Take a Second Look


 “ Take a second look. It cost you nothing.” 

Chinese Proverb

I had a quilt that I originally titled “Flag”. As I looked at the finished quilt I had that sinking feeling:

For all my efforts this was not a successful composition. 

Then I took a second look.

Before I started this quilt I had been reading articles about the current wave of art labeled as “craftivism. The term had been coined in 2003. 

Craftivism is a form of activism, typically incorporating elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism, solidarity, or third-wave feminism, that is centered on practices of craft - or what can traditionally be referred to as "domestic arts"


Several experiences with "craftivism caught my imagination.  The  images of a sea of  hand knit pink pussy hats  after the 2016 election was wonderful . I had seen a museum exhibition where artists were highlighting the damage of  climate change by crocheting reefs. Instagram had numerous post of yarn bombing trees in urban landscapes with large audiences. 

In the art quilt world there were  a growing number of exhibit opportunities exploring social consciousness through visual media. I have two pieces travelling “Guns Loaded Conversations” and “Forced to Flee”.  Both these exhibits required me to research the topic before coming up with a concept.

Although political art is not a focus of my own work, exploring the challenges our country and society faces is interesting to me. Given the trend and my  success incorporating social commentary, I decided to make a quilt called “Flag” which started with some research into historic periods of political unrest. 

The quilt was in a shape of a flag with design elements that would be easily identified. Stripes in red and white, a rectangle along the right side and a color palette of red, white and blue. The central figure placed in the rectangle was taken from  a photograph of my father dressed up in an American soldiers costume when he was a little boy.I choose that image because it was taken in a period of political division.  

  • Text was included as the primary design element.
  • Dominating the upper portion of the  composition is the term xenophobia. Behind the figure a dictionary definition of that term becomes a wallpaper.
  • In the lower portion compassion, tolerance and acceptance are arranged as pattern. In another use of text as pattern
  • I used portion of the sonnet "The New Colossus" to form a subpattern. This poem is featured on plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. 
  • At the very of the composition is a quote about how history can be seen as a pattern of repetition. 

Despite the rich surface and complex composition, when “Flag” was hung with a horizontal orientation  the composition was derivative rather than evocative of larger issues.  I entered this in a few exhibitions with no success and put it away.

It was when I looked over a call for entry called “Opposites Attract” that I took a second look at that quilt.  

Flag was a good fit for the theme of opposites because it scrutinized the current political divisions in the United States today.  The surface of the quilt was elaborate. It was painted, stamped, used text, had small scale and large scale pattern. There were layers waiting for a viewer to inspect them closely. Up close a viewer had additional information and a intellectual access point for thinking about the values that hold a country together or tear it apart.

As I took “Flag” off a quilt rack and laid it on the floor, I saw “Flag”  as a long rectangle instead of a wide rectangle. I pinned it on my design wall and took a new photograph using this new orientation. It was that second look that made a big difference. I could now see how by letting the stripes lead the viewer up and into the focal point using this new  orientation, the composition was vastly improved.

I also took a second look at the title. While “Flag” might have described an iconic image, it did not describe the artwork I had created. My work was a visual dialogue about the divisions in America today. 

New photograph. New title. And now “Divide” will be travelling with an exhibition called “Opposites Attract” to venues here and around the world.

Until next time