Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern

Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern
April 21 – September 13, 2009
American Folk Art Museum

Paula Nadelstern


Scintillating wheels, shifting ellipses, and colored fragments all sparkle in the dazzling quilts of Paula Nadelstern. Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern is the American Folk Art Museum’s first one-person exhibition highlighting the work of a contemporary quilt artist. On view from April 21 – September 13, 2009, the exhibition presents Nadelstern’s innovative and complex designs inspired by the bilateral symmetry of kaleidoscopic images.

Senior curator Stacy C. Hollander has selected 19 quilts and 12 kaleidoscopic quilt blocks that reflect the constantly shifting color, light and pattern in Paula Nadelstern’s textiles. The invention of the kaleidoscope by Sir David Brewster in 1816 had a profound impact on 19th century quiltmaking. ~To illustrate this historical context, the 1835-1845 Sunburst Quilt by Rebecca Scattergood Savery in the museum’s collection is included in the exhibition. The approximately 2,900 diamond shapes that form an ever-increasing star radiating from its center is a direct response to the revolutionary visual effects introduced by the kaleidoscope.
Rare examples of kaleidoscopes by Brewster and the 19th century American Charles G. Bush will also be on view. ~Paula Nadelstern continues to be fascinated by contemporary kaleidoscopic innovations. ~Several examples by renowned contemporary scope makers will be installed in the exhibition for visitors to look through.

Paula Nadelstern (b. 1951) is a native New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx, where she still resides. Her two-bedroom apartment has served as her studio for more than twenty-five years. For much of that time her workspace was constricted to a 42″ round kitchen table where she plied graph paper, transparent gridded templates, C-Thru rulers, compass, and sewing implements. Nadelstern’s first quilt was stitched in 1968 for her bed in her college dorm room. It was not until 1987 that her interest in all things kaleidoscopic was sparked. ~Inspired by a bolt of Liberty of London fabric, the bilateral symmetry of the design stirred Nadelstern’s imagination. Focusing on the kaleidoscopic quality in the symmetry, she developed new techniques and an intricate and distinctive personal aesthetic that has yielded a seemingly infinite vein of creative expression.

Nadelstern’s method is based on a pie-slice sector, a 360-degree circle divided into triangular wedges (pie slices). The number of wedges is determined by the angle of each wedge that forms the circle.~Nadelstern uses only straight-line piecing; there are no curved seams. The magical appearance of the kaleidoscopic circles is an illusion created strictly through the placement of color and light captured in highly patterned fabrics. Nadelstern joins the minute pieces of fabric like slivers of colored glass. Within each of the pie slices any number of subdivisions might occur, but following the optical rules of the kaleidoscope, whatever happens on one side is mirrored on the other. This effect is then multiplied by the number of pie slices to create the full kaleidoscopic circle. She hides the fact that there is any piecing whereas in traditional quiltmaking it is the piecing that creates the pattern. “Manipulations of color and pattern result in shifting movements across the surfaces of the textiles. In Nadelstern’s quilts, this approach gives the illusion of a fluid painting. Each composition offers a fresh revelation of the complexities inherent in Nadelstern’s labor-intensive approach,” notes Ms. Hollander.

In Nadelstern’s early quilts, the kaleidoscope always appears in the foreground against a neutral, often black or dark, background. In 1994, in the quilt KALEIDOSCOPIC XII: Up Close and Far Away, she recognized the potential of the background as an active player that could introduce a new level of drama and movement. KALEIDOSCOPIC XVI: More is More, 1996, in the American Folk Art Museum’s collection, was voted among the “100 Best American Quilts of the 20th Century” by a national panel of quilt experts in 1999. ~As is evident in this elegant quilt, Nadelstern revels in sumptuous fabrics. She incorporated bits of silk to simulate dichroic glass that changes color depending upon the angle of light hitting it. KALEIDOSCOPE XXIV: Ebb & Flow, 2001, suggests watercolor rather than fabric in the uninterrupted flow of color and pattern. The spiky stars are irregular slivers of dark fabric set into the wedges of the mandalas. ~KALEIDOSCOPIC XXXII: My Brooklyn Bridge, 2006, represents a departure because of its concrete imagery~evoking the classic photograph of the bridge’s distinctive arches. The kaleidoscopic aspect is restricted to the sky where it is centered in the upper left quadrant, offsetting the perfect symmetry of the bridge. Nadelstern selected black and white fabrics for the sky making it look as though the bridge is caught in a snowstorm. KALEIDOSCOPIC XXXIII: Shards, 2007, required 18 months to complete. ~In this quilt, Nadelstern investigates the concept of the colored glass fragments in a kaleidoscope. ~The kaleidoscopes are “broken” into luminous pieces and reassembled into shattered mandalas with irregularly stitched silver-gray fabric.

Nadelstern has also explored related crystal-based imagery. KALEIDOSCOPIC XXII: Ice Crystals, 2000, is one of a series of quilts composed of many hues of blue and white, reminding one of the cold colors of northern winters. Based on photomicrographs by William A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer who was the first person to successfully photograph an ice crystal, Nadelstern’s process is technically similar to the way she structures her kaleidoscope quilts. The imagery, however, is inspired by the ice crystals pictured in Bentley’s photomicrographs, six of which are included in the exhibition.
“Nadelstern’s artistic vision encompasses science, history, and tradition, expressed in crystalline patterns composed of slivers of jewel-like fabrics…The hard-edged, fractal structure of snowflake and kaleidoscopic images might seem inimical to the seductive softness of a quilt, but in Paula Nadelstern’s singular quilt idiom, this provocative tension erases the historical divide between art and quilt,” comments Stacy Hollander.

Educational programming includes a series of curator-led tours of the exhibition on May 12, June 9, July 14, and August 4 at 1 pm. ~An Artist Talk will be held on May 27 at 2 pm.

Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern is made possible in part by support from the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural

American Folk Art Museum