War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics – A Splendid Exhibit

detail, Regimental Bed Rug, Sgt. Malcolm Macleod (Dates Unknown), India, c. 1865, wool, mostly from military uniforms with embroidery thread; inlaid; hand-embroidered. The Annette Gero Collection.

War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics, the current exhibit at the Museum of Folk Art is a must see!  Especially if you like quilts, but even if you don’t. Drawn primarily from the unparalleled collection of internationally acclaimed quilt authority Dr. Annette Gero, all the quilts were made by men in uniform: soldiers, sailors and regimental tailors.  This was not an accident of history, but rather the result of the English government’s attempt to boost the morale of its troops far away from home, whether in India, the Crimea or fighting the Napoleonic Wars.   Being a soldier could involve a fair amount of tedium, especially when stationed in areas that were remote, or where going into town was not sanctioned or not an  option.  In order to keep the troops from relieving their boredom by drinking and gambling, the English government promoted quiltmaking as a masculine activity, both at home (to future soldiers) and to the conscripted.

Because the soldiers used milled wool and broadcloth made for British uniforms, the color palette is pretty much red, greens, blue/black, gold, beige and white, with the occasional purple – however, that seems to have been a spur to the complexity of many of the patterns.  For me, the mix and arrangement of varying sizes of rectangles, stars, diamonds and squares into geometric patterns with concentric frames gives several of the quilts an op-art feel.  While many of the textiles have no batting or are not backed, the exhibit uses the word “quilt” as “a term of convenience.”  No matter what you call them, they are all stunning.  They are also very big, anywhere from 5 feet to 9 feet high.

Captain Webb’s Hut, 4th Dragoon Guards, Roger Fenton

In the entryway to the exhibit, you’ll find Roger Fenton’s photos of the Crimean War (1854-56) projected on one wall.  Because of the difficulty of taking and developing photographs in the mid-19th century, many of Fenton’s pictures are posed ones of key military leaders and enlisted men, or stills of their surroundings.  Against another wall you’ll find the words to “The Charge of the Light Brigade” as well as a wax recording of Alfred Lord Tennyson reading his poem (it’s faint, but give it a listen).

Off to the left, the gallery features 6 quilts mostly made in India.  Since soldiers were often stationed there for years at a time, the British government held quiltmaking workshops and sponsored competitions to keep them engaged.  It’s not clear if all the quilts on display were made by soldiers, or were the work of professional tailors, as they weren’t signed or otherwise attributed to a particular person, which also makes it difficult to determine where they were made and whether it was during or after service abroad (some are thought to have been made by soldiers convalescing in military hospitals).

detail, Beaded Soldier’s Quilt, artist unidentified, India, c. 1860-70; wool with beads; inlaid, hand-appliquéd and hand-applied beadwork. The Annette Gero Collection

You’ll notice that many of the seams are covered in chain stitch or rick-rack, and there’s often beading or other embellishments.  India has an ancient tradition of beadmaking, and quilts like this one were often made by a colonel’s orderly, who was more likely Indian than British.

Soldier’s Mosaic Stars Quilt, artist unidentified found in Germantown, PA, late 19th cent., wool, International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This piece from the late 19th century is a bit of an outlier – it was found in Germantown, Pennsylvania, artist and origin unknown, but it is similar to ones made by Jewett Washington Curtis, the only American soldier known to have made quilts in the British style. 

detail, Soldier’s Quilt, artist unidentified, Crimea, India or UK, 1850-75, wool, probably from military uniforms; inlaid; hand-appliquéd with buttonhole fabric discs. Denver Art Museum Neusteter Textile Collection. Gift of Vicki and Kent Logan, purchased in honor of Alice Zrebiec with funds from Nancy Lake Benson, 2015

This quilt, with compass stars, pinwheels and game boards, bears the colors of the Coldstream Guards, one of the regiments that comprise the personal troops of Her Majesty the Queen, and that is still in service today.

