Monday, May 21, 2012

Gone with the Wind Quilt Series, from Hollywood Series

A view of all three quilts in this series

A view of all three quilts in this series

Scarlett in her prayer dress, replete with her installation of daisies. Title: "Sweet Scarlett?: Vivien Leigh Playing Southern Belle." Hollywood Series

No detail is ever ignored, including ones that are unseen. Scarlett's petticoat and hoop skirt here. I have spent half a day sewing on buttons and doing stitches on a shirt in a section that will be covered up by a tie. Here I could not resist signifying on that famous scene showing Rhett asking to see Mammy wearing the red taffeta petticoats he brought her back from New Orleans.

A closer view of Scarlett

A view of Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Title: "Playing 'Mammy': Not Hattie McDaniel!" Hollywood Series

A view of the Rhett quilt. Title: "Charleston's Finest: Clark Gable as Rhett Butler."

The quilts that date back to the era of slavery all feature natural fabrics (i.e. absolutely no synthetics). The backdrop of this quilt is a cotton dishcloth and its backing is made of red bandana fabric. The buttons on her dress are made of whalebone, which also invokes Scarlett's infamous corset. The real McDaniel was known for her style and glamour and was always beautifully coiffed. The bangs and curls in view here, which are entirely covered in the 1939 film, allude to her phenomenal style. This quilt, because McDaniel's weight was an accessory in and of itself and so visually iconic, contains more padding and stuffing than most of my other quilts. It was also one that led me to significant design innovations in my quilts, and I now use these approaches in developing all of them.

Rhett in a view that highlights the architectural contouring of his face, which was redesigned in the development of this quilt.

*These are my own amateur shots; the first two quilts in this series were photographed professionally by Keith Stevenson in 2008 and released as print cards.

The Gone with the Wind quilt series, which inaugurated the Hollywood Series in my debut solo art quilt show in 2008, "Portraits: From Montgomery to Paris," is finally complete with the addition of the Rhett quilt! The quilt "JoAnn and Ju...nior Man" (from the Family Series) was the first quilt I completed that included two figures. I had also done companion Pensacola quilts featuring my grandparents. "The Ties That Bind," the triumvirate of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy (2004), which is discussed in Patricia A. Turner's book "Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters," was my very first attempt at developing THREE images on a single quilt. The Gone with the Wind Series is the first series that includes THREE QUILTS in my body of work as a quilt artist. This "triangulated" approach to quilts is visually acknowledged in the 2008 Crémieux-Chouard short film about my art, "A Portrait of the Artist," which cuts to a quick shot of the drawings for this GWTW series while discussing the King/Kennedy quilt. It seems so fitting, then, that my upcoming mega-show, Portraits II, is grounded by a large, triple-quilt installation replete with special technological effects, as well as a centerpiece panel that I like to refer to as "the bionic quilt" because of how it's built; this quilt series takes the show into the area of conceptual art in some interesting ways. In general, I love the advances in art quilt design that I have accomplished over the years in my signature classic painted portrait quilt style, including the refinement in the architectural techniques that I have achieved in my body of work, which have been the result of a lot of experimenting. The new show is absolutely phenomenal and is pushing all of my techniques to the absolute limit. I value the fact that the various quilt series are thematically all about exploring various oppositions, excavating various aspects of culture and juxaposing images that don't usually go together poltiically or seldom get thought of in relation to one another. Hence, the first print card set includes quilts of figures ranging from the filmic Scarlett in its Hollywood Series, to the Political Series' Malcolm X! Put another way, one encounters a critique of Southern nostalgia and romance through the quilts as one simultaneously revisits black nationalist discourses through Malcolm X. Similarly, the quilt of Malcolm X ("A Tie, Too?") is very purposefully juxtaposed with the King/Kennedy quilt because as I say in the film, his tragic loss is often left out of mainstream narratives about leaders of the '60s era as the other losses are emphasized.

So far, I've published two academic essays on the film "Gone with the Wind" (here's a link to my talk from one of them, which focuses on Hattie McDaniel's legacy, on I value the fact that my art allows me to engage some of the same questions as an artist that I address as an academic, but for audiences that are often different. It is a vital complement to what I do as an academic in fields such as the new Southern studies, black/Africana studies, and gender studies.

Below, I've included an excerpt from the essay that I presented in Paris to high school students at College Martin Luther King in Paris, France in January, 2009 as a Cultural Envoy of the U.S. Embassy in Paris, which is the basis for Chapter 4 in my book "An Artist at the Ambassador’s: Notes on Visit to the U.S." I briefly discuss this quilt series, with an emphasis on the McDaniel quilt:

"I find it useful at times to be able to use my research and my art to engage similar questions, but for very different audiences. That is to say, those who view my art may not always encounter my articles and books I write, but my art can nevertheless offer insight into who I am and my ideas.

For instance, I’ve now written several essays on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, which is the basis of the 1939 film by David O. Selznick. Both works, for some, have immortalized and even in some cases helped to romanticize the Old South in the United States, or the period before the end of slavery. I’ve done some academic writing on this topic in areas such as the interdisciplinary field of Southern studies. However, I also explore Gone with the Wind in art through a series of quilts featuring Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable dressed up as their respective characters in the film. My image of Scarlett grounds the series. She is dressed in the white prayer dress that we see at the beginning of the film, holds a bunch of daisies, and stands against the backdrop of a blue sky. The image evokes sweetness and youth on the one hand, but the look on Scarlett’s face suggests that life was not all sunshine and roses at that time, reminding us, even, that the slaves of the time could not have been as happy as some Southern romances like to envision. Similarly, my quilt featuring Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, the quintessential servant and nurturer typically represented visually as smiling and plump. This figure, too, is wearing a dress from early in the film, with a scarf and apron. It is most significant that tendrils of hair drip down on either side of her face in my quilt, for it is entirely covered in the film, as was typically the case on the plantation. Hattie McDaniel, if she played mammy characters in many Hollywood films, particularly during the golden era in the 1930s, was known in her life and social circles to be a very elegant woman. My quilt provides a hint of her glamour, a concept that had been mainly associated with the iconic actresses with whom she appeared in films. In general, these quilts also help to inaugurate my Hollywood quilt series by presenting some of the figures associated with its golden era.

Here, the Old South and Old Hollywood come together. But this is a fascinating confluence, too, because, as I have argued in one of my scholarly essays on Gone with the Wind, the protocols for the dressing in the Old South of young “Southern belles,” who often wore lavish gowns, may be evident to some extent on the Red Carpet among contemporary actresses in Hollywood, who are dressed in couture gowns by top designers and in preparing for appearances at events such as the Gold Globe and Academy Awards, require hair stylists and makeup artists and many others to help these preparations."

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