The Greek Slave – New Project

The Greek Slave Quilt

The Greek Slave Quilt

This is a slightly blurry photo of a detail of The Greek Slave Quilt which was one of the exhibits in the recent magnificent quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I went twice and only noticed this quilt on my second visit where I was suddenly entranced by it.

What interests me is the way that the meaning of the quilt changes as the stories about the woman (probably) who made it change.  Originally it was thought that it must have been made by a woman living on a farm as it has a picket fence design round the edge and lots of horses and other domestic animals pictured in its applique.  This was the opinion of Averil Colby  (1900-1983), one of the great figures in the English patchwork and quilting revival.  (There will be a retrospective exhibition about her legacy at the Quilters’ Guild Museum in York in 2011, http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/forthcoming/the-averil-colby-legacy.html).  This went unchallenged until a researcher at the V&A looked more closely at the applique figures, one of which is pictured here.  What that researcher saw was a particularly well-known statue by Hiram Powers (1805-1873) called the Greek Slave.

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers

The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers (1805-1873)

 

It was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and the pose in the applique and crucially the presence of the post to which the woman is chained, suggest very strongly that the woman who made it was not a farmer celebrating the joys of country life through chickens and horses and picket fences but a cultured woman who had either been to the Great Exhibition, or seen pictures or read magazines and was copying what she had seen.  Suddenly this becomes a very different piece as it is a heavily appliqued coverlet, meaning it has no wadding and so was not used for warm bedding.  It is much more likely to be a hobby piece.

I’ll return to the piece in later posts, but I was intrigued by the shifting meanings of the story and decided to make my own version.

,

The Greek Slave – my latest project

Greek Slave Quilt

Greek Slave Quilt, detail, Ann Rippin 2011

This is part of a piece I started working on in order to have something to do over Christmas.  I found the patchwork, including some quite nice applique, that I did years and years and years ago with a pack of reproduction vintage fabrics that my mother gave me.  I was amazed when I pulled the bag out, firstly because the work had been in there for so long that the plastic had started to biodegrade and the handles came off in my hand, and second because there was so much piecing already done.

I can also use the contents of the bag to trace how my patchwork has developed.  The main pieces were large and fairly accurate (for me) very traditionally put together, but as my tastes changed I started to like the really wonky piecing you get with very utilitarian quilts.  I suppose this is reverse snobbery: you can admire the charmingly naive when you have double glazing and central heating.  But there is something very energetic about quilting which fits where it touches, as my grandmother used to say.  And I did a brilliant workshop some years ago with Gwen Marston who talks about liberated quilting.  No templates.  Just get on with it and make a bit to fit.  Apropos of nothing, one of the proudest moments of my life was when I showed  a couple of my pieces at the show and tell at the workshop, and she came up to me quietly later and said, ‘Ann, you are a real artist.’  Could have died and gone to heaven.

So, two thirds of my latest piece will be wonky patchwork.  This sample shows the deliberately wonky quilting which I will bung in the washing machine to shrink to make it look antique.  I am currently working on the applique panel which is the whole point of the piece.

Greek Slave applique

Greek Slave Applique from Victoria and Albert Quilt

This is the applique with its attendant narrative that I am working on.  More on this as work progresses.

Finding the limelight

 

Alphabet sampler

Alphabet sampler, 2008

 

This small piece, about 12 inches square (I am older than the hills), is one of a series that I made in 2008, about making samplers to say something about contemporary ideas about management.  The idea was that in the past, samplers had been used at least in part to inculcate ideas of femininity and what it means to be ladylike, or conversely, in the lower orders, how respectable money could be made through needlework.  These samplers often had verses from the Bible or other worthy texts, and collecting sampler quotes became a bit of a hobby for me in the way that some people collect epitaphs in graveyards.  I wondered what would  happen if we used the sampler to inculcate good management practice in, say, MBA students, and I went for inspiration to an interesting source of knowledge, the weekend edition of the Financial Times which has a tiny business card feature every week in which someone shares their business wisdom.  I used the quotations as they came out, making a small quilt a week for twelve weeks and the final quilt I made for myself using my own business wisdom.  The quilts got more elaborate as I realised that I would achieve my one a week goal.

So, the idea was to interview the people who gave the quotations and present them with the quilts which I had (beautifully) framed as a thank you for their time.  In the event I only arranged one interview.  But, the quilts had a one night show at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, which is, after the Victoria and Albert, probably the most prestigious textile museum in the country.  This was one of the highlights of my life.  These quilts are real showgirls and really sparkle under the lights in a gallery.  There was a dinner and it was a big deal for me.  But, I never finished the project.  But…  This may be an idea whose time has come.