The main gallery area features 12 quilts made using the intarsia technique (pieces are placed next to each other and whipstitched together, so the front is often identical to the back), which was widely used in Central Europe.  As many of these quilts relate to the “Turkish Wars” of 1719  (Austria vs. Ottoman Empire) or the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800’s, you’ll find several of them have images of soldiers, or the double-headed eagle, or other references to the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire.  The room is dominated by a very large (approx. 9ft x 9ft) quilt stretched out parallel to the floor which features architectural images of the HRE, such as the Maison Carrée of Nîmes and the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

detail, Hungarian Soldier’s Intarsia Quilt, artist unidentified, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1820-30, wool with embroidery thread; inlaid; hand-appliquéd and hand-embroidered. Museum of Military History, Vienna

The central panel in this Hungarian Soldier’s quilt, made in the early 1800’s, includes hussar officers, a staff officer and a Hungarian magnate, framed by ten starry cartouches, each with a soldier in uniform styles that were popular in the 1820’s-30’s, and an outer border of pinwheels.

Military or Tailor’s Inlaid Quilt with Thistles, artist unidentified, Crimea or Scotland, ca. 1850-60, Suiting woolens, wool from military uniforms, embroidery thread, inlaid; hand-appliquéd and hand-embroidered. The Annette Gero Collection

The wall label conjectures that this quilt was made by an professional military tailor.  The thistles in the central panel indicate that its maker may have been with one of the Scottish regiments that  fought in the Crimean War. 

The last gallery contains 9 textiles…

detail, Regimental Bed Rug, Sgt. Malcolm Macleod (Dates Unknown), India, c. 1865, wool, mostly from military uniforms with embroidery thread; inlaid; hand-embroidered. The Annette Gero Collection

including this regimental “bed rug”, one of the rare pieces whose maker, Sgt. Malcolm Macleod, was identified.  As noted several times on this quilt, he served with the 72nd Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders, a highly-decorated Scottish regiment – you’ll find references on this coverlet to the many places they served. The photo at the top of this article is of another panel from this quilt.

detail, Soldier’s Quilt with Incredible Border, artist unidentified, India, ca. 1855-75, wool from military uniforms, with beads; hand-applied beadwork and layer-appliquéd border. The Annette Gero Collection.

You’ll also find a quilt made in India whose outer border is exceptionally intricate – the three-dimensional effect is created by multiple layers of crimped cloth which were probably bits of fabric that were punched out when buttonholes were created. This piece bears the regimental colors of the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot, stationed in India from 1846 to 1875.

detail, Colonial Soldier’s Intricately Pieced Quilt, artist unidentified, India, ca. 1890, wool from military uniforms, with metallic thread and sequins; hand-embroidered and hand-embellished. Laura Fisher’s Fisher Heritage, New York City

The complexity of this quilt suggests it was made by a professional tailor, who assembled some 25,000 tiny diamonds, hexagons and squares, with embroidered seams.  This photo is of the inner frame, whose corners are festooned with crowns, cannons and flags.

detail, Soldier’s Hexagon Quilt, artist unidentified, Crimea or UK, late 19th cent., wool from military uniforms. The Annette Gero Collection.

This late 19th century quilt is one of the most unusual in the show, and the only one to feature hexagons, the usual motifs being  squares, stars and diamonds.  Since its construction is very simple, this quilt might have been made by a soldier convalescing in a military hospital.

Solider’s Quilt: Square within a Square, artist unidentified, Crimea, India or UK, ca. 1850-90, wool, probably from military uniforms. American Folk Art Museum, Gift of General Foods, 1986

This quilt might also have been made by a convalescing soldier.  While the top right and left squares are identical, each of the others are slightly different.  Even though it dates from the mid to late 1800’s, this piece feels very op-art to me.

This is a very small sampling of the wonderful pieces in this show. 

