02 November 2008


I've been non-stop this week. It started with the opening talk of our library's writers' festival on Tuesday night (Di Morrissey - she was extremely engaging and generous with her stories) and finished with the quilt exhibition at the Quilt Indulgence Festival today, with four days at work in between!

The quilts were interesting and there were a variety of styles on display. I found many to admire for the skill shown with various techniques and some designs just blew me away. It's always interesting to attend a show with a friend, so to hear Lois's take on the quilts added value for me.

Part of the exhibition showed quilts from the Gee's Bend collective. Now, I've known about the Gee's Bend quilts for a long time now, and have followed the effusive praise that has been heaped upon them as they have toured from gallery to gallery. So it was an excellent opportunity to see them in real life on their first visit to Australia.

I also know that a lot of quilters simply don't 'get' the Gee's Bend quilts. They are often poorly stitched, with pieces that don't line up nicely. They are often made from fabrics that aren't purpose-made for quilt making; fabrics such as corduroy. They are rarely squared up and usually have wonky edges. They are what they are. Amongst the quilt making fraternity, Gee's Bend quilts are adored by some, while being totally unappealing to others.

I swear that if I was arranged to my best advantage, and well-lit from the right angles, I would look terrific too. Just shows what a bit of strategic, cosmetic arrangement can do. But I'd still be me.

To hear some people complain that these quilts should have been shown under gallery conditions, in an artificially 'arty' environment, belies the real nature of these quilts. They are what they are - real quilts made by real women with the resources available to hand.

The quilts weren't bought to Australia by a gallery - they were bought here, at enormous cost (you should have seen the price of the insurance) by a quilter, a woman who wanted to share them with other quilters. Yes, I used to work for her company, so you may think I have a vested interest in saying that. You'd be wrong.

It was her idea to ask for the quilts for display in Australia. She bore the risk of bringing the quilts here. She took the step of making something happen. Would you have done that?

Of course, these are all my opinions. If you disagree with me, I really don't want to hear it, so don't bother leaving a comment. I think we need to congratulate, support and applaud people who are willing to put their money and their time out there for the pleasure of others. What we don't need are petty whiners.

I am now ending the weekend with a sore throat and constant sneezing, so I'm going to retire to my bed for a snooze. Somewhere during the past busy week, I've picked up a cold so rest is in order. I have a lovely pieced block I finished on Thursday to show you - maybe tomorrow...


  1. Anonymous4:03 pm

    The Gees Bend quilts were something quite different for me, and I really enjoyed them.

  2. Well said, Erica!

  3. Erica, I was delighted to see them here, and appreciated that opportunity very much. They're quilts that I admire, that inspire me, that I do 'get'. As I said in my blog entry.

    As I explained there too, I did have issues with how they were presented, not because I thought a gallery context would be artificial, but because it would allow room for appreciation. As you say, the workmanship is variable. It's one of the lessons in mindshifting that they offer.

    But additionally, they have been acclaimed because of their graphic impact, and sometimes you really do need to be able to stand more than a few feet back to appreciate that and see the effect from a distance in ways that you can't see up close. Both ways - close, and at a distance - you can learn from them.

    While they are quilts, made from found/recycled/available materials, they are undoubtedly being presented to the world in other exhibitions and online and in books and in reviews as art objects, so an art gallery is not an artificial context for them.

    The Old Order Amish quilts from the Lit From Within exhibition that was on in Melbourne some years ago was also composed of quilts made for domestic use and subsequently appreciated for their graphic and artistic qualities. That was done in a museum/gallery context, and I clearly remember how I not only looked at them in close detail, but was able to stand back too. In my mind's eye, still, I can see the row of Diamond in a Square quilts, each one slightly different, hung down the gallery wall. Magic.

    So while it's great to have had this opportunity to see the Gee's Bend quilts 'in the flesh', I hope that this is a first step to a larger exhibition in a context where they can have more space. I don't think this sort of discussion about how they were presented denigrates the initiative involved, or the company responsible. Hopefully a curator or museum textile specialist will have come to see this exhibit and see the potential for another.

    In the end, we're all standing on the same ground, looking at these quilts in wonder and appreciation.

    I'm not sure if you'll want to publish this, but I hope you do.



  4. Anonymous8:07 am

    I'm with you Erica! It is so easy to critic someone else's work when all you had to do was find it and park the car. An enormous effort goes into any show and the less negative stuff heard the better. kathy doughty

  5. As you know Erica, I love the Gee's Bend quilts and personally, I don't think they're anything to "get". If you can't appreciate them for what they are, quilts made by women who so obviously are passionate and creative and love what they do, then you are way too hung up on convention to "get" many of the beautiful things in life.
    I hugely appreciate the effort involved in bringing them out and the work that goes into a quilt show of any kind. I did think that the venue was somewhat of a shame, and while I don't think they needed to be in a gallery, somewhere with a little more atmosphere would have been an experience with a bit more excitement and fanfare.
    I do know also the difficulty the people who brought them had in finding somewhere large enough to house everything that was needed to be housed, so there is that too. I'm just grateful for the opportunity of seeing them at all, so I think the people having a good bitch about it probably need to take into account that it was Canterbury Race Course or no Gee's Bend!

  6. Anonymous11:51 am

    I would love to have had the quilts over here for WA Quilters Assoc but logistically I know it was not possible tho I did have a fair amount of communication about it with those involved. Having had 2 trips to Sydney since June I also could not quite justify another plane trip just for the show.
    I will just have to enjoy others folks comments on the display
    Stephanie from Perth


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