Marilyn Henrion

Photos

NY10012_001_a.jpg
NY10012_001_b.jpg

Title

Marilyn Henrion

Identifier

NY10012-001

Interviewee

Marilyn Henrion

Interviewer

Amy Henderson

Interview Date

11/5/05

Interview sponsor

Adonna Richardson

Location

Newark, Delaware

Transcriber

Kim Greene

Transcription

Amy Henderson (AH): Hello, my name is Amy Henderson. It is 10:41. Today's date is November 5, 2005. I am conducting an interview with Marilyn Henrion for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Newark, Delaware. Thank you, Marilyn, for meeting with me today.

Marilyn Henrion (MH): You're welcome.

AH: We are just going to start out by talking about the, you have two quilts for us today,[inaudible.]. Tell me about the quilt you brought. You made it, when, describe if for us.

MH: Both of these are from my new series called "Disturbances." They are "Disturbances 3" and "Disturbances 4." The series is about turbulence: turbulence which is the heart of certainty. And, there are various forms of turbulence that could be anywhere from cosmic (the big bang), to ah terrestrial, (tsunami or floods), to the personal (the little disturbances of man that Grace Paley refers to in her book of that name). I work with abstract images and they are metaphorical images, so it is not a specific image of say a building falling or anything, but I think metaphor says a lot more and engages you a lot more than literal images.

AH: Okay. And, when did you make these quilts?

MH: These were made this year, 2005.

AH: Okay. Tell me about the fabrics that are in the quilts.

MH: I use all silk fabrics. And, I, the printed silk fabrics are mostly from China, and I like to use these in quilts, and the plain silk fabric are from India, Thailand, Italy. They are from all over the world.

AH: Tell me about the different colors in each of the quilts?

MH: Well "Disturbances 3" is--

AH: Which one is that?

MH: Red is the primary color in that one. Color is very important to me. It is almost like image is secondary to color very often for me, it's just a way of getting color out there, and so what happens with color, and I use a very simple motif, which is the square within the square, and distortions of that and various ways of presenting that, and so you get different effects from different colors, and I use all commercial fabrics that are available. I don't make fabrics or dye fabrics, because to me the challenge is working with available materials and seeing what happens when you put things together that were not necessarily meant to be together. Color is very important to me. Second one ("Disturbances 4") is primarily in the greens and blues family. But again, when I work a piece, which is on a wall like a painting when I work on it, and I audition many different possibilities of color, it takes a lot of trial and error to get what I want, and I am very particular about color. It can't be any red or just any green, it has to be very specific in relation to what's around it.

AH: I am intrigued by the issued of turbulence, and I wonder if you can walk us through a little bit more, how do you think these quilts speak or relate or communication turbulence.

MH: Well, as you can see the motif of the squares in the squares presented initially as a very solid architectural form and then it's presented in its disturbance, in the turbulence, and both exist simultaneously really. And I said I feel there is turbulence behind certainty so sometimes you can think something is going very smoothly and predictably, and then suddenly turbulence happens, and again it can be from cosmic to the personal.

AH: How do colors contribute to the symbolism?

MH: Well, color is different for me. The design creates the metaphor more than the color often. Although color sometimes comes into play in the metaphor. But in this case, color is not integral to the message; it is for me the joy of color, of using color, and creating color. It is indescribable. The use of pattern also come in there, because, like to Matisse, to me pattern is very important also and I am very inspired the works of Matisse ah, and what he did with textiles. So, I always, almost always incorporate patterned textiles into my work as well as solid colors.

AH: When I think of turbulence, the violence or disruption, yet the colors are so harmonizing. I find it interesting [inaudible.] position. What about your process. You design in a series, you can talk generally about other series or these ones--how they are going to fit into a series? How many will there be?

