Thursday, February 26, 2009

Call for Recipes!!!!

Mozer in our kitchen.


My husband's birthday is coming up and I've been stumped as to what to give him. Mohammed (Mozer to me) doesn't want anything, need anything, or wish for anything. At least, not for anything that I could afford. He's a minimalist who married a pack rat.... But, it's his 40th, a biggy, and I want to do something special. (Yep... I caught me a young one!)

So, I came up with an idea and I hope you will participate! Mozer is a chef and loves to cook. That is his art and his career. His training and background make Italian, French and Moroccan cuisine his specialties, but he likes to try new things, too.


Our anniversary a couple of years ago.

I thought I would make him a book with recipes contributed by anyone who wants to participate. This is short notice, so if you would like to join in, do it quick, quick! His birthday is March 12th and I would like to have the book finished by the 8th (that's only 10 days!).

Deadline: March 8, 2009

To participate, either leave a recipe as a comment or e-mail me (the link is at the top right hand corner of this blog). I will post e-mailed recipes here. It would be nice if you included a photo of you, a favorite quote and a sentence or two to make the recipes more personal. Make sure to include your links, too, so that Mohammed and others can visit your sites.

This will not only be a wonderful gift to my dear husband, but all of you will also be able to enjoy each other's favorite dishes! How fun!!! I'll post a photo of the book when it is finished. To all of you who participate, I give you my thanks!

Learning how to play croquet in Wisconsin.

Recipes:

From Morna
"Here is a fabulous recipe to a fabulous friend for a fabulous husband on a fabulous birthday!"

Party Pesto Loaf Appetizer

Serves About 24


3 large cloves garlic, peeled, divided use
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 (8-ounce each) cream cheese, softened
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound provolone cheese, thinly sliced, preferably lengthwise
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into thin strips
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

1. Toast pine nuts. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet in 350-degree oven. Bake 2 minutes and then shake pan to turn the nuts. Continue to bake until lightly browned, about 1 more minute. Watch nuts carefully because they can burn quickly.
2. Moisten cheesecloth (about 16-by-16 inches) with cold water. Ring out excess water and line a loaf pan, allowing excess cheesecloth to hang over the sides.
3. Mince in food processor: one large clove garlic and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Add cream cheese and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove mixture from processor.
4. Mince in food processor: two large cloves garlic and 1.5 cups of fresh basil leaves. Add Parmesan cheese and process until blended. Add olive oil in a thin stream and process until blended. Remove mixture from processor.
5. Use about half the provolone cheese to line the loaf pan. Overlap the edges and gently press the seams down; allow to hang over the edge.
6. Add 1/2 of cream cheese mixture and press down into an even layer. Make a layer with sun-dried tomato strips and push down gently to press the tomatoes into the cream cheese. Cover with a layer of provolone cheese.
7. Add half of pesto in an even layer and top with another layer of provolone cheese.
8. Add remaining 1/2 of cream cheese mixture and press down into an even layer. Make a layer with pine nuts and push down gently to press them into the cream cheese. Cover with a layer of provolone cheese.
9. Add remaining pesto and another layer of provolone.
10. Pull over the additional provolone cheese that hangs over the sides.
11. Pull up the cheesecloth that hangs over the sides and place it on top of the loaf. Gently press down loaf. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least two hours.
12. To serve, remove plastic wrap and fold cheesecloth back. Invert onto serving plate or platter and peel off cheesecloth. Can be served as is, or you can cut loaf in half lengthwise, and then cut small squares and arrange artfully on a platter. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil and edible pesticide-free flowers. Accompany with thin slices of French bread or sturdy crackers. Can be made four days in advance and refrigerated airtight. Can be frozen, airtight, up to two months.
13. Serves about 24. Ingredients can be divided between two small mini-loaf pans, making two small loaves - freeze one for later use.

Note: If you have leftovers, they can be tossed with hot pasta for a delicious dinner.


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Monday, February 23, 2009

El Anatsui: Making Garbage Speak


I recently posted about Ellie's Cross Cultural Collaborative program in Ghana. She e-mailed me today about El Anatsui, an artist native of Ghana who has lived in Nigeria for many years and asked if I was familiar with his work. I wasn't. After exploring some links, I just had to share some of his work here on Fiber Focus as he embodies the essence of what I would like to see happen in this blog.

