Grids

Archivist and media tech Robin Schwalb finds, as a quiltmaker, the rigorous limitations of grids liberating.

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Was I a quiltmaker and then I loved the grids? Or did I love the grids and become a quiltmaker? And I think the answer is yes.

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  • Robin Schwalb
    1280853
  • Chinese Characters  |  2006  |  Robin Schwalb  |  Quilt  |  Collection of John M. Walsh III
    1280952
  • "Mondrian" day dress  |  autumn 1965  |  Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria)  |  Wool jersey in color blocks of white, red, blue, black, and yellow  |  Gift of Mrs. William Rand, 1969 (C.I.69.23)
    6521024
  • Watertowers  |  1967–80; printed 1980  |  Hilla Becher (German) and Bernd Becher (German)  |  Gelatin silver prints  |  Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1980 (1980.1074.1-.16)  |  Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery
    8231024
  • So-called Antioch Mosaic  |  second half of 2nd century; Late Antonine  |  Roman  |  Mosaic  |  Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1938 (38.11.12)
    9291024
  • Pinwheel quilt  |  1930  |  Unidentified maker (J.L.), Amish  |  Indiana  |  Wool and cotton  |  Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1988 (1988.128)
    8771024
  • Pinwheel quilt  |  1930  |  Unidentified maker (J.L.), Amish  |  Indiana  |  Wool and cotton  |  Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1988 (1988.128)
    1280858
  • Dado panel  |  first half of 15th century; Mamluk  |  Egypt  |  Polychrome marble mosaic  |  Gift of the Hagop Kevorkian Fund, 1970 (1970.327.8)
    4671024
  • The Unicorn in Captivity  |  ca. 1495–1505  |  South Netherlandish  |  Wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts  |  Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6)
    7181024
  • Noh costume (atsuita) with clouds and hexagons  |  Edo period, 19th century  |  Japan  |  Silk twill damask with silk brocading wefts and supplementary weft patterning in metallic thread  |  Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.88.3)
    10141024
  • Noh costume (atsuita) with clouds and hexagons  |  Edo period, 19th century  |  Japan  |  Silk twill damask with silk brocading wefts and supplementary weft patterning in metallic thread  |  Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.88.3)
    701592
  • Noh costume (atsuita) with clouds and hexagons  |  Edo period, 19th century  |  Japan  |  Silk twill damask with silk brocading wefts and supplementary weft patterning in metallic thread  |  Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.88.3)
    744624
  • Josef Albers  |  1966  |  Yousuf Karsh (Canadian, born Armenia)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Gift of Harry Kahn, 1986 (1986.1098.38)  |  © Yousuf Karsh
    8111024
  • May Picture  |  1925  |  Paul Klee (German)  |  Oil on cardboard  |  The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984 (1984.315.42)
    11941024
  • Plank Mask (Nwantantay)  |  19th–20th century  |  Bwa peoples  |  Wood, pigment, fiber  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.306)
    2881024
  • Plank Mask (Nwantantay)  |  19th–20th century  |  Bwa peoples  |  Wood, pigment, fiber  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.306)
    3811024
  • Quilt, Diamond in the Square pattern  |  ca. 1920  |  Amish maker  |  Northeast, Pennsylvania  |  Wool and cotton  |  Purchase, Sansbury-Mills Fund, 1973 (1973.157)
    10341024
  • Between Earth and Heaven  |  2006  |  El Anatsui (Ghanaian)  |  Aluminum, copper wire  |  Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    14051024
  • Navigational Chart (Rebbilib)  |  19th–early 20th century  |  Marshallese people, Marshall Islands  |  Coconut midrib, fiber  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
    11161024
  • Feathered Tunic  |  12th–15th century  |  Peru, Chimú  |  Cotton, feathers  |  Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.163)
    10241024
  • Sunshine and shadow quilt  |  ca. 1930  |  Amish, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania  |  Wool and cotton  |  Purchase, Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation Gift, 1973 (1973.94)
    9631024
  • "Spiderweb"  |  ca. 1870  |  American  |  Cotton  |  Gift of Robert E. Cole, in memory of Helen R. Cole, 1998 (1998.87.3)
    9161024
  • "Spiderweb"  |  ca. 1870  |  American  |  Cotton  |  Gift of Robert E. Cole, in memory of Helen R. Cole, 1998 (1998.87.3)
    1278641
  • Quilt, Fan pattern  |  ca. 1900  |  American  |  Cotton  |  Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    10281024
  • Robin Schwalb
    1280853
  • My name is Robin Schwalb, and I work with the film and media archive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and install media equipment in exhibitions.

