The evening of my class with Joe Cunningham, he had a lecture in the hotel, and since there were only four of us, he told the organizers he could hold up his own quilts and talk at the same time. So we began with a song of his (guitar and all) and then he pulled out his quilts. In between we got “four lectures in one,” as he talked about how he came to quilting. He’d started collaborating with Gwen Marston in 1975, and then she taught him to quilt. They were both inspired by the collection of an older quilter with her handmade quilts, a woman who kept the quilting tradition alive during the middle years of the past century. In 1990, he ended his collaboration with Gwen Marston, moved to New York, then to San Francisco to work with the Esprit Collection of quilts. He never left.
He developed this quilting process working in conjunction with the people at Handi Quilter, where he could enter in a complex pattern into a computer and “tile” it back onto his quilt in the quilting. Each tile takes about 45 minutes to quilt, but creates all sorts of interesting patterns in the quilting. I asked him about the trend to matchstick quilting, and he had only one thing to say: “lost a chance to be creative.”
And this is how he labels/signs his quilts: his name and the year stitched into the top.
Both Joe and Luke Haynes, another art-centered quilter who is male, seem to be quite adventurous in the use of large blocks of particularly unattractive (ugly?) fabric and making that fabric hew to their vision of the quilt, an approach worth learning. So much of what I see is that we quilters are the ones commanded BY the fabric to the end result, rather than the opposite tack.
Something else I noted in his approach — that I also see in Luke Haynes — is figuring out the space where quilting and the art world collide and how to use that tension and friction.
(Of course, I’m fascinated by the mundane: how he folds his quilts so there are no creases.)
He talked about how a quilt is allowed to say several things: I love you. I’m thinking about you. Memorial quilts. But he was fascinated one day by the blockades in Kiev, and how those who were protesting just fell to sleep anywhere.
For me this quilt reminded me of what he said in class: that he makes a quilt to see what it will look like.
Log cabin blocks are in the background. Look up what bicameral is, if you don’t know.
Luke gave him some of the leftover Log Cabin blocks from his recent exhibit, and Joe made them into this quilt, minus the mountaineer. His wife walked in where it was hanging and said that he needed a figure there, so Joe gave it back to Luke, who added the climber
He covered so many topics that I can’t write them all here, but they were fascinating and I thought about them all the way home, such as (I’m paraphrasing):
- If a piece of art looks like art, then it’s somebody else’s art. [Can’t we apply this to our quilts?]
- The brilliance of quilts in the colonies [our early American colonies] was in the egalitarian nature of it. It wasn’t just for the rich, which it had been earlier when quilting was done in imitation of European quilts, but it was for the masses.
- These women changed the definition of a quilt from a commercial item to a gift. The quilting, done around a frame, cost no money. Because of this, it remained in the realm of women and was invisible to the men, especially the merchant class.
- Quilts from Europe in the earliest days were of four types: whole cloth, honeycomb (think EPP), strippy or medallion. From there, we invented blocks. From four types, we know have over 400,000 different patterns, an independent realm created by women.
- And finally: “We make quilts like everyone else…unless you don’t want to.” A trap door exists for us to escape the sameness and make our own vision.
I love classes where I have as much for the brain as I do for the creative, visual, tactile side of the equation, and this lecture certainly gave me everything. I’m so glad I was able to go, and so glad QuiltFest brought out this great speaker.