Lineages can be protected and remembered through a variety of palpable objects, instead of just ephemeral memories, creating a generational bond that transcends time.
For fibers artist Anya Mitchell, a 2011 SCAD graduate, her latest installment, “Lineage,” carries the generational weight of family members before her. Drawing influence from highly valuable Amish quilt pieces from her grandmother, Mitchell has created a new exhibit of her own narratives that are intertwined with and honor her own lineage.
“Lineage” will be on display through April 16 at Starland Café, located at 11 E. 41st Street, and may be seen during their normal business hours or by appointment.
The exhibition is curated and installed by Sulfur Art Services, a project of Sulfur Studios, which presents local art in local businesses. Work from this exhibition may be viewed or purchased 24/7 on their website.
There will be a closing reception at 6 p.m. on April 5 for “Lineage.” Starland Cafe is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. every day but Sunday.
Mitchell talked with Do Savannah about the exhibit and her process.
Do: Tell me, first, a little bit about the creative process with this exhibit?
Mitchell: “I was gifted pieces of my grandma's quilts from her studio a few years ago from my aunt. I was terrified to go on ahead and use the pieces due to their high sentimental value. My grandma was an Amish quilter who passed away unexpectedly when I was in third grade. Anything of hers was of high value amongst my siblings and cousins. I didn't trust my level of artistry to actually sew with them. To resolve this issue of being terrified to use them in something permanent that was not worthy of their value, I started a process of collaging with them.
“I placed the pieces on graph paper and then moved them around until I found a place I liked and taped them down with archival tape. I would then draw my own lines around them until the composition felt balanced, but at the same time pushed what I thought I knew would work. I would play and explore with lines and colors, mainly inspired by the color work found in Amish quilts. What always has interested me about Amish quilts was the way the color palette worked due to the composition of the pattern. Something I'm always looking at and thinking about. How do they work, what makes them so beautiful? I never would put such colors together, but then I see it work in a quilt and it makes me question how I make my own design choices.”
Do: As I understand it, you’re lineage is Amish? Tell me how that has influenced your art? I assume the title of the show is related to this question as well? Sort of a celebration of your lineage?
Mitchell: “My lineage is Mennonite. Which is closely related to Amish. The Amish actually broke off from the Mennonite because the Mennonite were too progressive and accepting of the rapid material advances being made. The values of the two cultures are very similar and still closely linked due to tight family ties. Both my parents were raised Mennonite (on my dad's side my grandparents were the first to become Mennonite and on my mom's side they have been Mennonite since my relatives were executed from Switzerland in 1818).
"The heritage of my dad's side of the family I know very little of beyond that they lived in the south side of Chicago. My assumption is that, due to living in a large--and quite political--city they were more pressured to assimilate to American culture in order to thrive. While my mother's side of the family was from rural Ohio from strong community that shared Swiss roots, their heritage and culture was protected and became a strong sense of identity. It was also a community that was executed for their homeland because of their religious beliefs and probably were less willing to let them go. All this to say, that in my immediate family the Amish/Mennonite culture was the only one we had to hold onto as a form of our cultural identity. Beyond culturally influencing me through the Mennonite values, which in turns informs my art, it has also greatly influenced me visually. My grandma's quilts were prized possessions, and their value only increased after she passed away. They decorated my childhood home and the homes of my aunts. They were symbols of comfort and warmth bringing to mind my grandma's famous bear hugs--so tight you couldn't breath. They were symbols of love.
“As I work with the pieces I often think about my heritage, my lineage. I think about where I come from, where am I now and where/who do I want to be. I think about what I have been given. How do I find my own voice with what I have been given? What do I carry forward? What do I build from? What do I leave behind? I think of my great-great-great grandfather being persecuted and forced to leave Switzerland. I think about my own parents, who left the Mennonite church and became Baha'i's. I think about what is of actual value in this life, what is worth holding onto and passing on and what is important to let go of and end. I think about how we each have a story of where we come from, how we are each of value and hold a perspective that we all can learn from.”
Do: What really sets Amish quilt making apart from other fiber based arts and crafts? And how does your interpretation of that original quilt art differ?
Mitchell: “The Amish didn't pick up quilting until they came to the United States and picked up the common practice of re-using clothing to make their quilts. In this way, I see the quilts as ethnographic pieces that represent the culture.
“Dark colors such as black and navy are dominate colors with bright pops of royal colors and pastels. Gelassenheit-- which is the Amish practice of detachment, humility, thrift, serving others, respecting others, obedience to the community and obedience to God--is expressed in the quilts. They use the simplification of shapes and motifs because they are forbidden to create anything representational.
“I also use my work as a way to express my values and beliefs as a Baha'i. I believe mankind is one, that we are equal and that no one is superior over another. Which I try to express through concepts of inter-connectiveness [sic] in my work. In the quilted pieces of the show, I started playing with incorporating fabrics I collected in all the places I have lived. There is fabric from Chicago, Savannah, Dhaka and Haifa. My beliefs, or the expression of my beliefs differ, and my fabrics are different because I come from many places. You can see the influences, but I am not trying to become a traditional Amish quilter (that is way beyond anything I am capable of!) and that shows in the work. The influence is there, but so is the departure.
Do: How do the narratives form as you’re working the patterns and lines of a piece?
Mitchell: “With this work, the narrative forms afterwards. I start with the process of making and playing--just having fun with it with no pressure. Afterwards, I start to reflect on the work and gain insight on what I am trying to say. Like as I finished the first quilt I realized the two quilts should be named after my grandmothers who both partook of the strong Mennonite quilting culture and from there I decided to name all the framed collages after my aunts and one of my uncle, he was a fiber artist. These things come to me after the fact or in the middle of the process.
Do: It seems this art too is an intersection of color and shape, as much as patterns and lines. What for you emerges as the focal point when you’re putting a piece together?
Mitchell: “The balance of the composition, but definitely it's all about highlighting the beauty I find in the quilt squares. It is all about exploring their potential, which I have now discovered is endless. Sometimes I see the small stitches on the back and I think of my grandma and I want to honor her handwork, her creativity.”