An Ancient Site With Impact

July 19th, 2014

Muisca Solar Obsdrvatory blog

Muisca Solar Observatory 3 blog

Muisca Solar Observatory 2 blog


At a not-very-well-publicised site, Parque Arqueologico de Monquira, ¬†near the historic colonial town of Villa de Leyva, Colombia, we spent quite some¬†time wandering among the henge-like¬† stones, menhirs,¬†erected at what is thought to be the site of an ancient solar observatory, known as the Observatorio Solar Muisca,¬†after the pre-Columbian peoples who lived there.¬† A wonderful¬† wide view photo is available here (taken April 2014) Quoting from a Footprint guide account:¬† “About 1 km further along this road, 4 km from Villa de Leiva, is the well-endowed archaeological site of the Parque Arqueol√≥gico de Monquir√°, otherwise known as El Infiernito, where there are several huge carved phalluses (which make popular photo opportunties!). This is one of the most important Muisca religious sites in the country and features the only solar observatory in Colombia as well as a dolmen burial site:

Muisca Solar observatory 4 blogy

The site was discovered by the Spanish who baulked at the enormous stone penises and proclaimed that the Muisca would be banished to hell, hence the name ‘El Infiernito’ (hell). Much of it was destroyed and the stone used by local campesinos to build their homes. Some of it still remains and has been studied and maintained since the 1960s by archaeologist Eliecer Silva C√©lis with the support of the Universidad Pedag√≥gica y Tecnol√≥gica de Colombia.”

Such sites always really thrill me, being a connection to people way back in the mists of¬†time – the pyramids, Stonehenge and Obiri Rock, even the relatively recent Bayeux Tapestry all¬†had enormous impacts, too… even dining seafood at a waterfront restaurant in Barcelona focused my thoughts on the amazing concept of continual inhabitation of that area by people since Neolithic times in Europe, perhaps 6,500 years ago.

Revisiting Older Works, or ‘What Was I Thinking?’

June 13th, 2014

Earlier this year, an article about my four Quilt National quilts appeared here¬†¬† and it seemed a good place to start¬†a broader study for a powerpoint presentation I was asked to give to a¬† meeting of¬†Ozquilt in Perth WA last month.¬† It was suggested I might¬†talk on inspirations, themes and my processes.¬† Naturally, revisiting¬†mixed media work and quilt¬†making done over 35+ years¬†led to¬† the rediscovery of many works I’d pushed to the back of my memory – some for very good reasons indeed!¬† Here’s a pair of works made 7 years apart on the theme of water¬†as a¬†major force of nature shaping landscape:

floodwaters #2

Still Waters #2, ¬†1993.¬†¬† That year we were living in the USA, and¬†early summer ¬†floods¬†occurred all down the mighty Mississippi River valley, leaving thousands of people flooded out, destroying many homes and much infrastructure.¬† There were many dramatic and harrowing stories in the media,¬†all of which¬†prompted this piece.¬† Now, the ‘What Was I Thinking?’ bit may be obvious to you, but didn’t occur to me at the time: floodwaters, whether seeping or pouring over a tiled floor are not clear and sparkly!¬† I still have this piece, and now put it in the category of ‘not a great one’ but a work I had to make, nevertheless.


Flood 1 blog

Flood,¬† 2000¬†¬†¬† This flood piece got the swirling muddy waters right – because by this time I was more focused the powerful force of water in/on landscape.¬† I don’t think¬†this is an¬†especially wonderful a quilt, either, and hardly surprises me it is still ‘In Artist’s Collection’¬†¬† Again, it had to be made, probably so I could move on.¬† The murky green main fabric is quilted with freehand water current lines, though they’re hard to see in the clear nylon thread I used in the twin top stitch needle.¬† Although I have revealed something about this work, it still amazes me¬†that I actually made this¬†one¬†- another ‘What Was I thinking?’ piece.







From The Series Of The Same Name Comes Ebb&Flow – #24.

June 11th, 2014

Ebb & Flow 24 web

Ebb & Flow 24,  2014. 

A bit erosional in character.  Despite some real differences with others preceeding it, this one defnitely belongs in this series much more so than I felt while making it.

