Making a blanket statement
What: "Modern Quilts: Designs of the New Century"
Where: Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St.
WHEN: Through Aug. 25
Cost: Entry is $5-$10
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
We hadn’t yet made it into the “Modern Quilts: Designs of the New Century” exhibit at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building when my date concluded he’d already found his favorite piece hanging in the first-floor hallway—where a “Bellingham Modern Quilt Guild Showcase” acts as a welcome warmup for the main event.
The quilt in question, Ruth Ann Hanlin’s “Far, Far Way,” was a celestially inspired, mind-melding series of blue squares within squares he said made him feel like he was looking out a series of windows at the night sky.
I quipped that he probably shouldn’t make a blanket statement without first checking out the 60 quilts curated by the Modern Quilt Guild. “Fair enough,” he good-naturedly grumbled as we stepped through the tall doors leading to “Modern Quilts.”
Before doing a deep dive into what I sensed going to be a jaw-dropping journey, we stopped to read a statement from the MQG explaining how quilting transformed from a necessary art into a creative one in the early 1900s, and how quilters began stepping out of the box (and block) long before the modern quilting movement of the late 20th century and early 21st century.
“This exhibition is important because it shows not only the influence of the historic tradition of quilting, but it also shows how modern quilters are breaking new ground and continue to create a new aesthetic,” Whatcom Museum’s Executive Director, Patricia Leach, furthered. “These are not your grandmother’s quilts.”
She wasn’t kidding.
Melissa Averinos’ “Face #1” was the first selection to catch our attention. From afar, the giant textured hanging sporting a woman’s large green eyes, pixellated eyebrows and red lips was attention-grabbing, but it was even more interesting up close, where my fella spotted newsprint, a visage of a small white cat’s face and dancing skeletons amid scraps of cloth.
Nearby, Luke Haynes’ “Double Elvis”—two identical man-bun-wearing guys sporting glasses and red jackets and pointing handguns at the viewer—boggled the mind (even more so when we looked behind the quilt to see the intricate stitching).
Hillary Goodwin’s “Bloberella,” Amanda Hohnstreiter’s “Balancing Act,” “Knit Stitch” by Dorie Schwarz, and Shannon Page’s “Akhaten” were spectacular samples of the varied textures that are possible with the art of quilting. Kat Jones’ “SMOKE” was serious and minimalist on the front and playfully silly on the back.
Other pieces that called to me included Kim Eichler-Messmer’s blue-and-white rectangular “Barn—Remnant,” the dizzyingly intricate “Making Me Crazy” by Victoria Findlay Wolfe and Shelly Pagliai, and “Jungle Abstractions: The Lion,” crafted by Beaverton, Oregon’s Violet Craft (a great name for a quilter if ever I’ve heard one).
Walking through “Modern Quilts” was eye-opening in more ways than one. Although the art form was built upon a generations-old traditional craft, I’d never realized the extent of emotions, design elements and textures that could be created by three layers bound together by simple quilting.
I had plenty of favorites, but couldn’t confine myself to just one when my date queried me on the way out the door. I asked him if “Far, Far Away” still called to him, and he answered in the affirmative.
“It was still my favorite at the end,” he said, “although the whole exhibit was mind-blowing and inspiring.”
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