Tag Archives: history

More Thinking than Sewing (and Vanport Mosaic)

I recently signed up for Elizabeth Barton’s “More Abstract Art for Quilters” through the Academy of Quilting, and it has been fascinating. It moves quickly, so I am gathering potential projects.

Most likely I will not make all of them.

L1Ex1

I like this one but I don’t see myself making all those circles out of fabric. Maybe someday if I run out of other ideas I could do it as fused applique or reverse applique. Time will tell. That was the first week.

The second week involved making grids.

grid many lines 1 and 2

This project at least has straight seams. The top grid was deemed stronger; the bottom one had the major flaw of being split in half horizontally. Multiple assignments followed.  Do several value studies for the top one; crop the bottom one into something useful and do value studies. But before I got to that, Lesson 3 came along. So this one moved into the potential folder.

Of course there have also been comments about and links to observe well known abstract artists–totally fascinating. The third lesson involved watching Mondrian’s path to increasing abstraction and the assignment to follow similar steps from a photo we had taken. So far I have only the photos to ponder.

b torii whole car

The car wasn’t there when I composed the shot, LOL.  And I will just ignore it as I work with this photo –if it is the photo I choose to work with.

I lean to working with this one.

b torii corner_2 cropped

That ends thoughts on art quilts for today; continue reading if you are interested in the photos of torii. I was attending a Vanport Mosaic event, and they are located at the site as well as integral to the weekend.
It is Vanport Mosaic weekend, a time of memory activism.  The story of Vanport is not well known, and the Mosaic project’s purpose is to unearth and perpetuate minority stories that have been silenced. The Vanport story is a story of race relations, some successes and some failures. The town of Vanport was constructed by Henry Kaiser because he needed housing for workers he had attracted from all over the US for his shipyards during World War II, and Portland was dragging its feet because many of the people coming in were African American or poor. The housing was segregated, but schools, work, and entertainment were integrated. Since families worked shifts, there was 24/7 daycare provided.
After the war, there was less need for workers.  White workers moved into Portland, an option not available to black workers.  Others moved into the vacated homes, they included veterans, Native Americans, and Japanese, who were returning from the concentration camps where they had been sent during the war. The torii are a memorial to the Japanese experience, an experience that is another major feature of the weekend.
Memorial Day, 1948, Vanport was flooded.  Residents had about an hour to evacuate with what they could carry. The town was totally destroyed. (For those interested in more, here is a link to the online Oregon Encyclopedia entries on Vanport, and here for the Japanese incarceration.)
The Mosaic project includes gathering stories from folks who lived there and filming them. The day, an annual event, includes showing the films, other exhibits related to the town, the flood, and the imprisonment. Often classroom projects are shown. This year one was from a human geography course with proposals for a more visible memorial than what exists.

Unless I get a lot accomplished on this week’s assignment and post again, I’ll link this post to Nina-Marie’s Off the Wall Friday (button in sidebar).

6/1/2019–ETA: Today was a play, Gambette, about the Japanese experience.  Here, from an exhibit in the lobby,  is a photo of an enlarged tag like those required to be on each person and item of property.

CC tag

These are memorialized in the rows of metal tags on the torii sculptures.

 

 

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Fascinating ancient history

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was dense in detail but fascinating. Mann surveys traditional views of pre-contact Americas and shows how recent scholarship has undermined some and challenged others. Several are still unresolved, giving scholars more research to do.

It begins quite slowly, but for me became fascinating in the later 2/3 with the discussion of when and how the first peoples entered via the Bering Straits. Among other things, research has challenged there ever being a narrow window when there was a path between glaciers for them to traverse. Also the date has been pushed back and the three migrations questioned.

The biggest revision is the shift from natives who didn’t disturb nature to natives who farmed and tamed nature to their needs, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Another revision is the sophistication of civilization achieved. I was also interested in discussions of writing, especially the group who used knots on string, not as mnemonics, but as stories, in a binary system.

The first time history is given, the traditional view was stated more or less as fact with a “gotcha” and introduction of challenges to follow. Gradually the cues that a view was going to be questioned improved.

And the ending sets up the follow-up book, 1493, which I have requested from the library.

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Vanport Mosaic: Memory Activism

The short version: During World War II there was an urgent need for ships; Kaiser Shipyards needed workers to supply that need, and they came from all over the country.  Kaiser, working with the federal government, built homes on a flood plain that became Vanport (between Vancouver, WA (Van) and Portland, OR (Port)), homes meant to be temporary. Although the need for ships dwindled after the war, about 4000 people remained. Vanport was Oregon’s largest city and the nation’s largest public housing, a thriving community until May 30, 1948 when the flooding Columbia River demolished it in 45 minutes.  For the long version, see this OPB hour long program.

