While I’ve talked fleetingly about her work before, Gwen Marston is someone whose increasingly abstract work has been a comfort to me as I edge away from quilts with traditional designs. I see a continuum in her work that occasionally dips back into previous influences, rather than making a sharp break with them. Possibly because her roots are in traditional quilts she seems to rethink those traditions rather than abandon them. I think she’d say she liberates those traditions.
Here’s Gwen with one of her contemporary folk art quilts. Note the asymmetrical central design and the insouciant way the zigzag borders just run off the edges. Yet her work doesn’t go over the edge into self-conscious folkiness.
She began quilting after seeing the Amish quilts at a 1971 Whitney Museum exhibit, and expanded her influences to what I’ll call folk art heritage quilts. According to her talk at the opening of her Dennos Art Museum exhibit (Traverse City, Michigan), she found learning the mechanics of quilting to be like “seventh grade home ec on steroids.” Then, she began to loosen up and go wonky. In her talk she said while she liked the techniques, she didn’t like the patterns of traditional quilts.
Her work has been characterized by use of solid fabrics (she likes how they emphasize the delineation of shapes) and hand quilting (she feels it shows up better.)
In Freddy and Gwen Collaborate Again Gwen set out her top 10 design guidelines. These guidelines are actually about “finding your voice.” Here are my favorites:
3. Your chances of making a remarkably good quilt are increased when you take chances.
4. There is nothing sacred about exactness. Remember, great painters didn’t worry about coloring inside the lines.
6. Knowing how to truly see what you are looking at is a great leap forward for an artist.
9. Make what you want to make, and make it the way you want to make it.
10. Most important of all – make it.
More recently Gwen has been doing small quilt sketches, some of which are shown below.