Thursday, January 23, 2014

HUB ORIGINALS: New England Quilt Museum/Quilts Japan

Mikiko Misawa, Grassland, Thai silk, Contemporary Category
Link to Exhibition Website:

Curator: Pam Weeks

From the Press Release: "the only Northeast venue to showcase these award winning quilts from the 2011 international competition of the Japanese Handicraft Instructors' Association"

Recommended For: A decidedly Asian twist on a familiar American art form with interesting contemporary art harmonies. Not just for quilters!

The Experience:
See It All will kick off 2014 with an new series I'm calling HUB ORIGINALS. This series will look at some of the more unique and focused museums in the greater-Boston area. I'm starting the series with the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell.

A very easy drive up Route 3 on a frigid January morning took me into downtown Lowell before I knew it. The New England Quilt Museum was easy to find and nearby parking was readily available. I had come to see Quilts Japan, the NEQM's new show that opened on January 16.  Quilts Japan is a selection of 32 quilts that received awards at the 2011 Quilt Nihon competition.  This competition is held biannually in Tokyo and is sponsored by the Japan Handicraft Instructors' Association.  The 2011 competition brought in a staggering 377 entries in both the Traditional and Contemporary categories.  It attracts primarily Japanese, but some international submissions.  Pam Weeks, NEQM's curator, told me that Japanese quilters first started gaining prominence in the 1980's and 1990's.  The emergence of Japanese artists into a traditionally western textile art gives Quilts Japan an interesting connection to PEM's Future Beauty, as this was exactly the same time that Japanese designers first started making inroads into the world of couture fashion. Food for thought.

I went to Quilts Japan expecting to see sumptuous fabrics and exquisite craftsmanship and I was not disappointed. The examples shown span a range of very traditional designs to progressive forms that push at the boundaries of what makes a quilt a quilt, but all shared an absolutely superb level of skill and technique in their construction. I was also struck by how many of the quilts were created to evoke a moment of essentialized natural beauty, from starry skies, to carefully tended gardens, to breeze-blown fields of grass. This is an impulse I see carrying over into many other Japanese art forms.

The method of display at NEQM allows the visitor to get extremely close to the quilts, unimpeded by plexiglas or barriers and this makes the viewing of these works a very rich experience. I do wish that there had been more contextual information about the rise and popularity of quilting in Japan, but this did not really detract from appreciating the stunning craftsmanship on display.  If the presentation of the show seems a little bare-bones, I think they can be excused as Weeks confided in me that the show arrived from Wisconsin 1 DAY before it opened in Lowell!

Note that this show overlaps the MFA's Quilts and Color show by only 1 week, but they would make for very complimentary experiences.

Here are some of the standout examples for me (photos posted with the permission of NEQM):

Yoko Komatsuno, Streamline, cotton, Traditional Category

Chiaki Desho, The Crossing Time IV, kimono fabric, Contemporary Category

Yoko Kageyama, Feel Something from the Kimonos, kimono silk, Traditional Category
Soohee Lee, In the Blue, recycled bluejeans, Contemporary Category
In the Blue, detail

Harue Konishi, SYO #53, Contemporary Category


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