Saturday, August 16, 2014

Husband and Wife

Quilts more than paintings carry baggage and metaphor with them.  Think about the bed and the life passages that happen there,  birth, death, sex, cuddling, holding, sleeping, dreaming, taking care of someone.  Margaret Atwood has termed quilts flags for the bed.   What better medium to use for the subject of Husband and Wife? "  Judy Martin
The front of the quilt has been made from a single 10 meter piece of lightweight cotton fabric that was hand-dyed a rainbow of colours.   It was then cut up and stitched back together.  The long tall panels have been roughly divided into warm and cool colours.  The left panel signifies the husband, while the right panel signifies the wife.  While working on the piece the artist discovered that it was a feminist project.  She wrote in her  journal at the time that she felt "a rage against being ignored, silenced because I work in craft media.  I am a woman and my work is silenced by my gender.  The heart shape is so feminine and the colours are so vibrant.  The tall narrow shape is phallic.  the feminine heart shape is trying to fit in with those tall columns.  each heart began by encircling personal journal text that was later removed. "  
"In designing their quilts, women not only made beautiful and functional objects, but expressed their own convictions on a wide variety of subjects in a language for the most part comprehensible only to other women.  In a sense this was a 'secret language' among women."  Patricia Mainardi

The language of the quilt goes beyond passing on knowledge of quilt making skills between women, it also provides women with a space to voice their own opinions and sort out their own stories, for themselves and for each other.  As Janet Berlo argues "quilts represent a counter-discourse, a covert female language that says the unsayable in a form of silent public oratory"  Janet Berlo
 "I am a Canadian heterosexual woman living in Ontario.  I'm part of the baby boom.  I am the most ordinary specimen.  I feel like I represent hundreds of women.  I gave a lecture to a group of women on Friday and everyone cried.  All that I'm doing when I make quilts is talking about my ordinary life and how much I love it. I don't know why I seem to have a need to tell personal stories, but I'm from a generation that believes that the personal is political.  What I do is give a voice to the ordinary Chatelaine-reading woman who is trudging along . I feel that I am a feminist speaking for many women in a beautiful way that they might not be able to.  I want to be a poet for a whole generation of women."  Judy Martin
 The hand stitching of this piece is a very integral component.  as the artist says, "It shows that the work has been touched.  Each stitch takes one second.  Stitching becomes visible time; you can tell that this woman spent two hours on these six inches.  Time spent has a certain weight to it, and I haven't taken that casually."  Judy Martin

Martin is very concerned with the fact that in earlier days, women had to spend their whole lives making cloth, while in the late Victorian age stitching was just something to keep women busy and out of art school (Chadwick and Berlo) .  She sees this as debilitating but at the same time she wants to show how powerful women and their hand work can be.  These quilt objects will become heirlooms because the work that went into them will not be taken casually and will last.  Quilts are like the nurturing work that women do such as raising a family but they are visible, unlike those invisible tasks such as meal preparation and cleaning.
On the back of the quilt there is a large yoni shape.  This large female shape exemplifies the immense power that shapes can hold.  Inspired by Mark Rothko's use of both shape and size, Martin embraces the traditional large rectangle for her quilts.  Like Rothko, she believes that due to their large size, quilts speak to the viewer on a profoundly intimate and spiritual level.  When the quilt is displayed, viewers are able to stand either four feet away and be enveloped by it, as well as standing twenty five feet away and seeing it from a distance.  Both are important.  Martin wants her work to be "large enough to not only cover a bed but to be large enough to at least metaphorically, cover a family.  Using traditional size and pattern helps my work to be understood by both women and men because their grandmothers spoke this language.  It's not foreign, it goes deep into a subconscious level.  It's reassuring."  Judy Martin
Using bleach, Martin has hand-written quotes taken from a press release she found in an article that discussed the intimacy of cloth and its increasing use in fine art.  Amongst the magazine text, anecdotes of the artist's intimate sex life were also interjected into the sentences, coyly hidden by other words.
"If you can glimpse a little bit of the maker, than their spirit or soul has come through and touched you.  That's the inner thing and is why I use so much handwork.  People can feel me breathing, and then they realize that they themselves are breathing and there is a connection to their own lives.  Their inner self connects with my inner self because there is this visual language for which there are no words.  They are touched by my touching.  When they understand me and subsequently themselves, it is a direct communication.   I want to communicate to my viewer."  Judy Martin

