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Modern Comfort 2020 at CSMA - 3D virtual exhibition by Gallery Night Ithaca

Modern Comfort 2020 at CSMA

Fri, 06/05/2020 to Tue, 09/01/2020

curated by:

Modern Comfort 2020
curated by
Kim Stone, President, Ithaca Modern Quilt Guild

Extended through August!

Curated by the Ithaca Modern Quilt Guild (IMQG), this virtual exhibition reflects the vibrant innovation and creative vitality of the quilters who are part of the modern quilting community in and around Ithaca. The show is organized around four design aesthetics that are common to modern quilting—Modern Traditionalism, Negative Space, Improvisation, and Asymmetry. The quilts range in size from a diminutive piece barely a foot square, to wall hangings and lap quilts, to the bed-size benefit quilt the guild created and generously donated to CSMA for fundraising.

The benefit quilt, “The Early Birds Organize Their Stash,” is aptly named for its spring theme, celebrated with gorgeous design and stitchery. This quilt has been installed inside CSMA's main window for up-close viewing from outside the building at 330 E. MLK/State Street, as well as virtual viewing within the exhibition. Silent auction bids may be made at www.32auctions.com/CSMAquilt from June 5 through July 31 to benefit CSMA.

In this time of quarantining and social distancing, "normal" or "traditional" ways of living can seem lost to us. We hope this show gets you excited about the power and beauty of innovating in the midst of unfamiliar circumstances. We hope these quilts inspire you to figure out a new normal, by imagining your own interpretations of modern comfort.

What is modern quilting?
Modern Comfort 2020 is a collection of quilts made by members of the Ithaca Modern Quilt Guild. What is “modern” quilting, you may ask, and how does it differ from traditional quilting? This is a question that we have been exploring in our textile creations. The phrase “traditional quilts” conjures in the mind a familiar image: a set of exquisitely crafted quilt blocks, like the knife-point artistry of a five-pointed star block or the squared off symmetry of a log cabin block, all arranged in a neat grid of repeated rows. In the 21st century, modern quilting respects the rich history of traditional techniques, but is also inspired by the innovative aesthetics of three distinctive American quilting movements.

Amish quilt designs and stitching techniques have influenced modern quilting, which is ironic considering that Amish communities eschew modern technologies in their pursuit of a simple spiritual lifestyle. Although Amish quilts have been made by women since the 19th century, they were “discovered” by the rest of America in the 1960s, and soon became treasured collector’s items. Early Amish quilters wove the fabrics themselves and dyed them with natural pigments, which produced bold solid colors with textured variations. Women would gather together in quilting bees to stitch the quilts with distinctive Germanic designs. Quilting circles were an important source of creative community for Amish women, as well as an important learning environment for Amish girls. The clean, graphic design of Amish quilters, their use of solid color fabrics, and their emphasis on community continue to influence modern quilting today.

Art quilts—textile expressions of liberating creativity, emerged out of the feminist craft movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than follow the predictable patterns and blocks used in traditional quilting, these female artists based their designs on their own life experiences, images, and concepts. Many were academically trained artists who turned to textiles as their medium of expression. They changed the idea of the quilt from a utilitarian domestic object into contemporary fine art. The first exhibit of art quilts, at the Whitney Museum in 1971, was titled Abstract Design in American Quilts. Instead of being draped over beds or piled up at county fairs like traditional quilt displays, art quilts in the Whitney exhibit were hung, one by one, on gallery walls with explanatory labels, as pieces of fine art in their own right. Reviews of the show compared the quilts to paintings by such abstract expressionists as Mark Rothko and Frank Stella. Art quilts are now regularly collected by museums across America. Today, modern quilters draw on the improvisational techniques of art quilting, and value the feminist emphasis on individual creativity.

The African-American quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, are another community of female artists who have influenced the modern quilting movement. Located in a horseshoe bend of the Alabama River, Gee’s Bend was, for most of the 19th and 20th century, very isolated from the rest of the country. Free from the constraints of traditional white American quilting traditions, the women of Gee’s Bend developed their own piecing and quilting style. The Gee’s Bend quilts, utilitarian objects meant to warm the families living in unheated farmhouses, were stitched together from scraps of old clothes and other fabrics. This community of female artists drew on both African and Native American textile patterns learned from their ancestors for their designs. The quilts came to the attention of an American who collected African art in the 1990s, when he was organizing an exhibit of African-American vernacular art for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. The Gee’s Bend quilts were subsequently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Art in Houston in 2002, and today are considered to be one of the most important contributions of African-American visual art in the United States. Modern quilters today are inspired by the lively improvisational utility as well as the geometric clarity of the quilts of Gee’s Bend.

The Modern Quilt Guild movement
It seems fitting that our guild’s first show would be virtual because modern quilters first discovered each other online. As the Internet became more accessible in the early part of the 21st century, modern quilters shared ideas through early social media sites like Flickr, and through blog posts and email. Two influential modern quilt books were published in 2005 and became wildly popular. The fabric industry responded to this new interest by producing a wider array of solid color fabrics, as well as print fabrics influenced by mid-century modern design. Modern quilters organized online sewing bees, sending quilt blocks around the world and, in the process, activating a sense of global community. In 2009, two quilters formed the Modern Quilt Guild (the MQG), an organization aimed at fostering the growth of modern quilting through education, art exhibitions, and local community development. Local modern quilting guilds affiliated with the MQG proliferated in the ensuing years. Today, more than 12,000 quilters spread over six continents and 39 countries, continue to connect, both online and in person, at workshops, exhibits, and even a yearly convention—QuiltCon, to share their ideas, techniques, and artistry with one another.

The Ithaca Modern Quilt Guild was organized by Pat Merkle in November 2002, at Quilter’s Corner, a locally owned fabric store in town. Our members come from as far away as Binghamton, Penn Yan, Horseheads, and Romulus. Some of us learned traditional quilting from our mothers, some of us began as traditional quilters and switched over to modern quilting, and some of us still create both traditional and modern works. Our guild continually explores concepts of modern quilting in workshops and challenges where we learn new piecing and quilting techniques together. We have “Show and Tell” at all of our meetings because we value each other’s work as sources of inspiration. And, in this Modern Comfort 2020 exhibit, we share our work with you.

To purchase works for sale, please contact director@csma-ithaca.org.

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