Arle Sklar-Weinstein

Photos

AQATS19119_022_01.jpg

Title

Arle Sklar-Weinstein

Identifier

AQATS19119-022

Interviewee

Arle Sklar-Weinstein

Interviewer

Megan Dwyre

Interview Date

4/3/04

Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon

Location

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Transcriber

Shira Walny

Transcription

Megan Dwyre (MD): This is Megan Dwyre, the date is April 3rd, 2004 and it's 3 o'clock and I'm here at Art Quilts of the Sedgwick interviewing Arlé Sklar-Weinstein. So why don't we just get started and we'll talk about the quilt that we're sitting in front of? Did you want to talk, you know, just describe it for the--talk a little bit about it?

Arlé Sklar-Weinstein (AW): Yeah, thanks Megan. It's "Mount Koya San: Ancestors."
It shows a wall of faces at this tomb in this holy mountain top of Mt. Koya San and it was during cherry blossom season. And I found the tree that's superimposed over this gorgeously old tree in another part of the city in a waterless river garden made of rocks. And this ancient tree against those faces is what became ancestors. I realized that there were women in this group and I have no idea what group this is, if it's a commercial group or a religious group or a family group, it seems to be more of a corporate collection of faces, but as a subtext, I found the women and satin stitched red frames around them and that of course picked up graphically, you know, in terms of the formal quality, a little zing to the quilt which is basically a very pale green, black--and I have the sense of needing more that described the kind of energy I was feeling then, and it was those sequins and glass beads that finished it for me, that element of the spirituality and the glistening quality of the cherry blossoms. And that just put all these pieces together. So that was an incredible experience. I tell you, I went there with a group of American artists to show with the group of Japanese artists at Sakai City and we were showing at the Sakai City Museum and it was a marvelous experience because after we spent a week with artists in their homes and in their studios, we had the opportunity to travel up into these incredible mountain, take the trains through the farmlands, postcards, traveling through postcards. It was just incredible. I guess in the early days, this sacred cemetery would have been reached by an arduous climb, now thank goodness there are cable cars. [laughs.] Got us up to the top of the mountain, but it was an extraordinary experience, traveling around Japan. This particular cemetery, on Mount Koya San had these gigantic cedar trees that had such a cathedral like affect and you really do go into a mind altered experience being in this space.

MD: So, what is this little--at the back of the quilt? Is that part of the--

AW: That must be the tomb. The tombstone that describes what this is, and of course I can't decipher it--

MD: Right. [laughs.]

AW: There were two such walls of faces there. One of the things that happened because I had been there in 2001, in the spring of 2001 and I came back with the image and I began to work with a lot of the images that I had from Japan, and this particular one with its row and row of dead faces, I stopped dead in my tracks after 9/11 and I just couldn't work on it. Because in New York, all you saw were these walls, posters of missing people, and it was too close. And it took me maybe 4 months before I could go back to working on this quilt.

MD: Does it have any additional special meaning for you? I mean, we talked about that?

AW: Yeah, I think--it really became an anomaly for me, this particular coloring and subdued quality. I guess the quality of what I was feeling was very wonderfully expressed just by these combinations of images.

MD: So do you want to talk a little bit about the technique. It's sort of--it's like a picture, sort of, I don't know what you would call it.

AW: Yes, its like a graphic--well, 10 years ago, I saw a notice for a workshop called photo imaging on the computer and up to then I had been a painter and a print maker. And I had to begun, as a hobby, sewing quilts because one of my colleagues was a quilter, and I just love the textual/tactile quality of it. So after 4 months of real immersion in the photo shop, I came upon this knowledge that this was really my medium, to my shock, because it wasn't painting. But in the class, of course, I was getting out the printer size papers, magazine size, and I didn't know how to get these images big and on the wall like my 5 or 6 foot square paintings. And it occurred to me that I might be able to transfer, I'd seen something about transferring on fabric. And while I was using a local copy store that had a transfer machine, they were doing tee-shirts and things like that. And I started modestly by just enlarging from just a regular letter size to a 14x17, ledger size. And so that was the first enlargement. And then it occurred to me, gosh, I could cut the image in half and blow them both up to a larger size. And it wasn't long before I said, why am I limiting myself to two pieces, and it took me a while to figure out how to tile or divide the whole image in the computer evenly. So that you'll notice this, this is like, one piece of paper, transfer paper, so there's a 32 panel, 16 or 32 panel.

