Thursday, December 31, 2009

Losing Our Minds

My friend and fellow artist Christine Mauersberger, sent me an email yesterday with pictures and a question about a family heirloom, a gorgeous mid-19th century red and green quilt. I didn't ask permission, so I won't post a picture of the quilt here, but will tell you a story of what happened when I looked at it.

Gayle and Christine at our group exhibition opening, Flavors of Fiber

I am not an expert in 19th century quilts. My research expertise has been focused on the contemporary quilt movement, which emerged in the 1950s, and which I wrote about in my book Uncommon Threads: Ohio's Art Quilt Revolution. Two of my friends, however, happen to be world renowned experts in quilt history: Virginia Gunn and Ricky Clark. I first met Virginia in 1988 when we moved back to Ohio from Philadelphia. She was presenting a program on quilt dating, and participants had brought quilts for her to look at. Recently retired from the University of Akron, Gunn is still teaching courses at the International Quilt Study Center. Seven years ago or so, we had both been invited to speak at the Ohio Historical Society in celebration of Ohio's bicentennial, as had Ricky. Having recently received a family heirloom quilt of my own, I decided to bring it along, so I could show it to Virginia. Having told her nothing about it, she took one look at it, and said, "This quilt was made in Knox County, Ohio in 1840; I recognize the fabric." I was stunned, and she was right. That's how good she is.

I met Ricky Clark around the same time I first met Virginia. I attended a program on quilt history that Ricky was presenting related to the Ohio quilt documentation project she was conducting. Over the years, Ricky truly became a mentor, enthusiastically supporting my artwork production and my interest in quilt research. It was she who suggested that Ohio University Press approach me to write a book; it was she who gave me all of her old Quilter's Newsletter Magazines, and generously shared her other research materials. It was she who invited me to serve as co-curator for several exhibitions she assembled, and it was she who suggested that I take over as curator of the Artist as Quiltmaker exhibition, which she had founded in the early 1980s.

When Christine emailed me the picture of her quilt, I responded with my initial observations, then immediately went to put my hands on two of Ricky's books, which I knew contained detailed information about the style of quilt in question.

Quilts in Community was published with the research results of the Ohio quilt documentation project, and has always been one of my favorites. It is the perfect combination of quilt and state history, two of my passions. It is chock full of information about Ohio's wonderful treasure-trove of quilts and quiltmakers, with just the right helping of historical detail, such as the types of dyes used, or where Ohio's immigrant community came from. Oh, and there are lots and lots of color pictures.

Quilted Gardens was directly written about the type of quilt Christine had, and, although it wasn't strictly focused on Ohio quilts, the book contains its fair share of Ohio-made quilts from the 19th century, with wonderful genealogical stories to go along with the heirlooms.
It was delightful last evening to look through these books, since it had been several years since I had read them for the umpteenth time. Reading Ricky's words, the exquisite detail ferreted out from 150 years of quilt history by a brilliant mind, reminded me of the joy that comes from following one's passions. It also saddened me, because the Ricky Clark I knew no longer exists. She has been taken from us by Alzheimer's disease.
In the past several years, several fabulous women in my life have fallen prey to this terrible fate. Like Ricky, family friend, colleague and Oberlin printmaker Mary Rosenthal is gone. Painter, entrepreneur extraordinaire, dear friend and former mother-in-law Kathy Pritchard is gone. Kathy technically died of breast cancer, which she fought valiantly, but when I saw her last prior to her death, at my 50th birthday party, she didn't know me. I miss her. She was only in her early 60's. Another close family member, also quite young, was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year. I dread the day when she no longer remembers who I am. Finally, two nights ago, our dear Aunt Jane succumbed. Jane was also young, and had been a brilliant accountant, and one of the brightest women I ever knew. I miss her, too.
As the New Year, and the new decade, approaches, I am once again reminded of the frustratingly fleeting quality of life. I was hit over the head with this not-so-gentle fact when both of my parents died a year apart in the early 1990s. Once again, life nudges me to remember...remember love, remember who I am, remember to live in the now, remember, remember, remember...lest we all lose our minds.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Classes Scheduled

I am teaching classes locally for the first time in many years: check out the Winter Newsletter at BayArts for more details. (My class descriptions begin on page 11 of the pdf document.) Hope to see you there! Here is the newsletter description for the first one, coming up in January.

Mixed Media - new & cool
Unraveling the Stories: narrative fiber collage - with Gayle Pritchard

In this course, you will learn the elements of design, composition, color use and idea development, along with lots of encouragement to develop the confidence needed to explore.
Using surface design and embellishment techniques, small base images will be created on canvas. Layer by layer, the compositions will be developed through mark-making, stitchery, collage and narrative to create an art object from the stories of your everyday life. No previous experience is necessary. Drop the kids off at school and enjoy a few hours of relaxation, creativity and spirituality.
tuesdays 9:30 - 11:30 am
Jan 12 - feb 9 (5 weeks)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

As I stood outside on my front porch today, a snowflake landed on my black glove. The glistening white stood in sharp contrast, so I could see every detail visible to the human eye without a microscope. Looking at it immediately reminded me of how much I loved cutting paper snowflakes in elementary school, and how, when the folds were opened, a lovely surprise revealed itself. Today's snowflake was teeny-tiny, less than a quarter of an inch in diameter, and it was absolutely perfect. Every little point and space was pristine; it was beautiful.

The plants in my yard have been winterized now that December has arrived, and the still uncut flowers are frozen in their fall colors on their branches. A few of my roses still have pale pink flowers. Meanwhile, inside my porch window, cozy in the warmth of the house, one of my jade plants has decided to bloom.

I have had this plant for a very long time, and over many years it has grown to be about two feet tall. It has never bloomed before. In fact, in all my years of plant-loving and nurturing, I have never seen a jade plant in bloom.

I am in a somber mood lately. Nearly everyone I know is experiencing some sort of difficulty, some with their own health; others are worn out by juggling their lives while care-giving to family members in failing health. Almost all of the others in my circle are struggling through the economic downturn our country is mired in, and my own family unit is no exception. Times are tough out there, and people are stressed to the limit.
This is why it is so important to notice what is around is, and to search for the small pleasures of life. Artists have an advantage in seeing, because artists are hard-wired to see the world through their own peculiar lenses, finding beauty and inspiration everywhere they look. Noticing the small, quiet splendors is an especially potent way to nurture the soul. I can't think of a more healing way to spend a moment of our precious lives.

Today, a tiny snowflake and a blooming jade plant buoyed my soul. I have chosen to see them both as sign of hope. What is keeping you afloat?