One of my favorite holidays is Halloween, and because International Quilt Festival/Houston was early this year, I'm excited to report that I will be at home and giving out candy to costumed witches, vampires, and assorted Jedi this Saturday.
This weekend also marks the beginning of El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday whose motifs of Milagros, sugar skulls, flowers, and vivid colors are popular among artists. Day of the Dead motifs can even be found in commercial fabrics. Many quilt and mixed-media artists also pay tribute to Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, famous for her many self-portraits, at this time, and year round.
Mixed-media fiber artist R. Paulette Lancaster chose Frida as the centerpiece of a collage of page-sized portrait quilts made for a El Dia de los Muertos art exhibit. We thought this would be the perfect time to share the story of how she created this piece.
Day of the Dead Art Quilts
By R. Paulette Lancaster
I am always looking for new materials, inspirations, and venues. Two years ago a new venue opened up to me when the Indianapolis Art Center put out a call for artists to participate in their celebration of the traditional Mexican holiday, El Dia de los Muertos. In the spirit of this holiday I chose to honor three important 20th Century female artists--Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Lee Krasner--in a group of page-size quilts that would create a timeline and highlight certain paintings of each artist. My method was similar for each one, so I will focus on the Frida quilts here.
My basic guidelines were to choose three to five coordinating fabrics in a color range that represented each artist. For Frida's quilt, I used fabrics in the bright primary colors of Mexico.
To produce the small paintings, I ironed fusible to the backs of papers and then drew or photocopied images onto the papers. Then I used acrylic paints or colored pencils to complete the paintings and embellished them further with fabric and lace, buttons and trims, and beads-some of which were in the shape of skulls and bones. To reproduce the photographs, I printed them on colorfast inkjet printer fabric. After I had arranged and attached the painting in a pleasing composition I added embroidery for texture and interest.
One of the traditional elements for Day of the Dead altars is the use of fresh flowers, known as xempasuchitl, the flower of the dead. I attached various shades of orange silk flowers with rhinestone- and white-topped brads to my quilts to represent these flowers.
When each quilt top was finished I added batting and backing and bound the mini quilts with a unifying single color. I tied them together by punching eyelets in the corners and threading colorful ribbons through the holes.
The completed art quilts--along with the shrine I created--made a bright and colorful display. I truly enjoyed the experience of mixing some Latin American spice into my fiber art.
Thanks, Paulette, for sharing your art quilt story with us.
If you're looking for more inspiration, check out the variety of mixed-media books at the Interweave Store. My current recommendation, Mixed-Media Self-Portraits: Inspiration & Techniques by Cate Prato, features a brief history of self-portrait artists, like Frida Kahlo, and then offers exercises and a variety of mixed-media projects for making your own creative self-portraits.