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Jeffrey Gutcheon: Renaissance Man

What 12-year-old sends his classic piano teacher of five years packing after he hears Fats Waller’s boogie style?  And later goes on to collaborate on the Broadway musical tribute to Waller, “Ain’t Misbehavin’ “? 

Photo source: Wikipedia

That would be Quilters Hall of Fame Honoree and Renaissance Man, Jeffrey Gutcheon.

Jeff was one of the pioneers of then-modern quilting in the early 1970s.  He helped move us away from the orderly block style (which still appeals to me) and into dimension, shading and texture on cloth.

You can read more about Jeff and quilting at the bio link below.

Jeff’s musical prowess rivals his quilting career, and he embraced a variety of genres including jazz, country, blues and pop. His non-quilting book about improvisational piano appears to be well-valued; it’s available on Amazon for $902.81 (or $34.79 in paperback).

Jeff also played piano for Steve Goodman who was a favorite funky-folk personality in Chicago (my home town) in the mid-1970s, I probably heard him perform with Steve, and I remember so much energy, humor and variety in those shows. What an exciting time it was! There’s a link below to an obituary that reads as Jeff’s musical resumé.

But you don’t get to be called a Renaissance Man with just two areas of interest. So, I’ll add the entrepreneur aspect: the fabric line he produced with his wife Beth. Let’s go shopping.

The center would provide some texture, and the one on the left, available on Esty, might pair well.  I’d add a white and maybe try to match the pale green. Or maybe I’d be better off with the center and the colorway on the right.  Or not; I don’t need another UFO!

And now for something completely different from eBay; this one seems to combine the concept of Escher’s tessellations with the now-popular Australian Aboriginal sensibility.  It’s happy and lively—like Gutcheon’s music. It has a modern feel even though he designed this fabric around forty years ago. (And let me detour to put in a plug for Phyllis Hatcher’s lecture about Aboriginal fabrics to be presented during the upcoming Hall of Fame Celebration. There’s a link below.)

Back to Jeff and the final area of interest to make him a Renaissance Man: architecture. Theres’ a connection for sure between quilting and architecture.  The woman who taught me to quilt said that her sons spent hours finger-tracing shapes from the quilts on their beds; now one is an architect and the other is a professor of design engineering and architecture. Gutcheon had formal training in this field, earning a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966.  He then taught architectural design at MIT and worked a bit in private practice.

He designed the music studios for The Hit Factory located at 353 West 48th Street in New York City which some say John Lennon visited on the day of his murder. Lennon and Yoko Ono definitely collaborated to record “Double Fantasy” there, and were regular clients.  The space is now occupied by Sear Sound, and the last photos show the original layout and the current Studio A.

Photo: Germano Studios The Hit Factory

He also designed homes for himself and for friends on Deer Isle, Maine. Here’s an exterior shot of the one that was his until his death; a spectacular north woods getaway.  The property is now available for rental, and you can see more photos and get pricing info at the link below.

Photo: Island Rentals

With so many talents to talk about, I almost forgot to talk about his quilting.  Here’s just one example of how he put his own innovative views into cloth.

Gutcheon, Jeffrey. Cape/ Original. 1978. From Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project – MassQuilts, Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project, MassQuilts; New England Quilt Museum Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=11-37-3130. Accessed: 06/13/21

Wow! This guy was certainly creative in so many outlets.  A true Renaissance Man.

I’m going to close with an invitation to join me (and some other more important people) at The Quilters Hall of Fame Celebration next month. Details are in the link below; you’ll see that I am giving a lecture and I’m really excited about sharing new information about my favorite Chicago quilter, Mary Gasperik. Please come for the fun and fund-raising which supports all that The Quilters Hall of Fame does.

Your quilting friend,

Anna

Bio. https://quiltershalloffame.net/jeffrey-gutcheon/

Music resumé.  http://www.thecoolgroove.com/gutcheon.html.

