blankets. Many of the things that we need have become industries largely immune to handmade, but quilts will continue to hold a place as long beds and bedding remains essentially unchanged. Between the heritage that quilts carry and the reality that people like making stuff, having touches of the individual in their lives, quilts seem pretty safe. I don’t think we really have to do anything to protect that. We may want to get a little more skeptical about the quilting industry, but that seems unlikely. The drive toward consolidation may be good for the bottom line (though I have real questions about the legitimacy of that economic model). Realistically, I think quilting is going to shrink quite a bit in the coming years; as Instagram and Pinterest take the place of blogs the quilting world is become more impersonal, style and appearance is replacing words and the thoughts an feelings that only language can convey. Online tutorials are taking the wind out of the sails of the pattern industry so there will be less impetus for innovative design; already we see more and more click bait posts from the industry. The fabric world is so oversaturated with copies of copies of copies chasing trends, following rather than innovating, that there is likely no choice but to contract there as well, especially as I expect the Downton Abbey effect to grow more an more common. Quilting isn’t going anywhere, but it is going to get smaller again. The real question is whether the artists and designers, the quilt makers and quilt lovers will rise or will the marketing departments win in the end. I am hoping the artists will win out, but if I had to be I’d be putting my money on the marketing machines.

• • • • •

So, there are just a few of my thoughts on the quilting industry today, thoughts that I believe needed to be shared today as we are about to lose an iconic publication.

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Broken

I am a broken person. I feel like an alien on my own planet; I do not know how to fit into a world that is so perpetually filled with horror: suicide bombs and perpetual war, poverty and starvation, bigotry and greed, and the shootings, the endless string of mass shootings, random shootings, accidental shootings, the innocent dead filling morgues. I don’t know how to go on in such a world without being broken, without my already too fragile heart simply shattering.

And I am among the lucky, the privileged. I know that I am safe; my horror is always at least several steps removed from those that are intimately connected to the atrocity I merely see. But still I am not sure I can carry the weight of all that I do see. I am afraid for my children, not that they are not safe because they are lucky enough to have inherited my privilege, but simply because they are going to grow up in this world, come to see and understand what I know. I look at them and do not want them to ever understand and then weep because I know they must inevitably see this world as it is, that they too will likely break.

wearenottargets-sketch

I do not understand how anyone can see this world and believe in a god of mercy and love. What god could create such a world or allow it to be like this? What greater plan could include such insanity? If there is some greater plan I want no part of it if it must be like this. I can see no justification for the unjust death that surrounds us, that daily mounts, yet is invariably surpassed with new horrors that leave us just trying to keep up rather than actually fixing a thing. I cannot see the value in a plan that involves children shot down, targeted even. I cannot see any purpose to a plan that leave people vulnerable because of the color of their skin. I cannot see sense in a plan that leads to those meant to protect us being slaughtered because of the actions of others, their bodies broken as a result of the manifold injustices that pervade our systems. I cannot believe in a god who could create souls with so little power for compassion, so incapable of seeing people as individuals rather than types, souls that instead seem infinitely skilled at malice.

prog-ar15-sketch

I cannot believe in a nation that chooses powerlessness in the face of death, that refuses to devote itself to the more perfect union it once swore to become. I cannot believe in a nation that will not own up to its past, learn from history, and become something better. And I cannot believe in a nation that has given up. I have known countless people that astonish me, individuals of remarkable intellect and bottomless kindness, but it seems all too clear that this collective We that is humanity is capable of nothing more than hate.

I am broken. And I am tired. I am tired of the death, and I am tired of the guns. Nothing good ever comes of murder for that is what every shooting is. Every time I hear someone say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” I want to weep. I feel just that more alien because I don’t understand a world in which that makes sense. Heroin doesn’t kill people… Cars don’t kill people… Toxins doesn’t kill people… Tanks, bombs, nuclear arms, nothing kills people… I cannot understand a world in which guns seem to hold higher privilege and greater rights than the lives they take; I cannot understand a world in which the shooting continues; I cannot understand a world that does not simply stop and weep and put aside everything else after each and every senseless death.

trayvon-sketch

I do not want to live in a world of slaughter. I do not want to live in a world of bigotry, of hate, of cruelty, of willful ignorance, of pointless death. I do not want my children to inherit such a world. More than anything I do not want to live in a world where it is so easy to predict who is more likely to be a victim. For the death is all too predictable, but we seem unwilling to see the pattern. Ultimately that is what makes so little sense to me because I cannot but see those patterns. That is why I am broken, that is why I feel so alien, abandoned.

I am tired of arguing, tired of trying to make sense of it all, tired of selfish demands coming before the common good; perhaps it is selfish of me to want a better world, but I do not know how to stop wanting that. I am tired of thoughts and prayers, tired of vigils and support, tired of trying to heal…

I just want it to stop.

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Quick Update from Instagram…

Quick Update from Instagram...

I need this in-progress quilt to stop being so perpetually relevant, though not nearly as much as the African-American community does… #nomoreshootings

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