MD: Really? You can barely see it.

AW: Yes, they are disguised because the tiling is exact in the computer and then I enlarge each section to fill the paper, the transfer paper. And I am printing it on the transfer paper in mirror image, so that when I turn it over, and place it down on a piece of fabric and cut for it, it comes out in correct orientation. So then after all the panels have been transferred, it's a matter of pinning and sewing them together and then it becomes a whole cloth quilt with the batting in the back and since I'm working on fabric, I found that working on a white on white adds another subtle layer of texture. I don't think, you might be able to see, there's a very fine, stone-like quality and on the back, the original, very subtle white on white and that--like little rings, very tight little rings. And each quilt that I do while choosing another pattern to match the image, and this was more stone like, so I kept that one. But it adds just an extra layer of texture that the original print doesn't have. I've also tried taking the original digital information on a CD and bringing it to a photo shop and they make these incredible large photographs that [inaudible due to background noise.] information. And they look like photographs, but of course they've been invented [inaudible.] shock, but they are digital photographs and that's another presentation that I've tried. And they're like jewels because they come out very sharp and crisp.

MD: Um--

AW: So does that answer your question about the technical part of it?

MD: Oh yes, sure. So, let's see. How many quilts have you made?

AW: Oh, my stack is pretty high. Well, in 10 years, I've probably made over 100 quilts. At least, starting small in 1994, not all were big sized.

MD: So, did you want to talk a little more about how you got involved in quilting, you sort of mentioned it briefly, through a colleague?

AW: Mm-hmm. I was teaching at the Marymount School in New York and I was the lower school art teacher and my colleague who was the upper school art teacher was an amazing appliqué quilt maker and at lunch time, we would be visiting and she would be sitting sewing, and I just went, "
Ah! Wonderful."
I think I had also tried earlier making images on a quilt by drawing onto the fabric and stitching around them, and it became the bridge between painting and quilting by making the images and then sewing into them. It was kind of early, like in the 80s I think I began doing that. Then I found a book by Nancy Crow--her original book--what was it called? But it was when she was doing these very intense pattern, color pattern things. And I knew nothing about her. I think this is from the library--I'm going to look and see where she's teaching anywhere, if I could find someplace, I'll go and meet her, you know, have this experience. In 1992, I saw a listing for her teaching a class in curve piecing. It was at the Elkin-Davis College in Tennessee--West Virginia, in West Virginia. My husband, who plays the classical violin as a hobby, came with me and it was Irish week, so he got into an Irish fiddle class while I was there curve piecing with Nancy. And all the things that I learned from her about precise pinning and all of that came to fruition in my putting these pieces together. I think that all of the work that I had done, I had done installations as an artist, showing in Soho doing wrappings around thousands of yards, of feet I should say, of jute and using yarn to tightly wrap big bundles and separate them. And the show I had was like an upside down forest in color and at first I thought, well, that's too decorative. Then when someone moved through it and they began to move, it really felt like they were alive and you got this incredible charge. So I had been playing with fiber and ideas, another installation show I did was to just go to my backyard and cut out, cut off twigs and limbs and carve them and slash them, and then inset canvas panels with grommets and lash them in so they had a cross feeling between wigwam and sailing ship, I mean they were very rough in that way, but had this incredible poetry about them. So I'm sure that my involvement with fabric, fiber, paint, you know, has been--I got into print making and other technical things so the technical stuff didn't throw me, but in terms of using fabric and finding that wonderful textural quality to add to the surface just, I just feel in love with it. So I think after doing some traditional quilts and then doing some improvisational quilts, I saw improvisational quilts by African-American women, both in Oakland, California and in New York and that just gave me permission to just do it, just try, just sew things together and see what comes, and that was very free. And the more I did that kind of thing, the more I wanted imagery again so that's why I think having the digital imagery married to the fabric brought them together. I just came back from the Allegra retreat and I studied with Leslie Gabrielese who does incredible culminations of paintings and stenciling and stitching and its really fabric-collage with other things added to it and I think that's the new door I might go through. Now to reintroduce fabric back into my digital imagery, that just laid a digital image on the fabric. Now I know a lot of other people who are using digital transfer are doing that but I have been using my digital images as a base layers and then working into it. And I'm actually applying appliqué fabric and embellishing sometimes but to really tear this stuff apart and integrate it with something else. I'm also going to explore at Arrowmont in June in encaustic painting, to see what I can do in combination with a digital image, perhaps on fabric or not. Putting the wax on it, seeing what combinations--so I'm looking for other doorways after doing this for 10 years, it feels like I don't want to keep solving the same problems, I want new problems to solve, so I'll move on again.

