April 19, 2008


Today's been a good day: rattling round town in our big ol' station wagon, I ended up not just at the library but also at our favourite secondhand bookshop, where you can trade and buy. Oh, how we trade and buy! Our house is fit to burst with books.

I picked up an interesting beauty: it's a catalogue of an exhibition held in the mid '90s, with essays about how craft can be used to tell a story.

Here's a bit from the introduction by John Perreault:

"As long as there are stories to be told and people who want to see as well as hear them, then painting, photographs, sculptures and even pots, chairs, and tapestries -- all the kinds of artwork we call craft -- will be used as vehicles for narrative. No surface is safe; no three-dimensional form is sacred."

When an image or an artwork delights me, often it's because there is a story, personal or archetypal, being told to me as I look at it.

I adore the historical quilts with chunky applique Adam and Eve, discussing the various merits of the apple, while the snake looks on like a large green slug - and I love humorous self-portraits, crazy embroidery, modern mythologies, cartoons and words on quilts.

As much as I adore the pure design of many modern quilts, the others just plain make me chuckle. And humour is so important to me. It's a reaction that you can't force, you don't make it happen; an image just is fun or amusing, or it isn't. That's personal.

"Why do artists -- in this specific case, craft makers -- want to tell stories?" write Perreault; "Certainly there is a market for such artworks, and this should not be too lightly dismissed either in craft or painting and sculpture. Narrative imagery can provide moral instruction and even history lessons for the literate as well as the unlettered. Reinforcement or preaching to the already converted should not be overlooked. Commemoration or memorialization is another motivation. Some craft makers understand that their work cannot be separated from political considerations, and much the same can be said for religious imagery in craft."

Storytelling delights, it has been used to teach and to tell common myths, like the Adam and Eve religious appliques or the many political narrative quilts from pioneer America and modern days, and it is also popular - storytelling images including people, animals and other respresentational images reach straight through in a moment when we're not responding, for whatever reason, to abstract designs, no matter how accomplished they are.

We drop our guard and take a story to heart -- craft can be unpretentious -- some would say it is, just by calling it craft. Creativity is to be celebrated.

Thinking of story telling, here is a short list of things I've seen recently that I want to draw or applique into a story quilt:
  • A short, white fluffy dog with a red ball in its mouth, almost too large for it to hold.
  • Today I saw a couple on a purple and green two-seater bicycle, pedalling in synch. She's got a grey dress and a yellow backpack; he's got a green shirt, and they both have bright blue helmets. They are laughing.
  • A wooden grinning green man.
  • Street signs: green and white.
  • An old, cracked yellow-orange door.
  • A garage sale sign, hand-lettered, with a blue and a yellow balloon attached to it.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Great post, Bev! What a wonderful book you found! That's why I love art and craft so much - I'm in it for the stories. I can't get enough of hearing people tell the stories behind their work. And when I don't have access to the artist or crafter, I love to try to piece together the stories myself. Art speaks and it's so worth it to slow down and listen. The quilt you want to make sounds wonderful. You should totally do that!