Un-multi-tasking

Alma Lesch's legacy

It has taken me a long while to look at textile artists who are working with quilting techniques. For years I did not want to look at other quilters since I was developing my own ideas and voice, and really did not want outside influence. I looked and still look heavily at other artists, as my Pinterest account will attest. This approach has its pros and its cons. And one of the cons is that I am unfamiliar with many of the quilting pioneers.

I was recently honored to receive an award from the Carnegie Center for Art and History's, show, Form Not Function. I won the first ever Award of Excellence in memory of textile artist, Alma Lesch. Whenever I get a named award I try to find out something about the person, and so I did a bit of research on Alma. Finding out about her accomplishments and storied history made the award I received seem alive, and it was fascinating to find out about her.
Alma was born around 1934 and died of cancer in 1999 at the age of 82. According to an article in the Courier-Journal, she began her love affair with fabric at the tender age of 12, and  became the "undisputed grande dame of Kentucky textiles and a pioneer of the national crafts movement." Her work was featured in many exhibits and was seen on the covers of many books and magazines. Another Courier-Journal article names the many accolades and awards she garnered.
Lesch was a much admired teacher. A writer who reviewed a lot of her work said that Alma ws a born teacher. If you came to her she would listen and say, 'Keep working, if you're an artist you must do a lot of work."
One of her students and close friends, Dennis Shaffner commented: “Lesch, who transformed handcrafted American textile art over the course of 50 years, commanded a no-nonsense attitude that provided maximum studio time for production of hundreds of fabric collages, sculptures and banners that have been collected across the country and cherished in permanent collections. Her signature invention, the fabric portrait, evolved from America’s roots in stitchery and crafts.”
Many of the fabric portraits that Lesch created were of simple people, and she used their garments as a basis for her fabric collages. Whether it was an old blue denim jacket used in the piece, Uncle Bob Shows his Medals, or her wedding dress that appears in Lesch's self-portrait, each items is well integrated and was created well before the current crop of pieces using old clothing as the foundation of art.
Many of us older artists wonder what will become of our work after we are no longer here. I wonder when I see delicate needle points, amazing hand stitched quilts, or detailed hand work being sold for ridiculously low prices at estate sales. I know that few have an understanding of the time it takes to produce the pieces we are making. So, it was particularly gratifying to make this acquaintance with a successful pioneer of her day. I know that this lovely award will help keep Alma's accomplishments in front of artists for years to come. A wonderful way to honor her legacy.