MD: Well, I think it really--like the piece just works so well. Its definitely, you've reached a level where you're really making things that are--so do you think you'd take classes more for different techniques?

AH: I think that's it. I think what happens is when I find myself solving the same problems over and over that I try to learn a new technique and that seems to be the fire that lights me up again because I have to struggle like in the beginning steps for something. And almost like baby steps, find my way through this new technique to express what I'm doing. That is always my history been the way I've been doing it, I mean, my coming to quilting was one of those breakthroughs where I got tired of solving the same painterly problems. So this became another challenge.

MD: Do you still work in any other mediums?

AW: Yes, I'm still working in collage and I'm drawing all the time and the camera is very important both through this kind of work and even as it's own. My photography has won awards. So it's like the eye is there and I just love combining everything I do.

MD: What's your first quilt memory?

AW: I said that no one in my family quilted because I never saw my mother quilt. But I slept under one of her quilts. And I remember it was a full cloth quilt and had very fine, fine red stitches. I don't remember if it was a kind of pearl cotton probably, something like that, it wasn't really thin thread. But the stitches were so even. I still have that image of those stitches, those stitch lines going across this quilt that I slept under I guess when I was 4 or 5 years old. I grew up in a very urban, educated, artistic, musical family so it wasn't like folky or country where those traditions might have been more in my life. But I think that my father's woodworking as a hobby and standing at his side and learning how to craft things well and my mother's, I think she did some quilting construction. I don't remember seeing her do it, if you know what I mean.

MD: Yeah.

AW: But there was evidence that she had done it, you know?

MD: Do you know what happened to that quilt?

AW: Oh gosh, [laughs.] it's been out of my life for so long, I wish I did. [laughs.]

MD: How many hours a week do you quilt?

