Daphne Taylor


AQATS19119-027 Daphne Taylor.jpg


Daphne Taylor




Daphne Taylor


Amy Henderson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Kim Greene


Amy Henderson (AH): Hello, my name is Amy Henderson. It is 2:15. Today's date is April 8, 2006. I am conducting an interview with Daphne Taylor for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Art Quilts of the Sedgwick. Thank you, Daphne, for meeting with me today. Helping me with this interview is Janneken Smucker and we are just going to, you are going to lead us through the quilt that you have in the exhibition today. To start off and tell us a little bit about the quilt that you have.

Daphne Taylor (DT): Well, this quilt was really an experimental piece. It was the piece where I was working through some technical ideas and it was a summer when I was making the transition between having done a lot of embroidery in my work and I wanted to see if I could find a more forceful line image in my work, and um, in quilt terms perhaps to create a pieced line. In this piece really was the sampler for figuring out how to make such lines, or the possibilities that I might be able to do for future works. In the technical aspect of this, I worked with negative/positive forms, so that another piece had black lines with white surfaces around it. In this case, it was the opposite, so it was the white lines with black spaces. This one piece was born out of the first pieced lines that I created for the body of work that has evolved in the last two years since then.

AH: What is the title and what year did you make this quilt?

DT: The title is "Drawing in Black and Blue Fields," and it was made in the summer of 2004, and if I remember correctly, I probably quilted it that following winter.

AH: You hand quilt or machine quilt?

DT: I hand quilt everything. I have thought about machine quilting, and I have wanted to, I have taken lessons on it, and quilting is much better for the kind of work I do. There is something about the rhythm of the hand in the surface of the work that really honors what hand quilting is all about. I think something would not work as well in my work if I were to use the machine.

AH: Can you tell me about the fabrics that you used?

DT: Well in this piece, the outside border is silk, and the inside black field is cotton. Most of my--this is unusual for my work, because most of my work I work with all silks. And I actually in this piece questioned if I were to work with this again, I probably use a black silk, because I feel there is a luminosity that the silk gives off, that the cotton doesn't. But it holds it own, but these are some of the things that I thought about in critiquing the final piece, what worked, what didn't work, what I liked about it, what I was satisfied with. But this piece I really grappled with, and you will find bits of metallic knots throughout because at one point there was much more topical line work bringing in metallic threads, but as the ideas of simplicity and restraint are at the core of all of my work. I felt that the additional metallic work that I brought in was not honoring that simplicity, so it never came to stay. But you will find little bits, little knots that I never could quite take out.

AH: Simplicity at the core of your work, tell me a little bit more about that, and how that has involved meaning for this quilt.

