Wednesday, July 17, 2013

{Kids Get Arty} Discovering Molly Upton, A Painter Who Worked in Cloth

I truly love participating in Kids Get Arty, a bi-monthly project created by Red Ted Art to encourage the exploration of great artists with children. Since my boys are 3.5 and not-quite-2, selecting an artist and art project they can understand and emulate, even a bit, is sometimes a challenge. However, I enjoy the challenge and enjoy that, often, the projects are family art projects that all of us create together. 

This month when I was contemplating our artist for Kids Get Arty, my mother was visiting. My mom is a quilter, and I was thinking about quilting as an art. So, I did some handy internet research and discovered Molly Upton. Scott Ruescher, in an Arts Editor article writes of an Upton show at Wellesley and how it gave him the "..the opportunity to see how the quilts make art of craft, supporting the claim that Upton was a painter who worked in cloth." 

As I looked at the quilts, I couldn't help but agree. I also thought of the quilts that fill my own life. You see, I am honored to have a mother who is a talented seamstress and quilter. I wish I had stunning photos of each of her quilts to share (and of the quilts that have been in our family for who knows how long), particularly of the quilt that she made me for my 18th birthday. She saved scraps from EVERY dress and/or garment she had ever made me and included them all in a beautiful quilt. She selected the quilt pattern with her grandmother (my great-grandmother). The name of the pattern, I believe, was Road to Indiana, the state of my birth. My sons also have quilts made lovingly by her, which we treasure and enjoy. 

The Upton quilt that struck me the most was Forest Fire. I loved the artistry and story the quilt told. I truly saw in it what Ruescher saw, which is that Upton painted with cloth. 
Image from Arts Editor

This quilt inspired our Upton art project. My mother brought with her when she visited a container full of fabric scraps. With two young boys to involve, I thought actually quilting or sewing the fabric would be a bit too challenging, so we decided to create a quilt-inspired image on cardboard by glueing fabric onto the cardboard. At first, I put out a rather large box, thinking that might be easier. However, I discovered that it made it hard for Wild Thing to grasp the importance of putting the cloth pieces near one another to evoke any type of image, story or art piece. It became very much a process experience, which both boys enjoyed, rather than a product experience. 

He did add more pieces over time, but the spacing remained much like this.

The boys were focused and enjoyed it and asked to do it again. This time, I set the activity up with a smaller piece of cardboard, and we looked at the Upton quilt talking about how she put different shades together representing the sky, the fire and the grass. 

My husband took this photo of us with his phone. In this particular image, Wild Thing is enjoying telling Mommy what to do! 
Providing the smaller "canvas" or "quilt frame" (so to speak) for them and talking about matching colors made a big difference. Wild Thing also became obsessed this time with covering the entire piece of cardboard, so that nothing showed through. I'm quite fond of our end result. I think rather than Forest Fire, I think we created Flowers in Spring.

I send gratitude to Red Ted Art. Kids Get Arty this month led me to enhance my understanding of and appreciation for quilts and to discover a very talented artist whose quilts and tapestries truly demonstrate the creativity, skill and imagery that can be created from mere fabric scraps.

 You might also like: 

Kids Get Arty: Romero Britto
Kids Get Arty: Inocente


  1. What a wonderful project! I love the artist you chose and how you made it so accessible for your kids!

    Thank you for being inspirational and joining in with Kids Get Arty!


  2. I love the look of this project-- so bright and colourful! Hopefully I'll get to do something similar with the kids in my library's Summer Reading Program. Just wondering, did you use straight clue, or did you mix it with water?