Friday, April 1, 2022

5 Facts You Didn't Know about Michael James on Off the Wall Friday

North Rim, Michael James, 2022

Wow!  It's been a while since I did a "Facts You didn't know" post.  I love doing these since it gives me a good reason to take a minute and research some of my favorite artists.  This week I choose Michael James.  Now most of us know him, but how well??

Like did you know...

  • In 1973, James was months from receiving his Masters of Fine Arts in painting when he stopped cold to take up work in work in fabric.  Can you imagine how THAT went over with his friends

    and family?  He felt that he had "nothing to say in painting" but was inspired from seeing an exhibition of Amish quilts.  It put him to mind that quilts could be more than blankets for your bed.  Not to mention he was brought up around the dying textile industry of Massachutes. 
  • James was married 43 years before his wife died of complications of Alzheimer's.  From this painful experience, he created a body of work, “Ambiguity & Enigma,"
 that was exhibited in 2015.  This is considered one of his strongest series to date.

  • The University of Nebraska - Lincoln Library houses 40 boxes of Michael James correspondence and research materials.  This includes insights into the beginning of the Studio Art Quilt movement as well as correspondence with Nancy Crow, Pauline Burbridge, and Jan Myers-Newbury to name a few. The collection is open to research by appointment at the library.

  • Michael James isn't afraid to call his art quilts.  In an article on he said, "I make quilts. That admission is, unfortunately, damning in the contemporary art world. The favored term in use among folks who are a bit skittish about ‘the quilt world’ is mixed media Well, that’s fine if maybe a little pretentious. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt. Certainly, there’s some ambiguity here: he’s a man, and he makes quilts? And they don’t look like what you think of when you hear the word ‘quilt’. And he doesn’t quilt them himself, a woman does that. I don’t lose sleep over these perceptions and misperceptions. I just do the work."   (I swear I need to put that on a poster in my studio)

    • James was inducted into the Quilter's Hall of Fame (okay raise your hand if didn't even know there was a Quilter's Hall of Fame (grin)) and has a quilt in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian (here is my plug to put the Renwick on your Bucket list if you haven't ever been there).  His work also resides in the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City, the Racine Art Museum, the Newark Museum, the Mint Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Shelburne Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art to name a few.

  • Now that he's looking at retirement, I wonder how it feels to know that your work has inspired generations of artists after you.
  • So What Have You've Been Up to Creatively?

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    Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

    I found all these facts pretty interesting! Thanks for sharing this info about Michael James.

    Jenny K. Lyon said...

    He lectured at the SAQA Conference and I was so impressed with him. He was so down-to-earth and incredibly talented. I hate to think he is retiring! He is a true legend. I love that he is adamant about calling his work the q word.

    Kris said...

    I have been lucky to live and have my local guild meetings at the IQM. I have seen many of his works and they are so impressive in person. Well worth a trip to Nebraska to see the museum. :)

    Barbara said...

    I liked Michael James' early work a lot. I had no idea his style had evolved so dramatically and, I have to say, I find his later work much more intriguing. His early work shows his mastery of, not only, piecing but of light and rhythm and balance and color etc., etc., etc...It has a vibration to it that makes me want to go "Ohm" and meditate.

    But his later work invites the viewer to explore, to ponder, to imagine, to question. I like it much more.

    Gwyned Trefethen said...

    But have you heard the story of why Michael stopped hand quilting his work and started to machine quilt them? Apparently he was hanging his own work for an exhibit. Some patrons wondered into the gallery while he was working. They had no idea he had made the work. Simply thought he worked at the gallery. One patron turned to the other and asked "Do you think this hand quilted or machine quilted?" Her companion replied, "Has to be machine quilted. The stitches are too small and precise." He had hand quilted the work they were looking at. It hit him, if viewers can't tell the difference, then why spend the time hand quilting.

    The Idaho Beauty said...

    An early book on quilting by him was the first quilting book I bought, before I was even really quilting. An interview in QNM really helped me stop worrying so much about what others might think of my work, that idea of chasing the market. Nope, he said. Better to make work you like and are proud of rather than trying to figure out what others might like and not like your work yourself or enjoy making it. He finished with "Just do the work" and the rest should work itself out. That has been my mantra ever since, although I often have to be reminded.