eQuilt Universe · Museums

Bisa Butler • World of Color and Artistry

Bisa Butler, The Safety Patrol (2018) Cavigga Family Trust Fund (© Bisa Butler)

Bisa Butler recently mounted her first museum exhibition at the Art Institure of Chicago and “surmounted biases in the contemporary art world against both people of color and fiber arts” as Deborah Brehmer puts it in an article in Hyperallergic. This recent article was sent to my by my artist sister, Christine Petty, a screenprinter, who, when her studio was shut down, made her way through the pandemic by learning the art of natural dying, and diving into the world of seeds, flowers and yards of softly hued cloth. My sister and I talk art, the drive to make art, and color. I’ve been sent links to Butler’s art from several sources, but the link from my sister sent me to the blog so I could share it all with you.

detail of Bisa Butler’s The Safety Patrol (2018) Cavigga Family Trust Fund (© Bisa Butler)

I created The Safety Patrol while in my last year of teaching high school and simultaneously preparing to debut my artwork with the Claire Oliver Gallery. I was constantly thinking about my career change and at the same time having strong feelings about my students. It was during this time that Trayvon Martin was killed while walking home from the store by a vigilante. Trayvon’s killer had just been acquitted under the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, and I was distraught. I couldn’t reconcile my emotions about the future well-being of my children and my students in a society where their lives are expendable.

To keep reading, artist’s statement is from here

Many quilters use color in their work. But Bisa Butler’s floating figures are drenched in color, not only from multiple layers of fabrics, but also by the use type of fabric: African Dutch Wax prints, which bring not only color, but texture. She artfully cuts and combines her fabrics and includes bits such as the key around the young girl’s neck and the patrol boy’s belt made of carefully fussy-cut kente cloth.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 2019
Minneapolis Institute of Art; Promised gift on long-term loan from a private collection. Photo by Margaret Fox. © Bisa Butler

The skirt on the left: earrings, and the skirt on the right: high heels, chosen by Butler in honor of Michelle Obama’s trip to Ghana.

Bisa Butler, The Storm, The Whirlwind, and The Earthquake, a portrait of Frederick Douglass, from here

In this article in Juxtapoz Magazine (another article worth reading), her migration to cloth from paint is described:

“as an art student at Howard University, she began using fabric to avoid paint, which made her nauseous while pregnant. But she realized something deeper was at play, her actual dissonance with paint. “I could follow the rules technically but I didn’t have the voice. The paint didn’t connect to me.” Butler was introduced to textiles by her mother and grandmother, both dressmakers, who taught her how to make her own clothes. “Fabric was of my family, so using kente related to my heritage. When I made the portrait of my grandfather whom I’d never met, I realized I needed to use all African fabrics, and I used my grandmother’s fabrics that were old because I wanted to assert that this man lived before,” she said.

Reading the Juxtapoz article, I was fascinated by the history and meanings of the Dutch Wax prints and kente cloth, especially the names given to the pieces in Douglas’ portrait, or those in the I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, above.

In the Hyperallergic Magazine article, Brehmer notices some women who gather around one of the quilts:

“I watched a group of three white women take in a piece called “Survivor” (2018), which addresses female genital mutilation. They discussed the technical aspects of quilting. One explained what a “long-arm” sewing machine is. They shared observations regarding the meandering lines of stitching and the way Butler layers transparent lace, silk, and tulle over opaque fabrics to create depth and shadows. They were in awe of the technical mastery of the work.”

Brehmer has noticed how we quilters often interact with many quilts as we notice the technical aspects: “How did she quilt this?” “Is there a pattern?” “Where can I buy that fabric?” I’ve seen it happen at quilt shows and so have you, when we get so involved with “how did the quilter make this” that we forget to notice (in Butler’s case) the joy, the history, the placing of historical figures in our time, asking us to put human lives and needs and challenges at the center of of our gaze. We want to own or borrow that particular quilt artist’s approach and those questions come from that impulse, I’m convinced. While my quilts will never be on par with Butler’s, and my subject matter is — oh, so different — I can learn from how she comes to the work. I can learn to let art climb in and infuse the making with joy and meaning, and yes, with color.

On the Art Institute site, in a short video interview with Butler, we see her studio, get a sense of how she works, and listen to talk about her education and guiding principles in her art. I pulled the images above from that video, and loved the two above of her obvious delight in seeing this exhibit of quilts, of textiles, of history, of her vision in such a storied place as the Art Institute. I think we are all familiar with the Gee’s Bend and Amish quilts, both earlier exhibits in major national museums. I view this exhibit as another break-through show, intended to showcase the art and craft of quilts.

