Monday, October 1, 2012

quilting as a form of artistic expression as well as a form of nonverbal communication

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Quilting is a form of artistic expression that can also be used as a form of non-verbal communication. If one were to really study the quilts made throughout the centuries, he/she would learn much about the lives of people from that given era. Quilts historically have preserved family stories within the squares. Traditional designs were often named after historical events, political figures, foreign countries, or even houses or items lying around the farm eg “log cabin, “ “turkey track,” “wedding ring.” In order to deal with the multiple hardships that come along with life, and the lack of control and power they had over their own lives, the pioneer women quilted. These quilts provided and acceptable medium through which they could express themselves. Quilting has now gone far beyond the original designs and into an abstract art form. Most quilts today have the basic concepts of art; Color, Shape, texture, composition, and balance. Simplified, does this mean that quilts are art? (Cronin, 18, p.)

Quilting has always been a large part of cultures. Natives Americans would sew large pieces of animal hide together to make blankets and clothing. The oldest surviving quilt dates back to 176, but quilting goes far beyond that. Between 1775 and 178, quilts with patriotic themes became popular; they usually depicted battle scenes, heroes, and symbols of the revolution.

Memorial quilting was another popular technique that still goes on today. One of many types of memorial quilting is the Blue Star Service Banners, also known as Blue Star Flags. Family members would hang these banners in the windows of their homes to honer a family member who was away at war. This tradition was most common in the WWI and WWII era. A blue star is placed on a white background with a red border. If a family has more then one person in the armed services the stars are added, usually one below the other. If a soldier is killed in action, the blue star is replaced with a gold star or they would place a smaller gold star on top of a blue star so that both colors are showing. (Blue star banners and quilts, 00, p.1) Because of recent events in the news, an organization called the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers. The organization consists of members who volenteer in various ways to help support our troops.(p.)

In 17, the cotton gin revolutionized the cotton industry. From there, the fabric and thread factories bloomed. In 1814 the first power loom was installed in factories. By the 180’s, quilting became more then a chore, it became a hobby. Women would sit in a large circle and quilt for hours at a

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time, starting what is now called a “quilting bee”. (A timeline in quilting history of America, 00)

As pioneer women made their way across the Oregon Trail, they developed a new style of quilting called patchwork. Not only was it portable, but also a frugal use of scraps. In 1846, the first commercial quilt batting was produced. Sewing a quilt by hand was a very tedious process so in 1851, the sewing machine was patented, and a few years later it was available for home use. Quilting did not make another great leap again until 15 when multi stranded thread was introduced. Sometime around the 150’s, companies started to manufacture machine made quilts causing the quilting industry to go into a landslide. No longer did people NEED to make a quilt but rather pass the time by making a masterpiece that’s sole purpose was to be called art.

It seems to me that society is completely integrated with art. Even those who do not realize it are affected by it everyday. Art is both appreciated by the world and ignored. Art is everywhere and very important to people, from chair designs to the clothes we wear to room d�cor and building designs.

In a worldly context, art answers the “how” and “why” we carry on. The single word art has the context of both a fine masterpiece and a baby’s first scribble.

Society’s view of an artists work is necessary to a degree. If a quilter quilts a quilt in the forest and no one sees it, is it still beautiful? Is it still a quilt, or merely a blanket? Quilting is a form of communication with oneself,

with the people around them, and the people who look at their quilt in the future. Think of Indian cave drawings, were they art decorations or were they forms of communication? No one really knows, but what they tell us, the present generation, is about some of what was their present. Did they do it because they wanted to show future generations their world? Was it because others of their age, who were going to use the cave, would know what to expect in that part of the country Quite possibly, however they were showing off their artistic abilities. In the process they have provided us with a fascinating window into the world. When someone creates art, they freeze a moment in time, their personally experienced time. But in the process of creating and showing what they have done, they are communicating to present and future generations.

If all who created art had the freedom to do only what their hearts told them, would they do the same art they are doing now? The pictures that are produces don’t necessarily have to be what is around you. People have

feelings and emotions that art can help them explore by putting them on canvas, fabric, or clay.

Art is a form of communication. Think of art as a visual poetry. Certain poems tell a story, and some just sets the mood. Quilting is the same way. It can touch us in ways that music or poetry cannot. Some can affect us more then others depending on our personalities or experiences. A lot of people

take their experiences and put them into magnificent quilts that are meant to help other people who are going through some of the same experiences.