For a long time, I have felt the need help lessen the divide between "artists" and "artisans" which I believe uses ethnocentric language to categorize work that might have similar functions and skill levels yet results in a huge disparity of recognition and price point. The key, I believe, has to do with the educational level and language used by the maker in his or her description of the work. The first level of separation happens between developed and underdeveloped countries, while the second happens within those same countries, between the educated who have access to both language skills and to the markets that will support their prices.


El Anatsui has embraced the divide and consciously uses his fine art training to break out of that mold into one which addresses societal issues and the language of the people. He explains how if he chooses to work with bronze, the material is alien to the population. But, if he uses a Coke bottle, everybody knows what that is, and in knowing, they can see his work. The photos I chose for this post all resemble textiles, although Anatsui thinks of them as sculptures. He does acknowledge that he grew up among textile weavers and his father and brothers wore kinte cloths. Many of Anatsui's pieces are dimensional and free standing. The Metropolitan Museum video below has an excellent interview with the artist, where he speaks of how his pieces are assembled and how they can be displayed.



The transformation of garbage into something so beautiful is a powerful testament to how we perceive our surroundings. El Anatsui speaks of beauty as not only ocular, but as something that also has a qualitative value. A person can have physical beauty, but the inner qualities are what makes that beauty powerful and valuable. In the same way, his work has a definite beauty of composition which comes to life when the viewer understands and relates to the message.



As I was looking at his work, it occurred to me that he can only make his statement because he has a receptive audience who understands what he is trying to say. El Anatsui has the language he needs to bridge that gap between the monied institutions who can afford to house, display and purchase his work, as well as the life and cultural experience where he can communicate to the uneducated masses. Without that language, surely his special vision of the potential and message of garbage would have remained just that, garbage.


Versatility
2006
Aluminum and copper wire
Fowler Museum at UCLA, museum purchase, X2007.7.1

Africans have a long history of using garbage as a natural resource. Their tin painted suitcases, wire toys, pop can cars, tire sandals, papier mache bowls, recycled vinyl record beads and inner tube furniture have been raw materials for craft production for decades. If you are poor and you have the skills to weave, build, solder or cut, you can eek out a living with what you have around you. These crafts have had success with co-ops, fair trade groups and collectors. But, El Anatsui takes this tradition to another level. The sheer volume and size of his works make a powerful impact on the viewer. You look at it and try to imagine how many wine bottle wrappings it took to make this piece. Then you realize that this is nothing compared to what is thrown away daily.


As our natural resources begin to run out, so will the availability of certain types of garbage. Copper wire used to be thrown about and now there are stories here in the United States of houses for sale being stripped during the night of anything containing copper. What will happen when plastics, aluminum, and tin become valuable? Hopefully, it will force us to establish better recycling systems and biodegradable containers. Meanwhile, we can let El Anatsui use his garbage to speak to us. If we listen, we will see our shared histories: our past and our future.
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Faith Ringgold: Stories and Struggle Through Art Quilts

A Family Portrait, 1997
Acrylic on canvas; painted and pieced border 79.5 x 80"
From the Series: The American Collection; #2 Private Collection

Faith Ringgold has been around for a long time now. Born in Harlem in 1930 makes her 79 years old this year. I remember when I first saw her work in a book about 20 years ago. Assuming that she was a Grandma Moses type of icon, I thought she was old back then. But, new work and children's books kept showing up on the scene. Finally, a couple of years ago, I decided to check out her website and was amazed at her body of work! She has made over 200 story quilts and has an enormous list of credits that include her children's books and other work. A friend once said that women artists only become famous when they are dead or over 70, even harder for minorities. Not true for Faith Ringgold. She has been at the forefront of many art movements in the United States for a long time. Her pioneer efforts address race issues head on, but transcend them as she also experimented with the medium itself and with how she presented her work.

Faith Ringgold identifies the 1960's as the critical time which informed her work. But, she found that although the Civil Right's movement was on everybody's mind in her circle, the art world did not reflect the changes that were taking place, the questions that were being asked. She documented the time through her paintings and then evolved into her story quilts which continued to explore issues of race, identity and gender.


We Came to America, 1997
Acrylic on canvas; painted and pieced border
74.5 x 79.5"
From the Series: The American Collection; #1
Private Collection

If one does not know her story, her work looks like it would fit in with Howard Finster and other outsider artists, folks who have the calling but no formal training. Yet, Ringgold was trained as a classical painter with an MFA and has a long list of academic and work credits. Her choice of using stories as both a quilt and as an art form helped re-define quilting in the United States, pushing forward the growth of art quilts. The IRS (the tax guys here) recognize an individual's profession by the income they make. So, a painter who doesn't sell her work but makes a living as a waitress is in fact, a waitress, according to the IRS. Faith Ringgold's example is one of long years of sweat and vision that produced a cohesive, recongnizable, individual body of work.