DT: Well, historically as a painter my work was very representational, and I teach drawing and painting all day long, every day, helping students to see better and to record their visual world around them. In my own work, coming into quilt making, perhaps is the first time and set of materials where I have been able to strip away imagery, which is of interest to me, and to get down to the core of what drawing and painting are about to me, and the essence of it. Also in my own life, in my lifestyle, personal life, family upbringing, I was brought up as a Quaker so that I was always around values of simplicity, and I think as a person and my personality that has always been very important to me. I have been interested in the powers of simplicity, and perhaps of the more spiritual sense I find great power and strength in what simplicity and restraint can give to me. Some of my works are, my early works before these, um, tended to be, um, pieces that I was trying to have, to draw the viewer into that were perhaps more spiritual pieces that would give people the opportunity to contemplate and contemplation to me is often found in moments of simplicity. You have an empty room, and you can sit quietly. I also on a formal level as an artist from an early age of studying was always told to be honest with your work, and that is a lifelong journey. As I have grown older in exploring my work, I have always pondered, 'Be honest with your work Daphne, be honest with your work.' What are you seeing, why are you doing it, what are you looking for, and trying to strip away all of the of the excess of what that is about. I have always known that I knew how to paint, I always knew I knew how to draw, but I guess for all of us as artists it is what is your imagery, what do you have to say about it in your world today. I think in the body of quilt work, a lot of my work has been this glorious journey, a cathartic change at age thirty-nine of feeling that I have found material in which to express myself as a painter and drawer, and um, the things as I entered my forties that meant the most to me or most important was to simplify things and to get rid of the fancy footwork of drawing and painting and to on a more simple level as yourself, so what is drawing all about and what does it do. Make something that gave me pleasure to sit down and sit quietly in front of that was beautiful and I think beauty is at the core of all of my work, even if it is a very uncomfortable, simply image. I hope that maybe that comes out in the materials, the use of silk, um, is always something that you love to look at and touch. There is luminosity about the surface. I also do hope that my work is uncomfortable for people. I don't want it to be pretty or awe inspiring in a very sort of comfortable, normal way. I want it to--and perhaps being a quilt, people come to look at a quilt and they often will have an idea of what they expect to see. And they sort of go, 'Oh,' they are sort of uncomfortable at first, but then they are drawn in to having to re-look at what you are doing with a very classical, traditional art form. Particularly I think about this when I show my work to people who have known me all my life or known my family, and particularly the older women who were the first ones that taught me those embroidery stitches or how to hem that dress, that my work is not a traditional quilt, and I wonder how, I see the grace with which they embrace, there is great pride that they embrace of what I'm doing, but I also wonder deep down, you know, what they really think, even though they would never tell me. I feel very pleased, that I feel that I am carrying on beautiful the women art traditions that I was brought up with and the world that I was brought up in, and I feel that I honor the tradition well, I have beautiful craftsmanship, but not at the expense of experimentation and risk taking. I feel that I am very much in the process of it all. It is not at all finished.

AH: What are your plans for this quilt?

DT: Plans for this quilt, well it probably will be rolled up with another little stack in my apartment. I am not quick to let go of them. I keep high prices. I sort of feel that there is a bit of life here that I am sort of collecting, and that it is a body of work that documents my journey as an artist. Some of them come and go in shows. This is the second show that this piece has been in. There is a lifeline. Quilts sort of seem to have about three years of when you can show them on the contemporary circuit. Who knows where it will go? Someone may fall in love with it, and I will either give it to them or sell it. I never think in those terms.

AH: Okay. Tell me a little bit more about the forms that are playing through the center with the white.

DT: I think the forms are--they were hap instance in the sense that I was experimenting how to make them, how to literally physically make them, sew them with the fabrics. So, to me, I quilt like this in much of my work. I have a pile of components that are my pieces to work with for the day and to figure out something that works visually for me, that interests me. In this case, I think there are probably about sixteen squares there of different shapes and sort it is sort of like a collage. You are given these sixteen shapes. On that day I probably sat with these different shapes and sizes of lines and worked in variations to find, until I reached a point where it made since to me. It made sense for me enough to move on to the next step knowing that it could evolve into something more. That really is the process for much of my work. I start with a vision. I start with a mood and a feeling that I want to explore and move on from there.

AH: What was the mood in this situation?

DT: The mood for this would be, um, a restrained, simple series of line movements that captured some elegant flowing movement. There was a harmony, harmony. Began the, began to think about, to speak about what marks are from a painter or drawer. Again, the whole time in much of this early work, was consciously thinking about my love of taking a paint brush and moving across a piece of paper and the beautiful different markings you would get with that, and the unexpected beautiful markings. I continued to hope that my quilt work gets closer and closer to having some of that freshness that one gets with a brush and paint stroke, even within the confines of the technical.

AH: Your comment about the brush stroke makes me think of the difference between having the shapes and being able to play with it all afternoon as opposed to that moment when you put the paint on canvass or paper, and that you can't. I mean if it is oil or acrylic, yes you can rework it, but you don't pick it up in the same way.

