I am an academic (or I used to be before the travails of chronic illness, but it will always be in my blood) and I am a quilter. Ipso facto there is but one true quilt Mecca for me in the States: The International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Obviously, I hold all quilt museums in high esteem, but the dual mission of the IQSCM is close to my heart; it is a quilt museum integrated into the academic setting of the university. You know I am going to end up doing research there for at least one of my future books (trust me, the ideas are already percolating).
So, when an opportunity to exhibit there arose, you now all the happy gremlins hiding in my body woke up and started running around. It is a small show (just six quilts), but I have long been a fan of small shows; they allow a certain focus, an opportunity to really set up specific relationships between quilts, that larger shows make difficult.
The quilts in “Intimacy and Activism” all deal with the relationship between the public and the private; these quilts’ meanings and messages are subtle, hidden. In stitching wedding vows into the quilt (using small letters that appear to be a simple stipple from a distance), what is normally a public text (the exchange of vows) becomes a private texture. In transforming the medical realities of disorder and mutation into formal expressions invisible maladies take on public expression.
While all of these quilts are made to be used (when they aren’t off touring somewhere they are all in heavy rotation around the house), I am finding that exhibitions are becoming an increasingly important part of my practice. They aren’t show quilts, will never win prizes; they are made with the expectation of decades of use along with frequent visits to the washer and dryer. But it is just that reality that makes them all the better in gallery settings; they call out to the beds they normally inhabit, ask viewers to imagine them in their own homes and what it would mean to have their particular messages in their lives.
If you had told me two years ago that I would be so excited about exhibiting my quilts I would have regarded you as batty; I was all-in keeping my quilts in their natural habitats. But here I am, finding that my quilts do indeed lend themselves to temporary homes on gallery walls. And as I explore this new territory I find myself filling my ubiquitous notebooks with ideas about quilts as quilts as art.
(Quilts as quilts as art is a phrase that keeps bubbling up to the surface as something distinct from art quilts, but more on that later as I work through the convoluted implications. Yet again I find myself in a theoretical landscape that better lends itself to writing in German; in German I could make quilts-as-quilts-as-art a single word.)
But I digress. The show will be up at the IQSCM through August 14th, so if you are in the area make sure to stop by. And if you can’t see them there, these and many more will be traveling to the Anderson Gallery at Drake University for an exhibit there in September. I’ll be traveling out to the old stomping ground of Des Moines right after Labor Day for a public lecture and the opening reception (I was a Professor of Art and Design at Drake from 2002-2006 before I moved back east to follow my wife’s academic career).
So, I’d like to thank everyone at the IQSCM for all the support in making this show happen. It is hard to believe I made my first quilt just five and a half years ago. Now to start working on the career retrospective I hope to have there in about twenty years. And in the meantime I still have another 600.000 stitches to quilt into the last of the new work for the exhibit at Drake…