A leading member of the contemporary “art quilt” movement, Pamela Studstill’s geometric, pieced fabric constructions are fields of dazzling color. Originally trained as a painter, the artist deftly combines traditional quilt-making techniques with modern scientific color and design theory to create intricate patterns whose vibrant, multihued, and evolving geometries produce a shimmering effect. “I like all that pattern,” she says; “I like the way it moves. … That shimmering quality is the mark of a successful quilt.”
Fascinated by impressionist and neo-impressionist painting methods, the optical mixture of divided color, and the color theories of Johannes Itten, Hans Hofmann, and Josef Albers, Studstill brushes columns of dots, curved and wavy lines, and bricklike strokes of acrylic paint on small squares of opposing solid-color cottons. She is not unique among studio-quilt artists in adding pigments, but few have developed such a rigorous and effective approach. “By painting on my fabrics,” she states; “I achieve a greater range of color and pattern than would be possible by using just solid-colored fabrics.”
Studstill begins a quilt by creating a detailed drawing of the complicated patchwork design on graph paper. This underlying grid is an essential ordering device. It provides both an explicit and implicit structural framework on which to elaborate shifting relationships among shapes, hues, and values. The quilts themselves are composed of a profusion of small squares and rectangular strips of cloth, usually two to four inches in dimension—but sometimes as small as a postage stamp.
Once the design is finalized, and the drawing color-coded, Studstill cuts out the individual pieces as required from supplies of commercially dyed cottons. Some of the colored patches are then painted with contrasting hues to create a colorful random pattern within a pattern. But before being machine-sewn together, the individual blocks of cloth are first pinned to the wall so that the subtle chromatic and tonal gradations that are the essence of Studstill’s art can be gauged precisely.
Quilt #17 (1982) [1993.54.17] is an early example of Studstill’s distinctive amalgam of pattern painting and quilt-making, and reveals her extraordinary skills as a colorist and pattern maker. The quilt is numbered, not titled— “I don’t want people to think about ‘things’ when they look at the quilts,” the artist states—and the quilts now number more than one hundred and seven.
Even though the individual fabric components vary in size and shape, Quilt #17—like all of Pamela Studstill’s patchworks—has a tessellated, or mosaiclike appearance. Repetition of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal strips, and squares and rectangles help structure the intricate, five-by-five-foot composition. But the artist deliberately undermines methodical order by arbitrarily varying the arrangement of her pieced shapes. As a result, the geometric composition collapses into a delightful riot of color.
As the eye moves from top to bottom, Quilt #17 undergoes a subtle but definitive transformation in color and light. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, lighter color values change into darker ones. “Each of my quilts,” the artist writes; “is a study in light.” Surface paint helps ease the transition from one color to another. In scientific terms, such a progressive, step-by-step alteration is known as a parquet deformation. But in Studstill’s case, the principle of incrementally graduating tones was not soley based on scientific or color theory, but also intuited from the experience of her Texas Hill Country surroundings. “I am inspired,” she writes; “by landscape views and vistas, fields of [all kinds] … and changes in my local landscape.”
Jeremy Adamson KPMG Peat Marwick Collection of American Craft: A Gift to the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: Renwick Gallery, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1994)
Pam Studstill began sewing at the age of sixteen and completed her first full-size quilt in 1978. She was inspired by her grandmother, who used to mail blocks of fabric from different places around the country for Studstill to stitch together. She creates “pieced quilts,” using a technique that was popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which involved sewing small pieces of fabric together one by one. She adds a personal touch to this traditional style by painting the strips of fabric with multicolored dots and stripes. Studstill combines intricate lines, squares, and patterns to explore the relationships between colors and tones, stating that “each one of my quilts is a study in light.”