Thursday, January 8, 2009

Made in America

And in my spare time...

I have been restoring this lovely Depression-era Widow's Quilt. Originally purchased by a former neighbor of mine in Wilmington, VT, the quilt was in rags and tatters when I fell in love with it. I have restored other quilts so I could see the geometry and honesty in this one. The pattern is called "Log Cabin on A Mountain". As I began to work on it, I realized that it is a so-called "Widow's Quilt" made from a man's clothing. The red centers are cut from his hunting shirt, a Johnson Woolen Mills red. Almost all of that red wool survived and is still visible throughout the quilt. Fragments of faded deep blue-green came from his barn clothes. One small rectangle was found from his World War I Army Uniform. Perhaps he was buried in his uniform-- that would have been customary-- and his wife cut a swatch from an inside hem as it is a flawless, unfaded piece of cloth. In restoring the quilt, I chose to use contemporary cloth so that the quilt will live a long time into the future. I follow the existing pattern with all its errors and crookedness as closely as I can. I hope to have the project completed in the spring. The quilt is half-finished now after two months.

After the last stitch is in, I will make a DVD of the unmended squares fading into the mended ones, with a musical sound track. The ongoing project is on view online through the alternative space Proteus Gowanus of Brooklyn, NY. as part of their show called MEND.

My grandmother Ella Comstock Fifield (My grandmothers were named Mary and Ella-- that explains THAT!) was born in Rutland, VT and she taught me to sew when I was five years old. I always have a sewing project going. Sometimes they take years to complete, but I like the continuity of my family's having sewing skills. It's like keeping a folk-dance alive -- you can only move the past dance into the future dance by dancing it.

Who sews and why?
I do this as an artist meditation, but real sewing, factory sewing, the manufacture of clothing has potent political meaning today. Who is doing our sewing now? Indentured labor ( i.e. slaves) in faraway countries forced to work in sewing factories? Women are enslaved in the Marianas Islands. Companies buy the garments made by slaves and print "Made in America" on the labels. Vermont is the ONLY state in this entire country where slavery was never legal. That's a fact. Makes you proud, doesn't it?
Does me.

That original quilt was made in America. My overlay, the new version is being made in America. The work I will do for ART OF ACTION will be made in America. Artists never lost sight of the importance of hand skills. And we stand for freedom, as artists and as Vermonters. We will be a force in the redefinition of Made in America.


Elizabeth Torak said...

Awesome post Mariella! I love what you say about artists never losing sight of hand skills.

docjohn said...

Wonderful quilt project Mariella.
Connecting with one's past, generations, profoundly beautiful craft work that had meaning on many levels.
Hand-work. We can't survive without it!
And, love that chocolate!!!
Thank you

Clair said...

Thank you !! I have three relatives (out of a gazillion) who are actually interested in this project. One of them is a quilter -- I sent the link to her.

Susan Abbott said...

I started a log cabin quilt years ago from feed bags I found in Iowa when I was studying printmaking out there. It's still sitting in a bag, completely pieced but waiting for top stitching. I guess I should pull it out and finish it! I have thought before that the main thing visual artists have in common is that we just need to make things. I myself began early on with a needle and embroidery hoop.

Clair said...

"we just need to make things"

Yes. Something about the hand/brain connection that must be sustained.