Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Rose

The magic and beauty of "Infinite Variety,"  that magnificent exhibit of 651 red-and-white quilts that I described in my last post, owe their existence to the woman who collected these quilts over the years, Joanna Semel Rose. And after I read the story of how this exhibit came to be I had to know more about her.

Her husband, described as a scion of a wealthy real estate family, asked her what she wanted for her eightieth birthday this year, and she said, "Something I've not seen before and something that would be a gift to New York City,"  and that something became the gift of seeing all her red-and-white quilts at one time in one place.  Further contributions from family members meant that no admission fee was charged to see this exhibit.  This woman clearly does not bank at the same place I do.

Joanna Semel graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1952, at a time when a tea set was on the list of required items the young ladies were to bring with them to college and there were maids and porters waiting upon them in the dormitories.  She was an English major and seems to have continued to value things intellectual throughout her life since for thirty years she chaired the board of the Partisan Review, an avant-garde literary and cultural journal well known for fostering the likes of TS Eliot and George Orwell.  And I even came across a rumor that she might be a member of that super secret group who decides on MacArthur Genius Grants.

A brief Google search also underscores her generosity as her name occurs again and again in connection with donations.  Arts and cultural events and organizations seem to be special favorites---she and her husband donated a rehearsal studio for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, but a foundation that bears their name also made a major contribution to the Natural Resources Defense Council, another worthy cause in my own list of worthy causes.

In 2002 in a talk she gave to her classmates at her fiftieth class reunion she says, "We might adopt the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, taking pleasure in natural things, a recognition that beauty is fleeting and imperfect, a reverence for simplicity and the spiritual essence of things.  We know it is nourishment for the soul to spend hours reading in a hammock, savoring a Brandenburg Concerto, meandering through a museum. Millicent Carey Mcintosh . . . claimed that it is important for each individual to order her life so that she becomes a happy creative person."

Wabi-sabi, again thanks to Google, involves a Thoreau-like embrace of simplicity, of a joyous poverty, if you will--an ironic connection for someone who has more money than I can even imagine?  Perhaps.  But she did indeed value these quilts, many of which draw their beauty from their simplicity and which are from the hands of women who probably were not wealthy or privileged in any significant way.

I did not find any everyday details about Joanna Rose's life. There is a suggestion that she might have children in her talk, but only a suggestion.  I could not find a single photo of her anywhere, a sign she is not hungry for publicity. Has she ordered her life so that she has become "a happy creative person"?  I hope so. 

I am sure someone with more time and more skills at searching could uncover much more about her, but I am happy that so far she appears to be an intelligent, curious, generous person who values the arts at a time when they are no longer included in the official list of "the basics," who values knowledge for its own sake at a time when far too often only skills that can increase income are valued, and who can, at the age of 80, come up with a zinger of a great idea.  I have added her to my list of those I would love to sit down and have a cup of tea with--although she would definitely object to my ending that sentence with a preposition.

And if you are still reading, thanks for the company!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Quilted Piece of Art

I have had a good night's sleep after a very long day yesterday, but I still have wonderful images dancing in my head.  After pulling out of the driveway to 4:45 AM when the temperature was 12 degrees and boarding a bus in Lewisburg at 7 AM,  I and the rest of my fellow busees walked in the doors of the Park Hill Armory in New York City at 11 AM.  And this is what we saw:
And it got better:
Six hundred and fifty-one quilts were displayed, not in lock step order around the walls or in a maze of cubicles all over the armory floor, but in this magical set up that was a tribute to the creative skills of some designer at Thinc Design, the winner of the design competition for hanging this show.

The quilts were displayed in individual columns

that floated in space.  They were hung back to back so that you entered the column and looked up inside to see ones on the interior. They must have spent a lot of time (and money) on the lighting because each quilt was lit so that even the highest quilts were visible in some detail, obviously not as much as ones on the ground but enough.

Near the center, but not of course exactly in the center was a magnificent spiral of quilts that rose almost to the very roof of the armory
The back of the exhibit signaled closure with a curved wall of quilts:

There were many individual quilts that caught my eye

but it was not the individual quilt that made the experience unforgettable.   It was being able to stand in the midst of so many quilts all similar in color but so different in design (no two were alike) and literally stand in the midst of them--with quilts surrounding you on all sides and floating above you at so many different angles. Each time I changed my position the sight lines changed and it was a whole new exhibit.  Like, any art experience, you had to be there. 

All of these quilts are owned by one person--an idea I have difficulty getting my mind around--named Joanna Semel Rose and I have become fascinated with  knowing more about her--and will write more about her later.  You're probably ready to move on to other things as well.

