I received my advance copy of Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World about a month ago. I do believe that makes me the last person on the block to write about it!
Why has it taken me so long? An all-consuming project. I started work on the project October 3 of last year, confident that I’d whip it out in a couple of months. Yesterday, the better part of seven months later, I did the last bit of inking. In between there were muscle aches, pin pricks, mistakes and recoveries, despair at wondering if I’d ever finish the dadgummed thing, and now anxiety as I ponder future projects. I’m one of those anxious artists, you see, not happy unless I’m working and nothing is ever good enough.
Not that it matters, at least in the eyes of some. During the past year, I’ve had a number of experiences which have made it abundantly clear that many don’t regard fiber-based art – what I’m creating – as “real” art at all. There’s a paternalistic dismissal of fiber art as a “ladylike pursuit” in the vein of 18th century paper quilling, creating jewelry from the hair of the dead, and harpsichord playing. A fine thing to dabble away at when one isn’t in the kitchen or managing the servants, but not a medium for serious artists. Because, to paraphrase the thoughts of an acquaintance, we all know that a mark made with thread or fabric has inherently less artistic value than a mark made with pencil or paint.
Thank goodness for Martha Sielman. I don’t think she’s unaware of such concerns, unaware of the broad dismissal of fiber works as a kind of pink collar ghetto. However, she seems to simply sweep them aside and render them unimportant. In particular, she’s done yeoman service in chronicling the medium of art quilting. With Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World, she’s given us the first volume in an encyclopedic survey of art quilts, with future volumes to cover topics such as landscapes, people and portraits, and abstracts.
This first volume is divided into galleries whose topics include flowers, birds, water, animals, leaves, insects, trees and textures. Sielman has carefully selected works representing diverse compositional and rendering methods, making this both a pleasurable read and a useful reference work. Two or three artists are profiled in depth in each section, with the galleries filled out by the works of myriad artists (including me). I was delighted to see some of my old favorites, including Betty Busby and Annemieke Mein, and to be introduced to artists with whom I was unfamiliar. Here is an excerpt profiling Betty Busby.