DT: But you could. But you could cut up that piece of canvass or that piece of paper and cut it into the same kind of grid form and recompose it. And so, and also as an exercise for an artist, I could have easily taken this image and cut it up again until I find something new. So, it is constantly evolving.

AH: The same technique for you.

DT: Yes, emotionally it is. To see how I am problem solving, how I am looking at it. There is not the spontaneity that I have picking up a Japanese brush and ink, which I love. There is not that spontaneity. But I think that is part of the challenge, the element of time that quilt making takes in contrast to that spontaneous movement of the brush. I think it is there, that brings into play the fact that when you are working with quilt making, that you are also signing on for a very time-consuming craft at the core of it, no matter how fine art your image is, but that you. For me, I have always honored craft and loved fine craftsmanship. I have also been one that can sit for hours and really love the meditative quality of developing something. I have nurtured that as an adult, so that for me it is an exploration of how you can create work that has spontaneity about it, even if it has taken a year to make.

AH: That is an interesting contrast. I like this issue of movement, and I would like to talk a little bit more about the movement in this piece, or what you are exploring with movement.

DT: I think harmony and balance very simply put. I don't think it is a very deeply thought exploration of that. I think the movement is a yes moment of taking these simple pieces and finding very simply without having to be too busy about it, how to make these. There are about twelve markings, and those twelve markings say it all with a nice movement, with a sense of balance and harmony.

AH: When we were in the gallery earlier with Bernie Herman, he commented on the fact that it reminded him of dance and music in some ways. I was wondering if you had that thought at all in mind.

DT: Not specifically. I think, I certainly, when I was making this, I was in the woods of Maine, and I am always influenced by the landscape and the seasons, which always give me great joy and fill me tremendously, the change of the seasons when I have that chance to watch it occur. I love to dance, but I don't see dance as much at the core, as perhaps the weather and movement of the landscape in Maine.

AH: You have made illusions to the fact that you were a trained fine artist in painting and drawing, and that you made this transition to quilt making. I am wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that. When did you come interested in quilt making?

