Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Men & Quilting

Over the last three days, two of them were spent with strange men.  (Bet that got your attention, didn't it?)  On Saturday, Empire Quilters welcomed David Taylor as their monthly speaker.  Last night, Garden State Quilters welcomed Mark Lipinksi as their speaker.

They had a number of things in common.  Both men were uproariously funny about how they came to be quilters.  Both men displayed a tremendous amount of hubris about their art, and are incredibly comfortable with doing what they do.  Both men have been so successful that they have given up their day jobs to pursue their quilting businesses full time. Both men are extremely personable, whether sharing a bag of caramel rice cakes, or schlepping bins of quilts.  You'd enjoy hanging out with them.

They had a number of things that differentiate them.  David's quilts are gorgeous, intricate portraits; his attention to detail rivals that of Jinny Beyer, Paula Nadelstern, or Jean BiddickDavid's beautiful quilts are wonderful portraits, snapshots of nature's beauty.  Mark's lovely quilts are seemingly more traditional; pieced, but using vibrant color schemes and patterns, which match Mark's personality.  I have a theory about this...keep reading. 

I wondered two things as I saw them both:  what drives a man to want to enter a world dominated (artistically, but not in the business side--again, keep reading!) by women?  One of the things I've observed is that male quilters seem to have a quicker route to superstardom; their uniqueness gives them a competitive edge.  I also notice that the men take huge leaps of faith, whether it's Mark Lipinksi starting Quilter's Home magazine, John Flynn creating his own tabletop quilting system, or Ricky Tims snapping up Alex Anderson for The Quilt Show.  I'm not hatin', as my niece would say, but I know equally talented women who are equally deserving of opportunities and accolades.

David's quilts are a result of what seems like thousands of careful choices.   For instance, if you see Keeping Watch Over Carlson Ranch to the right, you would not believe the pile (I think it was 38) of fabric used to create the piece.  All of his quilts have frequent changes in the top thread; he also changes the bobbin thread to match the top thread  Visually, the back of his quilts are nearly as stunning as the front, essentially two beautiful pieces of art. He sees the possibilities in photos, such as Sally at the Window, owned by Alex Anderson.  David's quilts have deservedly won awards at all the major shows.

Mark detailed his quilting journey, from first seeing Eleanor Burns and thinking, "I could do that!" to the present, where he is designing patterns, designing fabric, publishing Quilter's Home, and co-hosting an online show, Quilt Out Loud! . Mark said two things that struck a chord with me last night.  The first was that for a business whose primary audience is nearly 100% female, there are very few women in positions of authority in the quilting industry. It is an industry dominated by men who are making the rules, and setting the agenda.  When he said this, I thought of the fashion industry, constantly showing women who look like they haven't had a good meal in years, in shoes that we couldn't walk a block in, wearing clothes that weren't designed for average women.   We need to support the women in our business who support us.  Karey Bresenhan comes to mind, as does Pokey Bolton, and of course Alex Anderson.   They created their industries, blazing a trail for others to follow.  They continue to support and encourage quilters to value their work, and creativity.

The second dealt with issues of censorship, and Mark was incensed that guilds were rejecting member quilts from their shows because it might offend someone.  He distinguished this situation from a juried show, where the organizer has the right to accept or reject a piece for any number of reasons.  It made me think of the rapid  changes I have seen at quilt shows in general.  When I first went to shows, art quilts were the ugly stepsisters.  The quilts I saw were typically made for a bed, pieced, using commercial, floral prints and/or little color variety.  Carol Bryer Fallert's  and Hollis Chatelain's work were revelations.  More and more I am seeing an explosion of art quilts, using wildly varied techniques and a mixture of store-bought plus fabrics and embellishments you won't find on a quilt store shelf.  It's a veritable UNLEASHING of creativity!  Now the art quilts are beginning to win awards, and hang beautifully amongst the traditionals.

Now for my theory on Mark's fearlessness when it comes to color.  When I had a playdate with Rayna Gillman last week, we talked about the four guilds I have belonged to.  Two of them are large guilds mentioned above, and two of them are small, African-American guilds (Quilters of Color Network of NY, Nubian Heritage Quilters). I am also a member of an online African American Guild (African American Quilters Yahoo! Group).   Rayna asked me if I saw a difference between the two types of guilds, and I told her what I observed. First, since the African-American guilds are smaller, the group dynamic is more intimate, more friendly critiquing goes on, more information is exchanged.   I cannot say there is a cultural cause and effect going on, but in the African American guilds (both of which have members of all races and both sexes), there is an overt flaunting of the "rules".  They use patterns, shapes,  fabrics, and colors that are rich and vibrant, downright loud sometimes, and they work.  That sense of fearlessness, of only pleasing your self with your art/craft, is indispensable to any artist.  It is not something that most quilters start with, as they are typically matching textiles in clothes and use that as a guide when it comes to quilting.  Black women have frequently broken these rules.  As an example I offer Josephine Baker, Patty Labelle, Grace Jones, Tina Turner.  Mark's introduction to quilting was through an African American guild, and it still shows in his work.


Barb said...

Great Post!
Sometime you'll have to tell how to put links in mine.
Maybe I'll bump into you at the show this Saturday--

Rayna said...

I could go on and on discussing this with you, Aleeda! It is all so interesting, and so thought-provoking. Glad you blogged about all of this!