What textile lover doesn’t enjoy learning about how fiber artists add a bit of spice to their work by combining deep colors, rich textures, and meaningful back-stories in their work? Art quilters often look to other cultures for inspiration: whether it is in the simplicity of Scandinavian design, intricate boro mending on Japanese kimonos, or the color combinations seen in Mexican Milagros or Guatemalan fabrics, we can learn so much by looking beyond our own borders.
As North Americans gear up for Cinco de Mayo (the commemoration of the Mexican victory in the battle of Puebla), we thought it would be fun to revisit some cultural inspiration from South-of-the-(US)-Border.
Inspiration from Guatemala
A few years ago I interviewed art quilter Priscilla Bianchi for Quilting Arts Magazine. Her work is a study in vibrant colors, challenging patterns, and pure joy. As a quilt artist, designer, and international teacher, Priscilla creates one-of-a-kind quilts that meld the richness and ethnic appeal of her homeland with the tradition of American quilt making. In her work, brightly colored textiles and Mayan symbolism are intertwined with contemporary quilt designs and high contrast.
Once known for using primarily handmade Guatemalan ikats, Priscilla’s recent work combines rich colors, bold contrasts, and a variety of commercial fabrics along with traditional textiles. This evolution in artistic style makes for a fascinating story.
Vivika: You come from a country with a rich textile tradition, but not a history of quilting, per se. I think of Guatemalan textiles as being mostly woven, with saturated colors and bold texture. Tell me about how you came to embrace quilting as an art with these influences.
Priscilla: I’ve been surrounded by bright colors since birth: from fruits and flowers to textiles. My mom taught me to sew on a machine when I was four years old, and I haven’t stopped since. I come from a very artistic family, so learning about art, enjoying and appreciating beauty, experimenting with different mediums, creating original things and ideas, and working with my hands have all been an important part of my life.
Vivika: Tradition plays a huge role in quilting—even contemporary quilting. Whether it is a recognizable repeating pattern in a bed quilt or a specific type of appliqué, the legacy of quilters from the past lives on in the work we create today. How has this influenced your work?
Priscilla: When just starting out, I fell madly in love with the medium. I realized that quilting had absolutely everything I loved—colors, fabrics, sewing, art, and design—in one package.
From the start, I knew I would become a quilt artist, but I had to be honest: I never lived the (American) quilting tradition so I couldn’t become a traditional quilter. Instead, I used the same materials and techniques, and added different elements and principles of design. This became my new preferred medium, my new way of expressing myself artistically, and my spirit had a new voice. My color sense is definitely influenced by living in Guatemala with all those bright, beautiful colors. From the very beginning, I used Guatemalan textiles in my work. That in itself made my quilts look very different from traditional quilts.
Vivika: Your professional background includes a degree in Industrial Psychology, and you spent much of your professional career working in Human Resources. How did those skills influence the work you do artistically?
Priscilla: I’m blessed with being a people-person who also enjoys the solitude of my own studio. I find both situations to be comfortable and enjoyable. Not only has quilting been life changing, but it turned out to be very spiritual, and it has helped me grow as a person.
The skills I learned while working in HR were indeed very helpful for my quilting career. When I travel the world to teach and exhibit my work, I enjoy meeting people. While working in HR I also had a lot of experience with marketing, and that has been invaluable to promote my career and artwork.
Inspiration for personal expression through fabric and thread comes from so many sources. If you enjoy learning about textile traditions and want to explore using color, symbolism, and stitch, why not pick up a copy of the forthcoming June/July 2019 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. This issue contains a fun project I designed that interprets some of the symbols used in Mexican Milagros. Put your own creativity to work with lots of inspiration with Quilting Arts!
Featured image: “Aguacatan” (detail) by Priscilla Bianchi, Photo by Léster Meléndez