Happy Quilting!

Museums · Quilts · Travels

A Piece of Her Mind: DAR Exhibit 2019

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When my husband and I traveled to Washington, D.C. recently, we took in an exhibit at the DAR Museum titled, A Piece of Her Mind.  It had a focus on how technology — in an historical sense — affected quilters at an earlier time, just as much as it affects us today.  I thought you’d like to see some of the quilts, so here we go.

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I actually have to give a lecture in 2020 about the impact of technology, and all that was swirling around in my mind were topics such as social media, rotary cutters, our fancy high-speed sewing machines.  But this showed me that technology’s impact is not just a recent phenomena.

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An example of a table-top sewing machine with foot pedals was in front of a beautiful quilt of basket blocks.

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The blocks were appliqued (interesting to note her use of black thread, no matter what color the fruit), and from the appearance of it, stuffed (trapunto?).  It also looks like she quilted the “plain” blocks first, then sewed the basket blocks in between the quilted blocks — a really unusual way to construct a quilt.

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The Red and Green Bethlehem Star Quilt (1840-1860) benefitted from the relatively new ‘Turkey red’ dyes.  According the title card, previous to this invention, “dying cloth this color of red was a complicated dye process. [In addition] [g]reen had to be dyed in two steps (yellow, then blue) until late in the 1800s, but a more reliable option called ‘chrome green’ provided the leafy and emeral hues seen in mid-century quilts.”  This cotton quilt was made by Sarah Hall Gwyer (1819-1882) in North Carolina, or Omaha, Nebraska.

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I loved this broderie perse (or appliquéd chintz panel) quilt from the 1820s not only because of the design, but because of those stitches!  Seeing evidence of another woman’s handwork always makes a quilt more personal for me.

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This Baltimore Album Quilt is from about 1850, and is made by a member of the Hayden family from Baltimore, Marlyand.  It’s cotton, with wool embroidery.

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This appliqué quilt was made by Mary Swearingen King (1811-1902) in Findlay, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  I loved the applique birds:

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They look almost pre-historic, here, feeding berries to their young.

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Beyond the technology-oriented quilts, there was a section on quilts that were affected by the culture of the day.  I was drawn to the red, white and blue quilts.  That center block is the flag from Cuba, explained below:

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I zoomed way in (the ropes around the quilts didn’t permit close inspection) so the picture is a bit globby, but you can see the Clay ribbon in the outside border.

The exhibit also had a series of crazy quilts, some quilts made with toile prints, and quilts inspired by popular fictional characters.

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Afterwards we went to the library–quite stunning in a panoramic view.

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There was also a quilt of another kind in the Renwick Gallery, just up the street, made out of snippets of movie film.  The title of this is “Fibers and Civilization (1959)” and was made in 2009, using 16 mm film and polyamide thread.  This piece of art is from Sabrina Gshwandtner, and I’d seen some of her work before at LACMA.

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Then we hopped on the Metro and went over to the National Museum of American History.  Can you tell I looked up on the internet where all the quilt exhibits were?

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Unfortunately, this spectacular quilt was behind a piece of highly reflective glass, so the only way I could get a photo was to gently lean my photo lens on the glass to cut the glare.  This means that I couldn’t get a photo of the complete quilt, but here are some segments.

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In another small exhibit, they had a lot of crazy quilts.

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I was quite interested in what this title card (above) said about the advent of patterns for crazy patchwork.

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In between all this, we stopped for some lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster shop, meandered around the Mall, and hung out together.  We really like DC, as you probably know.  More photos can be found on Instagram.

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Later that week we had a gathering at the The National Press Club in D.C., where they host the White House Correspondent Dinners, and we had a spread of yummy desserts to choose from.  I chose one of these (it’s the color, naturally!) after I’d had the requisite chocolate treat.

So, here’s your spot of fall color–happy quilting!

 

Clothing · Museums · Something to Think About · Textiles & Fabric

Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats

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Among the most colorful clothing in the word, ikat robes — which hail primarily from the “the Stans,” or Central Asia — employ “creative use of scale, proportion, and orientation.” They are created by dying the warp (or vertical) threads of silk and cotton, sometimes multiple times.

