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Color and Quilts at the Michener with Kaffe Fassett Blanket Statements

Autumn Crosses by Kaffe Fassett
Autumn Crosses by Kaffe Fassett, constructed and quilted by Pauline Smith. James Michener Art Museum. Photo by Margaret Almon.


I went on an excursion in the rain to the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown to hear a talk by Kaffe Fassett about color.  The first book I owned about mosaic was by Kaffe Fassett, and I was drawn to his use of color.  Fassett has created art in many mediums from knitting, fabric design, quilting and mosaic.  Someone in the audience asked him if he had a favorite medium, and he said no, that it was all a vehicle for playing with color, that he calls his studio a color laboratory.  He sees color choices as an intuitive process, trying out different combinations of fabric on flannel “audition” boards until the colors vibrate or click.  Fasset’s first medium was painting and painted only in shades of white!  Another audience member asked if this was his preparation for moving to color, and he said yes, it was a kind of palate cleanser.

My first medium was collage, and color was my love.  A friend asked if I had thought of being a painter because of my use of color, and it hadn’t occurred to me.  I just wanted all the color.  Looking at my photo from my previous blog post, Verve Patchwork in Orange, I recognize both a kinship with quilts and with collage, particularly the wood collage from another exhibit at the Michener, Pattern Pieces.

Barn Raze by Laura Petrovich-Cheney
Barn Raze by Laura Petrovich-Cheney, salvaged barn wood, 30×30 inches(2012). James Michener Museum of Art. Photo by Margaret Almon.


Look at this quilt-like patchwork of  orange by New Jersey artist Laura Petrovich-Chaney.  She created a series of sculptures using wood salvaged from homes after Superstorm Sandy.  Watch this moving interview with Petrovich-Chaney on the Weather Channel about her project.


Verve Pendant in Orange and Coral by Margaret Almon
Verve Pendant in Orange and Coral by Margaret Almon, glass on copper 1.5 inches, SOLD.

For a winter infusion of color and joy, be sure to get to these exhibits.  The Fassett quilts are inspired by historical quilts and are laid side by side to see the new interpretation of amazing quilts from the past.  I had to detour myself around the gift shop, since there were many tempting books by Fassett as well as ribbon from collection with Brandon Mably and Kaffe Fassett Studio.  I was knitting while waiting for the lecture to start and the woman next to me said she wished they were selling yarn as well.  I would’ve bought yarn.

Brandon Mably introduced Kaffe at the beginning of the lecture and told us how he helped yarn store owners learn to pronounce his name, “You have a safe assett with Kaffe Fassett.”

November 14, 2015-February 21, 2016. Blanket Statements: New Quilts by Kaffe Fassett and Historical Quilts from the Collection of the Quilt Museum and Gallery, York, UK, James Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA.

October 30, 2015-January 31, 2016.  Pattern Pieces: Can You Make a Quilt Out of Wood?, James Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA.

Veils of Color: The Paintings of Philadelphia artist Elizabeth Osborne at the Michener

Equinox II, Elizabeth Osborne
Detail of Equinox II by Elizabeth Osborne(2009), oil on canvas. Veils of Color Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

To get a postcard about a show entitled Veils of Color ensures I will be wanting to go.  Elizabeth Osborne‘s oil paintings are on display until November 15, 2015 at the James Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA.  In University of Pennsylvania alumni profile,  the author quotes Philadelphia Inquirer critic Edward J. Sozanski’s praise for Osborne’s “Dionysian commitment to vibrant, saturated color.”  Yes, vibrant, saturated color.  I felt like I was stepping into sunshine, and in fact, some versions of these paintings have figurative versions, with a woman sitting at a window.

Detail of Equinox II by Elizabeth Osborne(2009), oil on canvas. Veils of Color Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum.
Detail of Equinox II by Elizabeth Osborne(2009), oil on canvas. Veils of Color Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

She was born in 1936, and grew up in Lansdale, where I now live.   I was taken with the fact that she taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts(PAFA) from 1963-2011, teaching into her 70’s. She recorded an oral history interview with the Senior Artists Initiative, and organization that heartens me by its existence.  In addition to oil painting, she has work in watercolor and printmaking.

