Inspiration Interlude: TQS #508, Paula Nadelstern

January 31, 2010 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

I just watched Episode #508 of The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, which featured Paula Nadelstern and the exhibit of her kaleidoscope quilts at the American Folk Art Museum.  Not only are her quilts absolutely breathtaking, but I really felt a kinship with her philosophy about quilting and fabric.

More is More detail

Detail of "More is More," copyright Paula Nadelstern, 1996

The episode was wonderfully inspirational and gorgeous, and made me bitterly regret not making it up to New York City while the exhibit was still hanging.  However, the show did a wonderful job of being the next best thing to attending in person, and the insights that Paula and the curators provided into her work in particular and the place of quilting in the American art world in general were compelling and well thought out.

If you have a subscription to The Quilt Show, I strongly recommend this episode.  (If you don’t have a subscription, I strongly recommend one!)  Here are some highlight quotes from Paula Nadelstern that I found resonant enough to want to transcribe for my own study:

On design:

“I have a concept but I don’t actually know what it’s going to look like till the very end.  I always think that if I knew what it’s going to look like, why do it?  For me, I want to be the one who makes the magic and the one who is surprised. I want that magic, to the very last seam, not to exactly know what it’s going to look like.  If I don’t like it at that point, I’ll just cut off and add more.”

On fabric:

“It could just be one single piece of fabric that takes me someplace and off and exploring,  a new background fabric, but no matter what, each quilt I don’t exactly know where it’s going to go.  I definitely think of it always as a collaboration between me and the fabric, and if the fabric takes me off in a new idea and a new direction, I’m willing to go that way.  I don’t think I’m smarter if I come to the table knowing exactly what I’m doing.”

“I always say that phrase, that when it comes to fabric ‘more is more.’

On quilting as an art medium:

“I have this idea about what I call a ‘viable quilt’ and that’s what I aspire to, to make viable quilts.  To me, a viable quilt is one where the audience wants to see it from far away and to see it as a piece of art. Yet because it’s a quilt they’re seduced to come up close and see the stitches and see the seams.  If someone is content just to see my work from up close, or they’re content just to see the work from far away, that to me doesn’t create the viable quilt.  If they like to see it from far away but they don’t want to see how I’ve made it, then I could have painted it (well, someone could have painted it, I’m not a painter.)  But I like that, I think that’s what so wonderful about a quilt is that it really is made up of seams and stitches and fabric, and the fabricness, the materiality of it, is a very important component for me.

On the quilting community:

“We came here to have fun in the first place, and there really aren’t rules to this.  Find what fits your personality.  That’s why there’s 20 million quilters in the United States alone, it’s the fact that each one of us gets to find what it is that we like.  Anything you do in quilting — there is nothing you could do in quilting that is cheating.  I mean, who are we cheating, pioneer women? Who set up the rules in the first place?  There aren’t any, really, and so find what fits your personality.  Never say that to each other in quilting that, ‘oh, look what you’re doing, that’s cheating’ because it’s not.  It’s just one more step in the fact that we are all stretching this incredible craft that sometimes becomes art for all of us.”

Watching this episode made me happy for numerous reasons.  I’m happy that a creative, self-taught quilter has had her amazing work recognized with an exhibit in a major museum.  I’m happy that TQS exists to bring me a virtual tour from my living room.  And I’m happy that I’m a part of “this incredible craft.”

Please visit Paula’s online quilt gallery to view images of her astonishing kaleidoscope quilts.

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