December 21, 2020

Radical Tradition at Toledo Museum of Art @ Hyperallergic

In terms of the fine art world, one of the first major hurdles for quilters was to be seen as artists, rather than (or at least in addition to) craftspeople. Now fiber art has come a long way from fringe practice to becoming part of the natural weft of the mainstream art world, but it is still perhaps rare to see shows of quilt works that are not solely themed around the medium as common thread. But at the Toledo Museum of Art, a new group show, Radical Tradition: American Quilts and Social Change, recognizes that quilts are an art form that has always been concerned with identity, recognition, labor, communication, and human connection.

The show features some 30 works that run the gamut from historical and traditional quilting to ultra-contemporary and mixed media works, even pushing into virtual and non-fiber-based forms of quilting. Quilts have been famously adopted to tout modern causes, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt (a selection from which is included in the show); it is perhaps less generally recognized that quilts have always offered a subversive avenue for self-expression to people who have been historically marginalized due to their gender, education, financial independence, and access to materials.The act of creating whole cloth from scraps and dregs is not just a matter of making ends meet, but a statement on the nature of what (and who) is discarded, as well as an empowering act of reclaiming that refuse in the name of something transformative and beautiful.

Read more here…

3 Comments on “Radical Tradition at Toledo Museum of Art @ Hyperallergic

Jim Pallas
December 22, 2020 at 3:15 am

As opposed to the traditional narrative of early American art being a continuation of male dominated european tradition ala J.S. Copley, pieced quilting and its bees are an original innovation sans old world roots and the first true expression in its production and content of new world culture.

December 22, 2020 at 11:03 pm

Quilting bees have European roots as well. Welsh quilters made quilts together (and for money) and groups of professional quiltmakers (both markers and quilters) were a thriving 219th century industry in villages around County Durham (U.K.) French professional quilters (18th century) produce quilted pieces, many times working collaboratively, which were then sold and included in waistcoats for men and other garments. Truth: if it’s domestic sewing, the activity is usually ‘en familia’ and extends to friends and neighbors, the exception being the singular couture dressmaker (who as soon as she could hire assistants would do so.) I get rather tired of these male vs female, modern vs traditional, art vs craft declarations.

Sarah Sharp
December 22, 2020 at 11:08 pm

Yes, none of those things are the point of the show or my review. My point was that it’s great to see a quilting show organized around the social and conceptual aspects of quilting, rather than the material — so maybe you would like it, too! And, aside from the historic quilts, many of the contemporary examples are attributed to single authors, many of whom are male. This isn’t really a show about quilt history, so much as radical fiber art. Thanks for reading, inasmuch as you did.


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