"EMERGING VISIONS: Utah Artists' Quilts 1996" - at The Gallery at FHP through March 8 - is certain to broaden people's conception of the quilt.
The "quilt" art form dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Crusaders used an early form of quilting to line their armor for warmth. It is speculated that they saw the craft in some form in the Middle East.By the fourteenth century, quilts were used in Europe for bedcovers and clothing, both of which were often embellished with fancy embroidery on a solid-color fabric.
In the fifteenth century applique was introduced; pieces of fabric were cut into pictorial shapes and stitched to a fabric surface as a decoration.
By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, elaborate embroidery and applique work were combined with silks, satins and velvets to produce quilted clothing and bedding for royal families.
The American pioneer is generally credited with the origination and development of the patchwork quilt. Faced with long, cold winters and limited resources, the women used scraps of worn clothing to create bedding covers; they stitched together odd-shaped bits and pieces of fabric to form a larger piece of fabric or quilt top.
Later, the women cut the pieces into geometric shapes and pieced them together to form patterns or blocks.
The designs of the quilts usually reflected the lives of the women who made them. When they weren't abstract, they were of flowers, birds, animals, schools and farmhouses or other country themes; their lives, families and religion went into every work.
Perhaps it is not unusual then that the quilts in "Emerging Visions" are by women. However, the makers of these quilts have more on their mind than flowers, schools and farmhouses.
"Lend Me Your Gun," by Jen Shurtliff and Martha Klein, is a masochistic/suicidal plea for assistance from a lover/husband/boyfriend. Klein's written petition literally surrounds the image of a woman, her hands upheld. Shurtliff's masterful creation of fleshy texture through seemingly haphazard stitchery - knuckles, cracks, fingernails and wrinkles are vividly rendered - is as powerful and disturbing as Klein's words, and while not a quilt for the bed, it certainly is a compelling statement.
Lisa Hollerbach's "Spontaneous Integration" is "psychedelic Amish." Her liberated patterns and generous colors are all over the quilt. The most interesting feature of the piece, however, is the thread that she leaves free to hang whereever it wants.
"These Are the Contents of My Head" by Danna Jacques is reminiscent of island spiritualism: garishly colored snakes and wingeddemons spew from the head of a woman.
"Rainforest" by Carol Doubek is a playful pastiche of toad and pollywogs; Doubek's fanciful, bejeweled and quilted three-dimensional reptiles have delighted viewers for years. She airbrushes much of the cloth, adding costume jewelry for eyes and such. The best part of "Rainforest" is Doubek's use of old, garish men's ties, sticking out like exotic tongues from the periphery of the piece.
In Kathleen Deneris' "Measuring Up" the viewer gets a visual lecture on worshiping false images. Deneris says, "We live within a society that values perfection. Yet we give a perfect child the distorted image of a Barbie Doll as our ideal."
The quilt has xerographed images of Barbies and a little girl in a slip. Ubiquitous measuring tapes cut through and dodge such printed phrases as, "is my bust big," "thin," "small," "enough" and "long legs."
Quilters Danna Jaques, Andrea Martin and Ann Winterton Seely also have excellent pieces in the exhibit.
While "Emerging Visions" breaks no new philosophical ground concerning women's issues, it does present visual proof of the artistic merit of the quilt.
It is also inspiring to find that women still stitch their hopes, dreams, concerns and love into the cloth.
"Emerging Visions: Utah Artists' Quilts" will run through March 8 at the Gallery at FHP (2500 S. State, 461-6617).
The gallery will change its name to Vital Arts in March.