Bringing Fabric Alive

by Louise Sheldon
This show will make you think of quilts in a whole new way.

The Beveled Edge is a compact venue at 5909 Falls Road where the art gallery occupies space above its framing facility. You’ve probably passed it a dozen times. Next time, stop. If you catch the show “Elements of Fancy” before it closes October 31, you will be well rewarded.

This exhibition features quilts by three artists, which exude so much joy, creativity and originality that you will be refreshed by your visit. Brought to public attention by those created in memory of AIDS victims, quilts, in the past 25 years, have increasingly become a means for contemporary artistic expression. These machine-stitched quilts, pieced together of colored fabrics, are conveniently sized for placement on walls, roughly about three square feet each.

“There is something in the pattern and color combinations of fabrics that I want to bring alive,” says Dorret Oosterhoff, a Dutch artist living in the Baltimore area. Her buoyant, colorful works, in which straight-line patterns compete with curved lines, seem closely tied to the abstract art of the past half-century.

Baltimore-born Janis Jagodzinski uses thick upholstery fabrics to create portraits that at first glance appear blatantly flip and au courant, yet on closer viewing create subtle nuances of mood, from hilarity to somber daydreams. With immense craftsmanship, the artist juxtaposes variously patterned materials to create facial features, shading with swatches of darker color or with lacelike stitching. Nostrils flare, lips surge to the fore, irises gleam with tiny print.

An antique photo of a young girl served to inspire flesh in a pale blue-flowered pattern, with mauve-colored hair that is textured with darker pieces. In another quilt-portrait, entitled “Catty,” the dark fabric of hair is printed with a medley of feline faces and torsos, but the title refers to the portrait’s quixotic expression of cat-like aloofness.

With soft violet tones, Jagodzinski achieves a lustful look in “Rose Man,” a male profile-portrait in which the subject holds a yellow rose between his teeth. Here even the wrinkles around the subject’s eye are etched in fabric and stitching.

The most original and the most lyrical works in the show are abstract quilts by Catherine Kleeman of Ruxton, whose themes deal with environment and space. “The Last Night of Ghost Ranch” charts the rising positions of the moon in brilliant orange and yellow hues, moving to cool greens in the lower part. Many of the more delicately colored swatches in the background are ones the artist has hand-dyed; they contrast well with the sharply printed pieces.

A delightfully humorous work is “Sahara Moons,” an abstraction of pyramidal shapes cut by irregular yellow rings. The quilt is particularly striking for the exact shade of red used in Moroccan madder-dyed rugs and for its irregular shape of four unequal sides, like an antique Sahraoui rug or a wooden door in an ancient medina. (However, the pyramidal shape is not one that is typical of structures in the Saharan region.)

In two vertical matching quilts, entitled “Soft Rock Parfait,” the artist displays again her fine, high-spirited sense of color. Undulating bands of printed and hand-dyed material flow pleasingly across the works, reminding one somehow of Chinese scrolls.

Kleeman, who has only been showing her quilts for about three years, lets us know she’s no copycat, declaring, “My grandmother didn’t make quilts. My mother doesn’t make quilts. I make quilts.”

The show is rounded off by modem hand-crafted jewelry and painted canvas floorcloths.


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This story was published on October 3, 2001.