  • I am also a quiltmaker, and today I'm going to talk about grids. I think grids excite me because

  • they're a very visual manifestation of making order out of chaos and

  • organizing natural forces. I think that a lot of patchwork is about that.

  • I mean as an artist, you have to set some parameters. And, for me, a grid is a good place to start.

  • One of the things, I think, that appeals about quilts is that they are very two-dimensional in appearance. You know, the motif is right up there at the picture plane, and then

  • because they are layered and stitched, you have this additional layer of design that's going on, and meaning.

  • Even though grids can be very rigorous, and mathematical, and exacting

  • can be prison bars, chain-link fences, they also can be so

  • lively. I don't, I don't see anything ominous about them at all. They're a means to an end and then

  • through color and arrangement, you can work against the tension of that

  • extreme rigor with something quite lively and personal.

  • One doesn't think about the dead white males as having a sense of humor, but clearly the painter Joseph Albers, who is seated posed in front of one of his many, many paintings, Homage to the Square, is allowing himself to have some gentle fun poked at him. He does look for all the world like Whistler's mother.

  • This one just got me in the guts right away. As soon as it went on display, I just froze in my tracks and I thought, "I have to translate that into a quilt." I think, "Okay, I'll use hand-dyed fabric to get the kind of mottled appearance of the colors. Maybe I'll do freeform piecing. Is it cheating if I use fusible web?" I mean, I really go through this whole quiltmaker's approach to it, about how exactly would I try to translate it.

  • There's an African mask from the Bwa people. It has such a rhythm to it. And the grid is fairly regular, but it seems to me that the sculptor has tried follow the

  • curve of the tree branch from which the piece was carved. And so there's this slight wiggle to it, that it looks like it's dancing even when it's standing still.

  • Grids are mathematical; grids are regular; grids are stable. But when you start to

  • deviate from that, when you start to make some irregularities, there's tremendous energy released by them.

  • I look at the Navigational Chart from the Marshall Islands. And it has such a lovely rhythm and flow to it that it's easy to imagine the ripples of the ocean.

  • I'm not sure if I'm able to sort out, you know, which came first.

  • Was I a quiltmaker and then I loved the grids? Or did I love the grids and become a quiltmaker? And I think the answer is yes.

  • After making quilts, you start looking at them and thinking

  • it's so interesting how everyone works within these so-called limitations

  • and makes such extraordinary work that's so different, each from the next. And that's really very

  • moving and exciting to me.