All text in this post are from our daughter April's essay that she wrote for her McGill  university art history course in 2008.   The quotes are from phone and email interviews about a quilt I made in 2004.

All images are of the quilt, Husband and Wife, which I am gifting to her this week as she leaves to study at the graduate level at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


  1. Oh my goodness, Judy...what a truly magnificent piece of work! xo

  2. The quilt and the words are so beautiful and both speak to me so eloquently that they make me want to cry. Thank you for sharing something so intensely personal with someone a continent away, whom you have never met and yet your message resonates with me and plays on my heartstrings. Love from me to you Judy.

  3. WOW ! Very powerful and very emotional ... congrats to you and your daughter !!! ... great article and I will be looking at quilts differently from now on.
    Judy, you have such heart !

  4. Raw, gutsy, beautiful. Wow.

  5. another one of my early favourites!! Lucky April!

  6. Magnificent art, powerful words. This speaks to me too. Thanks for sharing Judy.

  7. Beautiful quilt and most beautiful sentiment of gifting. What a treasure to have within your family ...


  8. Holy Mother-load. Daughter-load. Yes!

    (please excuse the outburst. So good to read/see. Gift to us all)

    Read essay recently, mentioned Greeks despised spending life on "any effort that left no trace, no monument, no great work worthy to remembrance..."

    The efforts of women/slaves

    Keep singing, Judy. Keep opening space for free breathing & claiming of our power, love, truth. Passion Commitment. Intellect. Time is life.

  9. every stitch a letter, a sound, a word, a thought. e.v.e.r.y. o.n.e.

  10. What a wonderful gift to pass on to a daughter. I recently passed my old sewing machine onto my daughter. I felt as though I was giving her a powerful tool to express herself.
    love the depth of your quilt.

  11. Congrats to April, and to you for forging the path.

  12. Thank you for all comments. They are supportive to me for the work I've been doing all my life. One of the things I hope to be able to say I've done is inspire mother artists to not give up, to find the time, to write their poems.

    I just about put the entire essay that April wrote for elizabeth Kalbfleisch's Culture of Craft university course when she was studying at McGill...but it was too long.

    April went on to study material arts (fibre) and sculpture at Concordia University and just graduated last spring. She was accepted into both sculpture and fibres at the school of the art institute and finally chose sculpture as it seemed more wide open.

    I think that april is very brave to go off to do this - recently married in June she will be apart from her new husband for a couple of years. It is so risky have to find that faith in your SELF...Ned and I are very proud of her and are encouraging her to go for it.

    Thanks again.

  13. Such a moving and resounding and affirming tribute to you, to April, to your evocative cloth, to April's way of seeing, and to the relationship. Of course you're gifting it to her. xo

    PS I don't think the essay could possibly be too long. I'd love to read it in its entirety.

  14. thank you for this deep sharing from both you and your daughter

  15. I really enjoyed this, in a deep and satisfying way. The cloth, the design, the thought and stitches resonated with my own desires to communicate through cloth. I also found the quotes from the essay to be uplifting and inspiring and intriguing. The two are married just like the two parts of your quilt. Thank you for such a wonderful post and a fabulous quilt.

    I would love to read the full essay. Would you consider sending me a copy via email? And may I quote parts of it on my blog--would that be okay with your daughter?

    Again, thank you very much. Your work is wonderful.


  16. It's keeping me oh so warm down here mom.
    thank you.
    v special to have and reminds me of andy too.

    (i am spoiled!!!)


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx