The Art of Joan Schulze
by Joan Schulze, edited by Robert McDonald

Custom & Limited Editions, 1999. ISBN 1881529444.
Reviewed by Melanie Alberts
Posted on 11/18/2002

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: Creative Life

The Art of Joan Schulze is, on the one hand, a comprehensive catalog of one of America's premiere textile artists and on the other, a tale of one woman's creative awakening. Ms. Schulze discovered her artistic calling later in life. Her evolution from a hobbyist who made quilts for her children to an artist with an international reputation is documented in this lavishly illustrated book.

With no formal art training, she took up embroidery and quilting after moving to California in the late 1960s. Her willingness to experiment with traditional forms is evident in an early quilt she created in 1974 to celebrate the upcoming American bicentennial. Merging patriotic symbols such as the steeple of Boston's North Church, the Washington Monument and an eagle along with lengths of striped and plaid cloth formed to evoke an Appalachian mountain range, the artist created a vibrant collage. "California"—a piece created in 1976—offers a more subtle treatment with softly rolling, earth-colored hills rising from the center of a traditional pinwheel pattern. From these early works, it is easy to see how Ms. Schulze made the leap from a quilter to a fine artist whose textile collages blur the lines between painting and craftwork.

Her later work includes a playful display of photo transfers and found objects like "CAUTION" tapes taken after an earthquake hit her hometown. During her travels, she photographed "wonderful, cruddy things", and they appear like postcards on a bulletin board in textile collages with titles like "Great Women" and "An American in Rotterdam." My favorite pieces are her silk and paper constructions such as "in principio"—a collection of near-transparent banners resembling panes of free-floating, stained glass.

Several of the artist's minimalist poems are interspersed along with sometimes scholarly, sometimes chatty essays by three friends and colleagues. It is in the generous number of full-color plates that Ms. Schulze's book shines. I was especially glad to find an enlarged, pull-out page of her smaller "Haiku" pieces. The way the page mimicked cloth as it unfurled across my lap was delightful. The effect was emphasized by a photograph on the following page of the artist at work on her sewing machine. I would have preferred to see more photographs of the artist at work but the one selected was perfectly placed.

The Art of Joan Schulze concludes with a list of her numerous group and solo exhibitions, a bibliography, and a chronology of her career. In the final acknowledgement page, Ms. Schulze writes on how the book came to be. That is interesting especially to writers who choose to self-publish.

As a poet, collage artist and novice quilt-maker, I found much to inspire me in this award-winning publication (honorable mention, Reference Books category in the 9th Annual Writer's Digest National Self-Published Book Awards). As a memoirist, I delighted in Ms. Schulze's autobiographical musings found throughout the book. For those eager to view her work and read more about this book, you may visit Joan Schulze's website.

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