Yesterday, a new colleague joined us at the Department of Management at the University of Bristol, and we were discussing putting together a conference paper on queering management.  He suggested that we could use some of my work.  I was sure we could, but couldn’t quite think which bits.  This morning it struck me, that this would be a really good vehicle for the project.  The quilts queer the way that we think about doing management research, and the content is about models of entrepreneurship and success.  So, the showgirls – and I had never thought of these pieces as camp – might have found the limelight after all.

I will post more images of this series, but start with this one because it is probably the most popular.  It appeals to the slightly cynical with its motto, and most of the management scholars I know do rather tend to the cynical.  Plus the ABC quote is particularly fitting for a sampler in which young girls were taught to embroider initials so that they could find a job in service marking linen.

What Ann Rippin did on Sunday afternoon

What Ann Rippin did on Sunday afternoon
What Ann Rippin did on Sunday afternoon

This is a detail of a little piece that I made on Sunday afternoon.  I rather fancied making a version of a small quilt by the Swedish quilter, Lina Wilk, I saw on the front of The Quilter this month.  So I sat down and had a go working on a piece of bamboo wadding.  I did the majority of it with the embellisher, this is a machine I have a love hate relationship with.  I broke two needles even on a small piece like this.  But I did enjoy machine stitching into it.  I have started to make landscape type quilts with embroidery and beads which are meant to suggest ancient landscapes underneath those visible to us on the ground.  I like the idea that the little pieces are maps to ancient burial sites – all from my imagination, of course.  This took me a couple of hours to make and apart from having to replace needles was just a delight to do.  I was very happy with the buildings which were made from thick furnishing fabric but when quilted they looked like shingled buildings.  I would like to make some more of these landscape pieces and put them in simple box frames.

 

,

Final post on Ann Rippin's sketchbooks for a while…

 

Sketches of goddess figures from Marija Gimbutas's book

Sketches of goddess figures from Marija Gimbutas's book

 

It’s a beautiful bright afternoon and it’s staying light longer, so I think that I will try to make some progress on a project which I picked up so that I would have something to stitch while watching television over Christmas, my Greek Slave project.  This is based on a quilt I saw at the wonderful exhibition of quilts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010 (www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/).  I will write more about it as we go along, but thought I would include one more of the pages of the goddess sketchbooks before moving on to a major new piece.

These sketches are taken from Gimbutas’s book, The Language of the Goddess. I cannot remember exactly when I encountered the work of Marija Gimbutas, but I certainly came across ideas about a Mother Goddess and attendant theories about matriarchal societies while I was at university and when I was developing my own feminist identity.  She was and remains a controversial figure.  I encountered her work as the context was selecting her for prominence as it were.  Her work on the goddess fitted exactly with second-wave feminism when we were looking for possibilities of societies based on something other than the Law of the Father, which the French feminists such as Kristeva and Irigaray were exposing for us.  Gimbutas suggested that there had been matriarchies which had existed very successfully without war or weapons for centuries, before they were displaced by masculine nomadic cultures sweeping from the Steppes.

I don’t know whether or not I believe a word of this version of events.  There seems to be little direct evidence for such societies, and we can never know what went through the minds of people in the very distant past.  They left no written records.  Gimbutas argues that they had a well-worked out visual language which is reflected in the artifacts that they did leave behind.  Perhaps.  What fascinates me is my desire to engage with this beautiful vision of a world governed by respect for nature and craft and the place of women.  It seems to connect with a powerful nostalgia of which I was unaware.  This vision is so engaging and so rich and so resonant with Ecofeminism, that it is hard to resist.  But, my rational side still requires evidence.

The other element that fascinates me is the cultural constructions going on here.  Gimbutas published her work at exactly the right point to be taken up by a generation of women and some men who wanted to recover a gentler and more sustainable way of organising.  But with feminism came the backlash and she was definitely on the receiving end of that.  There is a  photograph of Gimbutas in her native Lithuanian peasant dress on a site dedicated to bad archaeology (www.badarchaeology.net).  She has long been subject to ridicule, but I think that I share some of her fascination for these figures.  And, I went out yesterday and bought some more DAS clay to make some more of my own…

The serious scholar vs the eccentric peasant grandmother.  I have long been fascinated by how forces of conservatism effectively disempower threats to the status quo by making fun of them, and thus trivialising them.  Gimbutas in her funny headdress is a quiet example of this.


 

 

Yet another page from Ann Rippin's sketchbooks

 

Found landscape page from Ann Rippin's sketchbook

Found landscape page from Ann Rippin's sketchbook

One of the things that I like about sketchbooks is that sometimes you get happy accidents like this.  This is a page from my workbook on the Body Shop, although it doesn’t have much to do with the finished piece.  While I was working on the quilt and in this book I bought a brush which I think is called a sword or a blade brush at a craft fair and was just trying it out with some koh-i-nor solid dye.  I was really surprised when the oriental-looking landscape appeared out of nowhere.  If I had been trying for this effect it would have eluded me, but it was fun to see it emerge.

