"It has to be timeless."
May 2017 Artist Profile in the Easton Irregular
“In Essence, I Am A Sophisticated Cotton Picker.”
These words are sewn in large block letters across the bottom of the super-colorful quilt, “Cotton Sophisticate”, created by Easton quilt artist, Chawne Kimber. The quotation comes from Eartha Kitt’s autobiography—a summation of her life growing up in south Georgia. Kimber’s own southern roots influence the quilts she makes. “All of my work in cotton is a call-back to my ancestry in slavery,” Kimber says. “Through the cultivation of cotton in rural Alabama, some of my ancestors (unwillingly) participated in the building of the United States,” Kimber writes in her artist statement. “Cotton has been central in the lives of the women of my family—from picking to ginning to sewing, with quilting emerging as the main mode of self-expression available.”
Like many of Kimber’s quilts, “Cotton Sophisticate” interprets traditional quilting forms in a fresh, improvisational style. It is united by color, full of life, and thought provoking. Kimber wants the viewer to think about how cotton is manufactured today, mostly under terrible working conditions. When making “Cotton Sophisticate”, Kimber actively chose to use US-made fabric, where there is some guarantee of fair labor conditions.
“Almost everything I do is in reaction to something going on in the world or in my life,” Kimber remarks. Sometimes she uses the medium to respond to current race-related social justice issues, such as “The One for Eric G”. This quilt is mostly black, constructed of various black-patterned fabrics, with the words “I can’t breathe” sewn in large block letters down its length. Those were the last words of Eric Garner, the African American man who was killed by a police officer in 2014 after being put in a chokehold. “I can’t breathe” has since become a chilling slogan, protesting the deaths of many unarmed African Americans.
Responding to social issues is crucial, but Kimber stresses the importance of working slowly. Responding too quickly to an incident can result in appropriation. “It has to be timeless,” she insists. “What are the things that can be separated from a moment in time?” Of course, the requirements of making a quilt naturally impose this slowness, as a typical quilt can take about two years to complete!
“Autumn Is Wistful” is a more personal quilt than some. This quilt is an example of a technique preceding an idea. Reverse appliqué is a technique that involves cutting away at a fabric to reveal a shape appliquéd underneath. In this case, the shapes are words that form a sort of wistful poem, an ode to an idyllic memory of the South, which cannot be retrieved—
“...and I want the sweet glances and I want the sun on my face and I want the grass on my skin…”
Sadly, along with all those comforting things described in the quilt, there is a close-mindedness and intolerance in the culture of the South that keeps it forever unattainable. At least, that is the experience of Autumn, Kimber’s transgendered friend who finds that she cannot return to the home of her childhood and be accepted for who she is.
When you look at many of Kimber’s quilts, you see some “self portraits”, and they can be brutal, often incorporating an insulting or upsetting word, such as bitch. “I’m giving you who I think you think I am,” Kimber explains. In a sense, she takes away the power of the insult by claiming it first, and stitching it into her quilt. “My intent is to start a conversation,” Kimber adds. “What are you willing to engage in when looking at a piece of art?”
Chawne Kimber’s quilts are powerful. They can start uncomfortable conversations, challenge stereotypes, and question social norms. You might even find yourself wondering what exactly is the nature of a quilt, anyway? But Kimber insists that, despite everything, her quilts are still utilitarian.
“They’re warm,” she says, with a mischievous smile.
In Tall Cotton: Expressions of My Self, a show featuring some of Chawne Kimber’s quilts, will take place over the Memorial Day Weekend at Lauren Kindle Studio: 7 N. Bank Street, Easton, PA. Opening reception will be Friday, May 26 from 6-8pm, in conjunction with the new Easton Fourth Friday event: Easton Out Loud. Hours to view the show Saturday, May 27 thru Monday, May 29 are 10am-3pm. Visit laurenkindle.com for more information.
“In Tall Cotton,: Expressions of My Self” a show featuring some of Chawne Kimber’s quilts. They will be on display over the Memorial Day Weekend at Lauren Kindle Studio: 7 N. Bank Street, Easton PA. Opening reception will be Friday May 26, 6-8 pm, in conjunction with “Easton Fourth Friday.” The Studio-Gallery will be open to the public 10-3 Saturday 27-Monday 29th. www.laurenkindle.com
My friend and fellow artist, Kate Brandes, published this interview with Chawne Kimber on her blog.
Other blogs have written about Chawne. Check them out!
Hunter's Design Studio, "Important Quilts: Meeting Chawne Kimber"
Women Arts, "The Colorful, Radical Quilts of Chawne Kimber"
Modern Quilt Guild, "The Beautiful Mind of Chawne Kimber"