Sunday, February 24, 2013

The F Bomb Quilt at Quiltcon

On facebook yesterday was a picture of a quilt at Quiltcon, the huge new Modern Quilt Guild show in Austin. The quilt is a sampler made of blocks sent in from people all over to a professor who thought  we should be able to use the full range of the English language in crafts. All blocks have the well-known old English word commonly used to describe sexual intercourse, and also used as an intensifying modifier in all sorts of settings. Like most samplers, it succeeds as an art work only up to a point.  That is, it is just a collection of blocks, not a graphically organized and coherent visual statement. But it is so arresting an image that it packs a whollop.

The fact that the quilt is being shown in a quilt show adds all kinds of sizzle to the statement. People do not expect to see any kind of rawness at a quilt show. The world of quilts is one of earnest, sincere and nice expressions of generally positive emotions. It has long bothered me that our range of expression in quilts is so limited. Nearly all the prize winning quilts at national shows are symmetrical, decorative, frilly. Which is fine, but I can't help being attracted to the older quilts from our tradition that would have no chance in this context--wild, asymmetrical, sometimes crude and and raw. 

So we have this tradition from which we have selected a small slice to emulate. We ignore the rest, and then we are shocked when someone shows up with a quilt from the real world. I do not think it helps us to be afraid of language, afraid of craziness, afraid of the world outside the lovely quilt world. 

The quilt in question, which can be seen here, along with an explanation by its creator,

would not get a second glance if it were adorned with another word. The quilting is a loopy pantograph that makes it look like a mattress pad. What I thought when I saw it was that it was a pale imitation of the first really shocking quilt I saw at a show in the early 1980's. The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue, a sampler of blocks depicting Sunbonnet Sue committing suicide in imaginative ways, was shocking to an older generation of quilters who revered the Sunbonnet Sue blocks popular in the 1930's. The quilt was made by a group of quilters in Lawrence, Ks, called The Seamsters Union.

The discussion then as now, centered largely on how inappropriate it was to show images one doesn't expect at quilt shows, how disrespectful of the tradition it was. I didn't see it that way 30 years ago, and I don't see it that way now. I think we can respect and love the tradition and enjoy its full range of messages, not just the light and easy ones. We do not have to be afraid.