In the top right hand corner there is also a swatch of a beautiful embroidered silk fabric  which I used in this quilt to symbolise Nottingham, my home town, because of the oak leaves and the major oak and Robin Hood.

 

,

Another page from Ann Rippin's sketchbooks

The Queen of Scotland

Page from Ann Rippin's Body Shop Workbook

This is one of my favourite pages from my sketchbooks because it came about as a bit of a happy accident.  It is part of the work on the Body Shop concerned with portraiture as a research method.  I was doing some stuff with portraits of Elizabeth 1, particularly in the Gloriana phase, and also looking at the 1970s which were probably my formative decade.  The picture of Rod Stewart just seemed to typify the decade in some way, so I put him into the book.  Then I came across the picture of Mary Queen of Scots and was struck by the similarities between the two.  There is something about the pose and the look in their eyes.  I think they belong to each other across the centuries somehow.  It just made me laugh.  So I thought I would include it here.

Early Europe Figures – Sketchbook

 

Early Europe figure sketchbook page

Early Europe figure sketchbook page from Ann Rippin's sketchbook, 2010

Yesterday I posted about the Early Europe figures to be included on the Body Shop Quilt.  Today I thought it might be interesting to add the page from my sketchbook of the drawing I did for it while I was at the exhibition.  I have included the little DAS figure that I made as well.  There is more about sketchbooks on my sketchbook page.

Happy New Year from Ann Rippin, Academic Quilter

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get this blog going.  So, I thought I would start with an update on the Body Shop quilt.

I hung up the BSI quilt before Christmas just to have it up for a bit and to live with it.  I can’t see the bottom of it, so I am only living with the top half really.  I immediately began to see flaws in it.  Immediately.  I need to get some DAS and start making some figures ‘from early Europe’ to paint gold.  It needs some big showy pieces which I might wrap with threads or wire or beads or sim.  Just surprised how the gaps showed up instantly.  There are quite large bits of fabric which need focal points.

I have made a male figure, because there is so much male energy in the quilt.  When I saw the male figure in the exhibition in the Ashmolean I was very taken with it.  I thought it was really sexy, which is not a word I use that often.  Sitting here thinking about it now, it strikes me as an example of what we used to rail against in the seventies: the dismembering of women into their sexual parts rather than portraying them as whole women and whole human beings.  My lovely little figurine is full of sex and life, but it is just the torso, the bare minimum of a man you need for sex.  Rather weird.  But he is lovely.  I might make another one to paint.

Ann Rippin's rendering in DAS modelling clay of an Early Europe Figure.

Ann Rippin's DAS Early Europe figure

I saw these little figures when I went to a fantastic exhibition at the newly refurbished Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in the summer.  I had a lovely time there making sketches, which I always enjoy.  This one is the inspiration behind the figure above.

I might spray him gold or I might paint him.  Either way, I know where I am going to position him.  I have some other female figures which I am going to include as well.  I really loved making them, and I can see why people made them even if they have no ritual significance at all.  There is something about the fact that they are so small and sit in the hand so beautifully.  Douglass Bailey writes about this in his essay in the catalogue to the Ashmolean exhibition

Bayley, Douglass, W. (2010) ‘The Figurines of Old Europe’, in David W. Anthony The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC , New York and Princeton: Institute for the Study of Ancient World: 113-127.


Quilting meets critical theory

Edge of Body Shop panel

Edge of the Body Shop panel showing raw edge binding with beading.

I have spent a happy summer getting to know the work of Walter Benjamin on the impact of technology on art.  I started to read Benjamin properly and thoroughly and in a sustained way because of my work on my EdD at Bristol and the unit on visual inquiry.  Simple start but it knocked me sideways.

I will no doubt come back to this theme as it has quietly and not so quietly obsessed me for weeks. But one of the things that I love about Benjamin is the way he understood the implications of new technology in a way that can be applied to technologies that did not exist when he wrote.  He didn’t predict them, but he could see where things were going and their logical developments.  So I think he would have been fascinated and delighted with iPhones for example.

There is one tiny little bit in his best-known essay, ‘Art in the Art of (its) Mechanical Reproduction’ which he wrote in the 1930s, where he comments on the impact on the artist of seeing his/her work in close-up.  He was absolutely right.  When I see my work in close-up I see something quite new and different.  It takes on sculptural qualities.  I made it, but it is strange to me.  I was totally delighted the first time I took a close-up picture of it.  I could see every stitch and every fibre of many stitches.  It must have been looking down the microscope for the first time and seeing microscopic organisms.  It changed my relationship with my work, and made me a viewer as well as a maker.  Really fascinating.  And Benjamin saw that coming.