“Turmoil and Tranquility,” currently on display at IMAS, considers the calm before the storm and the inner peace that follows catharsis. Works in this show individually embody turmoil/tranquility, while the entire installation captures the breadth of internal, societal, and natural disturbance, letting feelings of calmness and serenity weave through it all. It shows us how the opposing phenomena of turmoil and tranquility are intertwined.

Are you an art form elitist? Do you believe that some materials, such as oil paints, have an artistic superiority? The 20 works in this exhibition are quilted. Some people may not believe that this genre can communicate ideas as seriously as the paint genre, but that notion is quickly dispelled throughout this show.

Relevance of concept combined with an expressive communication style determines the importance of a work, and Turmoil and Tranquility is no exception; these quilted works resonate with empathy and expressive depth. But do you still have a lingering bias that stitched cloth reflects gender or craft and cannot transmit important meaning? Get over it.

Some of the artists addressed the human condition in their works, while others looked elsewhere. “Childhood Taken: The Doffer Boys” by Patricia Kennedy-Zafred captures the dangerous, shadowy environment of the cotton mills around 1900. Her cotton medium connects to her imagery of the child workers who developed “brown lung disease” from working in the mills.

Margaret Abramshe documents the emotional turmoil of war that extends beyond the battlefield with “Pallbearer,” a portrait of her husband’s grandfather dressed for a funeral in Staten Island. He had buried a son who died near the country from which he had escaped, and the quilt’s background mimics the unrest of that country’s unrest as well as his own.

While these works focus on a single point of remembrance, other works recall a temporal process, as in Carol Capozzoli’s “A Cancerous Turmoil.” Here, the process of cell division begins its cancerous condition; it first spreads within the body, and after diagnosis, it will invade the emotions of its host and family.

Our joyful reaction to the exuberant “Popcorn 1953” is upended when we learn that artist, Jim Hay, had fondly remembered a brother who later died of AIDS.

“The Flames They Left Behind” by Holly Altman, and “Crossings l” by Sandy Gregg comment on immigration. Betty Busby’s “Fracture” warns us of potential turmoil; the two levels in this work simultaneously speak of tranquility, the earth we see, and turmoil beneath it. We are floating over potential danger.

Many of these artists use various means to successfully convey their idea. Reading the posting of materials and techniques that go into the making of some of these works is definitely enlightening; the skill sets required, the determination/persistence of the artist to manifest the idea, and the level of creative thinking all come together.

“Morning Mist” by Linda Anderson is tranquil in its message, but embodies an impressive level of complexity in its parts. Masterfully painted, appliqued fabric achieves the realistic illusion of dewdrops on flower petals. Each dewdrop mimics a lens and magnifies the petal below, while closely spaced quilting stitches activate the leaves, expressing an imaginary natural structure.

The overall effect gives a nod to Baroque aesthetics. And the poetic “Ponderings” by Erica Carter is a rhythmically flowing dance of tone and color, activated by fine linear quilting. It is an exhilarating and carefree look at nature.

“Turmoil and Tranquility” is an exhibition created by members of the Studio Art Quilt Associates, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the quilt art. Since its establishment in 1989 the organization has grown alongside the evolution of the quilt as an art form.

Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art, UTRGV, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at [email protected]


WHAT: “Turmoil and Tranquility”

WHERE: International Museum of Art & Science, 1900 Nolana Ave., McAllen

WHEN: Aug. 10 through Jan. 1, 2020

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday; and 9 a.m. 8 p.m. every first Thursday.

MORE INFO: Call (956) 682-0123 or visit www.imasonline.org.