MH: Well, the process is that I start with a thumbnail sketch very often, just an idea of something, ah, then just in pencil just do some thumbnail sketches. Then, used to do them on graph paper, do it to scale on graph paper, and then create a full size cartoon of the piece. But now the first step is still a thumbnail sketch. But the second step, instead of drawing on graph paper, I do it on the computer. So the second step is on the computer doing a scale drawing, and then I take that scale drawing and then again bring it up to full size, and the full size cartoon. From there, what I do is I place that onto a paper that has a sticky back, it's almost like a freezer paper, but it is a better quality paper, and trace the full size piece, cut out each piece of the template paper, which is what it is. First I have numbered each piece of this on the master drawing and numbered each template piece. Make the register marks on each template piece as well. They get cut apart and become my templates. I then iron on them to fabric and then I audition the pieces as they go up onto the board. I do all my work by hand, piecing and quilting, so that these templates are drawn around and that becomes the seam line, and I sew on that seam line by hand, each piece gets sewn together by hand first. But it is a long, very labor extensive process, because even the auditioning of the pieces and where the colors and the patterns are going to go is very time consuming, and then the hand labor of putting it together. But I do like to look at it while it is up on the board for a few days at least, to play around with what is happening and make alterations before I finally begin to sew. Once I begin sewing, then it becomes a very Zen, very meditative process of this hand sewing, which I adore, which I really love. It is something I will never give up, as long as my hands hold up. And, so I enjoy the process as much. There is nothing about this work that does not give me the greatest joy. There is nothing tedious about, people say, 'Oh, you must have endless patience to do all of this handwork', there is nothing tedious, nothing requiring patience, it is just a joy. On the very first quilt I ever made I embroidered a quotation from T.S. Eliot, which is 'Here between the hither and father shore, while time is withdrawn, consider the future and the past with an equal mind." For me that so encapsulates everything about this experience to me. Its connection with the past, with the heritage of quilting and quiltmakers of the past, it's the experience of being in a timeless space while doing the work, and just completely at peace. Well, anyone who does this kind of work, or any creative work for that matter knows that experience, and so, I just love the whole process.

AH: How many quilts do you make for each series?

MH: It depends. It depends. Until I have said all I want to say at that point about the series. Sometimes I will go back to a series later on, years later. I started a series; I guess it was in the late nineties called "Innerspace," which was kind of a reflection of inner feels as a result of a trip to Japan and the interior architectural spaces. Then I went on to other things, and then I started that series again when I had a residency in Cape Cornwall, England a couple of years ago, and I was in an isolated stone cottage on a cliff above the Atlantic Ocean, on the very western most edge of England. Very romantic. The cottage was hundreds of years old, surrounded by Neolithic stone burial grounds and it was a different kind of inner space that I was exploring there, it was a very, very solitary and meditative kind of experience. So I started another "Innerspace'" series there, which was very different from the one that was influenced by Japan. But, again, I might go back to certain series if I feel the inclination to do.

AH: How do you feel these two quilts are different. Do you work until you are done with the message or--

MH: Well, these two are expressions of the very same thing, just different ways of expressing it. I think that you will find that these two are more similar than others in the series, and that is why I bought these two together. But, you'll see, when you see the rest of the series, some are some less violent, some may be more violent, some may have more of the solid structure and less of the disturbance, so there are different ways of expressing it in different forms of turbulence and degrees of turbulence.

AH: Why did you choose to bring these quilts?

MH: Well, because they are the newest works and the newest [inaudible.] favorites. [laughs.] So, I haven't talked about them before in public and I haven't shown them in public before.

AH: It is a treat for us then to have these in the interview. Tell me about the progression of your career- artist training, teaching, and development as a quilt artist.

