No, it's not a wedding, but I got to satisfy my love of art quilts and antique quilts this week. On Monday I attended another session of a quilt study group I have joined, hosted by the Packwood House Museum in Lewisburg, PA, about an hour and a half from where I live. The Packwood House has acquired a growing collection of old quilts, many from the nineteenth century and most probably from Pennsylvania. At the study sessions several old quilts are brought out, spread on a prepared table and we talk about the pattern, color, stitching, binding, batting (if we can see any), possible age, and anything else that seems appropriate.
This week we began with a peek at a dazzling pieced silk quilt from possibly the 1840s--too fragile now to even take out of its box. Then we got a good look at a crazy quilt from around the 1890s and this was a beauty. The range of fabrics kept us busy for a long time. My favorite was an ombre that shaded from almost white through a pink to a darker red but also moved from flat weave to a fuzzy weave that looked almost like fake fur. Didn't know there was fabric like that at that time. There were tiny paintings on pieces, embroidered silhouettes and animals, initials to wonder about. And of course, the traditional spider for good luck. This quilter was taking no chances because, as one of our leaders warned us, the quilt was "crawling with spiders."
Then on to a patriotic quilt of appliqued tan eagles around a red medallion center--not a very striking quilt until one of the leaders reminded us that the tan was probably green, which, because of the fugitive nature of the dye had lost its blue component and turned tan over time, and this was actually a traditional red and green quilt. And so the afternoon went.
In the morning I had gotten to feed the other part of my artistic soul. The museum was featuring an exhibit (click on Artists Series) of art quilts from two local art quilters, Paula Swett and Cathy Stechschulte, as well as part of a small travelling exhibit from Studio Art Quilt Associates, and I arrived early to spend some time with these quilts before the meeting. Paula Swett plays with line, color, and quilting stitch to create glowing masterpieces. I particularly like the piece she made from a vinyl tablecloth that had for years protected her table as she painted. She cut it into strips, wove them together and then sewed them into a totally abstract piece complete with pearl cotton quilting that demands your attention. Cathy creates layers on cloth with dyes and silk screens and thermofax that look three dimensional from a distance.
I have no photographs to show for my day in Lewisburg since photos were not allowed. I could have taken a photo of the outside of the museum, but I didn't think of that (probably just got a D- in blogging school for that oversight). But the whole point of that day, of my driving for three hours, is that virtual reality has its limits. Looking at a picture of a very old quilt is just not in the same category as standing over it, touching (albeit with white gloves) this fabric that a quilter worked on 150 years ago, or spending time looking for the place where she joined the cording that she used instead of binding. And a photograph can never replace being in the presence of fabric art where you can see how moving closer or further back changes what you see in the piece or how the light changes the texture of the piece as you change your position.
All of this is not a startling new discovery on my part. In fact, it's probably been said so much it's become a cliche, but it doesn't hurt to reexamine the cliche, particularly in a world where people are equating online access to information with knowledge and, even worse, with wisdom. Sometimes you just have to be there--and spend some time there.
And if you are still spending time reading this, thanks for the company.