Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Met: History Refused to Die

How could I not call in at The Met? It's overwhelmingly large so my best plan is to choose only two exhibits to view per day. This visit included History Refused to Die and Public Parks, Private Gardens.

The former is a collection of paintings, sculpture, and quilts by contemporary African American artists from the southeastern US. Partly due to depressed economic conditions, they all feature discarded/recycled/found objects in their work. They often address slavery and post-Reconstruction oppression but also use African aesthetics and patterning to convey a sophisticated synchronicity. When we actually listen to other people's points of view we broaden our own understanding.

Lucy T Pettway's map quilt came first - the only Gee's Bend quilt that seems to be intentionally pictorial. She placed the old Pettway mansion at the top with four slave cabins below. Green fields fill the left while the blue Alabama River flows between red dirt banks on the right. This improvisational map should inspire us all. I think she pieced herself into the first slave house. Do you see a woman with lots of black hair in orange dress... or is it just my imagination?

Housetop and Bricklayer with Bars quilt by Lucy T Pettway, 1955.

Loretta Pettway made a series of three quilts of the same gray, blue, and olive recycled clothing in the purest form of the Housetop pattern, although the original inspiration may have been center medallion quilts of early 19th century. The movement of the dark brown and bright blue round is quite intriguing. I keep thinking it's a single round. Nope, it's a spiral. Nope. Very clever.

Housetop quilt by Loretta Pettway, 1963. 

William Arnett began collecting Gee's Bend quilts after seeing this one draped on a woodpile. You've seen it on the cover of his Gee's Bend quilt book and I got to see it close up for quite a while. The orange/yellow/brown fabrics are corduroy while the outer border is used denim, probably from work clothes.

Strip Medallion quilt by Annie Mae Young, 1976.

Pants backs were  preferable in quilts because the fronts were usually worn out from kneeling while farming. Old quilts were occasionally reused as quilt filling. Fortunately this one did not become the batting for a newer model although there are several worn spots that have been preserved with tulle.

Blocks and Strips with work-clothes quilt by Lucy Mingo, 1959.

Somehow this reminds me of a Chinese Coins quilt. The colors simply vibrate with excitement.

Medallion quilt by Loretta Pettway, 1960. 

Joe Minter evokes the forced labor African Americans from cotton before the Civil War to chain gangs in the 20th century, titling it Four Hundred Years of Free Labor. Consider how much easier it is to enrich yourself when you don't pay your workers... or don't pay them a living wage. Are we experiencing similar situations today?

Four Hundred Years of Free Labor by Joe Minter, 1995.

On the way out I spotted this exquisite work by Malian-born Abdoulaye Konate who uses textiles as his primary medium. He sewed long strips and arranged them as a graceful falls in tribute to the indigo dye central to West African aesthetics.

Bleu no.1 by Abdoulaye Konate, 2014.

Enjoy the day, Ann

22 comments:

  1. What a marvelous exhibit to send time with! Your thoughtful commrntary is appreciated.

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    1. I was fortunate to see it, Julie. Isn't if wonderful to see quilts in person. These photos don't do them justice.

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  2. Beautiful Exhibit--hearts and souls into these works for sure...Thanks for sharing your visit...hugs, Julierose

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    1. I enjoy visiting quilt shows but have found art gallery exhibits exciting in a different way. There are some better photos on their website. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Julierose.

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  3. Thanks for the post. I just love those quilts - so inspiring!

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    1. They certainly show how to make-do. Such vibrancy. I enjoy seeing how work in closed communities evolved. Thanks for writing, Patty.

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    1. I've only seen these in books before. It was such a treat to have time to look in person. Thanks for writing, Caroline.

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  5. All that I have to say is WOW and thank you :)

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    1. Quilts always look so good when they are professionally hung. I was delighted to see a map quilt from Gee's Bend and to see the orange and denim one which I'd only previously seen on a cover. It was quite different in person. Thanks for writing, Deb.

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    1. They are, aren't they? Especially when they are well displayed.

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  7. my grandmother (who lived in rural Alabama) only pieced from old clothes and the colors were not as brilliant or contrasting. I wonder if they used scraps and old clothes, and would be surprised to see such brilliant oranges and reds being left after years of washing. I don't know the whole story, maybe they used new scraps from making clothes?
    I enjoyed your photos and commentary

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    1. I read the Gee's Bend quilters made corduroy pillows for Sears in the 60s and then started incorporating the scraps from the workshop into their own work. It has almost a silk-like luster.
      When I made my Chinese Coins with old household goods I was surprised how bright they still were. I guess we don't hold on to things as long as our grandparents. And none of the reds were old.

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  8. Thanks for sharing thee beautiful works.

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    1. I felt very fortunate to see the exhibit. The Met is so large (the largest museum in the world) it's overwhelming at times. I've learned to look for exhibits before heading in. Glad you liked it, too, Lisa.

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  9. Lots of inspiration, thanks for sharing Ann.

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    1. I'm amazed there were two quilt exhibits in town that week. As you said, they are inspiring. Thanks for writing, Janie.

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  10. Ah this brings back perusing a Gee's Bend book years ago when I visited a large library in a town not too far from here and dragged every quilting related book that they had back to my place before the 'Net' ! :)

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    1. Oh, yes. I remember borrowing every quilt book the library had back in the day. I still like to see the old ones.

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  11. What a treat! What an inspiration-filled day at the Met!

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