"Uvalde" mixed media on cradled wood panel, 20x20in. (51x51cm)
The same year my father said he’d never pay to send me to art school — I was twelve — I got a Sears Kenmore sewing machine in a maple cabinet for Christmas. It remains the best Christmas present I ever received.
Not that I was a star in home economics, but I loved fabric! I’d walk home from high school in Barrington, Illinois just so I could stop at Finn’s Fabric store and soak up all the different colors and designs. How could I pick just one fabric to make a dress? I wanted to use them all. That is probably why I became obsessed with patchwork quilts. We didn’t have them in our house, but we had them on the beds in the cabins we rented at Crystal Lake in New Hampshire.
I piled those quilts on my bed, and each morning I put a different one on top. I studied each little shape and wondered what it was a scrap of — a dress, a man’s shirt, a curtain, a uniform? Some quilts were geometric blocks, some had appliqued flowers, some were quilted with tiny stitches all over, some were tied with thick thread. I was curious, who were they originally made for? How did they end up in our cottage? What were the makers thinking while they sewed? At night I’d fall asleep designing my own patterns and thinking about color combinations.
Truth be told, I never made that many quilts. Maybe seven. I did belong to a quilt group when I moved to New Hampshire in 1980. But soon enough I had kids and no time or space to devote to quilt making. But in 2015, quilts were the inspiration when I switched from realistic to abstract art.
Relying on quilt patterns let me go crazy with paint and then tidy up by superimposing geometric shapes. Later, I started to add scraps of paper, pieces of text, or my own handwriting to create more interest.
One of my more meaningful (to me) pieces is above. It’s about the Uvalde school shooting. I was on Matinicus Island in Maine on May 24, 2022, the day it happened. This painting was already underway. There was no pink, I was imitating the colors of the water and rocks out the window. But as I listened to the news and thought about those children, I used my non-dominant hand (my left) to write the alphabet in various sizes to help me channel childhood. One alphabet starts with AR15. You can see that in the upper left quadrant. While I worked, I heard about the brave girl who kept calling 911 for help while the police cowered in the hallway. She’s the inspiration for the bright bright pink.
But if you didn’t know any of that background, it would just look like a painting that resembles a quilt, right? The same way I’m sure that the patch quilts I slept under as a kid had stories stitched into them that I could only guess at.
Speaking of stories, here’s one more. The first full size quilt I ever made was in the early 1970s for Jody Waters, a high school friend who was getting married. She was murdered on March 20, 2021 in the Boulder Colorado supermarket shooting. How long before every one of us knows the victim of a shooting? Perhaps you already do.
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