Paula Nadelstern at the American Folk Art Museum
On Friday evening, I had the privilege of joining a small group of SAQA-NY members touring the Paula Nadelstern exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum with Paula herself as our guide. Paula is the first contemporary quilt artist to have her work featured in a one-person exhibition. Paula is incredibly articulate about her work, coupling her explanations with a bit of self-depricating humor. She very ably explained her work in a way that even those without piecing experience could understand. I think it helps that Paula's not a mathematician. She's someone who "just" had an idea and wanted to figure out a way to express it artistically.
Although the exhibit is not arranged chronologically, that was primarily the way Paula led us through it. This was very helpful in understanding the progression from one piece to the next. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how each quilt brought up a question or a problem that she wanted to explore more. How can I make this off-center? How can I make more points meet in the center to create more complex designs? These are just some of the questions Paula asked herself. She answered them for us at the exhibit, using the quilts she created from her exploration.
It's amazing to realize that Paula doesn't do any curved piecing; it's all minute slivers of straight seams! In preparation for the exhibit, Paula had created several stand-alone kaleidoscope blocks. Luckily, the museum had the foresight to frame one of her blocks in the reverse so you can see what the back of one block looks like. All those seams! Paula admitted that she steams and presses relentlessly during construction, but I forgot to ask her how tiny she trims some of her seam allowances to accommodate them all. (The set of notecards for sale in the gift shop are replications of some of these blocks -- with the back of the block on the reverse. Yep, they're very cool.) All the seams are even more miraculous to me because Paula uses a variety of commercial fabrics in her artwork. She has judicious use of silk, which adds some beautiful sheen and shimmer to the quilts. But she also has some thicker fabrics as well. I'm amazed that she's able to use all those fabrics, yet keep the final piece so flat and put some teeny tiny hand quilting stitches in it as well.
Paula also educated us on the basics of kaleidoscopes. I now know the difference between two, three, and four mirror kaleidoscopes. Two mirror kaleidoscopes result in the mandala (or circular) images; three mirror kaleidoscopes create an "infinity" type of image. Paula replicates the images of two mirror kaleidoscopes in her work. This was great to understand since the exhibit also included five beautiful kaleidoscopes that were available for us to look through. Some of the artists are friends of Paula's and she had interesting stories to share, including how one kaleidoscope maker used a honey jar and found objects suspended in glycerin to make his piece!
Paula was modest in saying that, because she doesn't have a formal background and/or training in the arts, the museum may have felt she was a good fit for a "folk art" museum. I'm sure that this point wasn't lost on the museum curator. However,it's hard to deny that Paula has taken a traditional folk art form, mastered it, and taken it in new and exciting directions. Quite frankly, her work is brilliant and I'm sure that's what first drew the curator to Paula and her work.