There has been a bit of discussion on the SAQA and Quiltart lists about working in a series,¬†what might be the importance of working in¬†a series, how you go about it, what are the guidelines to working in a series,¬†how do you set up a series., even some asking ‘Should I be working in a series do you think?’¬†¬†¬†¬†Some people get so analytical over¬†this stuff that I don’t think needs much analysis; while¬†others¬†write books and teach courses on working this way.¬†¬† Everyone knows when the work of another artist, contemporary or historic, falls into a series(s)¬†¬†¬† Working in a series is nothing new, nor does it guarantee that your work will be accepted or acclaimed if you do!¬† But everyone knows a series when they see one – it could be loosely described as a group of art works linked by some theme or technical factor that underlies¬†or defines a cohesive body of work.¬†¬†From personal experience I know that to¬†be involved in one is enriching and satisfying.¬† I don’t seem to plan mine as in set out a plan, they just lead from one to another, and¬†I just find myself in one after 2 or 3 related pieces.¬† I continue with a theme until I feel I’m done with it.¬† One or two I feel I’m finished with (Colour Memories) ¬†others not so at all even though I may not be working in that group just now¬† (Ancient Expressions) : I reserve the right to say something more some time!

How¬†thrilling was the announcement the other day that the Rembrandt portrait at Buckland Abbey in Devon UK has been shown to be a self portrait dating back to 1625 when he was in mid 20′s.¬† Until very recently it had always been thought to be in his style but done by one of his students.¬† It’s suddenly worth a heck of a lot¬†of more money in nominal terms – but, of course, the abbey will never offer it for sale!¬†But the larger amount is relevant for insurance purposes; and confirmation¬†of the C17 Rembrandt selfie will bring a large increase in visitor numbers and revenue, I imagine.¬†¬† Anyway, Rembrandt painted over 40 self portraits, quite a series you’ll agree – and many other artists painted the Old Master, too, so there are a lot of images of him – we must have a pretty good idea of what he looked like in pre-photography days.

My First Art Purchase

June 3rd, 2014

First art purchase

In either 1956 or 1957, so aged about 7 or 8, I was given fifteen shillings, 15/-¬† to spend at¬†the annual school fete, and for the first time¬†I could wander around all on my own and¬†choose what to spend my money on.¬†¬†That amount of¬†money was probably equivalent to about¬†5¬† Saturday afternoons at the movies in those days, so was a very decent amount to spend on baker’s toast,¬†toffee apples, handwork stall items,¬†pin the tail on the donkey and all the other now-old fashioned attractions that raised funds for the Parents and Friends Association of the School.

After I’d checked out¬†all the stalls I went back to the¬†one¬†displaying perhaps 60 or 80, maybe¬†more,¬†enchanting little¬†water colour paintings like this one above, in 15cm x 20cm frames, all priced at 11/6.¬†¬†¬†I knew I just had to have one, despite that it would take a large chunk of my pocket money; and¬†it took me quite a while to settle on this one which¬†I’ve adored ever since, still in¬†its original frame and glass – which isn’t¬†bad for a little painting that has travelled widely and frequently in the 60 years I’ve owned it….¬† Apparently the art teachers had gone out and painted all these little landscapes, which were then framed by one¬†of the parents who ran a picture framing gallery – prolly offcuts and glass oddments from his paying jobs – it was a very busy shop.¬† The¬†subject is¬† the Western Tiers, up behind Deloraine, Tasmania – a view that was very familiar to me then and which I still find so¬†dramatic today whenever I visit and hurtle along the Bass Highway out that way.¬† How lovely it was to enjoy it on my¬† recent visit to Perth,¬† where I took this picture.

Down the years I have acquired many other pictures, usually jointly with my dearly beloved, and mostly chosen because I/we love them Рplus we have inherited several really nice artworks.  This may be the smallest one we have, but for me it will always be very special.