Aboriginal fabric lecture. https://shop.quiltershalloffame.net/products/phyllis-hatcher-fabric-down-under-aboriginal-dot-art-in-quilts

Deer Isle property. https://www.islandrentalsmaine.com/vacation-rental-home.asp?PageDataID=110609

Celebration schedule. https://quiltershalloffame.net/celebration-schedule/




How We’ve Grown

I’ve just come back from a work day in the Collections “Department” at the Hall of Fame. On a break from our cataloging, we talked about how the Quilters Hall of Fame has evolved since that first induction of six Honorees at the 1979 Continental Quilting Congress.  (Shout out to our Founder, Hazel Carter!). So, this week I’m going to give you a recap of our thoughts on how we’ve grown.

For decades, Quilters Hall of Fame was a status; people were named and recognized for their contributions to the world of quilting. Then, beginning in the early 1990s, it took on a physical presence as the Marie Webster home (now a National Landmark in case you didn’t know) was restored and opened in 2004. And since then, it has been growing into a full-fledged museum with exhibits, archives and a collection of significant objects related to the Honorees.

Exhibits; we usually do four a year, and they are really professional—you could say “museum-quality”! Remember when I when I wrote about Jonathan Holstein/ Gail van der Hoof’s Whitney Museum exhibit and talked about how museum space is designed? I quoted Karin Peterson’s research:

Museums can be understood as places where quasi-sacred rituals take place. Rituals that define legitimate objects, legitimate artists and legitimate viewers…. Museum space facilitates an art-for-art’s sake experience by employing a series of architectural and display cues: isolated rooms, small labels, white walls, spotlighted pedestals, space to stand back from works and grasp their effect…. The museum, which is structured to appear neutral, objective and disinterested….

“Discourse and Display: The Modern Eye, Entrepreneurship, and the Cultural
Transformation of the Patchwork Quilt,” Sociological Perspectives. Vol 46, Number 4, 2003

Well, the Webster House obviously wasn’t built as a museum, but it functions well under Peterson’s standards. The upstairs rooms (accessible via elevator) with the doors removed create intimate spaces where you can really get to know the quilts. Take a look at this display from a 2019 exhibit. Whitney has nothing on us!

Left: Trip the Light Quilt by Heather Braunlin-Jones. Right: Tessellation Quilt by Alison Glass.

Downstairs has high ceilings which make the quilts seem grand.  Of course, seeing a contemporary quilt hung above a carved and tiled fireplace isn’t exactly neutral, but I find the unexpected juxtaposition is welcome. Here are some shots of the 2020 Edson exhibit so you can see what I mean.

Thomas Eakins Hexagon, by Jack Edson, 2020
Left: Edgar Degas, by Jack Edson, 2017. Over mantle: Self-Portrait by Jack Edson.

Doesn’t this make you want to plan a visit? If you come soon, you’ll find the exhibit of Hollis Chatelain’s quilts.  You’re going to want to see this one.  Rather than being a themed exhibit, it’s a special showing of selected quilts over her years of work, so you can get a real visual picture of how the artist’s work has developed; these quilts will not come together again. You may have seen some of her “Stories of West Africa” quilts at Houston or Paducah or one of several quilt museums around the country.  If you aren’t familiar with Chatelain, I’d say she’s a spell-caster working in thread. There’s a link to her website below, and here she is with one of her most famous quilts.

Innocence by Hollis Chatelain, 2021.

This is a great image by itself, but what you don’t see unless you are standing in front of it are the hundreds of shadow images of other children.  You’ve got to go the Hall of Fame and see it (and the other quilts) in person. Hurry; it’s only up until July 24th.But, coming up next will be an exhibit of quilts from this year’s Inductee, Marti Michell, from July 27 – October 2.  That will be followed by” Deeds Not Words: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage” which will be shown October 5-December 11.

Along with the exhibits, the Hall of Fame offers lectures and other activities. Here’s a group that appears to be learning about applique quilts.

And it’s not just us old-lady quilters who learn. This group of school kids had some specific things on their list; I wonder if it was a scavenger hunt. Here’s where the quilt historian in me comes in: what should these youngsters be told about the two quilts that are shown? What do you think they would tell us about them? And isn’t it wonderful that the Hall of Fame is reaching this generation?

Well, I had planned to tell you about other ways in which Quilters Hall of Fame has grown, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and I want to get out to my garden. So, I’ll stop here and save Collections (near and dear to my heart) and other aspects for another post.

Your quilting friend,

Anna

Hollis Chatelain website.  https://www.hollisart.com/