Monthly Archives: January 2021

Where are you going post pandemic?

Let’s play a fun game to cheer us up during this covid winter.   Imagine that you, and most of the world,  are now vaccinated.  You are able to travel. (Yes.  Ahhh…..)   Which art museum / gallery will you visit first?  (Take a moment – or ten – to imagine and savour the possibilities.)

Serious contenders for my immediate attention are the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, British Columbia and the Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  Both of these Canadian art museums opened in the last five years.  I haven’t visited them – yet.

Audain Art Museum, pekkau.ca image

Audain Art Museum, pekkau.ca image

Remai Modern, remaimodern.org image

Remai Modern, remaimodern.org image

Continuing on this train (caravan?!) of thought about ‘new-to-me’  Canadian art galleries, my choice is quickly decided.  Post pandemic, the first art museum I will visit is Qaumajuq,  a brand new, striking addition to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Qaumajuq is an exciting collaboration between the Government of Nunavut  (northern Canada) and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  In 2015, the Government of Nunavut entrusted its Fine Arts Collection of Inuit art to the WAG, which  provides care, storage, and exhibition of the art, along with  mentorship and educational programming.

The partnership makes the world’s largest collection (14,000+ artworks) of Inuit art accessible to many more people.  This week a significant sculpture, Tuniigusiia, was installed outside the building.  Goota Ashoona‘s marble sculpture was commissioned by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

The marble sculpture,Tuniigusiia, by Goota Ashoona, was commissioned by the Manitoba Teachers' Society, wag.ca image

Tuniigusiia, Goota Ashoona, wag.ca image

Inuit artist Goota Ashoona with her sculpture, Tuniigusiia

Goota Ashoona, Jocelyn Piirainen image

The Government of Nunavut has chosen a good home for its Inuit art collection.  The Winnipeg Art Gallery is a leader in the visual arts in Canada.  It opened in 1912; it was the first civic art gallery in Canada.  Before the realization of Qaumajuq, the WAG was renown for its extensive Inuit art collection that began with a sculpture purchase in 1956.  It was also the first public gallery in Canada to exhibit contemporary First Nations art.

I’ve enjoyed imagining this trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  It’s brought back good memories of past visits to the WAG, and all the great art I’ve seen there.  We WILL be visiting art galleries and museums again.  Which one will you visit first?

 

Gee’s Bend Quilts and…..printmaking?!

You are probably familiar with the Gee’s Bend Quilts – the quilts created by women from Gee’s Bend, in rural Alabama, U.S.A..  The colourful fabric works have been favourably – and appropriately – compared to works by Henri Matisse and Paul Klee.

Gee's Bend quilts, de Young Museum, 2017, T. Vatrt image

Gee’s Bend quilts, de Young Museum, 2017, T. Vatrt image

This Smithsonian article briefly outlines the history of the quilts, and the people living in their isolated community of Gee’s Bend, also known as Boykin, Alabama. Why was I surprised to learn that the quilts are inextricably linked to slavery, and poverty?

The quilts were made out of necessity, to keep the women and their families warm in their unheated cabins.  In Arlonzia Pettway‘s home, for example, electricity didn’t arrive until 1964,  running water was available in 1974, and a telephone installed in 1976.

Bars and blocks, Arlonzia Pettway, 2000s, soulsgrowndeep.org image

Recycled and scavenged fabrics were used for the quilts.  In the excellent NYTimes video about the Gee’s Bend quilters, While I Yet Live, one of the women recalls … Sometime you walking along the highway, you see an old piece of material, you went to pick it up and run home and give it to my momma. And, you know, she put it in a quilt.

Anna Mae Young’s quilt, below, is made of used work clothes.

Gee's Bend quilt, Anna Mae Young, 1976, Smithsonianmag.com image

Gee’s Bend quilt, Anna Mae Young, 1976, Smithsonianmag.com image

The idea of artwork being both beautiful and useful is worth exploring.  Of course, William Morris’ quote comes to mind:  Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. (Beauty of Life lecture, 1880)  Is it sacrilegious/naïve/cheeky to suggest that several well known abstract expressionist paintings could be easily swapped out for these quilts?  One could hang the quilt on the wall and take it down when needed. Goodbye Pollack, welcome Pettway!

I am sorry to say that I didn’t know anything of these artworks until October 2017.  I visited the deYoung Museum during a brief stay in San Fransisco (sigh….remember those days?!), and, as often happens, happily stumbled upon new and challenging work.  The Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibited alongside the shows Revelations:  Art from the American South and Coming Together: Artistic Traditions of the Quilt and the Print.

I had never seen a collaboration between quilters and printmakers.  Quilting and printmaking?  How does that work?  Paulson Fontaine Press in the San Fransisco Bay Area worked with the quilters to produce limited editions of intaglio prints. Here is a very brief video from their studios, where the soft ground and aquatint etchings are produced.

Louisiana Bendolph quilt top on a soft ground plate, Paulson Fontaine Press image

Paulson Fontaine Press image

The collaboration began in 2005, and continues to the present. In 2005 and 2007, (then) Paulson Press printed an edition of  four of Louisiana Bendolph’s quilt designs.  As recently as October 2020, they released three new editions of Gee’s Bend prints by Mary Lee Bendolph and her daughter, Essie Bendolph Pettway.

 

Paulson Fontaine Press exemplifies the democratic nature of printmaking.  Working with the artist quilters of Gee’s Bend, they print the artworks in editions of 50. The art becomes accessible to more people.  Museums are collecting, and exhibiting the works.  Commercial galleries are offering the prints for sale.  Paulson Fontaine Press is also contributing a portion of their sales of the latest print release to the Equal Justice Initiative.

Useful and beautiful artwork, indeed.