Figge shows off art to warm the body and soul

Posted Online: Jan. 06, 2013, 11:33 pm
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By Jonathan Turner,
DAVENPORT -- Every quilt tells a story, be it of love, family, faith, nature or simply stunning beauty.

Figge Art Museumdocents Sandy Fritz and Lois Nichols related these stories on Sunday to a tour group, as they explained the significance of 27 American masterwork quilts from the past two centuries on display in the museum through Feb. 3.

"One of the things so important about quilts was, it was the beginning way for women to express their creativity," Ms. Nichols said. "They could tell their personal stories in quilts, their political views. Women artists were almost never recognized. Women really had no place in art."

Quilts, of course, started out as a way to keep warm and to use up old fabric, she noted. As the years went on, the intricate, colorful pieces "became more decorative, more beautiful. Many of our quilts now are wall hangings," Ms. Nichols said. "Very few of them are made to keep warm."

The quilts are on loan from the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and as part of each description next to the quilt is anicon that represents the category to which the artwork belongs, Ms. Fritz said, noting one is Amish. Many of those quilters chose a very dark background because it's functional -- "They don't show dirt or wear and tear, and when they use very bright colors, it's a nice contrast," the docent said.

The exhibit starts on the first floor (which includes a community quilt the public can add to), and most are on the fourth floor. The first on the top floor is the most modern, from the 1990s, made in Mississippi, and represents daily activities such as going to church, making syrup, picking cotton and plowing, Ms. Nichols said.

"There is quite a bit of detail in it. It certainly does tell an interesting story," she said.

Anall-white one from the early 1800s is "just amazing," Ms. Fritz said. "It's hard for me to single one out. But this one is just amazing.There are two layers, a back and a top layer. From the back, they very precisely pushed cotton through to make this three-dimensional effect. I cannot image the amount of time and patience it took to make this."

One from 1860 uses a pattern of many eight-pointed stars. "I think it's amazing, because I have looked at this many times, and have trouble finding any two stars that are exactly the same," Ms. Nichols said. "Each point is just perfect."

Twomore contemporary African-American quilts use bright hues reminiscent of African colors, and a diamond shape, representing sun, birth, life, death and re-birth, Ms. Fritz said. "Neither of them have as fine a detail as others (in the exhibit), but are very colorful and very important."

A quiltwith a bright orange background was made in 1853 to celebrate the maker's wedding, and reflects many aspects of her life and farm, Ms. Nichols noted. "It's a delightful quilt."

It includes three intertwined rings, possibly representing the Holy Trinity, or that God joined husband and wife together, and a pineapple on one side, symbolizing hospitality, she said."It's just a great quilt. You can stand and look at it a long time. There a thousand things we can look at," she said.

Many of the pieces are so detailed, including a category called"crazy quilt," that you can observe one for 10 minutes, come back later, and every time see something different, Ms. Fritz said. "The detail is just wonderful. They're showing off what they can do."

Anequestrian crazy quilt represents a late 19th-century couple who worked in a traveling circus in New York, and it shows many of the circus acts.

Linda Schara, of Davenport, a member of the Mississippi Valley Quilters Guild who attended the tour, said the exhibit reveals a "good cross-section of quilts." The discipline wasn't truly recognized as an art form until the early 1970s, when quilts were first displayed in museums, she said.

"Quilting was for necessity more than art," said Lana Coleman, a quilter from Geneseo. "They didn't think of it as art. I have to have it -- it's cold."

Ms. Schara said she also loved what she called the "absolutely phenomenal" all-white quilt. "The detail, all done by hand. And it was all so precise. The circles were just -- it looked like it could have been done by machine. It's just incredible, how much time that had to go into that."

"We do machine quilting, but hand-quilting is a whole 'nother thing -- very time consuming, very precise," she said. "When it's on that piece, it had to stand on its own. You're not hiding it in fabric, in a design."

More young people today are coming back to the "old-fashioned" traditions of knitting and quilting, Ms. Schara said. "I think it's family traditions, and there's so much manufactured stuff today. Something that's hand-made; you're using your fabrics. They're liking the idea they can take something from the very basics and make something from it."

"You do dishes, you do laundry, you have these routines, and at the end of the day, you're exhausted and have nothing to show for it," she said of many women who quilt. "Try and have a half hour everyday, you have something that feeds you and no one can take away from you."

Upcoming quilt events at Figge

The Figge Art Museum -- 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport -- will host several quilting activities over the next few weeks.

-- Thursday, Jan. 17: There will be quilt appraisals from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., by appointment only; call (563) 345-6630. Drop-in family-friendly art activities will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and an art talk, "Quilts as Art -- or Not," will be given at 7 p.m. by Figge executive director Tim Schiffer. All programs are free with paid admission or membership.

-- Jan. 15 to 20: The museum will display the best examples of quilters who are part of the Mississippi Valley Quilters Guild in the lobby.

-- Sundays, Jan. 13 and 20: A documentary film series, "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics" will be shown from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., and the docent-led tours of the exhibit are also offered on those two Sundays, starting at 1:30 p.m. in the lobby.

-- Saturday, Feb. 2: The museum will feature a Black History Month program featuring African-American quilts in a one-day-only display; an exhibit tour at 11 a.m.; a community quilt project from noon to 2 p.m., and an art lecture at 2 p.m. by Myrah Greene, who has taught textile art for 20 years and exhibits her own quilts.

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