For the past three weeks I’ve been living and working in San Francisco. My 15-year-old daughter Lilian is doing her summer intensive ballet training at the San Francisco Ballet School, and since no housing was offered, I made the *huge* sacrifice of coming with her. 😉 Last weekend I took the train south to visit the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and new Quilt Alliance board member Nancy Bavor, who works as the museum’s Curator of Collections. I enjoyed a wonderful presentation by powerhouse quilting twins Mary Mashuta and Roberta Horton, both of whom have been interviewed for our Q.S.O.S. oral history project.
Among the current exhibitions was a show called “Milestones: Textiles of Transition,” which includes a fascinating video piece by the Luminarium Dance Company. The video shows images of quilts projected onto dancers performing in front of those same quilts. The result is sort of a visual quilt, a shifting and rich sandwich of images. Coincidentally, Luminarium founder, dancer and quilter Merli V. Guerra contacted me about a month ago to reach out to the Quilt Alliance about the Threading Motion Project. I asked Merli if she would write a piece about the work for our readers and I’m happy to present it here.
Quilting and motion have always been linked for me. One could say the movement of a thread and needle in a quilter’s hand is motion enough; that the swirls of color and patterns playing across a finished piece are motion to the eye. Yet for me, quilting means dancing. It means standing on the dining room table as a four-year-old, practicing what my mother had coined as “the frisbee method,” as together we tossed quilted hearts onto our fabric below. If we found we did not like what gravity had given us, we would pick them each up and start again—leaving us in the end with a set of quilts full of “motion,” and a little girl thrilled by the joy of the dance.
Twenty years later, I am still that little girl. I am still thrilled by the color, movement, energy, and emotions that greet the viewer at a quilt show, be it contemporary or traditional in design. I am also that ever-too-eager Joann Fabrics frequenter who has more newly-begun quilts filling her closet shelves than finished ones. Perhaps traditional quilting is not for me, which only adds to my amazement and wonder to find my work now on display on the East Coast (at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA) and West Coast (at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles in San Jose, CA), with calls coming in from other parts of the country, from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. A few short months ago, I had never heard of the Quilt Alliance, and the word “Paducah” certainly did not ring any bells! Yet throughout this process, the more I learn, the more I realize how impressively large and supportive America’s quilting community is, even to a non-quilting interdisciplinary artist like myself.
I encourage you now, if you find yourself near either of the museums above in the next month, to take a peek at Luminarium Dance Company’s Threading Motion Project. I am writing this piece on the three-year anniversary of Luminarium’s founding in Boston, MA, and have no doubt that neither I, nor my co-director Kimberleigh A. Holman, would have guessed back in 2010 that one of our most successful projects would involve quilts! I began this series several years ago with a conversation with a local curator about my desire to show the “movement of a quilt.” After a year of determining what this meant, and how it could be accomplished visually, I picked up the phone and called Connie Barlow, the now former director of the New England Quilt Museum (NEQM), to propose the project, and soon after received funding from the Lowell Cultural Council to make the Threading Motion Project a reality for Luminarium’s 2013 Season.
Collaborating with NEQM’s exhibition Silk! and with the invaluable help of curator Pam Weeks, I selected six images from the quilt-show-to-be, projected these images onto my dancers in the studio, created six short vignettes ranging from two to three minutes in length, and filmed each in a way that allows the viewer to, for a brief moment, enter the world of the quilt. What does each express, and how does it express it? How can my dancers embody this, and set it into motion? Indeed, the Threading Motion Project quickly became an exercise in how to take a two-dimensional work of art, and redesign it for the three-dimensional, all through the use of light on skin.
As I end this narrative, that I can only hope will encourage you to take a peek at this film series by visiting one of these two museums (and more to follow!), while providing a glimpse into the thought process behind the work, it is most important to me that I call attention to the quilters directly involved, as it is their artwork that has led to my own. These five quilters come from all over the country, bringing their unique approaches and backgrounds to each of the vignettes now on display: Sonya Lee Barrington, Judith Content, Janet Elwin, Diane Loomis, and Bethanne Nemesh. I cannot thank these women enough for sharing with me their insights and enthusiasm throughout the process, as each artist’s thoughts inevitably shaped the way in which I interpreted the work into its current life on film. They are also the reason I now have such an appreciative understanding of the vast and supportive network that is the quilting community, as I now curiously await the news of where my Quilt Vignettes film series will travel next.
Thank you for reading, and happy dancing…
Merli V. Guerra
Artistic Director, Luminarium Dance Company
Merli’s “Quilt Vignettes” are currently on view at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA, through July 7 (alongside all six original quilts), and at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles in San Jose, CA, through July 21. For a sneak peek of the work, view the trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PD6QSyp9QFM.
All Threading Motion Project films and materials copyright of Luminarium Dance Company 2013.