STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
You have New Hope quilt artist Liza Lucy to thank for the appearance of “Blanket Statements: New Quilts by Kaffe Fassett and Historical Quilts from the Collection of the Quilt Museum and Gallery in York, UK” through Feb. 21 at the James A. Michener Art Museum.
“Liza got me into patchwork,” Fassett said during a media preview of the exhibition the day before it opened to the public.
It was Lucy’s trans-Atlantic friendship with Fassett, the man “British Vogue” called the “king of knitting,” that led the textile artist to first attempt collaborative patchwork quilt design in the ‘80s. At the tine, Lucy was working on a baby quilt when she asked him a letter — it was the pre-Internet age, after all — “How about doing a patchwork with me?”
Fassett’s trademark pairings of bold, vibrant colors in his needlepoint, knitting and mosaics carried over exceptionally well into quilts, re-thinking what he referred to as “matchy, matchy” quilting conventions. “It’s party time, you go to bed,” quipped Fassett, a recipient of Britain’s Turner Medal in 2013.
Although Fassett’s spin on traditional quilting patterns appears complex, he said: “I keep it so simple technically, anybody can do it.” He noted that his quilt “recipes” appear in his book “Heritage Quilts,” which is available for purchase in the museum shop.
Kirsten M. Jensen, the Michener Museum’s Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest curator of exhibitions, said that Fassett has such “rock star” status in the textile arts world — as well as among knitters, crocheters, needlepoint crafters and quilters everywhere — that she “probably fell off my seat” at the opportunity to show new Kaffe Fassett-designed quilts and Fassett interpretations of antique ancestral gift quilts dating from 1780 to 1949 in the collection of the Quilt Museum and Gallery in England.
Fassett grew up in San Francisco, but has lived in England since the ‘60s.
The historical quilts that stirred his imagination — some of which are displayed on plinths because they don’t have a backing and are too fragile to be wall-hung — have also made the trip over from England. So you can see for yourself the brick patterns of a wool Canadian Red Cross Quilt that Fassett liked so much that he re-interpreted the design not once, but twice, in “Dark Wagga Wagga” and “Mellow Wagga Wagga.”
“What we appreciate about antique quilts is there wasn’t an abundance of fabric,” commented Lucy. And yet, if you take a closer look at those old-world quilts, you’ll sometimes find a surprise in the fabric, like flashy flowers or paisleys.
In all, there are 35 pieces in “Blanket Statements.” Three of the contemporary quilts were constructed by Bucks County artisans — Lucy, Judy Baldwin and Corienne Kramer — and 10 of them were crafted in the Bucks County area under Fassett’s supervision.
In an email, celebrated textile artist and Indian Valley native Ted Hallman shared: “I have had a brief acquaintance in the early 1990s with Kaffe in Toronto when I was head of textiles at the OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University. As a teacher, I admired Kaffe’s way of getting his knitting students to plunge into sophisticated color usage from their earliest project. It is important to note that color and design are very knowledgable aspects in his teaching and in his expression. I have great respect for his teaching and for his general approach to his work in the show (‘Blanket Statements’).”
He explained in a phone interview why Fassett’s quilts seem to have an optical illusion of movement to them, mentioning “Bright Squares” in particular. “If you look at the shapes, it’s not like a closed, four-sided square, or something. There’s one side open; you don’t get locked into those standard geometrics,” Hallman said.
Workshops at the museum with Fassett and Lucy have sold out, as has a gallery talk with Fassett and Jensen. Still to come are a lecture on English and American quilts with collector Jane Lury at 1 p.m. Dec. 1; a patchwork English paper piecing gathering for quilters with Lucy at 2 p.m. Dec. 2 and 16, Jan. 13 and 27, and Feb. 3 and 17; a southeastern Pennsylvania quilts lecture at 1 p.m. by Patricia Herr Dec. 15; and “Bring Your Own Blanket” gallery talks at 1 p.m. Jan. 19 and 26.
After the exhibition closes, it travels to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in San Jose, Calif.
A companion Michener Museum exhibit, “Pattern Pieces,” examines similar patterns, shapes and colors that you see in “Blanket Statements,” but in very different types of contemporary art. Works by James A. Michener — whom you probably didn’t know had other talents besides writing — Elizabeth Osborne and Laura Petrovich-Cheney are wood-based, yet have a patchwork quilt-like appearance. There are also oil and wax on paper works by Alan Goldstein and acid dye on cotton canvas pieces by Virgil Marti. It’s on view through Jan. 31.
Available on iTunes and Google Play is a “Blanket Statements” app that allows you to listen to other museum visitors’ voice responses to the quilts, and then record your own responses to be added to the app’s audio compilation.