Sunday, January 4, 2009

Utilitarian Art

Today I'm going to be visiting the ICA in Boston for the first time. It hasn't been open that long, perhaps a year, and I've heard it's quite something. Contemporary art isn't my favorite genre but I can appreciate it and find it stimulating and inspiring. Sometimes it's good to try new things that you might not otherwise ordinarily do.

I've always been fascinated by every day art. My first love was quilts; I remember admiring them from a young age and had a desire to make my own, knowing full well that I couldn't afford to pay for a hand made one. As soon as I had some time off from work for maternity leave, a sewing machine and the opportunity to take a class I signed up. I was intrigued right away and have been quilting for 19 years now. It's funny to look back at some of the early projects: the color combinations and technical skill were that of a beginner. It's nice to see that I'm evolving over time.

One of the reasons I've been so intrigued by quilts is their history. They were truly utilitarian pieces of art, women made them to keep their families warm during the long winters, but didn't just make plain blankets. No, they used them as a creative outlet and created some stunning works of art - art that was useful! Nothing was wasted, the littlest scraps of fabric were reused; clothing that had been outgrown, flour sacks, feed sacks, you name it and it was included in the quilts.

There is also a communal aspect of quilting - for centuries women have been gathering to collectively work on one piece or gathered in groups to work on their own individual projects. It was a time for them to catch up on each others' lives, share ideas and fabrics and help complete a quilt that might have had a deadline, such as for a wedding or baby.

Of all the quilts I've made only a few are hanging up on walls the rest are used as bed quilts, table runners or cozy throws for the back of the couch. There's nothing more comforting than wrapping up in a home made quilt, which for me represents a tangible expression of love, and caring.

My visit to the art museum today got me thinking: what is art? One answer is that art can be anything which gives us pleasure to look at. Quilts can definitely be considered art under that definition and I can look around the house and find many other items that inspire me with their beauty, and not just the paintings on the walls, either. Simply because an item has a purpose in addition to being nice to look at doesn't take away from its artistic value.

1 comment:

Tina said...

Opening my eyes once again to the beauty that is all around us.
Hey I have a quilt that I found in my old house, that i believe was made by the mother of the man who once lived there. I'm assuming since he would be close to 90 if he were still alive the quilt is probably close to 100 years old. It's huge and made up of small pieces as far as I remember. I've kept in a bag. I'll put it aside for you, I'm not sure how you would wash something that old. Anyhoo let me know