I realized that I had seen her work at both the Woodmere and the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinius.  I like to imagine that her veils of color saturating the Philadelphia area, appearing all around me, and that her legacy of teaching will continue to move outward.

Veils of Color: Juxtapositions and Recent Work by Elizabeth Osborne,

Curated by Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator, James A. Michener Art Museum

July 25 through November 15, 2015
Fred Beans Gallery

Industrial Art at the Michener Museum through October 25, 2015: Pennsylvania Labor History

Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) South Side, Easton (Industrial Scene, Easton) c. 1940 Oil on Canvas
Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) South Side, Easton (Industrial Scene, Easton) c. 1940 Oil on Canvas.  James Michener Art Museum, Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).

Stratoz and I went to see the Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum(on view until October 25, 2015).  I was interested to note the context of this collection, assembled by the Edward Steidle(1887-1977) Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State.  Steidle purchased and commissioned these paintings to as a way to demonstrate the various industrial processes and the critical role of the extractive industries in Pennsylvania to his students.  The Industrial Art homage at the Michener is notable for the predominance of flame, with the glowing orange of molten steel.  Artists were drawn like moths to a flame, and each had a style that captured the scenes of the furnaces in a different way.  The blazing colors are beautiful, and yet ominous in the power to cause injury and in their intense heat.

I’d never seen a steel factory until I moved to Bethlehem, PA, from Canada in 1985.  It rose up like a mountain from the South Side, and had produced steel for the Golden Gate bridge and much of the New York skyline.  1985 was at the tail end of the Steel, losing money, cutting workers.  When I started college a few years later, I took a class in United States Labor History, and have been drawn to stories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser who wrote movingly of the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster.

ohn Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Colliery, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native)
John Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Colliery, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native). James Michener Art Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).

We lived in Dunmore, PA in the early 1990’s. The coal mining industry left its mark with a network of tunnels beneath the town, and the threat of homes and grounds sinking.  Subsidence was a new word that I learned in those years, especially when a hole opened up in a friend’s backyard in a neighboring town.   I was interested to see that the Michener exhibit had a painting by a Dunmorean, John Willard Raught(1857-1931).  He studied art in New York City, and returned home to paint portraits and landscapes of the area.  He had an exhibit at a local club in 1915, where most of the paintings appear to be tranquil landscapes rather than the mining scenes. The Michener Museum notes that Raught felt conflicted by the coal industry which while providing jobs for those he knew, also scarred the landscape, and the forboding fears of disaster, and painted many of the anthracite breakers which he called “Black Castles.”



Cardinal Love: Small Deaths Exhibit by Kate Breakey at the Michener Art Museum

Cardinalis cardinalis. Northern Cardinal (Male) II by Kate Breakey.
Cardinalis cardinalis. Northern Cardinal (Male) II by Kate Breakey, hand-painted silver gelatin print (1998). Michener Museum of Art, Doylestown, PA. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz and I got ourselves to the Michener Art Museum Museum to see the exhibit of hand-painted photographs by Kate Breakey. The Small Deaths exhibit is there until July 12th, 2015.   The colors of the birds were intense and glowing.  I loved the orange beak of this cardinal.

Male Cardinal Suncatcher by Wayne Stratz.
Male Cardinal Suncatcher by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz had just finished a stained glass cardinal commission.  It’s his Year of Birds, and the Breakey exhibit fit right in.


Contemplative Photography at the Michener Museum

Powell Door Detail
Phillip Lloyd Powell Door Detail at the Michener Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Powell Door
Phillip Lloyd Powell Door at the Michener Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz discovered that the Michener Museum now allows photos of their collection.  This is one of our favorite museums and we often wanted to photograph inside.  When I wrote about the Phillip Lloyd Powell door, the Michener graciously provided a photo for me to use, but the pleasure now is in choosing details and angles.