DT: Well, [laughs.] the story goes. Actually, I wrote on it, but early on my undergraduate was actually in ceramics. I think I might say, and that actually gave me the opportunity to work with the struggle between art and craft world. It was also my first introduction to exploring a process where it may take a month from the beginning to the end and how to hold on to the spontaneity but after having studied ceramics, but all the while really working from a fine art perspective. After that I did, I was always drawing, painting in all of my work. But after that I did study formally painting and drawing being at the core of all of it. I always tell people age thirty-nine was the year of my life where that summer I was going out every day to paint religiously, loving it and my favorite hours were four to six as that light was falling. One day we stopped at a yard sale, and I picked up a woman's bag of her life treasures of scrapes of fabrics. I think I paid five dollars for all of these fabulous vernacular kitchen fabrics up in Maine on Route 3, and I took them back to my studio and I started cutting them up and started composing on the floor and on the table and sewing them up. In the next couple of weeks that followed, I found myself rushing back to the studio because I wanted to go back and play with those pieces of fabric. I finally said, 'You know something is wrong here. I really want to get back to the studio and playing with those fabrics back there instead of putting in my hours as a painter every day.' It was a wakeup call saying, 'Why not spend your whole day down there in the studio. Pull out your little feather weight machine that mom gave you when you were in high school and just start sewing. Don't worry about where these should.' And it was that moment in my life where I really listened to myself for the first time and said you know either you're an artist, but you know, you shouldn't feel that just because you want to cut and sew all day long that your work is not going to be valued. I did my first three quilt tops that summer. Never having any lessons in what, how you make a quilt or whatever, but I did know how to sew clothes very well. From then on, I think I took my first quilt workshops on traditional quilt blocks and stuff technically. The next, I think the next special mood came when a neighbor started giving me scraps of Japanese kimono fabrics, and I was really at that moment taking my first course on how you piece together quilt designs, and so from my fabric uses I brought this little cache of these beautiful Japanese kimono scrapes, browns and dark purples and blacks, that you just don't find in our culture, you don't find in our palette, and for me they were real painters' colors, and so I learned how to make pieced fabrics to make the stars, the star quilt patterns using these, and I was very comfortable with asymmetry, I was very comfortable with making all my little pieces different colors. They were very beautiful, and it really made me feel that there was something here, I was painting. I was painting with the scraps of fabric. I proceeded to then, I was consuming research. I was reading everything I could find on quilt history. It was the first time in my life with my art that I was not only making, but I was researching, and I wanted to know more. We have a quilter in our family history that has very fine quilts here in different museums, and I was finding more about my family heritage that I had never known about. Putting pieces of history together. I did. I'm a teacher and I did one summer get a Time Warner grant to make quilts in my studio that made the transition from being a painter to a quiltmaker. So, even professionally through my school, I was able to get the support to work with this transition. It has been going that way ever since then. I was also granted a sabbatical to continue that. The sabbatical quilts, it was a series called "Quiet Spaces," which follow up on my interest in simplicity. It was a moment, time in my life where I wanted to create quilts that drew you in to a quiet space, that were very perhaps, very inspired by the Amish quilts as a jump off point, knowing that in my own Quaker heritage that silence was a very powerful space and a space can be a large square. Actually, those quilts, I limited myself saying, 'If you can only work with squares of fabric, what do you say?' I could not do any fancy footwork with any piecing or designs, or little pieces, bit pieces, I had to just work with very simply shapes of squares and that challenge. Those are the kind of challenges to make the transition from a painter to a quiltmaker. So, I said, 'This is what you are going to have to do if you are going to do it seriously, otherwise it is just going to be an ornamental pretty piece that everyone is going to love.' Because I know how to make a pretty piece, I know how to design well, I know what is going to sell, I know what is going to be dynamic, but that's not going to be what I'm about, that is not what I am after, that is not what I need to create. I did a whole body of work on the "Quiet Spaces," and um, and at the end of those, I began thinking about, but you really love to draw and knowing that even beyond painting that I have always, if anything I have been a stronger drawer than anything else of what I do. I know as a teacher that I have a deeper understanding about drawing than anything else that I teach, and so as an exploration in my teaching and for myself, I sort have been stripping away what is drawing all about. That is how this new series called "Quilt Drawings" evolved. That is where this quilt is about the sixth in it, in that series and now I have done probably about ten or twelve.

AH: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

DT: Oh, I think it is the quiet hours of contemplation.

AH: What do you not like about quilting?

DT: What do I not like about quilt making? I'm at peace with most of it. I don't think there is--probably my least favorite is basting a quilt. I know next weekend I need to sit down on the floor, but I learned what you do. I spend twenty minutes; I get up and I go do something else. I think it is pacing. I really, there is very little I don't like about it. I think you learn knowing that each part is very important and to do each aspect very well, to give it it's time; you can't rush through one area.

AH: Have you ever used quilt making to help you get through a difficult time in your life?

DT: Yes.

AH: Would you like to elaborate, or no?

DT: No.

AH: That is fine.

DT: I think, I will, I think the "Quiet Spaces." Sorry.

AH: Take your time.

DT: The "Quiet Spaces" was born, [crying.] I'm sorry.

AH: That's okay. Would you like me to pause the tape recorder?

DT: No, I will get through it in a minute.

AH: Okay.

DT: Because I know you can edit things. You know it's all fine. It's part of the journey. [laughs.] The "Quiet Spaces" even though I was doing it on a formal level was a time in my life where my sister and I lost both parents to good lives, but it was the closure of a time and I was very, very full but very fragile, and I had a lot to say, and so I pushed it all into my art.

AH: Thank you for sharing that.

DT: With pleasure.

AH: Okay. What do you think makes a great quilt?

