In the cool crisp air of the cavernous Wassaic Project grain elevator stand or drape 7 large quilts in a show titled, Heirloom: Quilts from Another Country Quilt Cycle.
Walking through at first glance they can seem silent and even severe. It takes further reading, and peaking closely, to decipher the conceptual layers and emotional heat behind the works. The labels inform of title, ingredients, dimension, and date completed, but there is so much more to share.
Quilts are the quintessential heirlooms passed down through generations. They map our stories and stitch together family and community. A friend of mine in college had a quilt on her bed sewn by her mother commemorating the send off to school with an aerial view of her ancestral home. Quilts such as that one have warmed us, aided with healing, and silently comforted us in our beliefs. Historical lore has quilts serving most famously as poetic signposts pointing black slaves to promises of freedom along the Underground Railroad.
This show does not point to freedom.
These DARNstudio quilts have a more sinister air. The patterns and colors are comprised of units made out of souvenir matchbooks lashed together and backed by thick grey felt. The places commemorated on the books of matches are of mundane sites: a train station platform, a convenience store, a sheriff’s jail cell, a traffic-stop intersection.
Put together by the collaborative duo of DARNStudio, based in Roxbury, CT, these quilts are part of a larger series-in-process making a statement about the killing of unarmed black American men.
David Anthone and Ron Norsworthy, the DARNstudio artists, design logos for each new place where such a killing has occurred and they then print thousands of custom-designed matchbooks.
Flipped back to front for the sake of variety and rhythm, the matchbook fronts bear letters and numbers, codifying the names and most recent dates of a death of a victim by the hands of police, stand-your-ground policy and other traumatic events.
Vaguely resembling the patterns of coded quilt signage, these are contemporary pictographs where crows in the sky replace flying geese. In the quilt titled Amplify, the volume symbol of our cell phones is replicated over and over.
Pattern titles such as "Snake in the Garden", "Go High", and "Double Cross" are an update for a vehicle that explores inherited trauma, and policy bias.
This is the new story quilt that we, as a culture, are creating as heirlooms to pass down through generations. Each quilt of 2800 matchbooks appears colorful and comforting, but in actuality they are flashpoints. Each matchbook is a spark and a part of an overall blaze of conversation that needs to be shared.
"Heirloom: Quilts from Another Country Quilt Cycle" is at the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, NY until March 28th. The Maxon Mills Gallery is open from noon to 5pm every Saturday and Sunday; admission is free. To learn more go to www.wassaicproject.org/events/2020-heirlooms