The modern art movement that shattered the model – ‘Quilts’ comes to SVMA

“Art cannot be modern. Art is fundamentally eternal ”

– Expressionist painter

Egon schiele

Roderick Kiracofe blurs the line between “modern” and “eternal” like few other art collectors – and he does so through quilts.

Kiracofe has been collecting these colorful, hand-sewn bedspreads for almost 40 years. First mesmerized by the hanging quilt exhibits he saw as a youth in the 1970s, Kiracofe’s interest in the contemporary under-the-radar quilting movement grew as rapidly as his incredibly diverse collection.

Before he knew it, the San Francisco quilt curator specialized in a medium shrouded in tradition, but increasingly avant-garde in its use of fabric, design and perspective. . What for centuries had been a conventional use of textiles for warmth and decoration – by the 20th century had become a modernist form of expression for, primarily, anonymous housewives armed with little more than a needle, stitches and an incredible sense for contemporary aesthetics.

Starting Saturday February 14, Kiracofe is bringing 35 of the finest pieces from its immense collection to the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art for its latest exhibition, “Unconventional and Unexpected: Quilts Below the Radar, 1950 – 2000”. The exhibition runs until May 16 and will be presented alongside “Shaker Stories from the Collection of Benjamin H. Rose III”.

We asked Kiracofe why he finds such comfort in his vast collection of duvets.


Let’s start with a question everyone asks: Why quilts?

From the start – over 40 years ago – to seeing my first quilt … it has been a double celebration of love and appreciation. My grandmother was a seamstress – and when I looked at the quilts it reminded me of the times I looked at her at her sewing machine or sewing by hand. Looking at a quilt made me wonder what the designer’s life was like – what was she thinking while making her quilts? Second, I’m (also) drawn to the beauty of quilts and the way they stand, or lie on a bed, as a work of art.

One of the fascinating things about the exhibition is that it involves such a traditional art medium similarly adapting to a modern art movement that breaks traditions. Is this another example of art reflecting the times?

My path is not the history of art; I have an untrained eye like most of the makers of these quilts. I look at a lot of art in museums, gallery walls, artist studios, magazines, books and on the Internet and have learned from that look. When it comes to placing these quilts in the context of historical artistic movements, I rely on those who know more than me to consult me.

Yet even you – with an untrained eye – recognized a different aesthetic in these quilts.

I can see it in a quilt and marvel at the connection or similarities I see. It was never my intention to compare them to particular artists or works of art. They stand on their own. I find it so curious to see these similarities when they arise.

How would housewives of the 1950s and 1960s be so influenced by the modern art movement? I don’t remember June Cleaver hanging many Neo-Dadaist pieces in the living room.

Modern works of art and the artists who created them were featured in Look, Life and Time magazines in the 1950s. Andy Warhol, Kenneth Noland and Jim Dine are known to have collected quilts. Other well-known and lesser-known artists may have been exposed to quilts in various settings. Many of the quilts in the exhibition and the (accompanying) book “Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000” reflect movements in abstraction and certainly Pop Art. In some cases, some of these creators may have created their work before these and other recognized art movements from major art centers like New York.

How do the uses of color and pattern play out in this modern “under the radar” art?

Most quilt makers hate double knit polyester fabrics. I became completely fascinated with (the) unfinished quilts and tops that I found made from these fabrics. The colors are fantastic and the belief is that they will never fade. I discovered some very wonderful and original examples and the historian side of me felt that these fabrics should be preserved for our quilting history with the fine cottons of pieced and appliquéd quilts and the silks of the Mad Victorian quilts and the fine wools of the Amish from Pennsylvania. quilts.

What surprises you most about “maverick quilts” like these?

The fact that an unknown designer had the eye and the vision to let these creations flow through her; some of the makers may have known on some level that they were an artist. Also, the fact that they had the courage and the courage to go against the grain of what their neighbors had been able to do and to follow his own vision.

If there is one thing visitors should remember after seeing the Quilt Exhibit, what is it?

Oh, difficult question. If I had to keep just one, I think it would be to appreciate the imperfections of these everyday objects and see the extraordinary in the “ordinary”.

Norma D. Ross