By Edie McGinnis
I am a quilter. I work with cotton and thread, sometimes wool. I love the way cotton fabric feels, especially when it has the silky texture and finish of well-made, tightly woven goods.
Color intrigues me. In my opinion, color and color placement make the quilt. It is the difference between a ho-hum quilt and one that pops. It sometimes lets us skate by when we haven’t exhibited the best of workmanship. It announces moods and personalities and can make a quilt exciting or somber. The quilter chooses which.
Jason Pollen is an artist. His medium of choice is fiber: fabric, dyes, threads, and maybe even twigs. He has a resumé that is as long as my arm and has created a breathtaking body of work. He has spent 30 years as a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. But enough about credentials.
Pollen would probably be insulted if I said I thought he missed his calling. Maybe he would find if irritating if I told him I thought he should have been a quilter. So I won’t say either of those things. Instead, I will keep my thoughts to myself.
But if there are quilters out there who can look at Pollen’s work and not be inspired by his use of texture and color, I don’t know who they are.
Look at this! It’s called Havana. Pollen created this piece after spending some time in Havana, Cuba, after noticing clotheslines strung between apartment buildings, with laundry flapping in the wind. I love the playfulness and exuberance of this piece.
Even though blue isn’t my favorite color, “Boundless” took my breath. The intense blues accented with bits and pieces of orange grabbed my attention. I couldn’t just walk past it, I had to stop and drink it in. I walked on but found myself coming back for a few more sips.
I walked up to this piece and said to my friend, “Oh, this looks just like music sounds.” I looked at the little sign next to it and saw it was called “Sonatina.” (A sonatina is a short sonata.) It was aptly named. Even Pollen thought it would be something wonderful if someone could look at that piece and make music out of it. I think he did exactly that.
Some of his pieces reflect health challenges he’s encountered. In 2008, he underwent three surgeries on his spine. His spinal cord was nearly severed in one of them, and it took more than three years for him to move from being bedridden to a wheelchair, and then back to some semblance of normality.
During his recovery, he made small pieces. Once he was back in his studio, he created a piece he called “16 Wounded.” When he began working on the piece, he intended it to be about his own hurt and wounds, but then he shifted his focus to others who were experiencing rough patches as well. Take a good look at how the pieces are connected. See that big, rough stitch? Pollen learned that from the surgeon who performed his last back surgery.
I think I am going to be able to call Pollen a quilter after all. His piece “Two Shirts, a Sweater and a Vest” is exactly that, a quilt. To make it, he used some of his favorite clothing that was worn out but couldn’t bear to toss out. He cut pieces from each item and stitched them together using a sewing machine.
“There’s magic in what state-of-the-art sewing machines can do today,” Pollen says in the catalog that accompanies an exhibit of his work continuing through Jan. 4 at the Kansas City Central Library. “You can use them to draw and paint with thread in the freest, most organic way.”