A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
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'BETTY'S MEADOW': Michelle Naranjo-Brackett's colorful work is part of a new genre of contemporary artistry: art quilts. MICHELLE NARANJO-BRACKETT
Handsome quilts are destined to warm only your wall
BY ELISA TURNER
Quilts have always been seen as functionable objects that may be handsomely created but are mainly to provide warmth. That's changing.
Contemporary quilts are brought together in Elements from the Front Range Contemporary Quilters, with 40 examples curated by Robert Shaw, at the Norton Museum of Art. This traveling show elevates a familiar hand-crafted aesthetic to fine art.
Other museums have recently presented traditional quilts as artworks -- as in the traveling exhibit The Quilts of Gee's Bend, organized by Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. It featured quilts made from 1930 to 2000 by four generations of African-American women in Gee's Bend, Ala. The quilts drew rave reviews for their bold, geometric compositions and color.
Now we see the rise of the non-functional quilt -- the art quilt. Larger than a decorative pillow but smaller than a comforter, these quilts are definitely not about keeping warm. They are wall-mounted. They've been created by the Front Range Contemporary Quilters, a group established in 1988 in Colorado to foster public awareness in this new genre of contemporary art. Art quilts are at an early stage of public awareness and museum support, comparable to the state studio glass was in before Dale Chihuly gave non-functional studio glass widespread glamour and validation, at least in many parts of the museum world.
Contemporary quilters often make their own fabric and dyes. They use materials rarely, if ever, found in traditional quilts -- beads, shells or metal. The results are often lovely, but sometimes strikingly odd. Looking at quilts, you don't expect to see a firefighter surrounded by a blaze, as in Into the Heat by Jeanne Gray, or a person shoveling snow as in Postcard From Denver by Carol Krueger.
The most interesting art quilts here make thoughtful connections to the patterns and piecings of their handmade past. You can see traces of the traditional Log Cabin pattern in The Future is in Our Hands III by Carol M. Moe, and something of other geometric patterns in Betty's Meadow by Michelle Naranjo-Brackett.
This exhibit coincides with the current solo show at the Norton about the assemblages of Betye Saar. It's a serendipitous pairing. Saar has often used fabric in her work. The hand-crafted quality of her materials, often drawn from that once-maligned world of ''women's work,'' does point to this current direction in contemporary art, in which lines separating fine art from craft grow fuzzy.
Gold Dazzles at the National Museum of African Art online exhibit :"African Gold" on view for extended run in Washington Akan artist, Ghana Sword handle of a hand holding a snake Gold leaf and wood
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