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I hadn’t yet met my mother’s cousin (S) so we had a good chance to get to know each other a bit on the drive from the hotel to Balboa Park, which is where we were going for the day. Balboa Park is a gorgeous place with a bunch of museums and other entertainment venues all clustered in the one place. What a great idea for both ease of tourists – you just head to one place and can spend the time touristing rather than moving from location to location – and also for deciding after you get there what you feel like seeing.

S already knew I was interesting in quilting so the first place she planned to take was to see the Bold Expressions quilt exhibition. My cousin (D) and her partner (V) came out to meet us and see the exhibition with us as well and we all enjoyed wandering around and having a look at the quilts.

__ The exhibition showed off part of Corinne Riley’s quilt collection of quilts by African American women, mostly from the 30s and 40s across states like Alabama and Texas.

We had a great time discussing many of the quilts and talking over some of the aspects that have me utterly drawn to this art form (yep, calling it art and not craft). Basically, there is the idea that quilts are made to cover – in other words, people have a need for warmth and comfort and so women make quilts to be a functional, purposeful item. An example of this is say this quilt to the right here, which is made out of pieces of clothing. This woman maybe took whatever she had close to hand, that had lost any functional purposed for clothing and pieced it together to become bedding. Though, even having done that, there is still balance of colour and composition in the way in which she has done that here.

But, if quilting really was just about cover and purpose, then the most efficient way to do that is surely not to take pieces of fabric, cut them into smaller pieces and then devise complicated patterns to best fit them back together to form a blanket. Wouldn’t you just piece larger bits of fabric together to be done in much quicker time? In other words, women found ways to be creative and artistic whilst still outputting functional items which people would be hard pressed to argue were without purpose. And that’s one of the things I most love about quilting. These quilts in this exhibition were mostly created by poorer women who used anything they could to hand. And within these constraints, they found ways to express their creativity.

This is D standing in front of a stunning quilt called “Pine Burr” which was made out of cotton fabrics in Alabama in the 30s and 40s.

Here is an up close shot as well to show the detailed and careful work. And then next to it  the nameplate for this work.

In case you can’t read it, it says “This obsessively constructed all-cotton Pine Burr Quilt was done in multiple circles and pieced together.” By and large, we found the plates for each work disappointing. What we wanted to know was information about the women and how these quilts came about. And how and where they were collected. And things like that. Instead we got tags like the one here that I have quoted which particularly grated with me because I reacted to the word “obsessively” which I feel is a loaded word and the same intend could perhaps have been better described as “meticulously” for example.

Quilts like the one above and the one below weren’t products of mental illness, as I think the word “obsessive” implies. These quilts would have been made over many years, perhaps decades. And show great investment of time and talent as the right materials are collected and placed to create an overall impression or experience.

They show how value and art can be derived from otherwise considered waste materials – tiny scraps of fabric.

Other pieces we loved were ahead of their time – described as reminiscent of modern painting. Like this one, made out of discarded jeans:

And this one was another favourite of mine, made in Alabama in the 40s, it has such a Japanese quilt inspiration about it:

So we loved this exhibition!



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  • By Marg on 27 October 2011 at 3:53 am

    I liked Balboa Park when I visited San Diego! We also went to an ice hockey game there but I don’t remember most of that night!

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