MH: Well, initially I was a painter. I had--I studied [inaudible.] Fine Arts and I got a degree in art, which included graphic design and studio art and art history, and painting was my medium, and then I got married at a very young age, soon after graduation from college, and had four children in very rapid succession, and had to work full time while they were growing up, so there was really no room or time or space even for creative work for many years. I would say about twenty years. And, then when I was able to get back to doing creative work again, somehow I was drawn to textiles. I always loved textiles, and Amish quilts were very important, and Matisse's work, as I said. So, it seemed natural to me to go to this form rather than back to painting again. But during those years that I wasn't doing any of my own work, I was very involved with the art scene in New York. My husband was a painter, and he knew many of the artists of that day and the abstract expressionists were in full force, so we were in touch with them and had regular contact with the artists, the fine artists, the painters. So that was my world. So I don't really come out of a quilting world, and I have no one in the family who did quilts before, and so my approach to quilts was more from an art background.

AH: When did you begin to quilt?

MH: It was around 1978. I, I was self-taught. I didn't know how to do it, and one day at work; my work life was as a career counselor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I taught career planning. And one day I was having lunch with one of the fashion design teachers, and I said, 'I really would like to begin to work on a quilt', and she said 'Oh, I know how to do a quilt,' and so she taught me to do the Cathedral Window, and I did one hundred and twenty inch by one hundred and twenty inch Cathedral Window. It was my first quilt. [laughs.] I just loved the process, as I said; it was just a joy in the making of that and a joy in working with fabrics. So the next ten years, actually I did nothing but copy traditional quilts. I love doing it, I love doing it, learned a lot doing it, made my own templates, just did it from scratch. And, ah, so, at some point though, I guess about ten years later, I thought I could really design my own quilts instead of copying, because up until now I had been making bed quilts for the children and family, and I thought I would like to design my quilts, it's leaving more of a legacy for them, because it is something more beyond what just my hands are doing. You know, it's what my mind is doing. So, I started designing quilts, and then as soon as I did that, I realized that there is more than just designing a quilt, it is expressing something, and so they became expressions of what I was thinking, what I was feeling, what I was experiencing, and a record of one woman's life in the last half of the twentieth century. So, you know, that enriched the legacy even more for my children. It didn't occur to me that beyond my family that people would appreciate or be interested in these things until I entered a couple of quilts in the guild, local guild show and I won first and second prize. The first time I entered, so that was pretty encouraging, and made me realize that there is a public that enjoys this stuff and would be interested in seeing them.

AH: The quilts you made for the first ten years, even those you designed afterwards, those are all bed quilts?

MH: No, the first ten years were all bed quilts. When I started designing, then they were art quilts at that point because, it was just a different, different frame of mind really.

AH: Tell me how you negotiated or promoted yourself as a fiber artist.

MH: Well, because I was a career counselor, and I was advising artists on how to present their work and present themselves. I did that for thirty years really, and that was my career, that was my profession, and I knew how to do that, I knew how to do it well. And then I thought, well, I might as well apply what I have been teaching these people and see if it really works. [laughs.] So I did, you know, it turns out that a lot of artists are really not good at this, and it is unfortunate, because there are a lot of very good artists who just simply can't handle the other aspect of getting their work known. But, I have taught career development classes for quiltmakers and quilt artists, so I think it is an important aspect, because to do the work is wonderful, but if no one is ever going to see it, it's sad, it's really sad. And, also I always kind of wish I had known the quiltmakers of the past, and sometimes we don't even know their names much less any stories about them, you know, so I thought it was important to document things. You know, to have a record of things, to have that story be on record. So all of it sort of came together and it just works.

AH: You mentioned while you working, before you started quilt making, that you were very involved with the artists of the fifties, sixties, seventies, and I understand you are going to have a [inaudible.] in your home. How did that affect your work? Did your work affect the various writers and artists with whom you came into contact? [inaudible.]