Church Picnic, 1988
Acrylic on canvas, fabric border
74 x 69"
The High Museum of Art, Atlanta


Le Cafe des Artistes, 1994
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed, pieced fabric border
79.5 x 90"
From the Series: The French Collection Part II; #11
Private Collection


Here are a couple of short clips that give a brief glimpse into the power of this woman's presence: This next clip is long, one hour and 45 minutes, showing Ringgold at a lecture where she talks about her work through a slide presentation. I almost missed it because her name was misspelled. At the end, there is an excellent question and answer period: I learned several things in this video that you might also find interesting:
  • Faith Ringgold paints her story quilts with very thin layers of acrylic paints and uses a black Sharpie for lettering.
  • She collaborates with other quilters for the sewing parts of the quilts. For about 10 years this was done with her mother who was a fashion designer.
  • Her Great-Great-Grandmother was a quilter, her taught her daughter, who taught her daughter, who taught her daughter. Faith's mother had not made a quilt since she was a child until she collaborated with Faith.
  • The quilts are often huge. One of her first was about 6 feet high by 12 feet wide. I always assumed that they were small.
  • She uses very thin batting and all of the quilts can be rolled up.
The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, 1991
Acrylic on canvas, tie-dyed, pieced fabric border
74 x 80"
From the Series: The French Collection Part I; #4
Private Collection

Faith talks about the struggle of finding her voice as an artist, a Black woman in America and warns that the path is not an easy one. She said something that I would like to remember for the future, "You must know the world to understand your place in it. If you close yourself into a box you will never know who you really are." I have always felt that this is one of the keys toward living an interesting and full life- focus on the other. It is also one of the basic principles in most World religions. Empty yourself so that you might become full. At least, that is how I read this insight.

The Moroccan Holiday, 1997
Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border
73.75 x 92"
From the Series: The French Collection Part II; #12
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

Faith also does emphasize the need for self love and acceptance and how important it was for Black artists to finally use dark colors to reflect the color of their skin. We take so much for granted now that it is always a bit shocking to listen to the limitations artists and others had even twenty or thirty years ago. I was a bit bothered that her website did not have much recent information since 2000. It made me wonder if she is well. But, the long video above was done in the last couple of years and she looks healthy and full of vitality there. My friend may have been right about most of us not achieving fame, even after we are over 70 or dead, but my hope is that Faith Ringgold will continue to mentor us on for many more years. She pushed that door wide open so that we could walk in with confidence and tell our stories.

Note: All of the quilt images are from Faith Ringgold's website. Visit it for a full list of her work. Also visit her exercise on Racial Questions.


Click on the link under the book, not on the image:


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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jamie Leigh's Study on Southern Quilting: Black and White Influences

A sample quilt from Jamie Leigh's Study on Southern Quilts.

Ever go surfing on the internet, looking for something and then getting side-tracked on to something else? Well, I just found this study by Jamie Leigh who at the time was an undergraduate student in the American Studies Program, University of Virginia.

Jamie looks at quilts made by Southern women, zooming into some which were made on plantations during slavery as well as some contemporary ones. She argues that European traditions in quilting have been seen as superior to those which reflect African roots, yet she believes that both borrowed from each other's traditions, taking quilt designs into a new language that spoke about the Black/White shared experience.

Most of us abhor the burden of history we carry when we think of slavery. Yet, Jamie points out that there were cases of friendship and camaraderie between the races. She speaks of one moving example between Jane and Rebecca Bond who became very close. They enjoyed braiding each other's hair and sewed together, making both clothes and quilts for each other.


It is inevitable that people who live close to each other will become inspired by the other, even if subconsciously. We think of our society, especially in the mega-metropolis cities around the world, as diverse and multi-cultural. Yet, history has always been on the move, taking people and their stories with it. Those stories are bound to emerge from the work of our hands.

I look back on my life and think of all the ethnic traditions represented in my friends. I am of Viking stock and look like it. My best friend when I was growing up was Japanese. In College, St.Olaf, I hung around with the foreign students, all of us a bit lost in the Norwegian environment we had ended up in. We were young and we had come from Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Ghana, and other places. Oh, yes, there were even some lost "real" Norwegians! We brought our stories and when we left, we took each a piece of each other on to our next stop in life. We became threads in each other's tapestries, even if we no longer remember names or faces.