AW: It's difficult to say quilt, because I'm working for many hours at the computer designing and originating the work and once I have gotten that down, it might take me, depending on how far, how hard it fights back. Because I'm working with 4 or 5 layers, 6 layers of imagery, pulling that together, so that can take me a week or that can take me a month - just to come to the image. The transfer process, depending on how large it is, can take a day, because it's a slow process. I have a small 12 inch heat press machine now, so all of my technology is under my roof, thank goodness, and I don't have to depend on somebody saying I'm too busy, or the moisture's too high today, or whatever that problem was with this commercial place. Unfortunately, my printer is an Alps Nicro-Dry and I found it 10 years ago when I was looking for something that was more archival because the ink jets were not waterproof and I couldn't sell things on paper that were going to fade away or be spoiled by water or anything else. So when I came upon this four ribbon, wax resin system, I said, 'Eureka! Hurray! I've found something.' And it produces very intense colors on the cloth, it doesn't wash out. But back to your question about how long I work on this stuff, I think once I get to the sewing machine, I'm really doing a lot of drawing with thread because it's top stitch, mostly with monofilament when I don't want the thread to become an element. Sometimes, very purposefully, I'll use metallic thread or rayon thread for color and do a lot of texture things, but for example in this piece, the only red satin stitch was the one element that I wanted to do and everything else is invisible. And I have actually outlined every little square so that, you know, it's actually been heavily quilted and of course around the limbs of the tree, but that's almost invisible. Of course, that's the usual machine embroidery way of dropping the feed dogs and setting your stitch to zero and then with two hands, you're drawing under that dancing needle, you know, moving the quilt around, so that's basically what I'm doing. And then a lot of hand work in terms of the embellishments.

MD: So you work on it basically everyday? Then it's like a--

AW: Mostly everyday.

MD: At some aspect?

AW: Yeah, mostly everyday. Unfortunately so much of the work is not hand work that I can carry around with me and my life is incredibly busy with--I mentioned that I'm in the Manhattan Quilter's Guild and I'm now part of the Art Place at Southport, Connecticut which is an artist run gallery that's been in existence for 23 years and I'm one of the new members. And little did I know how time involved that would be. We just finished a new member show, but we set the gallery once a month and have meetings once a month and then there are the other openings that you're supposed to go to, and so it's like really a full time commitment.

MD: Let's talk, let's see, I just thought of a bunch of questions and my mind's kind of blank. Do you have other cultures among your friends, other family members now?

AW: Oh I do. Jerry Riggs who's--I don't know if she's in this show, but she's in my Manhattan Quilter's Guild and then my guild, there are only 19 of us and so we're great friends of course.

MD: How did you come to be involved in that?

AW: I applied and got juried in. And I did that at the same time that Randy Frost and Sandra Sider were also brought into the Guild. And a few, I guess a year or so later, some members left because the whole direction of the Guild tended to shift with this more contemporary way of making imagery. And so the Guild is evolving as new members come in, it just changes the flavor of what we do. But I've been in the last two traveling shows that they've done. First was Yard Works and the current Times Squared which went to Yokohoma, was up at the quilt museum and Lowell, Massachusetts is one of its venues. It's traveling somewhere else now, I think the Virginia museum. So it's been wonderful to be in that group.

MD: So what, I'm not sure exactly, but what is it? Is it you just put on shows together?

AW: It's a really highly talented group of artists working together.

MD: I've definitely heard of--

AW: Oh, Manhattan Quilter's Guild? Paula Nadelstern is in it, Robin Schwalb, Emiko Loeb, Terese Barkley, Ludmilla Uspenskaya, Adrienne Yorkins and, I hate leaving out names, but it's a very lot of--

MD: Big names?

AW: Yes, well-known people. We were meeting once a month and finding it, our busy lives, really not allowing for all that time. We went to every other month and then we'd miss it. We'd have to catch up with each other, especially when we were trying to decide what our next theme would be. We're struggling with that now for the next traveling show. And because the reputations have been established, our shows are very warmly welcomed and received and that's good. I serve as Treasurer this year. Probably stay with that job for a while.

MD: How does quilting impact your family?

AW: I think the same way making art did. I mean, I still see this as another tool for making art. An art quilt is a joy, to be in the surroundings where people are just as passionate about the way they make their images. So it feels like a match place for me to go to. Traditional quilters I admire, but again, you've seen those images too many times, over and over and even if they're specifically done in which you can admire. Coming then to these fresh ideas, I really do believe that art quilt is the new genre of art, it's certainly very American, not that other Europeans and Japanese aren't catching on to it, but the vitality of it is so American. So I'm very pleased that I'm in that genre and it's very strange because being in the quilt world has opened all these new doors for me. I still show in galleries and I use this quilt to show in galleries with people who are not working on fiber. I'm generally in gallery shows where I'm the only one on fiber, or fabric. So it's interesting to do both things.