MH: I couldn't say there was an affect because at that time I wasn't doing any creative work of my own, but it certainly was in one sense. There is a quotation from Tennyson, 'I am a part of all that I have met,' and that is very true. That, you know, all of that seeped into me in some way or another. We were close friends of Joseph Cornell, I don't know if you are familiar with his work. And we used to drive there every Sunday and visit him and see all the new boxes, and he would even lend us some of his boxes to take home and live with for a few months, and then we would bring them back and trade for new ones. It was quite wonderful. And, the poets who would come to the house and do their readings, we would have regular poetry readings at the house and I would organize readings of some of the major poets at the time. And, I have always been interested in poetry, and as I said, metaphor as we experience in poetry, is an important part of my work too. And many of the works are based on literary references, so the poets were very important, visual arts, music too is important to me, and finds its way into my work in one way or another.

AH: Can you tell me more about the poetics of the quilt?

MH: As I said, metaphor is a very powerful thing, and it engages you in a way that representational imagery has not. You know representational imagery is there, you are given everything. It is not much that you do as a viewer to participate. Whereas in metaphorical work, you participate; you are interpreting that in whatever way you want to interpret it. It is much more engaging when you think.

AH: It is very interactive.

MH: Yes.

AH: Tell me about some of the artists and writers, you mentioned that have influenced your work.

MH: Matisse for sure, no specific Amish quilt artists, but many of them. Specifically, their color and minimalism, the way to create something with minimal materials, that is incredible. The African American provisional quilts are very important. They don't directly reflect in this because I used very abstract geometry in a very precise way, but it still, to me those works are really important as works of art in the way that Matisse paintings are. And it has nothing to do with the craftsmanship or lack of craftsmanship that many people complain about in some of those works, I think that the esthetics of those works are so powerful that one doesn't pay attention or care about the craftsmanship in those works. Japanese Kesa robes where they put together different brocades or different fabrics that are geometric rectangles. Indian miniatures. There is a lot of things that influence my work, Russian icons, use of metallics, so there is a lot of influence, it's not necessarily all quilt related.

AH: Tell me about your involvement in the art quilt community.

MH: Well, it's interesting. [laughs.] I have a number of involvements in the art quilt community. I belong to Art Quilt Network New York, which is a group of quilt artists from all over the country that meet once a year, primarily in New York or sometimes Philadelphia or Washington. And we meet for a three-day program, and we share what we have been doing during the year. We have speakers. There will be quilt artists, maybe other artists, maybe performance artists, and it's interesting. Because I always wonder, have wondered why one needs to be in a group. What is the purpose of the group for individual artists, is it necessary, does it serve any purpose really. I don't tend to be a group person, yet I find myself always getting involved with groups. [laughs.] I'm not sure where that's at. In fact it was very interesting, because at one point I invited Janet Koplos, who is the chief editor of Art in America to come to one of our meetings, and not only to come to one of our meetings, but I asked the group if there was anybody who was willing to submit slides for her to critique with a very honest, straight forward critical eye as she would critique any form of art. And so, some of the artists agreed to submit slides, and she agreed, and I told her that I wanted this to be very honest, I don't want any punches pulled, because I think this is something that most quilt artists could never experience or put themselves out to experience. So, she agreed to do it, and she came, and she spoke, and she critiqued. And the results were very interesting, because, for one thing back to your question about the groups, one of the questions she asked was put before the group as a rhetorical question not requiring an answer was, 'Why do you have this group, why do you need this group?' But to get back to the critiquing, what was very interesting to me is that there were some of the artists who were very devastated by this critique, and all of them knew it was going to be a real critique. You know, it's not like you have to take everything to heart and change your work because of what someone says about it, I find it just interesting to know what people see this as. You know, and whatever they say. You can agree with it or not agree with it, but it is interesting to hear it. But I guess not everybody was into that, and I think that probably women tend to be more nurturing than judgmental and tend to form groups that are nurturing for that purpose. So, the quilt world has become a very warm and fuzzy place for most people, and they are comfortable with that, and so it is hard for them to be artists out in the public, because they open themselves to being really critiqued. And, maybe appreciated or not, because the art world is just fashion. Like everything else, it's a world of fashion, what's in this week, what's in next week, what's not in this week. You know you can't take it too seriously, but it is just interesting, because we say we want to be accepted by the art world, yet we don't put ourselves out there in the art world, so it's, it's very strange.