There is a meditative practice called Lectio Divina, reading aloud and letting images and words resonate.  When I look at photographs from a museum trip, it is like Divine Photography, where I continue the process of seeing and contemplating.

The door was open on this latest visit, unlike the stock photo where the door is closed.   What a delight to focus on the hidden parts, the door tucked behind the wall, with its single knob.

Magic Inside: Phillip Lloyd Powell’s Door, and a Tool Set for a Girl

Powell - Door and Surround
Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919-2008), Door and Surround, ca. 1967, stacked carved softwoods, polychromed, H. 11’10” x W. 5’6 1/2″ x D. 1’6″ inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Purchased with funds provided by Syd and Sharon Martin

Imagine coming upon this door!  What world of the imagination did it come from and were does it lead?  Stratoz and I were at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, and amid the Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings we saw Phillip Lloyd Powell’s Door and Surround.  I sat down on a bench to take it in, the beauty of the layers of wood, the warm colors, the vibrant portal over 11 feet tall.

After the Michener purchased the door at auction, furniture conservator, Behrooz Salimnejad, spent months restoring the original vibrant finish, removing layers of latex paint that obliterated the colors.  Phillip Lloyd Powell(1919-2008), was a self-taught woodworker who read an article about an artist in New Hope, photographed in front of a wall of books, and wanted that life, and moved there, and set up shop.  I admire his focus on creating the life he wanted, and the work that came from that life.

I was drawn to woodworking at age 9 or 10.  I wanted a tool set for my birthday.  I spent many hours dreaming about what I would make, especially with the chisels.  I wanted to sculpt blocks of wood.  I don’t know where this came from, this intense desire to have tools.  I did get the tool set for my birthday, much to my delight.  The box was a golden yellow shade, with the grain of the wood in wavy pattern.  The tools had red handles, and fit behind dowels to hold them steady.  There were two chisels, but I was disappointed that I had no idea how to create what I was imagining.

I started researching where my tool set might have come from.  There’s no label, no brand name.  I did find the word “Poland” faintly stamped on the inside, and this led to the “Handy Andy” Tool Sets for children, or more accurately, for boys.  As an ad admonishes, “Keep away from Dad!  He’ll want to use this too. . .well rounded assortment to help train boys in the correct use of practical tools. ”  I don’t remember seeing a label on my set, and didn’t contend with the image of Andy, and his boyish ease with all the fabulous tools.  I also didn’t need to keep them away from my father, who was a professor of English, with a wall full of books of his own, but he did stand next to me in the garage supervising me with the sharp implements, as I constructed a dollhouse.  This wasn’t what I originally intended, but I slowly warmed to the decoration of the rooms, creating furniture out of scraps of wood, papering the walls with wallpaper samples.

I’ve kept the box of tools over 30 years.  I loved the hand plane, skating across the wood.  The spirit level mesmerized me with the bubble in glowing green liquid.  I took the tool set down from the attic, and put it in my mosaic studio, an  homage to my desire to work with my hands, to make things.  Phillip Lloyd Powell’s door reminded me of my dreams of chisels and sculpting, and I came across an interview describing his process:

His materials are meant to provoke sensation. He selects woods, colors, and accent elements for their expression.

Powell also considers malleability. He finds walnut, which is softer than maple or oak, fun to shape with his favorite tool, the spoke shave (a side-handled plane for curves) which requires a sculptor’s skill.

The furniture parts are fitted together by spline and rabbit joints, dovetails and butterfly inserts. The wood and colors of the pegs are important to the design. Finally, several coats of oil will bring up the rich grain and color of the wood.

So he loved a plane too, and even the name appeals to me, the “spoke shave.”  I have tools for my mosaic work, tools that I know how to use, and with which I can create.

Enticing Woodgrain of the Tool BoxDovetail Joint
Magic Inside: Tools for a GirlMeasure Twice, Cut Once
Red Handled Tools