MD: Do you feel like you get a different reaction at shows?

AW: The first question always is, 'How did you do this?' [laughs.] And sometimes I'm very happy to explain it and other times they will look at the image, never mind how--[laughs.]

MD: [laughs.] Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

AW: All the time, constantly. [laughs.] Yeah, my life has taken some really unhappy turns with a husband who has Alzheimer's and he's at home with us and I do have help that frees me. But it's so sad to watch him go through reverse development so he's about 4 years old now. And I find my center all the time by going to my studio, working, he'll follow me in there sometimes, but it's always been the one place that I can go to that is just mine and feels like I can stay whole in that area. Yeah, you know.

MD: Do you think working with fabric is different than working with other mediums? You know, related to other mediums? Do you think it's more--

AW: Yeah. I love the technical challenges that each media brings because it also implores the kind of imagery I can move towards. I must say, digital imagery makes things so easy in one way and difficult to be inventive with in another. When I was painting, I was working on hollow doors and using a jigsaw to shape and painting into an open surface, to the back surface and really just one long exploration after another. I tried macramé as an art form and after 3 years of exploration from on the wall to off the wall totally to a sculptural form, realized it was very difficult to push beyond decorative, one could try. So some materials have a built in limitation and you try to push them beyond their history, in a way, [laughs.] but you circle right back to where they are. So, I don't think that's true in art quilts. I think there's a, there are such a range of possibilities and so many different ways of treating the surface. But again, it's very flat and so I can see people, you know, trying to have layers and come off the wall a little bit, or have some dimension to it, but basically it's a hanging piece. Now I know there are explorations for people who are doing sculptural things with fabric, and stiffening it and supporting it, but I find that I love the fabric so much because of its tactile quality. And it's different than paint but I do miss the physicality of getting a juicy brush and painting. So that may happen again where I begin to say, okay, you can paint on these too. And I know many people do.

MD: Do you think it affects the response to it at all? The tactile-ness, is it really not--I mean, people don't walk around the gallery and touch it, but do you think you still obviously get a sense of it's, you know--

AW: Well, this particular piece seems very flat. It doesn't have that much dimension at all. Because the shadows are built in so strangely it will pick up, like the stitch line from other pieces. But some of them have more tactile appeal then others and of course it's very hard for people not to touch them, right?

MD: What do you think makes a great quilt?

AW: What makes great art? Different in everyone's eyes, our perceptions are so different, but I think there's a common denominator that we reach a consensus. I mean you can go through a show, an art gallery, anywhere and they'll be a consensus about which is a knockout and which really are not working and then there's that whole middle range. I think it's the same problem that jurors go through when they have to run through everything. So there is that quality of something that just catches you and you find yourself resonating to it. Now, is it good art? It's what's affecting you. And I think that's art's job to help you know more about yourself, about 'oh, why is this catching me?' What's the energy that this one's giving me? So, I don't know, can you describe that as good or bad? I think it depends on what you bring to it. But my first statement about there's a consensus generally about what works and what doesn't work in terms of the art language.

MD: So what do you think some of the elements that make, you know, this quilt really pop out or another? I mean, what is it that makes it better?