AH: You have definitely put yourself in the art world, you are a participant. How have you done that?

MH: Well, for one thing I did it by joining the gallery, also by; I mean I take my work as an artist very seriously. I send out mailings to critics, to curators, to, I mean, you know, there is a professional way to do things. And I do it. Sometimes it pays out, sometimes it doesn't. But I think that unless, unless this kind of work, unless genre is out there in the art world on a consistent regular basis in art venues and not in quilt venues, not at Houston, not--those are okay. I'm not saying they are bad; I'm just saying that quilt artists want to be accepted by the mainstream art world, they have to be out there in the art world, showing at art venues and not isolating themselves in this insulated world of quilting. It is a hard message to get across and the message is not accepted by everyone.

AH: I am curious, did you also bring slides when the editor of Art America came to critique?

MH: I did, I did.

AH: And how did you respond to the critique?

MH: I have a very tough skin for one thing, so I guess I was born that way, so to me that wasn't a threat. She happened to say nice things about my work, but it wouldn't have mattered, really would not have had she not--it wasn't really how I was going to progress as an artist as an objective thing, it was just interesting to hear the response of the mainstream art world to this work. It's not going to change my work for what she would say.

AH: How is quilt making or artist expression in general important in your life?

MH: It is my life. I don't do anything else. It is a very lopsided life. It is a very unbalanced life I must say. And I think the life of any artist is. I don't think it is peculiar to quilt artists. I probably don't spend as much time with family as I should. I don't cook. I don't clean. I don't--it is a very one-sided affair. I have a husband of fifty-three years who is wonderful, because I can't imagine being married to anyone else who would put up with this. Fortunately, he was an artist himself, so he understood. We each have our own studios, and I don't see him except at dinnertime. He goes out for breakfast. I don't see him until dinnertime, and we have dinner together, sleep together, and then I'm back in my studio. So, it is a lopsided life, but I love it. I have chosen it. It's not like I'm complaining.

AH: You mentioned that you in part started making quilts for your family, your children.

MH: Yes, I did.

AH: How do they support or respond to your work?

MH: They love my work. They come to my exhibits; they are very happy. My granddaughter, one of my grandchildren, a granddaughter who is adopted who is originally Nepal comes from a tradition of wonderful textiles. I have taught her quilt, and so she has made several quilts now. And that makes me very happy.

AH: What do you consider to be your most significant contribution to your field thus far?

MH: I think, probably what we talked about is my professionalism and my trying to get art quilts out in the art world, and to serve as a model for other quilt artists to do the same really.

AH: What advice would you have for young quiltmakers, whether they are working as fiber artists or working in the traditional quilt pattern.

MH: Well, to rely on your own sense of creativity. I think one of the problems that has happened over the years is that, when you look at the old Amish quilts, these people have no art background, they had no workshops to go to, they had no magazines that were giving them instructions and patterns for everything, it's like--what has happened is that too much is given. There are too many workshops. There are too many kits. There are too many books--how to. There are too many patterns out there, so that women who are doing this work have kind of lost their confidence in their ability to be creative. And I think that women are creative and can be creative if they would only throw away all that stuff and just go back to basics and stop relying on all of those gimmicks. It's sad to me that this has happened. And people say to me, 'Well you have an art background, so you can do these things, but the women of the past didn't, and they did wonderful quilts. So, I think I would encourage young people to stop going to workshops, stop buying the how to books, just, you know rely on their own creativity. Look at African American quilts and improvisational quilts. I taught a--I started a class for homeless women at a shelter in New York about ten years ago about quilt making, and these are women who have little in their lives to be joyful about. And I taught them some very basics and I showed them slides of some of the African American quilts that have been exhibited, and you know talked about that heritage. And so, I taught them some very basic things about piecing, and had to bring supplies that were donated. They weren't even allowed to use scissors at the shelter, potential weapons, so I had to give these blunt, kindergarten scissors, just some basic stuff, had some fabric that was donated. And they started turning out things that were just incredible to me. They stopped following the basic instructions for making a square or a triangle. And they started doing their own thing. It was absolutely mind boggling. It was wonderful to see this happen. And I think that is what can happen if people stop relying on things that are available.