DT: Honest, thinking outside of the box. My personal, you know, I think for me what makes a great quilt, also you can't help but get judgmental in the sense of what your own personal prospectives are, and certainly, I love, some of my favorite quilts are the very traditional quilts, are the old grand, beautifully quilts made by our ancestors of other generations.

AH: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

DT: I think those quilts that are wonderful timelines, are like the first in the timelines of their generation or their decade that are influenced by the world around them and things that are going on, and really speak about that. So, when you look at them in retrospective, you can almost place them by the fabrics they use, the imagery, and I think you see that in any of the contemporary quilt shows. You will see the ones that will stick out thirty years from now, you can tell what they are speaking about in relation to these times.

AH: How do your quilts speak to you, time or even region? You mentioned both Maine and New York.

DT: I don't know in mine. To me that's, you know, I don't know where, since I really, I think on one hand it is my own personal journey so I can't and I am not a political person with it, I don't try to make it speak about my times. Maybe I am, but I don't analysis it that way. That is for someone else to do. I think my nose is really into my navel with my work. I try to keep it that way, but to be informed, to be honest with it.

AH: Why is quilt making important to your life?

DT: It gives me balance, it keeps me. Quilt making is important to me because I have chosen that genre to work with as an artist and having made that commitment, it is with me every day and it is something that I need to do. I mean I always, I have always been a working artist, I have always, there has never been a time that I have not drawn or painted, or mixed, or done something. So, it is a very, it is constantly with me every day. I make time every day, most often in the September through May school schedule my life works well because I teach. I work. I sort of have at the end of the day a transition thing I do, and then in the evenings I usually count on knowing that I will spend an hour to two and a half hours in quilting. So, every day I am having a conversation with myself about my work. I really am very disciplined in making sure that happens. Sometimes it is beyond my means that it doesn't, and I really feel it when it doesn't.

AH: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

DT: Oh, I think the woman spoke beautifully, the curator who just spoke, Stevens, what's her name. I think quilts symbolically for mankind, when someone thinks of a quilt, they think of a coverlet that you want to, it speaks of warmth, it speaks of care, I think it speaks of beauty, I think at the essence of all those things. The hearth, the home, it has such a historical symbolism about it that I think any of these quilt shows carry it on whether people want it to or not. I think you have to do something really brutal to a quilt before someone can let go of the fact that it has this incredible historical symbolism to it.

AH: That is an interesting way of putting it. Janneken, do you have any other questions that you would like to ask?

Janneken Smucker (JS): Do you enter a lot of juried exhibitions like this?

DT: I do now.

AH: We are on Side B of the tape, and we will continue our interview with Daphne Taylor.

DT: It is actually a very interesting question, do I apply to all of these shows, because I think about it at times right now. I just started applying to shows about four years ago, and have gotten into several of the, I guess people say, 'The big ones.' Fiber Art International, Quilt National, and now Sedgwick. It is wonderful and it affirms what you are doing, it affirms your voice, and it is a whole new world of incredible people to get to know. But I also ask myself, particularly because you get to know what deadlines are ahead, and the thing that I am asking myself right now is to, to ignore deadlines and remember that my first goal and priority is to work with the natural flow of where my work is going to go. That it may be every two or three years that I have work that is again ready to submit into these shows. I don't want to, I don't want to lose the innocence that being a young, new quiltmaker has in my work. Getting into these shows has been very affirming for me, but I don't want it to get in the way of where I need to go with my work.

AH: Any other questions you like to ask?

JS: That's it.

AH: I would ask you, is there anything we haven't asked you that you would like to share with us about your experience.

DT: No, you guys are wonderful. [laughs.]

AH: Well with that, I would like to thank Daphne Taylor for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save our Stories project. Again, we are at the Art Quilts at the Sedgwick. Our interview concluded at 2:50 p.m. on April 8, 2006. Thank you.

DT: Thank you very much.


“Daphne Taylor,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1421.