Friday, November 28, 2014

Gwen Marston talks about her art book, 37 SKETCHES



My book, 37 SKETCHES, came out in 2010 and went on to win a 2012 New York Book Club Award, in the same category as Michael Pollen by the way, which thrilled me as much as getting the award. Because it's probably my first and last actual art book, it's my personal favorite even though less read than some of the others. And truthfully, another reason I'm partial to this book is that it's about work I found to be incredibly exciting to do and work that yielded a great deal of personal artistic growth.  While there are no patterns, there are 37 ideas for inspiration and I do talk about my intentions for each one. The quilts are organized in the order in which they were made, so you can see how they developed.  So, while not a how-to book in the classical way, I see my students studying the book intently, figuring out for themselves what's going on and finding their own way to use the ideas to make their quilts, not mine. And isn't that just what we all want!
Sketch # 22; photo became the cover of 37 Sketches

Seeing these small pieces as "sketches" in the same way that a painter would, provided a way to work out both composition and color before embarking on a larger work. Working small also meant I could explore many more artistic ideas and technical possibilities far quicker than if I were working on a large scale.  Working small means you are more willing to take chances, and taking chances is how you discover new ideas. My initial idea was to not repeat myself. By the time I had about twenty of them finished I began to feel as though I'd designed my own personal crash course in design.
Sketch #18

Four years after beginning this work, I now have 58 Sketches chronicling my own design work, all stored neatly in a box for me to review when considering new work. And they can stand on their own as well. They have been shown in two Museum Exhibits of my work: The Taupo Art Museum in Taupo, New Zealand in 2013, and the Dennos Art Museum in Traverse City Michigan, 2014.

The Sketches have been getting in my suitcase and coming with me as I go around the country teaching classes. Students have been really enthusiastic about making them, and excited about leaving class with the beginning of their own unique collection of Sketches.

Some of the Sketches have inspired larger quilts as shown in the following images.  I don't try to copy the sketch in a larger format, but rather I use the ideas, the colors, shapes, and scale, I've worked out in the sketch.
Sketch #30, 9.5" x 11.25"
Three Triangles, 34.5" x 35.5"

For me and other quilters who have been making quilts for years and really don't need, much less have room for more big quilts, the Sketches are a satisfying way to explore design possibilities and stay involved and focused on the creative process which is so rewarding.  I invite you to join us.
Sketch # 37

Sketch # 58, the last far.
With Christmas coming, you might want to order this book for a friend, or as a special gift for 
yourself. It's a beautifully designed hard cover book, and it's a limited edition.  

You can order it from Gwen:

Monday, November 24, 2014


I would like to announce a collaboration from my three favorite authors.......................................................................................

Since it is only a fantasy, I'm left sharing a few comments about books in my library.  
Many years of magazine subscriptions was the gateway to collecting books, and I used a strategy.  When a book excited me, I would study the bibliography and learn what resources the author used.  Then I would set out to acquire a few of those books. 

Everything about finding and buying my copy of The American Quilt, by Roderick Kiracofe, 1993 is clearly recalled.  It was the high point of my day and the foundation for my quilt study.  The Amish quilt c. 1900 by Elizabeth Hershberger, Arthur, Illinois was completely unexpected.  It was like no other Amish quilt I had seen. The American Quilt was opening a new world for me, and I found I was drawn to abstract design.
Figure 183, p. 184
The American Quilt
Abstract Design In American Quilts: A Biography of an Exhibition, by Jonathan Holstein, 1991 was published for the 20th. anniversary of the 1971 exhibit, Abstract Design In American Quilts at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  Art enthusiasts, Jon Holstein and Gail van der Hoof, collected quilts with particular visual qualities.  They were discovering vintage American quilts with design elements resembling modern paintings.  The 1971 exhibit  presented quilts as visual objects, art, and hung the quilts as if they were paintings and the New York art crowd was energized.  The exhibit closed at the Whitney and traveled the world.  Jonathan Holstein tells the fascinating story of 2 people who noticed art in American Quilts, and what happened next.  The impact of this exhibit touches me all these years later.
26. Sawtooth, Massachusetts. ca. 1900, p. 168
Abstract Design in American Quilts: A Biography of an Exhibition
Visiting an exhibit in the company of the artist is not something most of us will do.  37 Sketches, by Gwen Marston, 2011 approximates this experience.  In this lovely book, Gwen shares her artistic process and experimentation with composition and scale. This book is one of my valuable companions since being introduced to it at the 2011 Beaver Island Quilt Retreat.
Small Study 25, 2010 p. 66 & 67
37 Sketches
I was also introduced to the 37 Sketches at the retreat.  Here I am in front of Gwen's small studies. 