AH: That is a wonderful story.

MH: Pat Keller is here today. I am wondering if Pat has any questions that I haven't asked yet.

Pat Keller (PK): I wonder how you categorize or characterize yourself as a practitioner of your work. Do you give yourself a title of what kind of craft you do, or art you do?

MH: Oh, you mean the name that I call myself?

PK: Right.

MH: That's a tricky question because it depends on the audience that I am addressing at the time. I think that I'm not ashamed of my heritage; the quilt making heritage is a wonderful heritage. However, if you use that term in the art world it's loaded. It's bed covers. It's grannies. It's quilting bees. So, when you are addressing that world, I am reluctant to use the world quilt. And so, I sometimes call it piece constructions, stitched constructions, and even fiber art is a little tricky, but sometimes fiber arts, quilt artists are used freely here because you understand, but it depends on the audience.

PK: I wonder how that makes you feel?

MH: It's okay with me. [laughs.] I mean at some point when everything comes together and when these words are accepted as fine art, along with sculpture and painting and everything else, then we can go back to calling it quilt art, you know, or quilted art. I do not like the term quilter. I hear it used a lot here. I hear it used. I have talked to Shelly [Zegart.] many times in conversations. [laughs.] Quilter is the person who does the quilting stitches. That is only one part of this. So, quilter has never been a good term as far as I'm concerned, unless you are the person that just does quilting stitches. Quiltmaker is a better term; quilt artist for what I do is a better term than that.

PK: What separates a quiltmaker from a quilt artist?

MH: Ah, there you go. [laughs.] That is an impossible question to answer. What is an artist, what is art? I mean you might as well ask me what art is, okay, and that is an unanswerable question, and history will judge. But I think that one of the other problems today is that people who are working in the genre think that because they call themselves an artist, they are an artist because they call what they are doing art, it is art. There is no humility at all. I can't give you an example because that would get into things that are politically not very comfortable. The term 'professional artist' is used by an organization. For instance, this is an example. There is an organization that uses the term 'professional artist' as a category of membership. There are no qualifications. All you do is pay the level of membership dues that is required to be in that category and these people are professional artists, and expect that they are doing art, professional art. There, there is a lack of understanding about what, I mean, what a lifetime of being an artist involves, what a real commitment to one's artwork and a professional attitude. It is not just making a couple of pieces and having your friends like them. It also has to have an esthetic value. Some people don't have a sense of what is good. This is so difficult, because I get accused many times; this is a common thing, elitism. Well, this is not elitism, but elitism is used commonly in women's groups, like this of quilters, because they don't like judgment, they don't like criticism, so anyone who talks about qualifications or requirements or standards is to them is considered an elitist and this has often been labeled. It has been attached to my thinking. Maybe it is elitist, but it's--it's asking for standards. There are people, and people well known in this field who are teaching, big names in this field who don't have a clue about design or color or esthetic value, I have to say that in all honesty.

AH: I am going to pause at this moment so we can turn the tape over so we can continue our conversation. This is the second side B of our interview with Marilyn Henrion. Are you ready for another question? Pat, would you like to ask one?

PK: Well, I'm going to be a [inaudible.] and shake the question a little bit harder. What is it going to take to create a cadre of professional artists who are in this medium?