In 2014, recognizing that the place and the flood were fading from the collective memory, Laura Lo Forti began interviewing and videotaping Vanport residents still alive. In 2016 Co-Directors Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb (with the help of many) presented the first Vanport Mosaic Festival.  I attended that first one and learned the history, missed the second, then attended the greatly expanded version this year.

The bus tour took us around today’s golf course and race track to show us where buildings had been. The guide for the tour I traveled with had lived in Vanport as a 6-10 year old; he had many stories to tell.

The only tangible remnant of Vanport is the foundation of the theatre.

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Besides the tour guide, there was another passenger who had been a resident. They searched a school photo to find themselves.

a Vanport residents

The tour started from the Expo Center; inside were impressive exhibits created by middle school students. First the Vanport sequence.

a overviewa WWII ship 2a Vanport women 2

Several students pointed out that the school was integrated, but the living assignments were segregated.

Two  other middle school projects concerned the Japanese incarceration during WWII. This is related to Vanport in that some Japanese people returning –whose homes had been either destroyed or occupied by others–moved into Vanport homes vacated by ship workers whose work was over. And so they were dispossessed twice: by the internment and by the flood.

One project dealt with peoples’ experiences, each student summarizing, illustrating, and reflecting on one person. Here is one sample, Jack’s history:

a Jack's experience 2

And the student reflection:

a Jack student reflection 2

Another told of a Japanese-Peruvian man, an aspect new to me. For a fee (I think it was 2 million dollars) U. S, housed Japanese-Peruvians in the centers. At the war’s end, U. S didn’t want them, Peru didn’t want them back, so they were sent “back” to a Japan they had not known.

The other project explored the various concentration camps.

It included a description of the temporary holding center, here at Expo Center, where people were held until the internment centers could be constructed.

a relocation text 2

At the Expo Center there is a permanent memorial, several torii with metal tags for each person imprisoned here and on the poles, embossed replicas of various news articles related to their forced leaving.

a Torii at Expo Center 2

Memory Activism: Remembering in order to honor and to act differently.

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Reading Instead of Sewing, Again

Facts & Fabrications-Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery: 8 Projects 20 Blocks First-Person AccountsFacts & Fabrications-Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery: 8 Projects 20 Blocks First-Person Accounts by Barbara Brackman

The history is in summary form, but there are endnotes with further sources.

The book opens with a brief discussion of myth Vs. historical method. This is followed by an abbreviated history of slavery from the beginning of the slave trade to emancipation and migration. Although I am fairly familiar with the topic (having read The Great Migration, I learned some new detail (the migration to the plains). And the quotations from diaries and WPA recorded oral histories added an important dimension.

Brackman links each stage of the history to a quilt block by the name of the block, a story telling method she links with the 20th century. The idea is to create a mnemonic for remembering the history.

The block patterns and quilt layouts are clearly explained and illustrated, but she refers readers to other how-to books for basic quilting instructions. She also includes suggestions for adapting the history and sewing to children (in formal and informal settings)  and includes possible discussion questions.

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London Roads x 3 and an Oops

The sketch from several days ago has become three blocks. First the block like the one in my 1980s Sampler.

London Roads

15 1/2 x 15 1/2

This block amused me so much with its dead ends. And it may be named “London,” but it could be any city with one way streets.  I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has driven in a strange city and found  intersections of one way streets forcing me to go a different direction than I had intended.(I don’t recall the dead-end problem, though.) ETA: I do remember one time when I was an hour late because a freeway had been built in Baltimore. I was visiting after a few years; I had refused directions because I  “knew” how to get there; I could see the house across the freeway. I passed the same man mowing his lawn several times. He kept trying to tell me how to get across, but I kept missing one of the turns.

I found this block in copies I had made of an old catalog. In the 70s we didn’t have all the pattern books that are available now. We had books that taught how to draft patterns and The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt by Carrie Hall, who had set out to make a block from every pattern she knew. Between the two, I could make many blocks. I also had thumbnail size diagrams in catalogs I’d copied–one was dated 1900. But it was the only title page I had copied.  I copied pages from three different catalogs as blocks appealed to me. We could get photocopies at the library (no Kinkos yet) for a quarter per page,so at that rate, one skipped title pages. (That was before I was interested in quilt history.) I don’t remember if any of the companies of the catalogs were still in existence, but I doubt it. If the were, I think the quilters who shared them would have told how to order a new copy. Quilters kept old catalogs for reference. The “London Roads” block came from one of those dateless, titleless catalogs.

When I got Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, I looked to see if I could get more information. She listed two blocks named “London Roads,” but neither was exactly like mine. This one was close.

#1677b

It had one less dead end than the one I’d made before.  Brackman identifies blocks by number, and this one is 1677b. Its source was the Ladies Art Company of St Louis. LAC numbered their blocks, and the numbers convey the dates patterns were available. This block was #238, which means it was in the 1895 catalog. Brackman identifies LAC as the first mail-order quilt pattern company, in business till the 70s.

