Last Friday I and about 14 other people got a tour led by Gerald Roy of some of his collection of Amish and Mennonite quilts that are on exhibit at the Binghamton University Art Gallery. Chosen for the exhibit and for the Pilgrim/Roy collection on the basis of color, most of these quilts did vibrate, some so much they were hard to look at for long. The vibration happens, as Roy explained, when two colors of equal value and from opposite sides of the color wheel are put next to each other. Red and green can do this, for example.
Pilgrim, who died recently, and Roy began collecting Amish quilts before they became popular and it was interesting to hear the background story of how they began collecting and just to meet someone who has had the foresight to see the value in something that others are ignoring. His quilting journey began with knowing little or nothing about the techniques involved in quilting but just liking the artistry of the Amish quilts and evolved to actually making impressive quilts himself now.
This show is actually two exhibits plus a display on the various textile fibers and it was perfect for someone like me who has a real split personality when it comes to quilting: I love the historical aspect of quilting and these Amish/Mennonite quilts were all old enough to be called antique, some dating from the end of the nineteenth century. But the other exhibit included quilts done by an impressive list of big name contemporary quilters--an eclectic group that ranged from the traditional to the abstractly innovative.
As usual, I find myself looking at and then returning for a second or even a third look at the abstract quilts. These are the ones that can sometimes make me feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, as Emily Dickinson said about poetry.
I liked Sue Benner's Cellular Structure VIII, and an image of Gerald Roy's quilt, whose name I, of course, did not get clearly in any of my photos, keeps popping up in my mind's eye. It was 8 vertical rows of hand appliqued curved strips. I liked using the hand applique in my journal quilt and it will definitely move up on my list of techniques to use in a larger piece. Can't add any visuals to this post, unfortunately, since I would need permission to do that.
But I didn't hear that usual little voice that shows up sometimes when I look at spectacular quilts, telling me that I can never be that good and that I should probably just give up. Perhaps it was the extreme variety of the show that reminded me of all the paths quilters can take. I can imagine Gerald Roy looking at Caryl Bryer Fallert's phoenix and saying, "I could never do that." But he wouldn't want to, either. Or perhaps it was just that my resolve to learn from quilting and not focus on competition has taken root and begun to bear fruit.