The Quilts of Nancy Crow

Abstract designs marry texture, pattern and color

Nancy Crow is a celebrated contemporary fine art quilter and fiber artist, highly respected for her innovative work, who has been making quilts for over 30 years.  Her work is currently on view in three solo exhibitions: "Nancy Crow, Seeking Beauty: Riffs on Repetition" may be seen through October 31 at the  Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont; "Nancy Crow: Transformational Quilts", is on display at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, Michigan through October 26, featuring pieces from her recent monotype series as well as the vibrant colors and patterns of her earlier work, and "Nancy Crow Self Portraits: Focus/Monoprints at the Textilsammlung Max Berk, Kurpfalzisches Museum in Heidelberg, Germany through August 31.

Ms. Crow's current quilting work is groundbreaking in that it incorporates printmaking in a major way.  She has spent about a decade mastering mark making on textiles.The resulting abstract works masterfully marry texture with pattern and color. The Shelburne show includes examples of quilts from 2006 to the present that feature monoprints and prints using screens made by the artist. Several have 4 separate pieces that are hung together, all were machine-quilted. All are titled "Self-Portrait: Focus Mono Prints" with sub-titles, except for one large red one entitled "Markings #1: The Known and Unknown."

In 2011 Ms. Crow started to take mono-printing more seriously, finding the direct process a challenge. Since mono-printing was basically a new technique for her, she "decided to start a disciplined approach to learning how to mono-print more effectively and fluidly."  For seven "intense" weeks she worked in her barn studio 8-10 hour days, 24/7, totally focused and undisturbed, with no telephone and very limited computer time.  She was unwavering in her concentration, determined to cope with everything that made her stress: not understanding the dyes, not making marks that pleased her, learning to accept the waste of fabric, "making mistake after mistake after mistake." She started making smaller mono-prints, then moved on to very tall/large ones. "Riffing on repetition. Seeking beauty. Believing. Self-portraits of who I am."

She describes herself as driven as ever, and is excited about her constant search for new techniques and new ideas. "I have a passion for line and shape and proportions and beauty.  I wanted to focus on these.  I chose to explore mono-printing because: it is a direct process which I like very much, it allows me to practice drawing on a large scale, it pushes my brain into different configurations and challenges me, it gives me options which I am just beginning to explore."  As for the future, "I plan to combine mono-printing, printing, color and machine-piecing in a more complex way."

In a talk this summer at the Shelburne Museum, Ms.Crow discussed her artistic background, some inspirations for her work, her process, and her teaching.  She has a classical fine arts background and studied ceramics and weaving. She prefers not to be described as an "art quilter," asking if a painter would rightly be described as an "art painter."  Among her inspirations are photos she takes during her travels. She finds proportions critical and is influenced by structures; she showed examples of photos of doors that caught her eye  that she took on trips to Guatemala and Vietnam, and gets excited about buildings, windows and geometrics.  Among other shapes she has been intrigued by and that inspire her interest in repetition are trees, branches, fronds, and---although she doesn't understand why---the letter E.  The forms of sumac in winter, poison ivy on posts, pin oaks in her backyard and a pile of grapevines all have found their way into her work. She pronounced  "I just love colors," especially deep saturated ones, bold, strong colors and bands of color, especially banded by black. She enjoyed seeing the various squares and rectangles in a Donald Judd exhibition in Marfa, Texas and the "fascinating" glowing colors and stripes in Dan Flavin's work.

She explained that her work represented deep emotions, but  very controlled, that she keeps questioning herself, and continues to dig deeper in struggling to understand herself.  She described her art as an amalgam of the emotional and the intellectual. She doesn't work from templates, just pins fabrics to the wall to see how they work together.  Some of her quilts are quite large, up to 80" x 90". She dyes/creates her own fabrics, and those tend to be solid colors.

Ms. Crow maintains a large studio and teaching facility on her 100 acre farm east of Columbus, Ohio where she lives and works.  She opens it up twice a year for classes, ranging from beginners to very advanced. She described these as intense and very focused, and includes instruction in dyeing and printmaking.  She has taught quilting as an art form in the U.S. and about 14 countries abroad.  She is featured in several books and is the author of several others, the most recent being "Mono-Prints: Self-Portraits: Focus," 2012.  She is also a fabric designer. She was featured in an April 21, 2011 Hand/Eye article about a group quilt exhibition in Caspar, Wyoming entitled "Structure and Improvisation." Another Hand/Eye article on September 11,2013 entitled "The Art Quilts of Kate Stiassni" focused on the work of  an artist who studied with her and was inspired by her. 

Ms. Crow's work is in collections at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, the American Folk Art Museum, the Museum of Art and Design and others.  She is a Fellow of the American Crafts Council, a member of the Quilters' Hall of Fame and a recipient of the prestigious National Living Treasure Award.

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