Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts

Joanna S. Roses’s husband asked her what she would like for her 80th birthday. Her response “to see something she hadn’t seen before and to give something to the City of New York” was the catalyst for the visually striking exhibit which is taking place at the Park Avenue Armory over the course of five days.

Presented by the American Folk Art Museum, this exhibit couldn’t be more aptly named. Infinite Variety succinctly captures the concept and the glory in this exhibit. Joanna Rose began collecting red and white quilts in the 50’s when they could be had for small sums at flea markets and tag sales. Over the years she amassed a collection o 650+. Stored in a cedar closet (a big cedar closet I bet), she had never seen her quilts all together on display nor had she catalogued them. She simply accumulated amazing examples of the quilts created and used by families in everyday life.

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I am so in awe of the vision Joanna Rose had to begin collecting these quilts. Back then no one regarded them as an artistic expression. Yet, she saw the fascination and the artistry and she just kept amassing examples of this artistry. Did she know that red and white was such a dominant color scheme because the red dye was more colorfast than any other colors? Or was she simply arrested by the contrast in the colors? Did she think that someday this would be an immensly valuable collection or was she merely entranced with each new example of a creative vision? I would love to sit and talk to her about this. I would love to have had some sort of analogous brilliance.

The Park Avenue Armory is a tremendous setting for this exhibit. It’s dark and cavernous interior is a brilliant counterpoint to the bright contrast of the red and white quilts. Hanging in spirals from the vaulted ceiling, no two quilts are alike and the visual impact is dazzling. The quilts hang in the air-filled with the vibrant, electric tension of the patterns and color contrast. It is breath-taking, riveting and deeply affecting. The exhibit design and lighting are incomparable.

There is so much to consider in looking at this bounty. The thousands and thousands of hours spent stitching. The countless conversations between friends and neighbors over daily activities and the trials of life. The hopes, dreams and defeats which must have been catalogued over decades as women sat together creating and actualizing an artistic vision which was, at the time, manifestly disregarded. The idea that women could take scraps of cloth and fashion them into something at once so utilitarian and yet so beautiful. The incredible breadth of artistic expression which could manifest itself despite the constants of red and white fabric. The idea that such things of beauty could have for so long been considered nothing more than an old blanket. Joanna said often the quilts she found were used to wrap more “valuable” items purchased at the flea markets.

Quite obviously this exhibit was a total delight to me. And I wasn’t alone. It was joyous to watch the other visitors taking in the dynamic and exhilarating visual display. Stepping back to take in the enormous room exploding with designs in red and white and then stepping forward to examine closely the consummate detail of stitching or embroidery. I will never forget it. I think I have to go back before it is gone Wednesday. I could have stayed for hours taking in the glorious sights.

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March 26, 2011

Use it Up, Wear It Out

With the economy in turmoil, the falling standard of living and the ongoing jobless rate, many people are reassessing their buying patterns and attitudes towards consumption.

I’ve blogged about this before, but the Frost household is thinking carefully about the way we used to consume and spend and we are working to be more thoughtful about how we allocate our money and where our priorities lie. This is actually quite satisfying. Somehow if one considers carefully before making a purchase or decides not to purchase, it is more meaningful. Likewise making things last and re-furbishing things that might have previously simply been replaced not only saves money, it helps conserve. The more we hang on to and use well, the less goes into landfill.

This theme was the subject of a New York Times article not that long ago. Faint echoes of the Great Depression and a subtle shift in attitudes were documented with statistics and anecdotal reports. Consumers are hanging on to cars, computers, clothes and other goods longer and they seem to be feeling pretty good about it.

We had this experience just recently. The heavy teak shaft of one of our backyard umbrellas was shattered in the winds of a late winter storm. Sure, they said that umbrella could stand up to the strongest winds, but not this time. As we began the spring clean up in the backyard, I picked up the umbrella carcass thinking sadly of the cost of replacement. I was all the way out to the curb when Jim caught up to me and said he thought he could replace the shaft. We put the damaged umbrella back in the garage. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The umbrella was expensive and neither of us were excited about spending several hundred dollars on a new one.

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March 20, 2011

First Rites of Spring

The snows have disappeared and my tulips and daffodils are poking up out of the soil. Daytime temperatures are hitting the 50’s and it looks like we may have survived winter. Hooray!!

Last Sunday, daylight savings time, I ordered my seeds and plants. Burpee had presciently sent me a discount coupon and that was all it took to get my business. This year’s garden will be a little streamlined from last year. The sunflowers, tomotoes, herbs and lettuce will all reappear. I think we can dispense with the cucumbers and swiss chard.

Late Thursday afternoon this week, Jim and I headed to Home Depot. We were well ahead of the rush. The garden center was deserted and we loaded our cart with 28 bags of Bovung cow manure with humus and three bags of lime. Good thing to have the truck around these days. I unloaded the cargo and felt the first excitement at having a new garden at hand.

The Other Dakota

Fragrant and rich

 Tilling the garden was a whole different experience from last year. Last year was a nightmare pulling the long and deep roots from the deceased Flame Bush and trying to break through the grass and rocks. This year the rototiller broke through the soil easily (well, the thing pulls like the dickens, but it is all relative) and quickly churned the soil, last year’s straw, lime and manure into a soft, rich looking patch of soil. Boy, if I were a plant I would want to sink my roots into that soil. We had the rototiller back at the rental place in two hours flat.

The farmer at work

Of course, it is stil early. The rental guy thought our soil was still frozen. Far from it, but I don’t expect to plant for six weeks. If the early bird catches the worm, we should have lots of them in the garden.

Faithful assistant

It was hard to stop working in the yard and head inside. But I think we are ready for some planting when the time comes and I can dream about the hours to be spent this summer fussing in the garden and all the fabulous tomatoes and vegetables in our future.

Work well done

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