There’s also a detailed  240 page catalogue that accompanies this exhibit.  The museum is offering lectures and workshops around this exhibit – you can find the full schedule here. 

War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics was co-curated by Dr. Annette Gero, international quilt historian, author, and collector, and Stacy C. Hollander, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Chief Curator, and Director of Exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum, and  organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York, in collaboration with the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Lincoln–Nebraska. 

The exhibit will be at the American Folk Art Museum until January 7, 2018.  However, get there now, as I’m sure you’ll want to go back.  More than once.  I did.


Editor’s note:  This post was edited on October 4th to correct the title of the exhibit; to include information on how the exhibit was organized and curated; and, in the photo credits, to add information on the ownership of the quilts.

Family Stories at Muriel Guépin

It’s always fun seeing the work of a friend and neighbor.  I’ve known Iviva Olenick  for several years, but her show at the Muriel Guépin Gallery on the Lower East Side made me realize how much I don’t know about her. 

Selfie as Modern Matriarch, Iviva Olenick, beading and hand embroidery on fabric

Most of Iviva’s work is embroidered – very often on vintage fabrics – in a freehand narrative style, illustrating things she’s doing or issues she’s concerned about.  A central theme of her work is relationships – not only hers, but other people’s.  Several years ago, she put out a call for poems about relationships, which she then embroidered.  Iviva also examines the relationships between people and places, especially for people who migrate from one place to another, whether or not voluntarily.  

Portrait as my Grandmother, Iviva Olenick, beading and appliqué on fabric

This show, however, is focused on her family; her pride in being part of their gene pool shines through, especially in this piece, entitled, Portrait as my Grandmother, with it’s elaborate beadwork.  Her work here is more intricate, with more adornments than I’ve seen in her previous embroideries.

Great Grandma Sonja, Iviva Olenick, hand embroidery on fabric

You’ll also find a piece about her great grandmother Sonja, whose escape from Russia to England is embroidered into a lace-like collar.  That’s one feature I really like about Iviva’s work – her ability to incorporate words as structural and decorative elements, while still allowing them to function as words.

wall with embroideries telling her father’s story, Iviva Olenick, embroidery and collage on fabrics

But this show isn’t only about the matrilineal side of the family – against one wall, Iviva has placed 8 small collaged embroideries about her father,  Monte. 

The Story of Monte Olenick, Iviva Olenick, embroidery and collage on fabric

I liked this piece for it’s simplicity and use of white space, which convey the starkness of the Depression, without being maudlin; I thought the red and green Manischewitz’ logo adds a bright, hopeful note. The other embroideries recount Monte’s life: he served in the Army, became a librarian, retired, then, for over a decade, led walks  of senior citizens through Central Park (for which he won a Presidential Volunteer Service Award).  He’s also a very good poet (we read on the same program some years ago)!

Beach, Melissa Zexter, sivler gelatin print, thread

The gallery is also showing work by another Brooklyn-based artist, Melissa Zexter , who overlays embroidery on her photographs, often very subtly – once you look closely, you realize that many of the delicate lines are in fact thread.  She also often scratches the surface of her pictures, creating delicate white lines that add depth to her images.

Lake, Melissa Zexter, C-print and thread

Overall, her work has a textural feel, not often found in photographs.  There’s a family connection too: Zexter’s children often appear in her photographs.

Be sure to see these shows before they close on June 24th!  Muriel Guépin Gallery is located at 83 Orchard Street.

By the Sea, By the Sea, 2 Great Shows in N. Y. C.

By sheer coincidence, there are two fibre arts exhibits that have aquatic themes: one at the Sculpture Center in Queens, and the other at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan.

