Stars adorn spectacular quilts at BMA Art: In 'Starry Nights,' fans of beautiful textile art will appreciate lively designs and superior stitching.

Fine Arts

September 15, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Quilt lovers, textile fanciers and those who appreciate well-executed small shows will enjoy "Starry Nights," the recently opened exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

This show contains just six star-patterned American 19th century quilts, but they are impressive, and as usual textile curator Anita Jones has provided thorough didactic material to go with them.

According to Jones' introductory text, the star is probably the most frequent quilt motif. That's both because its basic design element, the square or diamond, was relatively easy to make and because of its symbolic value: the Christian "Star of Bethlehem," the stars and stripes, etc.

And in the quilts on view the versatile star appears in various sizes and configurations. In a spectacular example from Montgomery County, made by women of three generations working together about 1855, four huge eight-pointed stars with multicolored interiors surround a central panel with an appliqued peacock. The superior quilting contains 24 stitches to the inch.

On another Maryland quilt, of about 1840, stars are combined with appliqued pieces of chintz printed in floral designs.

A third example, a Baltimore quilt of about 1830, has been attributed to a young woman named Rachel Balderston who was 18 when she made it. Its 144 blocks with a star on each are separated by bands of printed cotton to create a bold and lively surface.

Although six- or eight-pointed stars are more usual, seven-pointed star fills the center of a southern quilt (Richmond, Va. or Savannah, Ga.). In contrast to the brightness of most quilts, the silk and velvet pieces in this example have deep hues, giving a rich, luxurious look.

As "Starry Nights" demonstrates, small shows can be especially rewarding. One can take in what they have to show and tell without overload.

The Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st Streets, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $6 adults, $4 seniors and students. The quilt show runs through Jan. 31. For information call 410-396-7100.

Walters raises fund goal

The Walters Art Gallery announced yesterday a new goal of $30 million for its current capital campaign, to be used for renovation of the 1974 building and endowment enhancement.

Almost $19 million has been raised since the campaign began in 1996 and the gallery projects reaching the $30 million goal by 2000.

"It is because of the generous support already pledged by individuals, foundations, corporations and the government that such an ambitious goal could be set for the campaign," said Robert Feinberg, chairman of the campaign, at a luncheon for Baltimore's financial and philanthropic community yesterday.

This is by far the largest fund-raising campaign the Walters has ever undertaken. The previous high was $7.2 million, raised for the renovation of Hackerman House, the Walters' museum of Asian art that opened in 1991.

Of the total raised so far, individual contributions, including donations from the Walters board of trustees, represent the largest single category at $8.5 million. Federal, state and local government grants total $5.8 million, foundation grants $2.5 million and corporate funding $1.9 million.

Of the goal's total, $18.5 million will be used for the 1974 building's renovation, which began this summer and is expected to be finished in early 2001. The rest of the $30 million will go to endowment (currently $49 million), and be used to support staff positions and create funds for research and investment.

Mind games

At Goucher's Rosenberg Gallery, heavy, dark curtains frame the area that contains D.S. Bakker's assemblages shown in boxes, emphasizing their narrative and dramatic qualities.

Some of these constructions contain oddly juxtaposed objects, others reveal carefully constructed tableau-like scenes. It's not always easy to tell what they're supposed to be about, but it's fun to try -- a kind of game between viewer and artist, in which one is challenged to either decipher the meaning or come up with a better one.

In "Spoiled Rotten," a miniature suit of armor holding a pole or staff stands in front of a curtain partly open to reveal a painting of the Madonna and child. It appears to say that the church has spawned wars, thus distorting and "spoiling" the true meaning of the life of Christ.

One assemblage shows a tiny island surrounded by water and occupied by only one bird and one human figure sitting in an attitude of despair.

The letters SOS have been formed of stones on the island's shore. It looks like a conventional scene of the lone survivor of a shipwreck, but the title -- "Sissy Boy" -- changes that.

"Sissy Boy" is a disparaging name for homosexuals, who often feel, growing up, like outcasts, as alone as the figure on the island.

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