A Passion For Quilts

Textile Masterpieces by M. Joan Lintault

In his book "The Art Quilt," quilt expert Robert Shaw called M. Joan Lintault, “. . .one of the most consistent and original of all contemporary quilt makers."  In A Passion for Quilts: Joan Lintault Collects an exhibition at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, some of her contemporary work as well as pieces from her collection of historic quilts from America and textiles from India are currently on view. Recognized as an internationally renowned textile artist and pioneer art quilt maker, Linault’s work and the pieces she has collected show her passion for fabric art and her artistic eye, especially for the bold color and abstract patterns common to both.

In this recent exhibition at the Shelburne Museum, visitors get a grand view of how the seasons and nature have inspired the artist. ”The Other Messengers," 1995, 84" by 108", displays a pattern of multicolored fall leaves, with open/negative spaces in between and sections connected by spiders and bugs.  The edges of the quilt are uneven, defined by the outline of the leaves. Ms. Lintault explains she didn't have a plan as she was creating it, the piece just grew. Her studio was too small to view it from afar, so it was only when it was in a museum that she realized she had made a mandala. She has donated the work to the Shelburne.

 Manuscript letters and vegetables illustrate the theme of "Alphabet Soup," 1998, 74" by 98."  It was made from leftover pieces of previous Lintault quilts, like leftovers are used to make soup.  Images of radishes, carrots, peas in the pod, cabbage, fish, corn, tomatoes and pumpkins are among the ingredients shown, along with letters Lintault remembered from childhood alphabet soup and her favorite blue and white soup bowls. At the bottom and top of the quilt, in negative letters, are the recipe for the soup, including the comments"good for stomaches(sic), heartaches and colds. . .serve. . .to six hungry people."

"Fan Dancer," 2004, 56" x 59", is one of the artist’s portrait quilts that features pairs of fans with designs on them, such as rabbits, or a couple from a past century, connected by decorative bows, with a white mask in the center. It was created in memory of her aunt and uncle whom she used to see dance at theaters in New York City, she explains, "I learned the importance of camouflage, concealment, and the meaning of artifice…This piece is about all the dancers and actors that use fans in eloquent ceremony.  It is about hiding behind masks, deciding which one to wear and why.  The piece also refers to the language of fans, history, false faces, transformation, hot weather, my father who gave me fans, and my aunt who danced with feathered fans."

Lintault joined the Peace Corps in the 1960s, volunteering in Peru and working in crafts development. There she learned about color as well as synthetic and natural dyes.  Later she traveled extensively in India, observing traditional textile processes and was inspired by a variety of craftspeople and the beautiful carvings on Hindu temples, from which she learned about the importance of a dynamic, active surface.  On a Fulbright grant in Japan—where she was profoundly influenced by the Japanese aesthetic—she studied traditional dyeing and textile-resist techniques and became fascinated with the use of negative spaces. She traveled to Italy and visited various locations featuring Roman garden rooms and Renaissance frescoes and wall paintings. In addition to her quilting, Lintault  has also taught and lectured on various surface design techniques throughout the United States and Asia  She also studies old quilts for inspiration, identifying patterns and learning about repetition and the relation of positive and negative. 

International globe-trotting, studying and teaching, watching craftspeople around the world at work, and constantly looking at and thinking about art has heavily influenced Lintault’s work. She often uses her camera as a sketchbook to document shapes, light, repetition and other effects of nature. The foundation of her quilts starts with white fabric that she then dyes, screen prints, paints and draws upon.  She assembles her imagery in an openwork style using applique, embroidery, and machine made lace to connect it all. Most of her quilts have no background, only foreground, and can be highly textured--influenced by her previous work in clay--both of which makes the subject matter stand out. Her work is large-scale with irregular outlines and the reverse sides can be as engaging as the front.

Lintault likes working with fabric for its versatility: because it is responsive to color; is sensual and can be manipulated; and has the potential for an infinite variety of expression and form.  In her website she explains: "I place myself solidly in a textile tradition and because of that I feel free to use any textile techniques that would contribute to my work.  I look back in history to see where I came from, but the new comes through my experience of working.  She also explains that using free-motion embroidery on the sewing machine has allowed her to introduce texture and lace in her work and to build the quilts in a unique way.  "I sew the work by piecing individual elements together using applique, quilting, sewing machine lace, and embroidery.  The lace work that joins the pieces takes advantage of the resulting negative space.  This enables me to eliminate the background that is usually used to hold the image together."

"My objective is to produce a series of quilts that are motivated by metaphors of paradise and the evocative use of nature to inspire spiritual and uplifting feelings."  She created a series, "Evidence of Paradise," to achieve that goal.  The Japanese screens and 1st century Roman garden rooms that she studied and admired use nature symbolism to inspire a feeling for the beauty of nature, and she follows in that longtime historic tradition of exploring the themes of nature and paradise.  "I choose trees, leaves, flowers, fruit, vegetables and insects for similar reasons.  I want to construct the character of nature and paradise from its smaller parts.   I also want to bring perpetual summer indoors, the cool of the forest, the heat in the meadow, and the whine of insects in the grass." The series evokes the balance between life and decay, creation and destruction (flowers and the insects that eat them, for example), fleeting beauty and tragedy,all encompassed within gardens and nature in the natural passage of time.

Lintault taught fibers and textile design at Southern Illinois University for 27 years, and now lives in New Paltz, New York.  Her work has been shown in over 300 national and international exhibitions since 1965. Her quilts are in the collections of The Museum of Art and Design in New York City, the International Quilts Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska, the State of Illinois, and the Shelburne Museum, as well as in numerous other public and private collections. Her pieces have also been exhibited at the White House, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Crafts Museum, to name only a few. Her book, M. Joan Lintault: Connecting Quilts, Art and Textiles, DragonThreads Ltd., 2007, describes her influences and inspirations and provides valuable insights into her artistic process.

The Lintault show continues through October 30th at the Shelburne Museum. For more information about the exhibit, please visit www.shelburnemuseum.org. For more information about M. Joan Lintault, please visit her website: www.mjlintault.com
For more information on her book, see www.dragonthreads.com.



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