So briefly--we arrived in the early afternoon at the Empire Quilters Guild annual exhibit.  I think I was expecting too much from this guild of New York City Quilters, and I was probably too tired to fully appreciate the show.  Yet there were some beautiful quilts and many quilts where I could see the hand, the mind, and the spirit of the quilter in the work, quilts like Willow Pond by Carol Goossens.
And I can now say that I have shopped at a New York City quilt shop:
Finally at 12:30 AM I was climbing into bed back home.  And if you are still awake and with me, thanks for the company.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Early Bird Catches the Bus

So is this worth getting up before 4 AM, driving an hour and a half, and then getting on a bus for another 3 1/2 hour ride?  I think it will be.  This exhibit of 650 antique red and white quilts in New York City is getting lots of publicity so I am sure I will be shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other quilt lovers in search of a memorable quilt experience.  In the afternoon we will visit the Empire Quilters Guild annual exhibit, which holds many promises of beautiful new quilts.

The bus trip is hosted by the Packwood Museum in Lewisburg, where the Quilt Study Group I belong to meets and where I have already spent many pleasurable hours looking at and discussing some of their large collection of antique quilts.

More after I have had a good night's sleep on Saturday night.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ready for Spring

Curvilinear perspective--that was the end-of-February challenge from the online Fast Friday Fabric Challenge group that I belong to.  The examples were intimidating, as usual--quiet lakes with a curved focal point or lovely layers of converging curves.  So I continued on with my day,  mulling possibilities in the back of my mind and rejecting most of them outright, until I found myself at the window at one point, watching the birds happily foraging at our bird feeder as snow fell yet again. The goldfinches who were just beginning to show a tinge of yellow in their gray winter feathers were particularly active, and then I knew I had the idea.  I had abstracted chickadees into a quilt and I could abstract a goldfinch but this time using curves and capturing its glorious late spring colors of gold, black and white.  It would be great to think beyond this cold, snowy winter anyway.
Observations on a Chickadee
25" x 25"
I tried my hand at machine reverse applique on this.  I could have used fusing but I didn't think I would like the raw-edge look for this piece and I am not sure I would have liked the look of satin stitching around the edges either.  The gray stitching around each curve just about disappears so I think it worked out all right.  

I quilted the background heavily, but I am now thinking I may take some out to make some islands of nonquilting.  I have been facing a lot of my most recent quilts but this one seemed to need a binding.

For a while I thought I like this orientation better:
but then went back to my original orientation with the "bird" "flying" toward the upper right corner.

This quilt is dedicated to Carol Schwartz, who loved the birds of these north central Pennsylvania hills, and to all those living through nature-made and human-made devastation. 

And, if you are still reading, thanks for the company. No green in this quilt but Happy St. Patrick's Day anyway!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


After a year of not worrying about shows or commissions or selling my quilts, I decided it might be time to enter a show or two.  And today I got a large envelope from American Quilt Society with a letter that began "CONGRATULATIONS!"  A Toccata of Chickadees is going to Paducah!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ups and Downs

I had had great hopes for this week since little other than quilting was scheduled, but Tuesday things began to fall apart.  Early in the afternoon I learned that a friend, an artist only a few years older than me, had died in a car accident the day before.  Now this was not one of my closest friends--she was not easy to get close to--but I had known her for over fifteen years and her death jolted me.  I had not talked to her since before Thanksgiving last year and that was a chance encounter, and I sometimes would not see or talk with her for many months.  But when we did talk it was often for an hour, meandering over topics of art, politics, education, dogs and cats.  I will miss her clever, caustic wit that made me laugh so many times.  I loved her paintings of the fields and farms and gardens of northern Pennsylvania.  She is one of the reasons I aspired to be an art quilter.

An hour after this news I learned about a New York Times story about waste water from the gas wells that are multiplying in our county being used by our townships for dust suppression on the roads.  The water is laced with radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals.  As if they aren't doing their darnedest to destroy the quiet beauty of our hills, the gas companies now seem bent on destroying the people here as well.

The next day I sent some e-mails, made some phone calls, and then tried to return to work.  But life seemed too fragile, too unpredictable, with too many large forces bearing down on us--and what meaning did sewing one piece of fabric to another have in the face of this?  But I have been working on making my work schedule a priority over the past year and almost a half, and so I mindlessly began sorting through my yellow fabrics for the right shade for a new project I had planned out on Monday.  And as I worked I began to feel the warmth of the yellows, as I often do.  And, having found the perfect golden yellow, I moved on, without hesitation, to choose the background.  Now don't imagine here that the birds started singing and the sun came out of the clouds and I suddenly had the meaning of life revealed to me.  The background is probably a bit darker than it would have been if I had chosen it on Monday, but, if the piece works out to my satisfaction, I will dedicate it to Carol, and even if it doesn't, the process of making it is already dedicated to her.

And, if you're still reading, thanks for the company.