It is a quilt-tastic time in Mount Pleasant! In addition to the Lenore Crawford exhibit at Art Reach, we also have the amazing Ann Kowaleski story quilt exhibit currently on display in the Baber Room at CMU’s Park Library. Kowaleski is a well-known quilt artist whose work is influenced by folk art and the cultural traditions of Mexico and Guatemala, as well as everyday life – the way she translates the commonplace into these beautiful handcrafted art pieces is truly inspiring to me.
The Spirit: Graham, Dickinson and O’Keeffe (98×45″)
This large quilt is a tribute to three well-known inspirational artists from various fields: Martha Graham, Emily Dickinson, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Kowaleski has given each woman a distinct section of the quilt, but uses organic shapes to ease the transitions between the three so there is a feeling of flow. The color palette of each section is fitting for its subject, and, also fittingly, the quilt has a rhythm that evokes the emotions inspired by dance, poetry, and painting.
The Emily Dickinson section includes representations of her poetry as though they are sheets of paper floating in the air around her. Kowaleski uses embroidery to include excerpts from some of Dickinson’s famous poems. I love this technique.
Life in Ordinary Times (45×60″)
This piece features Crewel embroidery in combination with traditional quilting and the use of some mixed media such as buttons and ribbon. It also incorporates a variety of fabrics: you can see in the photo above that she used a netting over top of a more traditional material to make part of the woman’s dress, in addition to several other fabrics, some of which are also nontraditional for a quilt.
So many things about this piece really captured me: the fact that the woman’s hair is at once somewhat wild, coming off her head in great swoops, but also beautiful and with great texture detail; the way the Crewelwork creates her expression both in the actual embroidery and in the way it affects the fabric it has been applied to; the way the woman’s hands clasp one another (a position that I admit looks quite familiar); and the use of a multitude of colors and patterns in the embroidery and fabrics that make up the woman’s dress to indicate the barely contained mayhem that so often makes up our daily life.
Midlife Musings (60×44″)
One of the things I really appreciate about Kowaleski’s quilts is that she captures the beauty of people, especially women, in a way that is not glamorous but instead evokes a more emotional response. These women are each unique in their appearance, though clearly all of a particular cohort. The women here are all supporting one another, and each appears to be wearing a mask. The use of the traditional (as a quilt subject) tulips around the edge of the quilt is a satisfying foil to the scene she’s created at the center of the piece. Likewise, the inclusion of the bread tray doily and the two small works of art on either side evoke thoughts of “women’s work” and the domestic expectations that women have faced (and still do).
Meet Me in the Bathtub (45×69″)
This quilt is another that uses a variety of materials to create an emotional response. I especially love the use of photographs printed on fabric as well as the use of ribbon and other embellishments.
Two Women (45×46″)
I especially like this quilt. It features two women who are, again, supporting one another. They are similar in shape and dress and yet you can see that they are two distinct individuals with distinct personalities when you look at their faces. The way Kowaleski has put together the fabric of their dresses is so pleasing to the eye: the diagonals of each dress bodice point inward, toward the heart, but also create a very flattering effect; the use of ribbon, buttons, and chain; and the color palette which is at once feminine and strong.
These story quilts are such an inspiration. I’m just getting into quilting myself, having only been doing it for a couple of years so far, but seeing artwork like this gives me so many ideas for possible projects and ways to take my quilts to be something beyond just useful or warm. I highly recommend checking out this exhibit, and I hope to see more from Kowaleski in the future.