Similarities Inevitable At Times, UPDATED

April 27th, 2014

A member of the QuiltArt list this morning referred to¬†‘Scott Murkin’s technique’, ¬†and I thought¬† “Hmmm, I wonder what that is….”¬† (As I don’t get the popular quilt magazines and books these days, its¬†easy to be out of touch with the very¬†latest)¬† Anyway, it turned out¬†to be¬†freehand or improvisational¬†piecing, anyway!¬†¬†¬†¬† And when I went online to¬†find out about¬†Scott’s work¬†I found this site,¬†¬† , and there is a quilt

scott murkin

that looked to me¬†very like an adaptation and re-arrangement of blocks from one of my own bushfire¬†quilts¬†.¬†¬†They have a great deal in common, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I’m not suggesting that this is in anyway ‘copying’ something I did ages ago:

Bushfire 4 adjusted blog copy

Bushfire 4      1999

¬†I think it is inevitable that¬† quilt makers using the same techniques in similar colours,¬†will sometimes produce similar looking works.¬† We can usually tell looking at someone’s work who they studied with, since, for a while after that workshop their¬†new work reflects what they have learned, but in time their work¬†reflects more of the artist and increasingly¬†less of the teacher.¬† It’s why I myself¬†no longer¬†attend technique-driven workshops,¬†but they are the bread and butter of the quilt making industry, of course.

“Scott Murkin’s” technique is¬†what I and many others learned¬†nearly 25 years ago from Nancy Crow – not that I ever called it ‘Nancy Crow’s technique’ because for her, technique has only ever been the means to her end – in the classroom it was to speed the process of exploring¬†colour and design,¬†and working through her long list of class exercises was only really possible via cutting and piecing freehand/improvisationally.
But actually, it wasn’t her technique, either.¬† It was developed by a Canadian quiltmaker, Marilyn Stothers who Nancy used to¬†take into the classes she was teaching at Houston in the late 80′s and early 90′s¬†and¬†have¬†Marilyn show her students how to do it.¬†¬† Nancy then began teaching it herself as a method useful in her classes on colour and design.¬† As we all know, today¬†there are many contemporary quilt makers¬†working this way all over the world, and it has become a contemporary quilt making tradition, if you can say such a thing…. and yes, I think we can.

Since¬†learning the basics, I’ve¬†always worked this way, and taught many students how to cut and piece freehand.¬† I’ve¬†no doubt someone uses¬†“Alison Schwabe’s¬†technique”¬†to describe their own improvisational piecing,¬†but I claim no ownership.¬† If you’d like to have a go at it,¬†email me for the basic instructions (2 pages incl, diagrams and links) ¬†and I’ll¬†email it by return.¬†¬†There’s enormous interest in piecing like this.

Last month I taught my “Hot Quilts From Cold Scraps” workshop in¬†Dongara Western Australia, and Hobart Tamsnaia Aus.¬† I always promote the class as being about planning and making successful scrap quilts, and one in which people who work via traditional geometric piecing¬†will be¬†alongside those who are piecing improvisationally.¬† In other words,¬†how you piece is up to you, and you just need to come to class knowing how to piece one way or the¬† other, it’s not a beginners’ class.¬† I always say I don’t actually teach¬† freehand piecing in class, as there isn’t usually time¬†even in the 2-day version, and so if you want to work that way you need to¬†learn the¬†basics at home before the workshop.¬† That usually works well, and one or two people always ask me for those instructions in advance.¬† In Dongara there were about 20 enthusiasts in the class – fabulous facilities accommodated them easily – and about 1/3 went to work piecing traditionally, the rest improvisationally.¬† They produced some wonderful work, and everyone achieved plenty of it.¬†¬†¬† The class in Hobart blew me away though.¬†¬† I¬†had been¬†a bit concerned at the¬†low number registered, and anticipated the group dynamics might be a bit unexciting among only¬†7 of them. But not in this case -¬†all had very strong individual approaches and a couple did interesting things no one has previously produced, including myself! Some already knew improvisational piecing, and the 2 or 3 who didn’t clearly did¬†want to work that way.¬† So once everyone was into their¬† exercises before branching off in their individual directions, in such a small group it was easy to teach them the basic methods by demonstrations¬†using the samples I had with me.¬† They were all dead keen and very quick on the uptake.¬†

Thanks to Pat and Susan who¬†both supplied¬†Marilyn’s correct surname which I’d used wrongly in the first version of this post!¬† I have corrected and edited the post to include the gracious corrections I received from¬†Marylin herself, whose website¬†presents her and her¬†exciting work in some detail – and I can only say after looking at it that¬†we¬†don’t hear enough of her.