Thursday, January 29, 2015

Some of Us Love Snow

Greenwich Village Back Yards by John Sloan, 1914

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Lift Every Voice and Sing: the Quilts of Gwendolyn Ann Magee

Please take a look at the beautiful and heart-wrenching quilts of Gwendolyn Ann Magee at Southern Spaces. They appear in an online catalogue for an exhibition of her quilts at the Gatewood Gallery at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (September 11 through November 18, 2014). The Mississippi Museum of Art also held an exhibition of her Slave Series (March 7 through May 18, 2014).

Lift Every Voice and Sing, 2004

The Highpoint Museum in Highpoint, North Carolina, is showing some of Mrs. Magee's quilts through February 21. She also has quilts in the permanent collection at The Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Five Years Hard Labor, 2001
Living in Jackson, Mississippi, Mrs. Magee first started making quilts in 1989 to remind her college-bound daughters of home, but in the process "she discovered her artistic voice in the fiber arts, swiftly mastering quilting and surface design techniques through which she powerfully expressed herself and engaged an audience," as reported in Southern Spaces.

Requiem, 2007

"I am fully aware," she blogged in 2009, "that the dissonance is palpable between this medium [quilting]  through which my art finds expression and the subject matter that it articulates. I know that the quilt form usually is associated with feelings of warmth, comfort, serenity and security and that my subject matter often is harsh, intense, somber and frequently brutal. However, viewers of the art frequently convey to me that they find the work to be compelling, evocative, meaningful and riveting."

Full of the Faith, 2004

The contrast itself adds to the portrayal of her art, not to mention her breathtaking skill as a quilter.
You can see more quilts and learn more of this artist at her website. Gwendolyn Magee died in 2011.

Nubian Queen

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy

Of the 16 books I have read published by Persephone Books, my favorite is Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy, and I appreciate Oscar Wilde's appraisal of it: "Its directness, its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make Reuben Sachs, in some sort, a classic."

I am afraid Mr. Wilde has made this review superfluous, but ....

Amy Levy (1861-1889) was the first Jewish woman to attend Cambridge University and wrote verse, essays, and three novels. Born into a moderately wealthy Anglo-Jewish family who prized education for both its sons and daughters, Levy was decidedly an outsider, not simply to the rest of British society by virtue of being a Jewish woman, but also to her own people. Her slender novel, Reuben Sachs, was criticized as being anti-Semitic for its portrayal of wealthy Jewish family life and its drive for both financial security and political power. It is hard for me to see how this is anti-Semitic, since such drives are prevalent in most households of accumulated wealth.

The critiques against Levy for her portrayal of the family of Reuben Sachs and that of his beloved cousin, Judith Quixano, to my mind are wrong in arguing that this is a specifically Jewish issue and also in overlooking the depth of love that Levy summons up in portraying the extended Sachs family and its social gatherings.

We are instantly made aware of the "depth of feeling" we must navigate in Ms. Levy's novel by its very beginning:

"Chapter One

"This is my beloved Son.

"Reuben Sachs was the pride of his family."

Unfortunately for Reuben and for his poorly situated cousin Judith, his destiny as the "pride of the family" collides with their quiet, but long-sustained, deep, and unspoken love for one another.

I got no sense from the book that Ms. Levy is out to blame the "Jewish family" for their predicament or its emphasis on worldly goods, since it stays strictly within the bounds of the obsession with financial security and success we have read about in plenty of novels of gentile families.

In a lean 147 pages, Ms. Levy tells her story, leaving us with a sense of regret and poignancy that cannot be forgotten, as, we are sure, it was not forgotten by either Reuben or Judith. Every gesture and expression and word of her characters stand in service to her disciplined telling of the story, with the result that her main characters seem to us totally real, and we feel that we have been where they were and thought what they thought and felt what they felt.

Ms. Levy was unable to withstand
the broad contradictions of her own life, as already as a Jewess she was an outsider to much of British society, as an intellectual and highly truthful Jewess she was a double outsider to the gentile society; and because of her truthfulness was rejected by her own people. She was homeless.

Despite her continuing contributions to the Jewish Chronicle on Jewish life, her bouts with depression deepened, and the deterioration of her  hearing contributed to her isolation. At the age of 28 she committed suicide in her parents' home through carbon monoxide poisoning. Oscar Wilde praised her gifts in an obituary for Women's World.

Misty Morn Quilt

I made this quilt for my niece, who noted during Christmas gift giving a few years ago that she wanted a quilt, an off-hand statement I never forgot. Her favorite color is lavender/purple, and I got an assortment of prints with these colors. I machine pieced the top. I made combinations of strips of Fabric A (3 inches), Fabric B (1 inch), Fabric C (2 inches), Fabric B (1 inch), and Fabric A (3 inches). I especially liked the blocks that brought together a floral print with a sharp geometric print, a combination that has a decidedly Japanese flavor. I then combined 6 of these blocks to make a strip and made a total of 18 strips and arranged and sewed them together.

Since the photo above is so poor, here is another view of the quilt, as I was sewing together the strips, with the strips overlapping here. The color was lavender with deep teal cross hatching, in the smaller strips, which you can see better in the picture above.

I named it Misty Morn after one of my favorite nursery rhymes:

One misty moisty morning,
When cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man
Clothed all in leather;
Clothed all in leather,
With a strap beneath his chin.
How do you do, and how do you do,
and how do you do again?

I based the quilt on this one from Blue Underground Studios that I found on Pinterest. However, in the quilt I made, I aligned all the 1-inch strips across, with the teal distributed randomly in these smallest strips.

I would have liked to have created a block medallion pattern for the quilting, but given the Christmas deadline, I just hand-quilted up the strips. This proved to be tough work, as I was quilting through the edges left over from sewing now in the middle of the "quilt sandwich." I think my machine would have handled such straight sewing, but the hand-quilting gives that nice puckered-up look. The material for front and back was all cotton and felt soft and fluid.

I felt that overall, my hand sewing (not to mention the terrible embroidery in my hasty signature) needs significant improvement, but I think the design was a success and came through in the execution. Selecting the combinations of fabrics and putting together the quilt top was loads of fun.

This is the first larger quilt I have made. I have the top for a little girl's bed quilt hand-pieced and will soon look to quilt that. Then I plan to start begin work on a red and white quilt based on the flying geese pattern, which I always find intriguing.

Otherwise, for Christmas, I made many lined tote bags for friends and family members, finishing all that work by Labor Day, leaving the fall to begin and completed the quilt. In 2015, I plan to focus only on quilt making.