In December, visitors can experience “Quilts and Color ”, the newest exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The 45 eye-popping quilts on display here – all made by American women between the early 19th and mid-20th century – is like holding a kaleidoscope up to your eye.
The exhibition is drawn from the collection of Gerald Roy and the late Paul Pilgrim, who began buying quilts in the 1960s. Trained artists and designers, the couple initially sought out quilts with unique designs that echoed the work of abstract expressionist painters. As their collection grew and their knowledge of American quilts deepened, they broadened their collecting to include more traditional designs, some of which are included in this show.
The quilts are ingeniously grouped into sections that illustrate different principles of color theory – vibrations, variations, mixtures, contrasts, gradations, harmonies, singular visions, and optical illusions. Structuring the show this way enables the viewer to see the quilts in a completely different light: each of these quilt makers had a commanding understanding of color theory.
One early 20th-century "Double Irish Chain Quilt," attributed to Emma Gingerich, is a wonderful example of how a quilt maker can create a blurring, or blending, of color – what’s referred to as a “mixture” effect – by placing certain colors together. The combination of patches of blue-green and purple (colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel) in the quilt make the blocks blur.
One series of quilts explores color gradations. In "Log Cabin, Barn Raising Variation Quilt," 1879, Mrs. Herrick, the first quilt acquired by Pilgrim and Roy, the quilt maker used concentric squares made from progressively darker versions of related colors. The alternating bright and dark diamonds recall the play of light and shadow across a barn’s rafters and floor during construction. It’s easy to see how this quilt could make a collector out of anyone.
One of the show’s most arresting sections is a series of quilts that offer striking optical illusions through their use of color and design. The superb “The Diamond Field" quilt, circa 1860, offers plenty of surprises up close. The quilt maker has arranged hundreds of hexagonal patches in clusters of color that allow new patterns to emerge. Look closely and you’ll see diamonds, stars, and tumbling cubes.
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is located in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City’s Arts District, at 415 Couch Drive. Visit the Museum online at www.okcmoa.com or call 405-236-3100 for admission pricing, hours of operation or more information.
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