The best most fabulous thing happened while I was at QuiltCon 2016 in Pasadena, California.
I got to spend a bit of time every day standing in front of Molly Upton’s amazing quilts.
As I wandered though the exhibition I kept thinking-
How did I not know about her work?
These quilts are so incredibly modern and visionary, yet most of her work is at least 40 years old.
The thing that brought me to tears every time I looked at her art was knowing how it all ended. She took her own life before her 24th birthday.
What a tragedy that she did not grow old as a maker and an artist.
Weeks curated an exhibition of Modern Quilts along with older quilts with the idea that nothing is new under the sewing machine.
The exhibition was called Roots of Modern Quilting.
Modern quilter Jackie Geringhad work in the show and attended the opening of the exhibition where her mind, like my mind, was blown away by the work of Molly Upton.
Gering worked with Weeks to bring Upton’s work to QuiltCon West. Thank you both for making this happen.
At QuiltCon, Weeks gave a lecture about Upton’s life and work.
In the early 1970s Upton was one of several artists who claimed the quilt as a legitimate form for expressing her art.
She and fellow artist friend Susan Hoffman hunkered down in Cambridge and made several dozen art quilts by bouncing ideas off of each other.
Her career moved at a steady clip from that point forward and included New York Gallery representation (she was the first ever quilt maker to do this) and a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
She was making her mark as an artist, and she was doing it with quilts.
And then it ended.
In 1977, at the age of 23, she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and ended her life.
Every time I think about this it feels like a punch in the stomach.
It has been over a week and I am still thinking about her daily.
Every day of the conference, I spent time with her quilts.
And I kept coming back to those thoughts I mentioned at the beginning of this post, plus this—if she had kept going where exactly would the art quilt be in the larger art world?
Weeks is planning to explore these questions and others and hopefully her research will manifest itself as a book about the New England Art Quilters of the 1970s and their work.
I can’t wait to read it.