20 February 2007

The Fabric of an Anchor

Sometimes, I’m amazed by how much I remember from my undergrad days—it's an awful lot. And oddly, I seem to remember a great many off-hand remarks that weren’t part of any lecture or academic program at all. One such memory was jogged when I saw these:

Those are the stamps that my sister put on the valentines she sent us (thanks!). Pretty neat looking, I say. In addition to jogging some art-related memories, my honest reaction to these stamps is, “Does any country have cooler stamps than America?” I’m guessing not.

Back to the memory called up by these stamps – I can still see my American art teacher digressing briefly from the lecture into a description of her occasional presentations to women’s groups at local churches. She was church-going and an expert in American art, a combination that made this kind of request not uncommon. The story of American Art can't be told without the 20th century developments that have left many ‘normal’ people with the sense that art is not for them, not relatable, and not relevant. Women’s church groups are usually full of these normal people. So, to give them an anchor in an otherwise incomprehensible sea of shapes and colors, she brought in quilts. As illustrated by my sister’s (I can safely bet) carefully chosen stamps, there isn’t much difference in the appearance of some American abstraction and many American quilts. My teacher had (rather brilliantly) appealed to something her audience already accepted and understood. Quilters know all about the formal concerns that any artist would face, and rarely are they derailed by the abstract, non-representational (meaning that the colors and forms depict nothing recognizable from the natural world), expressive elements of quilt designs. Bravo to my teacher for finding a way to make art relatable, to make it accessible to women who might only have seen the differences between modern painting and the painting hanging above their sofa back home.

The quilts in the stamps are from the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective. The story of their community is an inspiring tale of survival, perseverance, and hard work. I don’t think I can salute them enough.


talktolebanon said...

Yes, educators that can make their particular area relate to the life of the people they are interacting with are invaluable. The colors are magnificent and yes, our stamps are great. I can see why collectors like to accumulate USA stamps.

Vatti said...

Thanks for the insight into the stamps. I just discovered that one can see all the commemoratives for the coming year at usps.com. I also discovered that it is possible to buy a roll of 10,000 39 cent stamps for (no suprise) $3,900. Thats a lot of stamps!

suz said...

funny, i always thought that foreign stamps were really cool and much more interesting....kind of like foreign money (nothing is cooler than italian euros).