After I got home from our trip in 2007, I contacted the Arts and Crafts Centre by email to try to get some more information about the quilt groups and their activities. The persons at the Centre agreed to help, – I sent a list of questions which their English speaking guide translated, and the questions were presented to the groups. The groups’ answers were again translated into English and sent to me, – a kind of lengthy process as both groups needed to meet to give their answers. Below is some of what I learned:
The quilt group was started back in 1994. As the interest in quilting grew, the group became too big, so in 2006 it was divided in two groups, each with 11-12 members. Each group meets twice a month on alternating Fridays. People who are interested in quilting are welcome to attend their meetings, – also visitors from other groups and from abroad. So if you find yourself in Murmansk on a Friday evening, you are welcome to visit.
There are quilters of all skill levels, from expert to beginners, and also with different interests. Some like to make large bed quilts, while others like smaller works like wall hangings, table toppers, pillows, dollmaking, bags, and also quilted garments.
At the meetings they share their work experience, make plans for and discuss new projects, discuss fabric and colour choices, and exchange new ideas or techniques. Most of them develop their own ideas for new projects, while the beginners use ideas from books or magazines. The groups have aquired, and are constantly adding to, a library of quilting books, magazines, and patterns, – mostly in Russian, but foreign languages are also represented, and they find these very useful.
They use mostly Russian made fabrics and threads in their works, but also buy materials made in Pakistan, China, Turkey, and other countries. They use both cotton, wool, linen, and synthetic fabrics and threads. American printed quilt fabrics are very good to work with, but unfortunately they are very expensive, so are not widely used. Some of the quilters dye their own fabrics. A couple of price examples: back in 2007 unbleached calico cost 60 to 80 rubles per meter, while printed cotton (not American import) was 20 to 25 rubles, which equalled the price of a liter of petrol at the time.
These are the only organized quilt groups in Murmansk, but there are several quilt groups in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Novosibirsk and other cities. The quilters in Murmansk exhibit their work locally in Murmansk and in other cities in the Murmansk region, but also further away.
There is a national association of quilters in Russia. It is called “The patchwork of Russia”, which holds its biennial festivals in Ivanovo, the “capital of textiles” in Russia. Quilt and patchwork artists from all Russian regions take part in them. There can be more than 200 participants who exhibit more than 500 works.
It was Irina Sopina, the art director of the Arts and Crafts Centre, who came up with the idea that they should cooperate with an artist to make quilts inspired by his or her painting motifs. The artist they chose, Anatolij Alexandrovitsj Sergejenko, was very excited with the idea too. He lives and works in Severomorsk, which is Russia’s main naval port in the north, and situated a little north of Murmansk.
He is a prominent artist in the area, and we saw several of his works hanging in the hotel where we stayed.
Irina Sopina and the two quilt groups, with their leaders Nadesjda Markina and Tatyana Isckaraeva, set out to visit the artist in his studio to get aquainted with his paintings. Many of his paintings have motifs inspired by old Sami tales and legends from this area, where Sami people have lived for hundreds of years. One of the groups chose to work with these motifs, while the other group chose the theme “Love”, which is aslo broadly represented in the artist’s work.
Irina says: “It was important for us to feel the atmosphere of his work. Anatolij Sergejenko helped us to create drawings of the pictures, he gave us consultations and advice at every stage of work. The artist followed our work with great interest.”
(group work by Tatyana Ischkaraeva’s group)
In the course of 9 months, the two groups made 18 quilts inspired by Sergejenko’s paintings, – two of which were group projects.
The quilts were first exhibited in Murmansk in February 2007, and at the opening, the groups presented the artist Sergejenko with two quilts of their own design, as a thank you for all his good will and assistance. They hoped the quilts would decorate the walls of his flat in Severomorsk.
Later, the quilts were shown in the artist’s home town, Severomorsk. Due to the town’s military status, travel is restricted, so the quilters living in Murmansk needed special permits to go there. The permits were late, so it was touch and go that they made it to the opening.
In June the quilts were shown at the 6th biannual quilt festival in Ivanovo, where the project received a first price, and a special price from Bernina.
Later in the year, the quilts were also exhibited at the Moscow Arts and Craft and Folk Art Museum, and have since been shown in other venues throughout Russia and abroad.
While the quilts in this first part of the project were “on tour”, some of the quilters in the group continued working individually with the same kind of motives. It was two of these unfinished quilts that we happened to see on our visit to the Arts and Craft Centre in July 2007. They were both shown at the European Quilt Meeting in Alsace in September that year.
In 2008 the quilt group headed by Tatyana Ischkaraeva was asked by Bernina to make 6 new quilts with some of the same motifs, using different fabrics and techniques, and in 2009 they made 6 more. This second project of 12 quilts was on show at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this year.
The profile “quiltinggandalf” over at Flikr has posted photos of most of these second quilts while they were hanging in Birmingham. (The link is to the first photo, click on the “next” button in the gallery to see more.)
Some members of the quilt groups are also participating in other projects, like the national challenge “Black and White and ? (Something else)”. The project had entries from all over Russia, and was also exhibited in Alsace.
Over the years the group has also had some other group challenges of their own, and of course they also make individual quilts that are not part of any project. In their new catalogue that we were given on this last visit, we can see a few examples:
However, I think the projects where they cooperate with artists are very special, and off my head, I do not know of anything similar happening elsewhere. One hears about quilters who are inspired by artist’s works and ask the artist’s permission to use motifs in one way or other in their quilts, but not having the artist involved to the extent that this project exemplifies. It seems such cooperation may benefit both parties, – the quilters get to work with interesting and inspiring motifs, and the artist gets to be known outside the usual art circles.
A small curiosity: While we were visiting at the Centre in 2007, we suddenly saw the ladies bring in large rolls of paper, which we recognized as nautical charts (sea maps used on board ships).
When they were unrolled on the table, we saw that these were the drawings made by Sergejenko for the quilt project.
Living in a sea port, and with charts being more and more computerized these days, it makes sense to make use of the surplus paper, – which also happens to be of very good quality as the maps are made to endure years of handling on board the ships.
The groups are now cooperating with another artist, from Apatity. This artist has made pictures in black and white with motifs from the nature on the Tersky coast (south coast of the Kola peninsula). The quilters are making the corresponding quilts in coloured fabrics, so they sort of remake the motifs in colour. The artist was very satisfied with the results so far. The project was given a 2 page spread, and also the front page, of the Russian Quilt Magazine this year.
Some of the Tersky Coast quilts were also presented in their catalogue:
I see that I have to make yet another post about some of the other quilts we saw.
The photos of the first project quilts above were sent to me by email from the Arts and Crafts Centre in 2007. The photos of other textile works, of books, and of Sergejenko’s paintings were all taken by me. I am sorry I do not have the names of the makers of some of the works.