AW: For me, I think what I find is that my mind wants to work in a more complex way. Just parenthetically, I'll say this: When I first got married, I wanted to have a very serene Japanese looking house and the walls were white and the pebbly carpet was mostly grey and I had a beautiful Japanese screen that went on the wall. The furniture was black. Within a month, I think, I found a beautiful object and that went there, and then another beautiful object. I had a trip to Mexico and I came back with lots of stuff I was going to give as presents but I didn't give away as many as I thought and within a year, my house was a Mexican gift shop. [laughs.] It's like I just love the surfaces and complexity of imagery, so serene is not me in terms of what I seem to reach for. So when I can work in, what I call symbolic realism, each of the images that I take is a symbol for other meanings. As I was describing this tree, it's this ancient ancestor of ours that's been living longer than we will ever and has been living before we were born so that it carries the weight of that meaning not just this beautiful tree. So it's real, but it's a symbolic form. The red lines around the women's faces, well, that's not in real life, they don't walk around with red squares around them, but that is saying, we are here to, you know, just as an example. So I find I love layering notions, layering ideas and finding images that will help support some of those ideas. And I don't mean to be literary. Usually I am taken by certain things that come in. Its could be a melodic line or it could be a line of poetry or some image or shadow grabs me and I photograph it and I don't know why that's choosing me to notice it, but it's something that energizes something and in the combination of things I usually find what meanings there are after the images are done. It's like the picture comes first, the words follow, as most people find.

MD: So do you think that one of the things that makes great art is having symbolism not just being aesthetically, but it's got that element too, like aesthetic, so I guess a combination?

AW: Yeah, well, you know, you want the lights and darks to flow through the piece so the eye is not trapped anywhere. It needs to have, as most quilts do which is wonderful, the appeal of close up detail that you find new images in and the far away look. As I look around this gallery, I mean, there's so many different ways of making art. The one that's behind you is just color, no quilt. Just patches of fabric and colorful string. It's an overall pattern, very flat, it's almost subject and ground, but it's a lot of interplay, so it's very pleasing to explore those passages without having any sense of, there's a hidden meaning in it. It's visual poetry and so you just explore its color and form and shape and texture and just enjoy that too.

MD: What do you think makes a great quilter?

AW: Being open. By that I mean being open to possibilities. Doing away with formulas. I don't believe you can find a way of making a distinction. There are some characteristics of making quilts, you know, the module that's repeated. Impressions. But I think it's a way of being open to the environment and your feelings and whatever comes in and finding a way.

MD: How do you think great quilters can learn the art of quilting especially how to design a pattern or choose fabrics and colors?

AW: Well, we're talking about basic art skills. And I think it's worthwhile to have some kind of training, self or otherwise, it's a basic language of art. Which has to do with the energy of the surface - color, line, texture, form, pattern, you know, these are the tools of making art and it can be done with fabric or it can be done with paint or it can be done with cellophane layers or it can be done with anything. But there is a way of knowing that when you start with a square or rectangle, you make a mark, you've already set up a ratio between that mark and the outline of the shape when it's over. You put another mark on, you're starting to excite those two points in relationship to the square and so there's a way of having a dialogue with the work that says I need something more here, or this is too much there and a way of having some judgment about it. But it's based on training your eye to really see. I remember having an aesthetics class as a freshman in art school. "
The Aesthetics in Every Day Life,"
it was called. And we were told to look at the shadows made by overhead el tracks, look at the wall surface of a torn down building and read the wall that remains, in other words, cracks in the sidewalk, streaks in the sky, whatever was around you to take a look at that and see it as a visual experience that could be very aesthetic. It's the way John Cage talked about noise, he says it could be noise, or it could be sound. And if you hear it as sound, your brain isn't fighting so hard to reject it but then you take it in as sound and hear the complexities and layers of some people talking, a horn, scraping wheels, it's a whole symphony of sound. So I see that visually too.

MD: That sort of relates to this question about--in what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, and I don't know, it's that so much but it seems like we also looked at some pictures of other of your quilts. That there is a lot about place, different places.

