In my Quilt Scout column earlier this month I took on the “Are quilts art?” question. Being in art school, I’m approaching this question differently than I have in the past; turns out I still feel the way I did before but for better, sounder reasons.
The thing is, “Are quilts art?” might not even be the right question — but it’s true that quilts do occupy a funky place in the art/craft conversation and it’s more than worth turning over in your mind for awhile, especially if you have cookie bars and some binding to do at your next retreat.
Consider a Mariner’s Compass from 1890. Though beautiful and artful — impressive technique, intelligent color placement — it’s argued by some that it’s still just (!?) craft, because the Mariner’s Compass doesn’t have a deeper meaning behind it. There are no implications, no ironies, no symbolism. It’s a blanket. Sure, it’s a stunningly beautiful blanket, but but the woman who made the quilt wasn’t like, working out her grief about the death of her child through the patchwork in the quilt.
…Or was she?
That’s the trouble. The people who make determinations about what art is or is not are usually not the people making the quilts, recording the stories, or keeping the “blankets” safe. See what I mean?
Over the summer, I started making a quilt and with a deeper meaning behind it. Will someone know that in 100 years? Will someone keep the records? I can’t know. But I know that my quilt, “Bachelorette,” is a monochromatic Log Cabin I’m making using all my old sheets and pillowcases and my favorite white shirts from the past five years.
A lot has happened to me in the past five years. Divorce. Illness. Career stuff. Tens of thousands of words. So much love. Heartache. Moves. Moving back. So much travel. School. Change, change, change. And I was going to get rid of some old sheets in June and I was replacing some worn-out old white (and off-white) shirts in June and I stopped myself:
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I said (out loud, of course.) “Not so fast.”
It’s going to be a big quilt. The paper-pieced blocks you see finish 7”; I have made 64 of them. I have 26 left or something daunting like that. I’m stitching in labels from clothes that I wore during — well, I’ll write the whole story later. That’s part of this quilt: The story of it, on paper.
It’s white, like paper. It’s softer, though, and lived-in. And it’s definitely art.