MH: Well, they exist already. It's not like they don't exist, they definitely are some wonderful artists working in this field. So, what I'm saying is not that there aren't any, what I am saying is that there is a [inaudible.] people working in the genre that are not artists and think they are artists, and think what they are doing is art, but there definitely are some wonderful artists that work in the field.

PK: I guess what I'm looking for, how do you see this sorting itself out?

MH: Well again, as I say, I think history is going to judge. I don't know if it is going to be judged now. I can tell you who I think will be in history, but I don't know. I think there are two separate worlds going on her right now. There is the commercial quilt world, which is a big, billion-dollar industry, and there are artists who are working in the genre. This commercial world, I have nothing against commerce, I have nothing against free enterprise, I mean I think it is great, I think America is great, but it has nothing to do with art. It is a separate entity. I think in the public's mind, there is no difference; it is a little confused, because they are both using the word quilt and there is a lot of confusion not only in the public's mind but in the art world's mind. Until that's separated somehow, and I don't know how that can happen, because the people in this commercial world are quite visible, and the more that they say they are doing art, the more confusing it is going to get to the public. And I don't know how that is going to resolve itself, unless the people who are doing art stop calling their work quilts all together, and just call it art and forget all this business about titles.

PK: Is that likely?

MH: It could happen. I mean if enough of us decide to do that. Some people are already doing that. I have seen some work in galleries that don't call themselves quilts at all, but they are. They don't even relate in any way to the quilt world. You don't even know who they are; you have never heard their names.

AH: One developed question from something you said earlier that in 1978 when you chose to resume your artist expression and you said it was very natural for you to turn to quilt making, you didn't explain why it was natural.

MH: I guess fabric is such a--I guess I have always been in love with fabric. Even as a kid I remember my parents bought me a mannequin, and I must have been about six or seven years old. A little mannequin that I could make clothes for. So, I was playing with the fabric that I really loved. It was really the fabric that I loved.

AH: Of course, at that point you couldn't anticipate the early twenty first century and this divide between quilt artist, quiltmaker, quilter and how that evolved.

MH: Right.

AH: When you chose.

PK: What direction do you see your work taking now?

MH: I don't--I think formally the process I use, the way I work, I don't really see that changing. I am in love with it, and I don't see any need to abandon it. You know, people are always enamored by the new, by new, by cutting edge, but break through, by technical change, just for its own sake, and sometimes I see work I feel it is real cutting edge in use of technique or material, but that is all it has going for it. You know, it doesn't necessarily have aesthetic value. So as far as technique, I don't see moving away from this. I mean, painters are still painting, centuries old medium that they are still using, I don't see why I have to make any changes to, to the way this material is used. I may use different materials, but it is very much in the tradition of quilt making.

PK: In "Cornwall Journals"--journals, I believe you use an ink jet image right on fabric. So that was incorporating new technology with ink.

MH: Yes, it was.

PK: Do you feel that was departure?

MH: Well, if I had to say it in that way, simply because that was part of the experience there. It inspired quilt works, but it also had its own imagery that I wanted to convey in some way, and so I had my digital camera with me. What happened was when I got working with all the digital images, I started piecing as I would fabric, and I pieced the photographs, and so the "Cornwall Journals" were more of a journal kind of thing, a record, that pieced nevertheless, but pieced photographs that I printed on fabric, then, because I couldn't get rid of the stitching thing I love to do, so I stitched on those pieces. And they were sort of a sidetrack of that experience. But I played around with printing digital images on fabric, but somehow it does not; it does not seem to be what I want to do. I mean I really like abstraction.

AH: I have another question; I want to go back to the biographical portion of your discussion. You didn't mention Notto Gallery particularly. I wonder if you would talk about how your relationship with that gallery developed.

