Written by CORC student worker, Andy DeIuliis F09
If you were here during January, I don’t need to remind you of the striking quilting you saw on the walls of the gallery in the library during the Hampshire staff exhibit. One look into one of these quilts and the viewer was entranced not only by beautifully intricate fabric, but colorful images of fantasy creatures, fish, and birds on top of these backgrounds. While the work of Amy Putnam, Hampshire’s Theatre Technical Director, is often seen through theatre in the Pioneer Valley, her quilting has primarily been left unveiled to the public. I sat down with her to discuss her journey through this craft and art, and the space between these two.
Quilting has a long tradition among the women in Amy’s family. At age 17, her grandmother taught her what was needed to make a perfect quilt, much to her frustration at times—Amy told me that she was reluctant to learn at that age and only did so to pay homage to her family. Once she left home, she thought to herself that she may never return to it.
During her hiatus, Amy lived in a number of places across the United States doing a multitude of jobs in project management and styling. She also continued her passion in theatre, which included set and prop design. One play in particular asked her to pull together a creative set based on the elderly woman that the story followed. Amy decided to create the entire set out of fabric and quilting and found herself reinvigorated by the craft. For the next sixteen years, she would be crafting her own quilting style.
For a while, Amy balanced between sticking to traditional, functional quilting, while also gravitating towards an art form that deviated from traditional quilt patterns. She did this by sewing detailed images on top of a background. One can see this journey in style among her three quilt pieces in the exhibit. The quilt with fish represents a balance between these two in that it is functional as well as non-traditional in its use of images. No matter how much her quilting has leaned towards an art form, however, Amy stressed to me about the importance of keeping her quilts functional, i.e. washable and useable. Rather than simply hanging it on a wall and creating observers, she is more intrigued to have her quilt be a part of people’s everyday lives.
However, at some point, and represented in her most recent quilt shown in the gallery, Amy felt that she had gravitated too far from the quilting the women in her family had taught her. Quilting has recently reached a stage in which the art world, a male-dominated sphere, which has taken it on as another art medium, while at times forgetting its roots as a women’s “craft,” Amy told me. This constantly makes her question why art is deemed more valuable than crafts and why functionality cheapens art. At the same time, Amy wonders how she can pay homage to the women who have created quilting by sticking to some of their traditions, while at the same time, moving the medium forward.
All of these challenges are worth pursuing though, as Amy greatly appreciates what quilting gives her without commissions: a creative expression that she is not achieving for anyone else’s vision but her own. Deadlines are thrown out of the window and she can quilt whenever it pleases her, allowing her to make mistakes along the way as long as it helps her grow.
**NEWS UPDATE! Amy received the Carol and Blair Brown Staff Excellence Award for 2013 – Congrats, Amy! http://www.hampshire.edu/news/26335.htm