© 1978, Michael James. 96" x 108"
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center
Michael James, a world-renowned quilter, is widely credited with helping to make the quilt an art form. His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the American Craft Museum and the International Quilt Study Cener.
"How would I describe Aurora? It's the sky and the wind and the sun and the moon, it's the sky space and it's one of a series of pieces that had to do with sky. And something's that's always interested me - sky spaces - my wife says I have my head in the clouds all the time figuratively and I guess literally sometimes and I have enough sprained ankles to prove that I'm not always watching where I'm going so...observation of sky gave rise to that piece.
"I remember thinking when I made it that I wanted to use every piece of fabric that I owned. And I called it Aurora after the fact because I looked up the dictionary definition of 'aurora' and it said an atmospheric effect in which light is fractured into bands of color and I thought that was perfect because that was exactly what I had intended to do in the piece.
"I basically am self-taught. I got a little bit of help from my wife along the way who has always sewn and although she doesn't make quilts and she would suggest ways of doing things and I would usually ignore them until I fell on them by happenstance months later and would announce with great pride to my wife 'Oh look I just found this great way of doing this' and she'd say, 'I told you to do that six months ago but you wouldn't listen', so I guess it's a little of both picking up things from people casually and then figuring things out.
"My turning to textiles was a kind of reaction against my own education as a painter, as a fine arts major in a state university where the fine arts: painting, sculpture, print making, were considered the top rung of the ladder and everything else was underneath that and was sort of taken a little less seriously and especially anything to do with women's arts and crafts, that wasn't just in academia.
"I just got tired of that attitude. I fell in love with quilts and I thought well I'm a man and this is a woman's field, so either I go into some closet and keep it as a silent, private hobby that nobody knows about or I just treat it as a medium and work in it which is what I chose to do regardless of what anybody might think.
"My studio is a temple, I see it that way, I always have and I know a lot of artists who would agree with me there's something about a studio that is a sacred space and no non-artist would understand that but it is my religion. Art is my religion and the studio is the temple where I practice that and it's where I feel most comfortable and where I'm most myself, it's where I express the passion that I have for art making and unfortunately we live in a culture that doesn't take art making that seriously, it's generally considered to be something that's peripheral or tangential or secondary at best to everything else.
"And quiltmaking gets dismissed too often because it's looked at
as women's work and we know over the centuries that women's work had traditionally
been under-valued and all that contributes to a perception that people
who do these things have nothing better to do with their time and so on
and so forth but most of the people I know who make art and make things
with their hands do it because they have to do it as much, they have to
do it as much as they have to eat and they have to sleep, they can't not
do it, they can't live without it."