Jane's study was done over 10 years ago and has found its way into many quilt bibliographies. The study is weak in many ways as the ideas are expressed without enough support. Images do not show provenance and the layout is rather choppy, especially compared to the user friendly tools we now have for similar presentations. I found another website where Jane introduces herself and explains more about why she did her study. She went on to become a lawyer, and I'm sure that as a mature adult, she would have structured her study in a more academic manner. Yet, her love for the culture these quilts represent, the bonding between women, the stories told, do shine forth and make the study a good and lasting resource. She also has a nice bibliography for those interested in learning more about how Southern quilts have evolved.

Star of Bethlehem quilt made by a Southern white quilter.



Star of Bethlehem quilt made by a black Southern quilter.





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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Donna Hussain's Sewing Circle: Exploring the Art Quilt



This past fall a group of my quilter friends met to form a new sewing circle to focus on the creation of art quilts using chapters in Art Quilt Workbook by Jane Davila and Elin Waterson for reference and inspiration. While the women at the meeting were accomplished quilters, most were traditional quilters with little experience making art quilts. Everyone wanted to learn basic design skills used by artists who focus on quilting as their medium of expression. And all wanted to experiment with composition and the addition of different types of materials to our quilts. A group of art quilt novices, we thought, would provide support and encouragement as we challenged our creativity and learned new quilting techniques.

After much discussion at our organizational meeting we agreed on the following:

  • We would study a chapter of Art Quilt Workbook each month, and each make a small quilt (9 x 12 inches) using techniques described in the chapter. (The small art quilts below are the results of my exercises.)
Symmetrical Balance (attempted)

  • At meetings we would discuss the chapter and display the small quilts we had designed and sewn. We would also watch the video that accompanies the text, do exercises at the ends of the chapters, and invite members to do technique demonstrations at our meetings. We hoped that each member of the group would complete eight to ten small quilts by the time we reached the last chapter of the text.
Depth

  • The circle would be open to everyone, quilters and non-quilters, quilt guild members and non-members. Should the membership grow, we planned to form additional circles with the same agenda, giving members the freedom to choose which group they wanted to attend.
  • We agreed that individual quilters would choose a theme and/or color scheme to give unity to their series of 9 x 12 inch art quilts. I chose India as my theme because I have many appropriate fabrics in my stash.

Found Objects (Indian coin, mirrors, tikka)


Here is a report of our progress after four chapters, four meetings.

We have two groups with a stable core membership in addition to others who join us on occasion. Many of the women have difficulty meeting the target of one small quilt a month; many have their own interpretation of the 9 x 12 inch size restriction. Some members are free spirits whose quilts evolve and stray from their original intent. When completed their quilts have no reference at all to the assigned book chapter. My quilts start with a brainstorm. Later, after my quilts are completed I try to find a chapter in the book to fit. But all of us are having fun exchanging ideas, learning new skills, admiring each other's work, sharing snacks, and making new friends.

Isn’t that what quilting is all about?

Fabric Collage



California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on her name to see all of her past articles.


The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.
.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cross Cultural Collaborative: Textile Workshop in Ghana!

Kente cloth strips sewn into a larger textile.

Fiber Artists!!!


Come join us in Ghana!


Aug. 2 - 15, 2009!!!!


by Ellie Schimelman


Ghana is known for it's rich history of art and culture and although it has adapted some Western ways, Ghana still has spectacular festivals to celebrate it's heritage. Part of each festival is a durbar which is comparable to a parade where all the important people, like chiefs, dress in their regalia. This is where you can see Kente cloth in all its glory. Even if you don't know anything about Kente, when you see it you know that it is special.


Asafo flag, appliqued and embroidered.

"Dancing the flag"

Each year we organize a workshop at our cultural center in a suburb of Accra where participants can learn to weave Kente, stamp adinkra, learn about Asafo, do tie and dye, batik and other fabric decorations which are taught by master artisans. This is a unique opportunity to experience African textiles in the context of their culture. Participants visit galleries, museums, cloth markets, crafts villages and dealers in antiquities.


Many traditional approaches to cloth are being lost because young artisans want to be modern and don't want to do the tedious work required to be authentic. There is a saying in Africa that each time an elder dies a library is lost... and each time a traditional artisan dies a technique is lost. There was a time when it would take a Kente weaver 3 months to weave a piece. Now, many weavers rush to get cloth ready for the 5 day market. Another reason we offer this workshop is to show indigenous artisans that their traditions have value and should be continued.

