Thursday, December 8, 2011

Health and Safety

Hi everyone,

Sorry for practicing our great disappearing act on you! We didn't mean to become magicians this year, but we have been getting pretty good at it. As the title of this posting alludes, there is a good reason -- health and safety. This applies to both Dr. Gaither and several of the quilts, specifically the Trails Tracks Tarmac community-created quilts.

One of the questions that comes up when Dr. Gaither presents at workshops, lectures, and conferences is "how long does it take you to make a quilt?" This question implies that it takes her a long time to fabricate a quilt. In fact, the actual physical creation of a quilt is often times the fastest part of the quilting process. The National Black Theatre Festival quilt was 2 years in the making, with the actual fabrication part only taking a year with her working off and on. When you take out all of the breaks, the fabrication probably took closer took 5 months. Keep in mind the quilt is about 9 feet wide and 11 feet long. I have seen her pull a quilt together from start to finish in less than a month.

All of the "speed quilting" does come with a price. Angry muscles and tendons, carpal tunnel, and general aches and pains start to take over after stitching for several hours at a time for many days (weeks) at a time. The solution? Physical therapy, weight lifting, stretching, icing the muscles, wearing braces on the arm and wrist, and good old ibuprofen. When all else fails, lockdown. When this solution is required, Dr. Gaither is forced to stop quilting entirely as well as avoid work on the computer. Lockdown is Dr. Gaither's least favorite solution, but it is also the most effective. Not working on the computer is the only part of lockdown that Dr. Gaither enjoys given her technophobia. Stopping her from quilting is another matter.

During lockdown, Dr. Gaither's community rallies around her not to help her quilt, but to "keep her in check" as she often says. There are a few people (myself included) who really stay on her about resting and call her out whenever she even hints at doing something she shouldn't. Dr. Gaither was put on lockdown in the early fall by her physical therapist and was just allowed to start quilting a few weeks ago. Now that she has been allowed to quilt again, she has completed one quilt (started prior to lockdown) and another is speeding towards the finish line.

As for what put her on lockdown this time, it was the health and safety of the 25 community quilts from the Trails Tracks Tarmac exhibition. The TTT community quilts were created in 2006 and have been on constant display for over five years now. The continuous display as well as lengthy display in direct, unfiltered sunlight at one of their exhibition sites has caused very serious damage to the quilts. People have frequently asked how long her quilts last and these quilts have accidentally become test cases for how much the fabric sheets can handle. The quilts are displaying varying levels of fading and discoloration ranging from barely noticeable fading to images almost completely disappearing.

To remedy the situation, emergency action was taken in July and August beginning with the complete de-installation of the entire exhibition. The quilts were examined by Dr. Gaither and the respective quilters and then cleaned via vacuuming techniques and the like. Next, the quilters and Dr. Gaither went through their files to see if they could reproduce the images on some of the quilts. In some instances they could, but in others it was not possible. At times when they could not reproduce the images, Dr. Gaither would use her drawing skills and draw back in the details of the photos and try to bring the colors back to life. It was through this process of extreme detail work and spending hours at a time bent over quilts that sent her muscles out on strike, subsequently putting her on lockdown for nearly three months.

Several of the TTT community quilts have gone back on display at the Bates Legacy Center, but only temporarily. They will be coming off exhibition to rest and get out of direct light next year. Two of the quilts have been so badly damaged by the sun that they will not be going back out on display at all. The damage to these quilts is not uniform with all of Dr. Gaither's works. Most of her quilts are in extraordinary condition, requiring little to no touch-up work. The situation with the TTT quilts has allowed Dr. Gaither and her quilters to examine what fabric types hold up best, which printer inks last and which fade, and the effects of long term display on different colors. Every cloud has a silver lining, right?

I hope everyone has a great holiday season. I will try to post here again before the New Year. With Dr. Gaither just coming off restriction and doing so much quilting, I don't dare ask her to post. That hasn't stopped me from bugging her about it though. I am thinking a video interview about her work may be in her near future. Hmmm.....


Karoda said...

what a hard but valuable lesson to learn on archival quality. Does she apply any sunlight protection to her work? i've only been exhibiting myself for a few years but this really has me pondering...thanks for sharing.

Lakita Bee said...

It really makes me think a few years but I only show my... Thanks for sharing.
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