MH: When I started doing the art quilts, it sort of got its own publicity. I mean things started happening, exhibits, publicity and offers for teaching and lecturing, and so I started doing that, even though I had retired from work and thought I would never really have to do that again. It sort of became a natural outgrowth of doing the work, and I started offering workshops and lecturing, and then I realized that was really distracting me from what I really wanted to do, is to create a body of work. And so, I concentrated on that, in creating a body of work. Then I thought, well now that I have a body of work, it is time to exhibit seriously, and not just have a piece in this show, or a piece in that show, which is a very different thing. So, I joined the Notto Gallery, which is an artist run gallery in New York. A very respected gallery, it has been in existence for over thirty years, and there is one fiber artist member who was a very instrumental in founding the gallery, Erma Yost. So, I joined the gallery, and at that point, I knew that I can't teach and lecture, I really would just focus on making work. I would have an exhibit possibly every two years, and it has enabled me to just focus on creating work for each show, new work, and working in a series, which I do for each show. So that has really been a major step in my growth as an artist in doing that. Again, I think that some of the emerging artists or artists that are coming up really need to think about that, rather than putting a piece in here, or a piece in that show, you know, to create a body of work. And, then to start thinking about themselves as a professional artist, because the people who are creating one piece here, one piece there, that is not really creating a body of work.

AH: How have you seen your work change since you have been working in these larger blocks.

MH: What do you mean?

AH: Larger groups of quilts.

MH: Well, it enables me to, to really develop an idea in much greater depth than to do one piece. Before I was doing each piece individually and then I would go on to something else totally different, and this kind of development really forces you to go deeper and really explore a particular thing you are working on.

AH: Approximately how many pieces do you make for each series? In that two-year period, actually?

MH: There is no specific number. Like this next series. I don't believe in overhanging a show. I mean that people tend to want too many pieces and want to show everything, you know, and less is better, I think. You don't have to show twenty pieces to show what you are doing. So, for the show, this will be my most minimal show. My next show of the new work will be next September, and I am planning on no more than eight pieces for that show. Two of them will be large, like seventy inches square, and the rest will be smaller works like this. But I think eight pieces is sufficient. Each get the proper attention; you don't need a lot.

AH: "Interspace" has more though than eight in the series?

MH: "Interspace" is forty inches square, so I think there were maybe eight of them, not a little bit more. But they were smaller, and again, the gallery wasn't crowded with all of them. I think that is a mistake that a lot of people make is to crowd the gallery. I just put together and organized a show for Studio Art Quilt Associates at a local gallery, which will take place in January at Noho Gallery. Well, I hired a juror who is the curator of exhibitions at the Museum of Arts and Design to do the jurying, and she judged all pieces. We had five hundred thirty-seven entrants. Now, you would not believe the flack I got on that. Why didn't you tell us only twelve pieces would be chosen? Lack of understanding about the difference between showing in a quilt guide show and a gallery in New York.

AH: Would a juried painting show have as many submissions?

MH: No, I don't think so. Although, I don't know, there are some galleries that have juried shows for painting. I don't know how many they get, but it doesn't matter, what's the difference how many submissions there are. You take your chances when you submit to a show.

AH: So, the basis for the flack was what?

MH: That only twelve pieces were selected.

AH: But so, what?

MH: That's what I said. [laughs.] No, well 'people should have been warned that their chances were minimal of getting in.' Again, it's a fear, you know, it's the not wanting to accept judgment, rejection, it's the whole thing about warm and fuzzy in the quilt world.

AH: This whole [inaudible.] that you have been talking about. It [inaudible.] a discussion. Well with that question, is there anything else that we haven't asked you this morning that you would like to?

MH: The part about my sex life. [laughs.]

PK: Well, we promised we won't. There was another thing we promised we wouldn't ask about. The Manhattan Quilt Guild.

AH: We will leave that for another discussion. [inaudible.] It has been a delightful interview. I would like to thank Marilyn Henrion for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project in Newark, Delaware. Our interview concluded at 11:41, November 5, 2005. Thank you very much.

MH: Thank you.

Collection



Citation

“Marilyn Henrion,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1882.