Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Beyond Bedding: Local Quilt Shows Display High Textile Art

One view of Momentum by Christine Mauersberger

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt.

The back wall of Material Pulses: Seven Viewpoints, on view at Cannon Art Gallery through May 23.

Now that many of our museums and galleries are open, it’s a joy to see art in person again. And some of our happiest moments lately were at two wonder-filled quilt exhibitions —one in Carlsbad, and one at Liberty Station—and you don’t have to be a quilter to love them.

 On view at Carlsbad’s Cannon Art Gallery is Material Pulses: Seven Viewpointsan eye-popping display of 17 pieces by 7 fiber artists who use a range of traditional and experimental techniques. Curated by Ohio-based Nancy Crow, a major figure in the world of contemporary art quilting, this travelling exhibit has been on the road for almost four years, and includes artists from four U.S. states, one Canadian province, and a county in England. This is its only appearance in California.


Before Thought by Elizabeth Brandt

Beyond the obvious differences in styles and colors, the closer you look, the more each quilt reveals its own fascinating details. The two that caught my eye as I stepped into the gallery were the ones just behind the front desk—large, brilliantly colored geometric shapes on dark backgrounds by Elizabeth Brandt. What first drew me in was the colors, but up close, the intricate machine-stitched lines were amazing, creating whole patterns of their own.


Things Fall Apart#3 by Mary Lou Alexander

I also found the trio of quilts by Mary Lou Alexander engaging, even more so when I saw they were all titled “Falling Apart,” inspired by one of my favorite poems, “The Second Coming,” written by William Butler Yeats just after World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” It’s definitely worth taking time to read the labels beside all the quilts here—they’re very informative.


Veiled Confusion, by Jayne Willoughby

Then there were the two pieces by Jayne Willoughby, with their huge, pale, egg-shaped figures that seemed to invite meditation. They’re two-sided quilts, and I so wanted to see the reverse sides with their “riotous color systems” but that wasn’t possible, since no one was allowed to touch them, even with gloves. So even though there were small colored photos of what we were missing, we were only able to see half of the artist’s intentions.

Another view of Momentum by Christine Mauersberger

But the centerpiece here, and surely the most unusual quilt you’ve ever seen, is Christine Mauersberger’s Momentum. It’s 9 feet tall, 10 feet deep, and nearly 8 feet wide, made of strips of red plastic masking film machine-stitched over white tulle fabric. It came in seven folded pieces, with the artist allowing each venue on the tour to hang it their own way, using whatever arrangement they wanted. Many of the venues ended up not showing Momentum, but fortunately Cannon has high ceilings, the right lighting system, and enough imagination to install it here, and it’s a real treat.

 In fact, the whole exhibition is a treat. Don’t miss seeing it live, for yourself, while it’s in town.

Cannon Art Gallery
Material Pulses: Seven Viewpoints
The artists: Mary Lou Alexander, Claire Benn, Elizabeth Brandt, Christine Mauersberger, Denise L Roberts, Jayne Willoughby, Barb Wills
On view through May 23, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Free admission. Face coverings required.
1775 Dove Lane, Carlsbad, in the Carlsbad City Library complex
Tel. 760-602-2021
For more information and a virtual tour of the exhibit, see www.carlsbadca.gov/services/depts/arts/exhibits/cannon.asp


 Meanwhile, down in Point Loma’s Liberty Station, Visions Arts Museum (VAM) has a lot going on—four textile arts exhibitions, one of them the blockbuster travelling quilt show Deeds Not Words: Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Suffrage. Co-curated by Sandra Sider, curator of the Texas Quilt Museum, and Pamela Weeks, curator of the New England Quilt Museum, the show premiered last summer, in the centennial year of the 19th amendment. 29 award-winning artists from around the U.S. were invited to create 28 artworks for the exhibition—VAM’s Curatorial Manager, Rebekah Deep, called them “the Who’s Who of quilt artists”—and they responded with an array of materials and styles honoring some of the many, many women who strode the long road fighting for the right to vote.


Katharine Dexter McCormick by Pixeladies

One of my favorites was a piece by a pair of fiber artists who call themselves Pixeladies celebrating Katharine Dexter McCormick, an ardent activist for voting rights and an early supporter of Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control center in the U.S. in 1916. When diaphragms were illegal in this country—are you old enough to remember diaphragms?—McCormick smuggled over 1,000 of them from Europe to Sanger’s clinic by sewing them into her clothing. Pixeladies included a “hidden homage” to McCormick by sewing two diaphragms into their quilt.


Standing Together by Pat Kumicich

Another interesting piece—actually, they’re all interesting—is Pat Kumicich’s Standing Together, for which she created a background of pages from a found book of suffragist sheet music. And there’s a delightful one by Susan Shie, dedicated to the youngest woman at the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Conference, 18-year-old Charlotte Woodward Pierce, who was the only one of those women still alive when the 19th amendment was finally passed in 1920.

Charlotte, Knight of Potholders in the Kitchen Tarot by Susan Shie. Check out the other women included, like voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and some of the 102 women in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Frances Watkins Harper, by Sandra Sider

Sandra Sider, one of the exhibit’s two curators, contributed a piece dedicated to Frances Watkins Harper, who spent most of her life fighting for racial equality—in the suffragist movement as well as everywhere else. In 1866, she spoke at the 11th National Women’s Rights Convention, alongside Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, saying: “We are all bound up together in one bundle of humanity,” which inspired Sider to create this quilt.


VAM’s Curatorial Manager Rebekah Deep poses with Jill Kerttula’s Union Station 2.

You can learn a lot about history here, reading not only the accompanying labels, but the words stitched into each piece. Then move on into the back gallery and Urban Voyeur, where Jill Kerttula combines photography with bits of fabric and lots of stitching to give a compelling look to the street scenes she sees, inviting you, the viewer, to become part of the picture.

There are two more one-woman shows in VAM’s lobby—Hillary Waters Fayles’ “botanical embroideries” and Carolyn Harper’s hand-embroidered batik portraits of homeless people—not to mention a very appealing gift shop. If you haven’t been here lately, it’s definitely time to plan a visit to VAM. 

Visions Art Museum: Contemporary Quilts & Textiles
Deeds Not Words, Urban Voyeur, Threaded Canopy & Look me in the Eye
On view through July 3, Thurs/Fri/Sat, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free admission. Face coverings required.
2825 Dewey Road, Suite 100, at Liberty Station in Point Loma.
Tel. 619-546-4872
For more information and a virtual tour of the exhibitions see www.visionsartmuseum.org

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has written about arts and lifestyle for the La Jolla Light and other local media for over a dozen years. You can reach her at hew2@sbcglobal.net

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