My art in recent years has focused on making representations of single objects, often common, everyday objects: cast-offs that I find on the street. It is my hope (among other things) to elevate these humble objects to things of importance and sometimes even beauty.
At some point I recognized a similarity between the things I was picking up and saving and the things that in the past were saved to make a traditional patchwork quilt. Both collections were otherwise useless remnants and left-overs. They are of little use by themselves, but when used together a “greater whole” was possible. This concept merged with my long term fascination with and appreciation of handmade quilts. That led me to undertake the making of a series of “found object” quilts.
The “Kentucky Quilt” was the first of these. I used cigarette packs that I found on the street, a raw material that I had no trouble finding in the largest city of a major tobacco state. I carefully ironed them, cut them into strips, sewed a border of foil (from the inside of the package) and finally, assembled them in a traditional “log cabin” pattern. I wanted it first to “read” as a quilt, and only later, upon closer examination would the choice of materials become evident. The finished product was a study in paradox and contradiction— it was a keepsake made from throw-aways, a thing of beauty made from trash, a quilt that was not a quilt and in fact contained no fabric. I was using the techniques of an age-old craft but using up-to-date and non-traditional materials. The traditional quilt pattern spoke to Kentuckyʼs heritage, the use of cigarette packages spoke to modern mass-marketing. The original intent and message of the packages to advertise and sell had been silenced, rearranged to become a play of pattern, a busyness of color.
The “Can Quilt” came from much the same beginnings as the “Kentucky Quilt,” but in some ways the paradoxical elements are even more potent. Not only is it not a quilt even though it looks like one, it is further away from the essence of a quilt; most quilts are soft, warm and inviting, “Can Quilt” is hard, cold and a bit scary. The cans were in fact difficult and dangerous to cut, and were hard to nail to the plywood support. But when it was finally assembled even I was surprised how beautiful it was. The many colors and smooth surface of the aluminum itself gave it a wonderful brilliance, and in certain light a beautiful, warm, inner glow.
I had been saving discarded broom and mop handles for several years before realizing that I had the makings of the next quilt. The “Log Cabin Broomstick Quilt” (finished in May of 1999) is just what the title implies. I cut the broomsticks into pieces and assembled them into 8” x 8” squares in a log cabin pattern, then assembled those into a large quilt. The pieces of broomsticks reminded me of “Lincoln Logs,” a childʼs toy that consisted of log-like shapes that could be assembled into a log cabin. The assembly of the quilt, therefore, had resonance with my past, and a name (i.e. Log Cabin) that referred not only to what was built with the “Lincoln Logs,” but also referred to a venerable, traditional quilt pattern. This quilt also has an interesting added effect; the half-round shape of the broomsticks closely relates to the look of fabric that has been padded and then stitched. Again, the first impression is that of a quilt, and only on closer examination is it evident that the material used to create it is anything but traditional.