  • C.I.69.23
    "Mondrian" day dress, autumn 1965, Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria), Wool jersey in color blocks of white, red, blue, black, and yellow Gift of Mrs. William Rand, 1969 (C.I.69.23)
  • 1980.1074.1-.16
    Watertowers, 1967–80; printed 1980, Hilla Becher (German) and Bernd Becher (German), Gelatin silver prints Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1980 (1980.1074.1-.16) Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery
  • 38.11.12
    So-called Antioch Mosaic, second half of 2nd century; Late Antonine, Roman, Mosaic Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1938 (38.11.12)
  • 1988.128
    Pinwheel quilt, 1930, Unidentified maker (J.L.), Amish, Indiana, Wool and cotton Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1988 (1988.128)
  • 1970.327.8
    Dado panel, first half of 15th century; Mamluk, Egypt, Polychrome marble mosaic Gift of the Hagop Kevorkian Fund, 1970 (1970.327.8)
  • 37.80.6
    The Unicorn in Captivity, ca. 1495–1505, South Netherlandish, Wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6)
  • 19.88.3
    Noh costume (atsuita) with clouds and hexagons, Edo period, 19th century, Japan, Silk twill damask with silk brocading wefts and supplementary weft patterning in metallic thread Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.88.3)
  • 1986.1098.38
    Josef Albers, 1966, Yousuf Karsh (Canadian, born Armenia), Gelatin silver print Gift of Harry Kahn, 1986 (1986.1098.38) © Yousuf Karsh
  • 1984.315.42
    May Picture, 1925, Paul Klee (German), Oil on cardboard The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984 (1984.315.42)
  • 1978.412.306
    Plank Mask (Nwantantay), 19th–20th century, Bwa peoples, Wood, pigment, fiber The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.306)
  • 1973.157
    Quilt, Diamond in the Square pattern, ca. 1920, Amish maker, Northeast, Pennsylvania, Wool and cotton Purchase, Sansbury-Mills Fund, 1973 (1973.157)
  • 2007.96
    Between Earth and Heaven, 2006, El Anatsui (Ghanaian), Aluminum, copper wire Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
  • 1978.412.826
    Navigational Chart (Rebbilib), 19th–early 20th century, Marshallese people, Marshall Islands, Coconut midrib, fiber The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
  • 63.163
    Feathered Tunic, 12th–15th century, Peru, Chimú, Cotton, feathers Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.163)
  • 1973.94
    Sunshine and shadow quilt, ca. 1930, Amish, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Wool and cotton Purchase, Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation Gift, 1973 (1973.94)
  • 1998.87.3
    "Spiderweb", ca. 1870, American, Cotton Gift of Robert E. Cole, in memory of Helen R. Cole, 1998 (1998.87.3)
  • 1988.24.1
    Quilt, Fan pattern, ca. 1900, American, Cotton Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
  • "Mondrian" day dress, autumn 1965, Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria), Wool jersey in color blocks of white, red, blue, black, and yellow Gift of Mrs. William Rand, 1969 (C.I.69.23)
    Watertowers, 1967–80; printed 1980, Hilla Becher (German) and Bernd Becher (German), Gelatin silver prints Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1980 (1980.1074.1-.16) Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery
    So-called Antioch Mosaic, second half of 2nd century; Late Antonine, Roman, Mosaic Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1938 (38.11.12)
    Pinwheel quilt, 1930, Unidentified maker (J.L.), Amish, Indiana, Wool and cotton Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1988 (1988.128)
    Dado panel, first half of 15th century; Mamluk, Egypt, Polychrome marble mosaic Gift of the Hagop Kevorkian Fund, 1970 (1970.327.8)
    The Unicorn in Captivity, ca. 1495–1505, South Netherlandish, Wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6)
    Noh costume (atsuita) with clouds and hexagons, Edo period, 19th century, Japan, Silk twill damask with silk brocading wefts and supplementary weft patterning in metallic thread Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.88.3)
    Josef Albers, 1966, Yousuf Karsh (Canadian, born Armenia), Gelatin silver print Gift of Harry Kahn, 1986 (1986.1098.38) © Yousuf Karsh
    May Picture, 1925, Paul Klee (German), Oil on cardboard The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984 (1984.315.42)
    Plank Mask (Nwantantay), 19th–20th century, Bwa peoples, Wood, pigment, fiber The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.306)
    Quilt, Diamond in the Square pattern, ca. 1920, Amish maker, Northeast, Pennsylvania, Wool and cotton Purchase, Sansbury-Mills Fund, 1973 (1973.157)
    Between Earth and Heaven, 2006, El Anatsui (Ghanaian), Aluminum, copper wire Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    Navigational Chart (Rebbilib), 19th–early 20th century, Marshallese people, Marshall Islands, Coconut midrib, fiber The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
    Feathered Tunic, 12th–15th century, Peru, Chimú, Cotton, feathers Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.163)
    Sunshine and shadow quilt, ca. 1930, Amish, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Wool and cotton Purchase, Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation Gift, 1973 (1973.94)
    "Spiderweb", ca. 1870, American, Cotton Gift of Robert E. Cole, in memory of Helen R. Cole, 1998 (1998.87.3)
    Quilt, Fan pattern, ca. 1900, American, Cotton Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    "Mondrian" day dress
    autumn 1965
    Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria)
    Wool jersey in color blocks of white, red, blue, black, and yellow
    Gift of Mrs. William Rand, 1969 (C.I.69.23)
    Not on view
    The Costume InstituteFirst Floor
    Watertowers
    1967–80; printed 1980
    Hilla Becher (German) and Bernd Becher (German)
    Gelatin silver prints
    Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1980 (1980.1074.1-.16)
    Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    So-called Antioch Mosaic
    second half of 2nd century; Late Antonine
    Roman
    Mosaic
    Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1938 (38.11.12)
    On view: Gallery 168
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Pinwheel quilt
    1930
    Unidentified maker (J.L.), Amish
    Indiana
    Wool and cotton
    Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1988 (1988.128)
    Not on view
    American Decorative ArtsFirst and Second Floors
    Dado panel
    first half of 15th century; Mamluk
    Egypt
    Polychrome marble mosaic
    Gift of the Hagop Kevorkian Fund, 1970 (1970.327.8)
    On view: Gallery 454
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    The Unicorn in Captivity
    ca. 1495–1505
    South Netherlandish
    Wool warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts
    Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 001

