Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Elephant Seals on Christmas

This year, I asked that my family join me to see an elephant seal reserve and rookery as my present.   And so it was that we spent part of the day of Christmas Eve, hiking through lovely dunes

to encounter 4,000 pound male elephant seal behemoths resting on the beach.

Though enormous, they were surprisingly camouflaged, and the rangers made sure we didn't accidentally come up against an unsuspecting bull lying in the sun.  We had to adhere to a 25 foot rule, meaning we couldn't get within 25 feet of the animals.  They are surprisingly quick on the sand for about 25 feet and can bite hard, but then they tire.  Seemed like a very good plan to me.

The females were beginning to arrive on shore, preparing to give birth over the next month. At around 2,000 pounds, they are much smaller than the males, but they still pack a good punch.  One female which was behaving as if she were getting ready to give birth, successfully fended off the advances of an amorous younger bull.  You can see the enormous fellow along the water's edge who knows better than to get in her way.

The bulls come on shore and announce themselves with bellows that sound like deep drums reverberating in some sort of echo chamber.  For the most part, the smaller males remember the sounds of the more dominant males and stay out of the way of the alpha males.  Still, there are times when the bulls want to determine dominance and shoreline real estate, and then they battle.  First, they bellow.  If that's not enough to get someone to back down, they then rear themselves up as tall as they can.  The shorter bull will back down, but there are times when the animals are well matched and they spar, striking and biting at each other.  Most of the fights are short-lived, lasting about two or three minutes.  The one bout we saw had two males striking at each other until a third, much larger male entered the fray and settled the whole thing.

It was a fascinating day with my family and I'm thankful they were all willing to feed my curiosity.  We ended the Christmas Eve by going to Mass and sharing dinner and lots of laughs.  It was a perfect day; I hope your Christmas wishes come true, too.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Interwoven Globe at the Met

I recently went to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, Interwoven Globe, The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800.  It was an inspiring and humbling experience to see the artistry created centuries ago.  I realize now that my notes are woefully sparse on all the interesting facts from the audio tour and placards, but I'll share with you a few of the things I learned.  To help protect the textiles, photography isn't allowed in the exhibit, so you'll have to imagine most of what I'm telling you; perhaps it will be enough incentive for you to go see the exhibit.

As I'm sure you can glean from the title, the exhibition focuses on the cultural cross-pollination that arose from the textile trade and how textile manufacturing was influenced by various market tastes.   For example, bizarre silks (yes, that's the correct name) manufactured in China were woven for European markets.  These textiles show images that are a blending of designs of Persian, Ottoman, Indian, and Chinese derivation.   The large-scale designs are asymmetrical, though they may look symmetrical at first glance.  (This reminded me of some of the architectural details I saw on the Louvre; from a distance the structure is symmetrical, but up close you can tell that all the statues are different.  I believe drafters called this design device, "implied symmetry".)

A Louvre courtyard from a distance

Now you can see all the different elements
I was fascinated to learn that Peruvian weavers wove tapestries for Spanish royalty.  The Peruvian weavers used camelid hair in their work -- the body hair and/or undercoat from llamas, alpacas, and vicunas.  One tapestry was displayed in a case in the center of the room so that you could view both sides.  Amazingly, the Peruvian artists had the same image on the front and the back because they managed to knot, then invisibly bury, their threads.  European weavers often cut threads on the reverse and hence, did not create double-sided tapestries.  One of the tapestries from the 17th century had Old Testament and Greek mythology images, along with Chinese symbols.  Somehow, all the diverse imagery was seamlessly blended into the weaving.

A lovely tapestry combining stitch and paint was made in China for the Portuguese market.  The tapestry shows the abduction of Helen of Troy and all the faces are painted as Caucasians, but how could artists in Asia know what it was like in Europe, a far-off land that they'd never seen?  It's supposed that Jesuit missionaries taught the Chinese artists how to represent Anglo faces.   At other times, the textile artists put in imagery and animals from their own environs.  For example, the Gujarat area supplied embroideries to the Mughal court, but also sold bedcovers in Europe.  Their works were populated with animals seen only in India and fired the imagination of the Europeans.

Though I choose not to dye, I'm fascinated by the wonderful possibilities of the technique.  During the 17th century, clamp resist dyeing was used to create polychrome patterns.  Artists used wooden blocks with drilled channels so that dye could be selectively applied to the cloth through the holes.  Can you imagine that?  Amazing.

Before I took up quilting, I loved to embroider and needlepoint.  The embroidered pieces in the exhibition were incredible and I marveled at what was created without good lighting.  To add luster to their work, artists would sometimes add stitches made with metal wrapped thread.  I can't even fathom how they wrapped the thread, let alone made stitches that didn't fray or destroy the cloth.  I also loved the palampores, or bed coverings, made in India.  What fascinated me was that the designs of an 18th century dyed and painted palampore looked very similar to a needlepoint design I stitched at twenty years ago.

Image from Interwoven Globe calendar
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013
Palampore, detail
India (Coromandel Coast) for the Sri Lankan market, first quarter 18th century
Cotton, Mordant, and resist-dyed and painted, 72 x 44 9/16 in.
Purchase, Fernando Family Trust Gift, in honor of
Dr. Quintus and Mrs. Wimala Fernando, 2010 2010.337

A petit-point canvas I stitched twenty years ago
I knew this was a Jacobean design, but always assumed it was strictly European. Now I know differently.  These designs were based off an asymmetrical "tree of life", with flowers and leaves sprouting all over.  None of the flowers or leaves were repeated in the palampore, an incredible exercise in variation.

These are just a few of the interesting things in the exhibition and I urge you to go see it if you can; it's open through January 5th.  And if there's any question of the exhibition's broad appeal, my father-in-law saw it and found it fascinating.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Texture of Water

A few weeks ago I went to see the Morris Museum's Wet & Wild exhibition, a selection of contemporary art quilts from John M Walsh III's collection.  I wanted almost every quilt, if only I had the open wall space (oh, and the funds).  I loved seeing how water was recreated, using all sorts of techniques and textures to portray something fluid.  Here are three of my favorites:

Tim Harding, Surf Swimmers, 1998

Detail, Surf Swimmers, Tim Harding

Rachel Brumer, Describing Rain, 2006

Detail, Describing Rain, Rachel Brumer

Lenore Davis, Florida Surf, 1984-1985

Detail, Florida Surf, Lenore Davis 

It's a shame I didn't write this up in time for you to go to the exhibition; the show closes on December 8th. However, I encourage you to keep an eye out for future art quilt exhibitions at the Morris Museum because each one I've seen there has been lovely.

-- Sorry to have been gone so long from blogging.  A tumble down our fourteen step staircase left me bruised and sore, with a tailbone that took a beating.  For the last several weeks I've been standing, walking, or lying on my side .... sitting is literally a pain in the ____.   Computer work has been out of the question. But(t) I'm on the mend and getting back in the saddle again.  I've missed blogging and am glad to be back.  This week I hope to tackle a little time at my sewing machine.  Woo hoo!