Here is Brackman’s second London Roads.

#1658,

This “London Roads” is attributed to “Nancy Page,” a syndicated quilter’s column  written by Florence LaGanke Harris from 1928-1940s. (The block also appeared in LAC as “Mosaic,” #336 in the 1897 catalog.) Brackman notes that “Page” gave it with an all over setting. One wonders if “Page” renamed “Mosaic,” reworked the old “London Roads,” missing the old joke and seeking to be more logical, or if she created what she thought was a new block that reminded her of traffic circles.

It is a two color block, but I added the third because I didn’t like the arrow completely disappearing into the background. Keeping the value the same seemed enough of a nod to tradition.

So those are the three blocks–I plan to make 8 from those three designs, alternating them with the building fabric; each block is 15 1/2 inchs square.

And the Oops.

Like you, I know that one should make one block before cutting everything. Although it is given as a way to test if a pattern is correct, it makes sense to do it when working from one’s own math (especially my math). But I was in a hurry and didn’t this time. So the three-bar square that forms the shafts of the arrows ended up 4 1/2 inches one way instead of 5 1/2 inches square. Since the shafts really needed to be centered, I added 1-inch strips to each side.  (I guess I could have trimmed everything and ended up with a 12-inch block. But I wanted 15.) So not only do I have to make a bunch of strips before I continue making blocks, I’ll have to buy more brown (or improvise).

Maybe the message is that I should be binding that other quilt.

Linking with Needle and Thread Thursday.

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A Bit of Recent Quilt History

Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mix of specialties of the essayists–artists, historians, quilters, and museum curators–creates a conversation from a variety of perspectives. And they don’t always agree. One could wish for a panel discussion where they have a chance to comment on each others’ comments.

Some tell the old story and some revise it. Janneken Smucker, a historian specializing in American Material Culture, does both as she traces early quilting historians’ romanticization of colonial scrap quilting to the revision by later historians who question that reading. She places herself among those later historians, then tells of her further revision prompted by the Kiracofe collection.

Essayists also provide a range of opinion on the question of quilts as modern art. Elissa Author, an associate professor of contemporary art, provides an overview of rebellious fine artists who were influenced by quilts. Amelia Peck, a curator of American Art at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the criteria she uses to select art quilts and illustrates from the collection. Smucker and Ulysses Grant Dietz, another curator, tell the features of several quilts in the collection that appeal to them artistically; Dietz goes on with cultural critique, placing his taste in the era of the “Gees Bend syndrome,” noting the marketing of that collection and trendiness of curation. Alison Smith, an activist artist, probes with this question: “What is at stake in considering paintings and quilts as parallel endeavors? Do we reinforce their differences when we marvel at their similarities?” (158). She proceeds to analyze the differences.

“A Texas Quiltmaker’s Life: An Interview with Sherry Ann Byrd” provides an organizational scheme for my thinking (not for the structure of the book) about the quilts pictured: “precision quilt, M-provisational quilt, and throw together quilt” (52). Her term, “M-provisational” points beyond “improv” to an emphasis on syncopation that she sees in some designs. And Byrd says many in the collection represent the “throw together” category, made extremely quickly for extreme need.

I will confess that though all the quilts were historically interesting, I did not find them all equally appealing visually. However, artistic commentary in the essays and in a few captions led me to revaluate some of those judgments.

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Old Portland in Gingerbread

Front view of gingerbread Old PortlandFor nineteen years, there has been a gingerbread creation at the Benson Hotel; this being the hotel’s 100th year of operation, the creation depicts Portland around 1913. Created by Chef David Diffendorfer, the display involves approximately 100 pounds of gingerbread and 25 pounds of white chocolate and marzipan. (We could smell the gingerbread.)

Having been a Portlander for only two years, I didn’t recognize many of the buildings; however, a desk clerk gave us a crash course in Portland history.

Center view

The building with the medallion is the Benson Hotel itself. The tan building with a little dome at the left is Pioneer Court House, still a functioning courthouse. In front is the Willamette River.

Amusement ParkHere is a view a little to the left to show Council Crest, in those days the site of an amusement park known for its big roller coaster. Today it is a city park, a workout of a hike with the reward of a great view of the city.

Union StationIn the foreground is Union Station which has been restored and still functions as an Amtrak station. Up at the top left is Pittock Mansion, another hike with a rewarding view of the city as well as the option for a tour of the house. The tour I’ve done; the hike not. I should have moved to Portland when I was younger.

Visiting the gingerbread creation will become one of my Christmas traditions, now that I know about it. And as this time, so in the future, lunch at the Palm Cafe: the mushroom melt was wonderful.

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