|Viewer's Choice: Innocence by Hollis Chatelain
of Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA
It was good to see Hollis Chatelain and Caryl Bryer Fallert again, to watch them at work, and to discover Randall Cook and his buns of steel controversial quilt. Just as heartening was to see a smiling Kathy York, and Sharon Schamber and her Best of Show quilt. It seems that I don't hear of Sharon and certainly don't hear her called a Super Star as much as others, but her work speaks for itself. This is a woman who not only sees colors, but also smells them.
The film is enjoyable. The photography and editing, definitely professional and well done. It doesn't quite rise to the level of documentary in my opinion. It actually feels more like a promotion tool for the major quilt shows -- Houston and Paducah and for these three quilters. Anyone who is at all tuned into this Houston-Paducah segment of the quilting community will learn very little from this film, but may be reminded of what they're missing if they don't attend the shows, or reminded of the good times they had while there. And the film certainly gives a quilter the itch to add to her stash and try out the new tools and toys that only a quilter can love.
When we realize that there are millions of quilters, from all parts of the world, this film only speaks to maybe the 60- to 100,000 who participate in this commercially driven aspect of the community. Of course, that's quite a group! But there weren't any quilters from Japan, Norway, Germany, Israel.... No charity quilts, no guilds, no Amish, no non-profits. It is a little film focused on Houston, with a nod to Paducah, filmed and directed by professionals out of Houston. It is a feel good film, except when it tiptoed into the conflict between traditional and art quilters.
At that point I thought the film makers' bias was showing. Traditional quilters were depicted as a group of white haired grandma types who spoke with a Southern drawl and thought quilts were only for sleeping under. I suppose there are those with that opinion, but it is possible that they are just not clearly voicing their opposition.
I try to work out my own opinion. And I think as one traditional quilter said in the film, it comes down to whether one comes from a sewing/textile background or an art/multi-medium background. Although I must qualify that. I come from a sewing background and am a devoted follower of beautiful textile art regardless of what techniques are used or whether the artist is a fabric artist or a multi-media artist.
One group uses the fabric and thread as their medium. In another group, as depicted by Hollis Chatelain, for example it is paint/dyes and thread. In one group it may be handwork, in the other machine or fusing fabrics together. In one group it is construction -- straight seams, tidy intersections, neat, hidden, even stitches, etc. And in the other group whole cloth as canvas with the emphasis on painting or embellishment.
In the film, only the very narrow view of a few women who apparently represented the traditional aspect of quilting, voiced their opinions. Nothing from a group of art quilters. I guess they are right and don't need to speak?
I think there's narrow minded opinions on both sides of this argument. I've heard several art quilters deride the emphasis sewers put on straight seams, etc. I believe if a quilt is going to be constructed, it should be according to the highest standards. Does that mean there can't be a frayed seam or irregular intersections? Of course not. It means that if it frays, or has offset intersections, it had better be part of the art and not a mistake or sloppy construction.
Part of what draws me to quilts is the love that quilts embody as items of comfort and warmth. Quilts began as utilitarian objects and the makers began adding their own individual touches of beauty to them. Quilt history is as important as the quilt. To say that one approach to making a beautiful piece of textile art is acceptable and another is not seems to go against the freedom with which women have constructed quilts and clothes and useful items through the centuries. Who would tell an Amish quilter that they can't use black fabric?
Perhaps it has to do with the industrialization of heirloom quality handwork. Machine quilting is absolutely awesome and the sky is the limit on possibilities and the beauty that can be produced. But handwork should never, ever, ever, be cast aside or treated as that old fashioned musty smelling aunt that lives in the attic. It has its place. Handwork is also skill, dedication, practice, effort, sweat, tears and blood and each stitch is a physical act of love. It is being one with the cloth. No gloves between the hand and the fabric. Each stitch is designed and carried out by its maker -- one at a time.
Handwork is a form of meditation. You can't get any closer to the cloth than while hand stitching. For me it isn't whether it hangs on the wall or covers me at night in my bed -- it doesn't matter if it is a double wedding ring or abstract or a Susan Shie original.
There's room in the quilting community for artists from every background and those doing handwork, recreating traditional patterns, using their love of color -- are just as valuable and should not be snubbed. They shouldn't need to be defensive or exclusionary. Perhaps artists with art backgrounds should remember that art has no boundaries. Elly Sienkiewicz creates works of art with each stitch she takes on her Baltimore quilts. Baltimore quilts are just as much an art style to quilts as Impressionism or Minimalism is to the art world. Ironically the winners of the top awards at the Houston show depicted in the film were mostly traditional quilts, and as Mr. Cook rather unkindly pointed out 'with butterflies.'
Fabric or textile art should feature the fabric. Quilts, a term which speaks more to construction -- a sandwich with a top, bottom and middle layers, held together with stitches, speaks more to construction. As long as all three layers and the quilting are there -- its a quilt. All serving their purpose, preening and beautiful.
After all of that, I think my conclusion is that a quilt is a fabric sandwich stitched with love. What's on top, on the bottom or inbetween, whether a dagwood or a patty melt, it is a quilt.
If you want to view the film, there's a narrow window to view it for free: http://www.ctpubblog.com/