    Medieval Art and The Cloisters
    The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park
    Noh costume (atsuita) with clouds and hexagons
    Edo period, 19th century
    Japan
    Silk twill damask with silk brocading wefts and supplementary weft patterning in metallic thread
    Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.88.3)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Josef Albers
    1966
    Yousuf Karsh (Canadian, born Armenia)
    Gelatin silver print
    Gift of Harry Kahn, 1986 (1986.1098.38)
    © Yousuf Karsh
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    May Picture
    1925
    Paul Klee (German)
    Oil on cardboard
    The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984 (1984.315.42)
    On view: Gallery 903
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Plank Mask (Nwantantay)
    19th–20th century
    Bwa peoples
    Wood, pigment, fiber
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.306)
    On view: Gallery 350
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Quilt, Diamond in the Square pattern
    ca. 1920
    Amish maker
    Northeast, Pennsylvania
    Wool and cotton
    Purchase, Sansbury-Mills Fund, 1973 (1973.157)
    Not on view
    American Decorative ArtsFirst and Second Floors
    Between Earth and Heaven
    2006
    El Anatsui (Ghanaian)
    Aluminum, copper wire
    Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    On view: Gallery 350
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Navigational Chart (Rebbilib)
    19th–early 20th century
    Marshallese people, Marshall Islands
    Coconut midrib, fiber
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963 (1978.412.826)
    Not on view
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Feathered Tunic
    12th–15th century
    Peru, Chimú
    Cotton, feathers
    Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.163)
    Not on view
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Sunshine and shadow quilt
    ca. 1930
    Amish, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
    Wool and cotton
    Purchase, Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation Gift, 1973 (1973.94)
    Not on view
    American Decorative ArtsFirst and Second Floors
    "Spiderweb"
    ca. 1870
    American
    Cotton
    Gift of Robert E. Cole, in memory of Helen R. Cole, 1998 (1998.87.3)
    Not on view
    American Decorative ArtsFirst and Second Floors
    Quilt, Fan pattern
    ca. 1900
    American
    Cotton
    Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    Not on view
    American Decorative ArtsFirst and Second Floors

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