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November/December 2002


Six Continents of Quilts

Charlotte Yde, Personalities--Feeling Blue, 2001; hand-dyed and commercial cotton, metallic/silk organza, cotton batting and backing; reverse appliqué, machine pieced, machine quilted; 53 by 69 inches. Images courtesy of the American Craft Museum.

Ursula Ilse-Neuman, curator at the American Craft Museum in New York, selected more than 50 art quilts from the museum's collection for "Six Continents of Quilts." They were dramatically installed in the PaineWebber Lobby Gallery in midtown Manhattan July 3 - September 13 (with UBS PaineWebber Inc. sponsoring the exhibition). The quilts, including the backs of several pieces, were partially visible from the sidewalks outside the building. From inside the gallery, transparent walls integrated the art work with the scenery beyond them, in a constantly shifting vista as viewers walked through the space. The venue itself contributed to the vitality of the exhibition, especially since the wall was constructed in a rectangular grid pattern reminiscent of quilt blocks.

Cas Holmes, White Cross, 2000 - 2002; shirting, emulsion paint, paper, found fabric poppies, photocopy transfers; hand dyed, hand and machine stitched;
67 by 75 inches.
Approximately half of the quilts were completed within the past two years, making this exhibition a very contemporary presentation of international fiber art. Of the most recent quilts, half are by foreign artists; roughly the same percentage of foreign artists were in the show as a whole. Except for three works, including the first of Nancy Crow's historic art quilts in the "Color Blocks" series, the remaining pieces in the exhibition were completed during the 1990s. While surface design processes unified the compositions in many of these quilts, densely textured areas of embroidery and quilting enlivened the surfaces of others.

Art quilts by many of the names one would expect to see were included, in excellent examples of their artistic styles: Karen Felicity Berkenfeld (who died in 2001), Dorothy Caldwell, Judith Content, Michael Cummings, Caryl Bryer Fallert, Marilyn Henrion, Inge Hueber, Wendy Huhn, Michael James, Patricia Malarcher, Bonnie Peterson, Faith Ringgold, Joan Schulze, Robin Schwalb, Ludmila Uspenskaya, and others. Their quilts alone would have made a spectacular show, accomplishing via a plethora of techniques and processes what Ilse-Neuman deems "the real challenge for the quilt artist, [which] is to go beyond a preoccupation with technique and materials and to focus on a concept worthy of the effort expended."

Susan Denton, Granite, 2001; hand-dyed and commercial cottons; machine pieced, hand appliquéd and quilted, airbrushed with silk dyes, rubber stamped with permanent linen-marking ink; 61.75 by 52.5 inches.
The foreign artists are from Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Guatemala, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, and Wales. Among those premiering art quilts in the United States in this exhibition are Cas Holmes, Gisela Hafer, Junko Maeda, Jeanette Gilks, Barbara Grünewald, and Munni Srivastava. Although there is a definite European emphasis in the selection of foreign artists, and although one might wish to have seen a few more of the astonishing art quilts being created by Australian and Japanese artists, "Six Continents of Quilts" was, after all, drawn exclusively from the collection of the American Craft Museum. It is amazing that the quilts of so many foreigners have been acquired for the permanent collection of an institution whose name emphasizes American artists. The museum is to be commended for such diverse documentation of the international impact of an art form originating in the United States.

Gisela Hafer, Portraitvariationen, 1997; cotton; silkscreened, stamped, and machine pieced, quilted, and embroidered; 58 by 88 inches.

"Six Continents of Quilts" is one of the more interesting nonjuried art quilt exhibitions mounted in this country during the past decade, and fortunately an international tour is being planned.The Michner Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, will host the show April 26 - July 6.

--Sandra Sider

Sandra Sider is a graduate student in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She is writing a book on the origins of art quilts, 1960 - 1980.

This review first appeared in:

Nov/Dec 2002

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