There is something that people find comforting in quilts so they are often used in charity situations. A few of the most famous charities are the Half the Sky Charity Quilt, which was made mainly by a woman named Chris Schulte. The quilt was shipped to the Half the Sky foundation to be either auctioned off or sent to an orphanage in china (original quilts, 00, p.1) other quilting projects include the Hugs for Homeless Animals, where afghans and quilts are made for animals in shelters, and the ABC quilt project, where members make quilts for babies born with HIV, AIDS, or other serious illnesses. The quilts are then sent to children in hospitals who need them (quilting for charity, 00, p.-)

Probably one of the most famous of all charity quilts is the AIDs Quilt. The quilt is the largest ongoing community arts project in the world. It has over 44,000 panels; each memorializes a person who was lost to AIDs. The quilt was started in November 185 by a San Francisco gay rights activists named Cleve Jones. The assassinations of gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, greatly impacted Mr. Jones who decided to help orginize the annual candlelight march in honor of these men. While planning the March of ’85, he discovered that over 1000 people in San Francisco alone had been lost to AIDS. During that march, he had the people participating write the name of a friend or loved one, who had died from the disease, on a notecard. At the end of the march, people stood on ladders and taped the notecards to the walls of the San Francisco federal building. In a way the wall slightly resembled a patchwork quilt, therefore giving Jones the idea for the AIDS quilt. A year later, the first panal of the quilt was completed. In June 187, Jones teamed up with Mike Smith and many others to officially orginize the NAMES project foundation.The quilt made such an impact on the American people that cities such as New York and Los Angelas sent panels to the San Francisco headquarters to be added to the quilt. Companies such as Singer donated sewing machines and equiptment.

On October 11, 187, the quilt was displayed for the first time ver at the National mall in Washington D.C., it covered a space larger the na football field and consisted of roughly 1,0 panels. Once again, the quilt hugely impacted the public which this itme led to a four month, twenty city, nationwide tour that started the spring on 188. The tour raised over $500,000 which was sent to hundreds of AIDS service organizations. During the tour, local blocks were added by different cities, each one commemorating the life of a friend or loved one who was lost to the disease. By the end of the tour, the AIDS memorial quilt was made up of over 6,000 panals.

Researchers have discovered that early quilt patterns were used by slaves to encrypt escape routes used by the Underground Railroad. One of the widely used codes was the Charleston code which consisted of an arrangement of symbols and mnemonic devices used to describe and map out escape route. Certain patterns signaled certain movements. (Dodson, 1, p.1-4)

·“monkey wrench” was a signal for the slaves to start packing the tools that would be necessary for the trip. (P.)

·“tumbling boxes” (boxes used for packing) signaled them that it was time to go. (p.)

Small sampler quilts of all patterns were made in advance to teach the code. When the full size quilts were hung, the people who were to make the journey were expected to have the codes memorized. Each quilt in the sequence was left out until all who would be traveling had the chance to see and understand the meaning of the quilt then the next quilt would be hung. To any regular person it looked as though the slaves were simply just airing out their quilts. Certain blocks were meant as directions, such as

·“Bears paw” which meant that the traveling slaves were to follow the bear tracks for a path to reliable food and water. (P.)

·“Wagon Wheel” referred to either a means of transportation or the setting sun in the west (P.)

·“Crossroads” meant a designation for Cleveland, Ohio, where major Underground Railroad routes met. (P.)

Some patterns were also meant as traveling tips

·“Flying Geese” patterns would tell the slaves to head in a certain direction depending on what color was used in the pattern, or it simply reminded the slaves to take note of the weather according to the migrating geese. (P.4)

·“Drunkards Path” was a reminder to slaves to zigzag their trail to throw off pursuers, (P.4)

·“Star” pattern was a reminder to use the stars as a navigations tool or to simply just travel at night. (P.4)

Colors played a huge role in the quilt codes. Depending on the colors used in a pattern, slaves would know what to expect weather wise or they would know if a certain cabin was being used as a safe house. The main reason these code quilts worked at all was because the slaves kept them secret. They knew that if these codes were to get out, hundreds of lives would be lost. Even today researchers have a hard time finding information on this topic mainly because it is so secretive. The Charleston code is only one of many codes that were used but it is very likely that we will never learn of any others mainly because ancestors of slaves have been taught to take this secret to the grave. (P.4)

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