The Quilt Show
Oct 25–Dec 20
Opening reception Oct 25 from 5–7:30
3913 Main St.
Ebony Porter wants you to sleep with her art. No, not have sex with it—she isn’t that kind of artist—but literally sleep with it, on it, under it, wrapped up in it. In fact, if you buy one of the five hand-sewn quilts on display at Porter’s new show, which opens at Arturo Palacios’s Art Palace Gallery in Midtown on Saturday night, you can do pretty much whatever you damn well please with it.
“I want your baby to crawl on it, and I want your family to sit on it,” Porter told me. “My quilts are like Persian carpets in that they’re handmade, they’re built to last, and they get better with age, and with use.” (The quilts are priced between $750 and $1,900.)
Porter, who was born in Australia and moved to Houston with her family when she was 11, comes from a family of crafters. Her great-grandmother made lace, her grandmother was always knitting something, and her mother was a quilter; Porter’s first job out of high school was as a seamstress making custom drapes and bedding for interior designers. After moving to Austin and earning a B.A. from Texas State in San Marcos, she returned to Houston and launched an art career that until recently has focused on minimalist paintings, collages, and video.
Then, a few years ago, she saw a flyer at her daughter’s preschool asking for volunteers who knew how to sew. Porter ended up working on quilts for the school, which reignited her old passion for craft. She took a workshop from a master quilter in Austin and then set off on her own. For the past 16 months she’s been hand-stitching large quilts featuring bold geometric shapes and patterns that she hopes will become heirlooms for their ultimate owners.
Unlike commercial quiltmakers, Porter sews the entire quilt herself, including most of the backing, using sashiko thread from Japan. After finishing each quilt, she washes it, line-dries it, then hangs it on her bedroom wall so she can look at it while lying in bed. Although she’s not averse to using the quilts for their intended purpose—her website features a photograph of Porter on the beach, wrapped in a red-white-and-blue quilt—she also considers them art worthy of hanging on the wall.
“There’s this debate in the art world—is quilting craft or is it art? And I’m really excited to step into that space and bring my quilts into a contemporary art gallery. When the quilts are on the wall, they definitely function as a painting or a drawing would, but when you take them off they take on a life of their own and become something else. One of the first things I told Arturo [Palacios] is that we’ve got to hang them so you can take them down and show people how heavy they feel, and how comforting and wonderful they are.”
So does that mean visitors to the opening can—gasp!—actually touch the art? “That’s a hard one. I think I’d probably discourage it, at least for the opening. If there’s 300 people there and they’re drinking red wine, and you’ve got all these hands touching it…” Porter suggests that if visitors want to feel the quilts, they should return to the gallery at a later date when it’s less crowded. This only seems appropriate. After all, the laborious craft of quilting is all about delayed gratification.
“I love slow things,” Porter said. “My paintings are also very slow to create. I’m a gardener. I like the process of patience.”