AW: Yes, I think place has a lot to do with what I do. Just as a funny aside. I had this incredible experience in Japan and took loads of photographs, including finding a round stencil symbol on the ground at one of these holy mountain top sites and it was a pair of bare feet surrounded by this broken circle with some Japanese letters inside. And when I asked Emiko, my colleague, what does this say? She said, 'It says stop.' I said, 'You mean it's a traffic sign.' She said, 'No, it means stop, pay attention.' Oh, that's fine because it was marked at the beginning to every path to a temple or a shrine. And I found that to be a wonderful metaphor, a pilgrim's path. We're all in our life on this pilgrim's path. And so I did a whole series of quilts using that symbol that was stenciled on the ground in various ways combining it with other imagery that were Asian or not, you know, but pilgrims path is very clear. I was invited to have a show in Paris the next year so I have this collection of Japanese quilts that I brought to Paris to show and while I'm in Paris, I'm shooting self-made assignments. I was photographing Paris signs and it could be road signs, store signs, doorpost signs, anything that had some graphic lettering in it. Even manhole covers, I think I shot manhole covers in Japan and one of the cards I gave you has the image, the 3-souls, that's a manhole cover. So--now that's a [inaudible.] [laughs.] Those signs, those Paris signs then became another whole series and I showed those other places. But everywhere I go, I was just in Santa Fe, I'm sure my next thing will be Santa Fe series. Because it's like the influence of a place and not just visually but somehow other notions come up, other ideas come up maybe it will be about the brightest of the year, who knows. I mean this phenomenon of seeing rain in the distance that doesn't hit the ground because it evaporates before it can hit the ground but it's a phenomenon. Shape and sight. So, yes, I think place very much influences me and how I am feeling about being in that place that I think I get to know myself and see myself better as, by bouncing off either other people or other places and to me, find where my edges are in a way that's not so clear somehow if I'm not doing that.

MD: So I wonder, do you--how often do you travel? Do you make a point to travel because that's what--or is it do you just happen to end up in a lot of different places all the time?

AW: Well, you know, a year ahead I'll see that looks like an interesting workshop, I'll sign up for it. And then there's another opportunity for travel. I find I'm traveling about every other month somewhere for a week or two weeks or 3 days, it doesn't matter. But I'm very happy moving around. I love traveling.

MD: So when you go to different places and you take photographs, do you, would you like see something and say, oh this would make, be fantastic in a quilt? Or do you go through them sort of later and find--

AW: Well, you know, I think I'm very purposefully shooting in a particular way. Mostly close up and always with shadow. I like darker, very important elements. Sometimes a rich interesting detail, whenever it's in lighting, but if the sun isn't there, and I don't have light, it's just a flat grey tourist shot. I'm making art photographs. And I know that I'm going to be incorporating those in layers with other images somewhere along the line. In fact a piece I just sold had a photograph that I had taken in the 70s that I had pulled out remembering what it was and trying find that image was a pile of old street signs that I found in a salvage yard in Connecticut turned out to be from Yonkers which is my next town. And I put it together with some Geishas sitting on the floor, reading a book so it was like that combination of two things and it was called Old Signs. It was a Pilgrim's Path series. So I never know where I'm going to use my photos, but I seem to have a phenomenal memory for imagery, visual memory so I can remember all the shots I've taken and kind of catalogue them in my head or I can remember things that I've seen, but the camera really lets me pin it down and then of course, I can scan it in so it's better than my memory because I can then use it.

MD: Do you alter the images at all?

AW: All the time. Oh yes. I'm sure this is not the original color, it might not have even been the original scale. I might have stretched it out more horizontally so that they're not exactly as the photograph reads. In other photographs, this is fairly representation and straightforward, there's a lot of distortion and all stretched out so I might change the thing like that and then something surreal begins to happen when I do that and that--what I like in my work is mystery. I like the fact that you may not get it at first glance which means that you have to, if you're willing to, spend more time with [inaudible due to background noise.] especially when you're living with art, if you see it all at once and you understand it, it would be like wallpaper [inaudible due to background noise.]. And it doesn't keep feeding you.

MD: So do you sell most of your quilts? Do you keep any of them?

