Squares and rectangles are basic, solid, powerful shapes. They have occupied the attention of children playing with their wooden blocks as well as artists such as Josef Albers, who created more than 1000 pieces of minimalist art that explored the interaction of color and shape. For many centuries, quiltmakers around the world have also used large, boldly-colored rectangles and squares to make visually dramatic quilts.
A burgundy square appears to float above a green background in the classic Amish Center Square quilt. The tension between the complementary colors calls attention to the square-in-a-square format. In a similar way, the lustrous hot pink and emerald green silks of the French vanne (decorative bedspread) create intense visual interplay. German artist Ruth Eissfeldt uses squares of rich oceanic blues and greens to represent the mythical island Atlantis surrounded by the seas. The similar center square format of the three quilts is contrasted by the striking difference in the quilting designs. Eissfeldt's quilting suggests swirling waters covering Atlantis as it sinks into the ocean. The quilting designs on the Amish and French quilts follow their square formats, but display motifs specific to each time and place.
Blue is a beloved color associated with everything from the cheerfulness of the summer sky to the calming sounds of the Blues to the comfort of a favorite pair of indigo dyed jeans. Indigo blue, derived from the indigo plant, was known to ancient Eastern and Western civilizations, coveted by seventeenth-century European traders, and is a modern-day favorite of quiltmakers and textile artists. It's luxury was increased by the difficulty of the dyeing process.
The love-affair with indigo spurred development of fabric dyeing and printing technology. The Whole Cloth quilt, the oldest quilt in this exhibition, is made from imported indigo resist-dyed fabric. The white areas were covered with a paste and dried before the cloth was dipped repeatedly in the vat of indigo dye. The reverberating blue and orange Star of Bethlehem uses a fabric created by printing orange on an indigo background. Centuries-old Japanese tradition equates indigo with the seas that surround the chain of islands. Contemporary quilt artist Shizuko Kuroha's Sea of Japan in Winter completes the circle of blue using fabrics created with traditional, pre-industrial processes.