At the Sculpture Center,  Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea showcases lovely fabric sea creatures handcrafted by German artist Cosima von Bonin, who uses the main space of the center as if it were a beach, replete with seaside amenities such as changing stations and food trucks … but ….  instead of the humans who would normally populate such a scene, we find that

Cut! Cut! Cut! by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

Cut! Cut! Cut! by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

the lifeguard station has been taken over by a teal blue hermit crab, who seems to be giving a press conference…

Hai am Tisch 1, by Cosima von Bonin, 2014

Hai am Tisch 1, by Cosima von Bonin, 2014

Further away you’ll find a white shark, seated at a classroom desk, as if the artist were playing on the phrase “a school of sharks.”  Or is the shark just like a modern-day office worker, slumped at his/her desk? Or is it about the play of soft and hard surfaces?

Scallops by Cosima von Bonin

Scallops by Cosima von Bonin

Scallops dominated the show – large, small, brown, white, swinging, stationery, always with peering eyes (they were my favorites – they had real personality)

Total Produce (Morality) by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

Total Produce (Morality) by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

In the center was a giant octopus made of different fabrics that would normally clash when put together, but in this instance, it all works.  Not only is this denizen of the sea so friendly, its also a bit nerdy, in keeping with how intelligent they are.

detail from The Decision at Grandville by Cosima von Bonin, 2011

detail from The Decision at Grandville by Cosima von Bonin, 2011

The exhibit takes its title from a song, Exploitations by Irish singer Róisín Murphy, and the musical link continues with the electronic music of Moritz von Oswald which accompanies this small display of porcelain decorated with sea creatures, which is a riff on the anthropomorphic drawings of the 19th century French illustrator J.J. Granville

All in all, it’s a fun (and very small) exhibit; it will be up until January 2nd at the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, Queens.  More photos are on my Instagram feed  

Crochet, Coral and Hyperbolic Geometry

Over at the Museum of Arts and Design, twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim have taken over the third floor with a coral reef which is a wonderful combination of crochet, mathematics and ecology!   The Wertheims were distressed by the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in their native Australia, and set out to increase awareness of the destruction of coral reefs around the world.  To that end, they began crocheting a simulation of healthy and ailing reefs, using yarn and plastic trash (a major cause of the acidification of the seas, which destroys the corals).  Crochet Coral Reef:  TOXIC SEAS  displays their work from the last 10 years on this theme.

Chalk board showing the evolution of corals

Chalk board showing the evolution of corals

At the beginning, there’s a “black board” which explains the evolution of life, the evolution of coral reefs and the development of plastics.  Coral reefs are among the most ancient life forms.  Even though they occupy less than 10% of the world’s ocean areas, they are home to 1/4 of all marine species.  So their destruction (and the role of plastics in that process) is of great concern to all of us. 

The Midden, personal plastic trash of Margaret and Christine Wertheim, 2007-2011

The Midden, personal plastic trash of Margaret and Christine Wertheim, 2007-2011

Suspended from the ceiling is The Midden, a fishing net holding a collection of the twins’ plastic garbage from 2007 to 2011, inspired by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the northern Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, where millions of tons of plastic trash accumulate in a giant ocean gyre.

As you go through the exhibit, be sure to read the wall labels to see the wide variety of plastics, such as  water bottles, cassette tapes, garbage bags, and other materials such as chicken wire which were used so ingeniously in these sculptures.

Coral Forest - Nin'imma, 2007-14, plastic shopping bags, Saran Wra[, found plastic trash, yarn, felt, cable ties, Sonotube, chicken wire

Coral Forest – Nin’imma, 2007-14, plastic shopping bags, Saran Wra[, found plastic trash, yarn, felt, cable ties, Sonotube, chicken wire

In the next section, the Coral Forest, you’ll find fantastical figures with mythological names like Nin’imma and Medusa, all made with yarn and plastic.  You’ll also notice the lighting is very dramatic, evoking the feel of the ocean deep. 