AW: Well I find lately that the smaller ones are selling and the larger ones are not. But when you're having shows and you're going into museums, you really have to have big pieces. It's a real dilemma, this market is very tough. I wish I could--I knew the magic key to turn to translate lots of shows and some are well reviewed. It's just very difficult. And sometimes I think maybe my work is just too personal but my feeling is that the more personal I can get, the more universal it is. I guess touch that place on a generic level.

MD: Have you made any quilts as gifts?

AW: I make a lot of quilts [inaudible due to background noise.] And sometimes I have a show that I'm pushing towards and sometimes I don't know what is coming next but I want to have work ready when the opportunity comes. And sometimes I'm so moved by someone that I'll give them one of my pieces. But it's not like I'm specifically making a gift.

MD: We're coming near the end of the time, but I just wanted to get in a couple more of these questions. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

AW: Well obviously through its history they've been essentially part of a life that needed to use scrap and make it beautiful. It's hard to know now outside of the artist's need to make something. There are people who think they are not artists or don't have that creativity who need this work to find their own creativity second hand. In other words, they resonate; it to something that feeds them so they need that. Its like bread and roses, these are the roses. So I think any art and I have to favor the quilt because of the fabric and all the unconscious connections to fiber and fabric that we hold for comfort, although some of these would hardly be comforting. These are very dynamic pieces, but I think we need it, especially in our culture.

MD: Do you think they have--or in what ways do you think they have a special meaning for women's history and experience in America?

AW: Well that's a quilt history question and from what I've read, it was one of the only ways women could express themselves and maybe to this day if one is in a very conventional marriage. It might be the outlet for saying this is who I am. That's outside of being in service to the family. But in this day and age, this century, I think, my hope is that women have more horizon and if that's not the case then this is just one of the choices they make for how they want to spend their time. But basically it's the creative urge and if it gets expressed through fiber, fabric that's a wonderful tradition. For me, coming from the paint and print world, this becomes like another dimension to walk into. I love it. But it's art making for me.

MD: Do you think more men--what about, what do you think about men who quilt? Do you know any?

AW: Oh sure. The ones we know and I just studied with Leslie, Mr. Leslie Gabrielese from the Netherlands, and the few experiences I've had with male teachers and seeing Michael Cummings work in New York, yeah, but you see there's that handful. The way there used to be a handful of women who'd be represented in museums.

MD: So do you see it moving towards more of like an equal representation?

AW: I doubt that, I doubt that. As long as male artists consider it female work, they're not going to get into it but look, Lucas Samaras has been using fabric for such a long time [inaudible.] without calling it a quilt because he's using fabric in so many different ways. I keep staring at the piece that's over your head [inaudible.]. There's no quilting in it whatsoever. It's just these flat pieces of fabric that have been painted held together by what looks like, let me see, known as bakery string, bakery box string. It's twisted color, and it's interesting we're talking about quilting, and I'm saying, look at that, that's not a quilt, it's fabric and string. So I think male artists will do work like collage using fiber and paper but perhaps not quilts. I don't know.

MD: It's sort of a fine line between like what's--

AW: Well, you see, it's an art form and whether men want to adopt their mediums. I remember when I was carrying my big paintings around in Soho and someone thought they were complimenting me and said, 'Wow, you paint like a man.' What is that? Because they were big, powerful paintings? We have to get past the gender identification with what kind of form we're doing.

MD: Our--we're nearing the end of the time so is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we haven't talked about yet?

AW: Well, I want to thank you Megan for giving this opportunity to talk about my work and about the quilting and this whole art quilt form in general and I'm very happy about the Alliance's work doing this. So I'm just, thank you for doing it.

MD: Okay, well, thank you for letting us interview you, it was a really wonderful experience.

AW: Thank you.

MD: So I guess we'll be ending the interview at 3:45 and I just want to thank you again.

AW: Thank you so much, Megan.


Citation

“Arle Sklar-Weinstein,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed March 1, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1416.