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This past week, my husband and I had a chance to head into Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see this collection.  Here’s the notice in the gallery:

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Note the embroidered cuff.

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This photo of a Tajik Wedding ritual (1865-1872) shows the rich patterns of both men and women in their ikat robes.  I did a Google Image search, which has lots of results, but these older robes, as shown in LACMA, are rarer now.  In that Image search, I saw lots of machine-made ikats, which don’t have the subtlety of the hand-dyed.

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On the right is a series of threads which will form the warp threads in a loom, showing their various patterns from dying them using a resist process:

“Fabricating an ikat design demands vision as well as time. Before any actual weaving takes place, the lead craftsperson must picture a fully fleshed-out color pattern. Next, assistants soak the warp threads of the textile-to-be in a series of dye vats—up to eight in total—accumulating hues along the way. Prior to each dying phase, all stretches of warp are strategically bound with dye-resistant greasy thread, leaving exposed only those portions meant to be colored.

“By repositioning the dye-resistant thread before every immersion, textile makers gradually cover the entirety of the warp in an array of different tones. The most skilled designers will subject some sections of the material to multiple immersions, combining red and yellow dye to produce sunset orange, or red and blue dye to yield rich royal purple.

“Finally, when the Technicolor warp is ready, loom operators stretch it taut and gird it with a cotton or silk weft. The result is a long, narrow oblong textile bearing the designer’s repeating geometric pattern. This can be shaped into an eye-catching coat, or alternatively kept two-dimensional and made into a wall hanging” (from an article in the Smithsonian Institution Magazine, when they mounted their exhibit of ikat).

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LACMA’s didactic label in the exhibit

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I love the visual doubling and tripling of pattern and color in this robe.

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I think the guards thought I was crazy when I came to this robe.  I kept crouching down, zooming in, trying to capture the details of what I would call a type of kantha stitching, embroidery, hand overcasting.  It was a riot of color and texture and pattern:

You can see the nature of the ikat weaving, which blurs the edges as the weft yarns are woven through those pre-dyed warp yarns.  To make velvet, two rows of weft yarns are needed, instead of just one, so velvet robes were considered top of the line.  In the outfit above, it is the outermost robe.

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I took so many photos, that I’m not really sure which title goes with which picture, but I enjoyed reading the names of the clothing: a woman’s robe is a Munisak, a woman’s dress is a Kurta, and a man’s robe is a Chapan.

“Defined by an hourglass sihouette produced by the gathered fabric at each side of the waist, a munisak was used throughout a woman’s life for significant events, from her wedding to her funeral.  As such, it was an important part of her dowry” (LACMA text).

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Recently, my friend Judy had traveled to this area with her husband, so I was familiar with the term “the Stans,” and what the area looked like.  Although some consider that term a snub (“stan” means land, as in Afghanistan is the land where Afghanis live), I think it works well for those of us not familiar with where these countries are:

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Image sneaked off of her travel blog, *here*

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Women and their Ikat Robes (2017), from *here*

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Turkish Coat, pattern #106

While we were in the LACMA exhibit, I told my husband that many quilters have used FolkWear patterns to make a similar robe, and added detailed surface decoration.  I first learned about ikat when I took a class in Houston several years ago from Roberta Horton, a reknowned quilter, who showed us ikats from her line of fabrics, made in India:

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Although I was a Clothing and Textile Major in college, I’d didn’t remember hearing about this fabric before; perhaps that why I wanted to blog about it today.  But in the quilting world, we also have variants of these colorfully patterned robes worn by these people from Central Asia.

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I’ve seen the Tabula Rasa jacket and all its variations, from a pattern by FitForArt.  Perhaps it’s the blurring of the lines between our patterned quilts and these beautiful ikat robes?  The more surface decoration the better?

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Not always. I’ve also seen some not-so-great versions of handmade clothing that were patterned to within an inch of their lives, certainly showing their makers’ skill but not always on the level of what was in that exhibit.

The brilliant thing about these ikat robes is the sense of balance that is present.  Even in the layering of the different patterns, something pulls them together, links in either color or design.  A worthy goal for our own creating, wouldn’t you say? whether it be in quilts or robes or clothing.

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This was another experience that showed me that old truth: it’s always good to get out of my head, my studio, and the endless loop of social media, in order to gain inspiration from other places in the world.

Happy traveling, and Happy Father’s Day!

Wedding Day for Us
The day my husband became a father to four children.