Detail from "Bleached Reef"

Detail from “Bleached Reef”

The third section of the exhibit showcases more of the international nature of this project.  In two large cases you’ll see Bleached Reef representing the first stage of reef deterioration, and Toxic Reef representing the subsequent stage.  The various elements in these reefs were crocheted by women (mostly) around the world, and then assembled by the Wertheims.  Since 2006, their  Satellite Reef Project, which works with communities around the globe to create local reefs, has had over 8,000 participants.  The wall labels credit all the contributors, so you get a good sense of how much work goes into a project like this.

Pod World - Beaded Baroque, 2007-12

Pod World – Beaded Baroque, 2007-12

Lining the walls of this section are miniature Pod Worlds, which use the textures, colors and forms of the crocheted yarns to mimic the diversity of living corals. 

And now for a word about the math behind the exhibit.  Hyperbolic geometry is widely found in nature, as it allows the expansion and crenelation of surfaces, not only in corals, but also in vegetables like lettuce and kale.  The art of crocheting a hyperbolic plane was discovered by Cornell professor Daina Taimina, who was looking for a way to create a durable model of this mathematical concept, which was widely thought to be impossible. 

Detail, Coral Forest - Eryali, 2007-14, yarn, felt, Sonotube and chickenwire

Detail, Coral Forest – Eryali, 2007-14, yarn, felt, Sonotube and chickenwire

In 2003, Margaret and Christine Wertheim established the Institute For Figuring (IFF) to contribute to the public understanding of scientific and mathematical themes, especially relating to environmental threats to marine life.

All in all this is a wonderful exhibit combining math, science and art, while making us even more aware of how fragile our marine ecosystem is.  It will be at the Museum of Arts and Design  until January 22nd.  Go see it NOW – it might even make you want to learn how to crochet!

More photos are on my Instagram feed  

Marvelous Textiles in Midtown Manhattan

The next time you’re in midtown, be sure to get over to the lobby of 1133 Avenue of the Americas (43rd & 44th Street) to see Yard Works, an exhibit of textile art made by the members of the Textile Study Group of New York .  If you’re not in midtown, it’s worth a trip from wherever you are. The show, which will be up until November 16th, was organized by Chashama, which partners with property owners to use their available space to show artwork  and stage performances.  The title, Yard Works, refers to a restriction that was imposed on the participants: their work had to be on stretched canvasses one yard (36 inches) in length (but could vary in width from 12 inches to 36 inches).  The resulting 21 pieces employ a range of fabrics, techniques and embellishments.  The caliber of this show is very high, and I’ll let the photos do the talking:

Behold the Hostas in Our Backyard by Margaret Cusak

Behold the Hostas in Our Backyard by Margaret Cusak

Behold the Hostas in Our Back Yard by Margaret Cusack, is an appliqué scene of her back yard.  I’ve long admired Margaret’s work, but the cutting and sewing of this piece are a testament to the artist’s patience and skill – the paving stones and the cut out work in the table in the lower right corner are amazing.

detail from Out on a Limb, by Deborah L. Brand

detail from Out on a Limb, by Deborah L. Brand

Out on a Limb by Deborah L. Brand, is a mixed media which incorporates metal, paper, lace, paint and beads.  The beaded birds are fabulous.

May Your Hands Always be Busy, by Barbara Schulman

May Your Hands Always be Busy, by Barbara Schulman

May Your Hands Alway be Busy by Barbara Schulman, a mixed-media piece whose bright colors will catch your eye, but be sure to look a bit deeper for the hand motif which appears very subtly throughout.

Colors of the Southwest, by Larry Schulte

Colors of the Southwest, by Larry Schulte

Colors of the Southwest by Larry Schulte, offers a different take on textiles:  the piece, with its stunning colors is made from painted paper which was woven.

detail from Laundry List by Kathryn Kosto

detail from Laundry List by Kathryn Kosto

Laundry List by Kathryn Kosto is a very clever interpretation of its title:  look closely and you’ll find not only clothes pins, but rulers, buttons, lace, a needle package, and other surprises such as an ad for a mop wringer from 1830!

This is a small selection from the show which will be up until November 16th.  Be sure to see it!