Adinkra stamps from Ghana

Sometimes the Ghanaian artist will find a modern way to work with the traditional techniques. An example of this is making the symbols on adinkra cloth using silk screen. This is certainly much faster than the traditional stamping of the symbols onto the cloth. Each way has a different look and it's up to the buyer to decide which one they prefer.


A man wearing adinkra cloth in Ghana.

There is no doubt that there are universal connections in art. In reference to African cloth, all you have to do is look at the quilts of the Gee's Bend artists. African cloth has always had symbolic meaning. Men and women taken from Africa to the diaspora had memories of cloth designs and the meanings they carried. It's easy to see how African American story quilts retain traces of African fabric techniques.


If you'd like details about the textile workshop please download a brochure at http://www.culturalcollaborative.org and any questions can be directed to aba@culturalcollaborative.org


If you come to Ghana, we'll give you an African name. Many people are named after the day of the week on which they were born. Aba is a female born on Thursday.


About Ellie Schimelman:


I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a minor in apparel design and a major in art education. Always drawn to African art, I decided to see it in Africa and by a process of elimination chose to start in Ghana. I had really wanted to go to South Africa, but because of Apartheid, decided not to. Ghana was a good choice... English is the official language and the culture is intact.


One thing led to another, and now 20 some years later, I am the director of Cross Cultural Collaborative, with a mud house next to the ocean, about 50 Ghanaian children who call me Mami and a mission to introduce people from different cultures to each other through the language of art. The photo shows Aba House which has eight guest rooms.

My fantasy is to someday visit every African country....


Keep in touch with us through our blog!


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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gee's Bend: Fiber Patterns Embedded in Memory

Annie Mae Young, Work-clothes quilt with center medallion of strips, 1976; denim, corduroy, synthetic blend; 108 by 76.5 inches.


Photo: Arthur Rothstein, Collection of the Library of Congress

The following videos offer a little window into the quilting community of Gee's Bend, Alabama:











The women refer to their quilts in two ways, the "fancy" quilts, which they thought were good enough to sell and the quilts they made for everyday use. When they were first discovered by the fiber art world, those utilitarian quilts, worn, faded and often neglected were the ones collectors coveted. The fancy quilts use patterns recognizable in mainstream quilting traditions while the everyday ones spring from individual inspiration and availability of materials. Here are some examples shown on the official Gee's Bend website:

Mary Lee Bendolph and Ruth P. Mosely Bricklayer


Lucy Witherspoon Housetop, 1985p


FiberArts Magazine also had a nice article with these images:
Jessie T. Pettway, Bars and string-pieced columns, 1950s;cotton; 95 by 76 inches.


This one was in the Austin Chronicle, but I couldn't find the info on it:

The quilts show a whole range of color choices, designs, and skill levels, but all have an organic feel to them that suggests a "design as you go" approach. They contrast sharply with traditional quilts where hand quilting skills are judged by number of stitches per square inch or where perfection is the goal. As described in the first video, many of these Alabama quilters will make a whole quilt out of what would normally be one block in a traditional quilt. Zooming into color and texture, they disassemble the pattern as if looking through a magnifying lens.

Most articles about Gee's Bend quilters make reference to parallels in the quilt designs to African textiles. Comparisons have also been made to abstract modern art. Do these women carry a subconscious memory of African patterns? Interviews with the women indicate that they do not have a large world view of what is available in the quilt world, but rather that the patterns simply appealed to their own inner sensibilities.

When I look at the quilts, I see some elements that can individually be found in many different traditions. As a group of textiles, they speak to a specific community bound by time and place which will not be replicated. Now that they have been "discovered", a certain loss of innocence is bound to happen, where function will be replaced by the desire to make saleable pieces or for recognition in the media. I don't know how this transformation will evolve over time, but change has been documented over and over again with individuals or communities who began humbly and then achieved international recognition. Will the women continue to allow spontaneity to dictate design? We cannot predict what will happen, but the African connection will surely present itself in a new way to these women who may carry those embedded patterns in their genes. Certainly, as they see others make the connections, they will also study themselves and their roots and perhaps make the connection even more pronounced. Most craft communities seem to end up with most of their members engaged in producing products for income generation. Then, a few of these blossom into something new, breaking boundaries and growing into the mentors, visionaries, and muses who will inspire the next generation.

We shall watch Gee's Bend and see how it evolves over the years. My gut tells me that we will continue to see objects of wonder grow out of this community, even as they evolve from the "naive" to the "expert".

Books on Gee's Bend available on Amazon:
(Click on the link below the image)





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