Gwen will offer a guest post about 37 Sketches so please return in a few days. If you can't wait, visit Gwen here: 

Roderick Kiracofe has just published a new book Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000.  Visit

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quilt of Belonging

"Artistic traditions in textiles delight the senses." Esther Bryan

Quilt of Belonging The Invitation Project by Esther Bryan and Friends, 2005 is the newest book in my well stocked and well loved library.  It is my souvenir of experiencing the quilt and meeting Esther Bryan at the American Quilter's Society show in Grand Rapids, MI last August.  The Quilt of Belonging is the result of the artist's vision to create a textile asserting there is a place for everyone in the fabric of society.  Here are some facts: the tapestry is 120 feet long and 10.5 feet high; the 263 blocks portray the rich cultural legacies of all the First Peoples in Canada and every nation of the world.  The quilt is visually and emotionally powerful.  I was similarly moved when I saw a portion of the AIDS quilt.  
Reading the book, I experience the quilt in small pieces and linger with the stories behind the individual blocks and their makers.  I have contemplated The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, and read the legend of Ikat cloth in which a cloud's reflection was caught in silk. The individual blocks are 263 exhibits of culture expressed in needlework.
 One woman's vision and family history was the starting place.  Many people were involved before the last stitch was accomplished, and the last page was printed.  Together, a story of belonging was made visual.  pjb

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Journey Down the Silk Road with Gwen Marston

                    A guest post from Gwen Marston with photography by Grady Marston

Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan
The folk art textiles I’m sharing with you today come from a part of the world with an ancient and renown history of textiles.  Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan all participated in the early trade routes that ran through the Asian continent connecting China to the Mediterranean Sea. Known as the Silk Road, it spread trade and cultural interaction along its 4000-mile length beginning as early as 206 B.C.  The artisans along the Silk Road benefited from having access to a wide range of fabrics as well as the flow of artistic ideas.

The Applique Quilt shown is from Uzbekistan. It’s made with silk motifs appliqued onto various colors of cotton backing. The designs were cut from folded fabric in the same way as we make paper snowflakes, and like the Pennsylvania Germans used to cut out their folded fabric applique shapes.  Cutting shapes from folded fabric accounts for the variations in shapes, which has always been an acceptable and expected result. The close-up shows these slight variations clearly. It also shows a variation in the corners of the motif. Notice also that the quiltmaker changed centers of the motifs freely. One of the centers is completely different than the others, which you can see in the detail photo.  
Applique Quilt 38" x 68", early 20th century Uzbekistan.

close up of appliqué quilt

The photo below shows a close up of the border motifs which is testimony of the quilters comfort with irregular shapes. This is a charactertic feature of folk art textiles the world around and one that I enthusiastically support.
Closeup of border shapes in varying sizes resulting from fabric cutting.

One of my favorite folk art quilts is the pieced quilt shown below. It was made in Afghanistan and is pretty darn “liberated” in the very best sense of the word.  Many of the squares and triangles were necessarily pieced to get the required size, one of the characteristics common on antique American scrap quilts. And the little red corner squares at the end of the needlepoint strips vary in size noticeably. (I’m just sayin’).
Pieced Quilt 44" x 72", early 20th century Afghanistan.
It’s also a prime example of the wide range of fabrics that were traded along the silk road. The closeup photo below shows Ikat, silks and damask fabrics. The silks account for the strong saturated colors in the quilt and they come in both solids and beautiful florals. The green squares are rich, lush velvet.  This close-up also shows two different versions of the “wild goose chase” needlepoint which separates and defines the blocks (an idea I bet none of us have thought of).
Closeup of Ikat, Silk and Damask.
The photo below shows the “liberated” squares on point that make up the narrow inner boarder.  This quilter was definitely “making do” with the fabrics she had and in my view, she pulled it off in spades. The backing is pieced with leftovers and the quilt is lightly quilted to hold the layers together.
"Liberated" Squares on Point inner border.

 The Horse Trapping shown below was made by Turkmen herders from Turkmenistan. It is a ceremonial wedding hanging designed to drape off the back end of a horse.  Elaborate textile hangings made for horses and camels seems quite a common practice among Tribal groups around the world.  Our own First Peoples excelled with making incredibly artful horse trappings. Seems everybody wants to look good for the big moments in their lives. As you might guess, the stars and wild goose chase designs seemed mighty familiar to me and positively caught my attention. I like the idea that there is a large vocabulary of shapes that have been around for centuries and that are universally known and used by artisans working in different mediums. Here is something we all share; a common language. 
Horse Trapping Ceremonial wedding hanging 49" x 55" c. 1900 Turkmenistan
Made by nomadic Turkmen Herders
Below is a close up of a section of the Wild Goose Chase strips worked in raw edge applique. 
Closeup of Star section and Wild Goose Chase in raw edge appliqué.
The final photo shows some of the still existing handmade tassels, which I just love.  I’m sure when this piece was new and all the tassels were bouncing around off the hips of a prancing horse carrying the young bride or groom, it must have been a quite a sight.
Close up of hand made tassels.

This is my fourth posting on Pam's blog and in conclusion I want to say a few things about my folk art textile collection.  As a “sewer of cloth”, it’s easy to see why I was drawn to folk art textiles. There is a certain fluid asymmetry that is universally characteristic in folk art around the world.  My own style of quiltmaking came directly from seeing this characteristic repeatedly, first in quilts and then in folk art textiles from virtually everywhere else.

Thanks to Pam for making it possible for me to share some of my folk art textiles with all of you. Every time I look at them I see something else I hadn’t noticed before, so it was a joy to have them out on my worktable again.  Also, I thank my photographer, Grady Marston (aka my grandson).

Explore Gwen's website at