— A Quilted Nude Portrait & a UU OWL Program for Women 50+

August 20, 2013 at 11:08 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 5 Comments


Measures of Time: Self-Portrait, Annabel Rainbow of Warwickshire, England

Hands down, the best work at a world quilt show show last week was a nude portrait of a 50+ aged woman from Warwickshire, England. Its emotional depth, bravura and moxy ranked right up there with painter Alice Neel’s nude self  portrait at age 80 something. Neel was a well-known master, modern American artist.

In fact, it was better. The hand quilted stitching was a tour de force and the hand embroidered text comments that run all over the figure, including in circles around her nipples, are emotionally raw.

Most of the attendees at the show were 65+ in age but Annabel Rainbow’s “Measures of TIme” was hidden behind black curtains for fear of damaging the random little kid who might be in tow at the show.

I hung around the quilt to chat with many other viewers about the piece. Most were unhappy that show organizers decided to hide it from easy viewing because somebody complained. The quilt reflected the realities of nearly every woman who looked at it, and many of the future implications of aging that younger attendees will experience. It’s life. And it was just too much for the “somebody” who projected their own discomforts into a complaint.

The sign pinned to the black curtain read: “This art quilt depicts nudity. Parents be cautioned.” Cautioned against what?

My Unitarian Universalist eyes read it this way: “All of you adults who are about to enter, here is life stitched as it is. Stop your disassociation and denial and pause to consider this aging woman’s body as an awesome WORK OF ART and a devotional reading!”

I found myself distracted by  ensuing conversations and didn’t think to ask why representatives of the show decided to respond so dramatically to a complaint that obviously didn’t reflect how nearly all show participants felt about the piece. When somebody complains about an image or behavior in a sacred space, it seems to me that individuals responsible for the space may have a knee-jerk response as a way of preventing any conflict. (I am including in this observation complaints and negative observations from congregants to ministers about other individuals.) Where’s the responsible search for truth and meaning? Where’s the “Why?” response? Where’s the effort to ask the artist how she feels about how the show’s handling her work? Where’s the effort to ask other participants how they feel?

The Mancuso (Brothers) Show Management Company, a well-know organizer of the best, most prestigious quilt and antique shows in the country, derives its revenues from a huge population of 50+ year old women. The quilting industry in the US is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Quilt shows are said to generate more revenue than trade shows for the hobbiest fishing industry!

I have wondered how our UU OWL (Our Whole Lives Lifespan Sexuality Education) kids will fill about their bodies as they age. I know that there are many UU women older than 50 who are comfortable in their skin. But I also know that there aren’t.  I also know that there are women 50+ in our pews who aren’t comfortable with their sexuality. One religious professional of the baby boomer generation described herself to me as a “prude.”

I think Annabel Rainbow’s self portrait is a great conversation piece for our congregations. The majority of people sitting in our pews are likely to see aspects of themselves in her quilt. I also think think that OWL education would be great at later stages in life. What do you think?

You can see more of Annabel Rainbow’s work on her website.  Here’s another example of her work, it’s called “Be The Change You Want:”

BeTheChange You Want

If you’d like to see details of the quilt and other works from the New England World Quilt Show, I posted them  on flickr.  The quilts from Japan, the UK and Australia were by far the most interesting.

5 Comments »

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  1. Crazy! I have left a comment about this on Laura’s blog. What are we to be shocked by? The nudity itself or the sight of a normal woman naked? I find your work wonderful and inspiring, not just as a quilter, but as a woman.x

  2. To see more comments about reactions to the censoring of Annabel’s quilt, see comments on her blog, http://grumpyandmad.blogspot.com/2013/08/censored-in-world-quilt-by-mancuso.html?spref=tw&m=1

  3. Goodness me, these are beautiful and telling pieces – I saw them at the FoQ and actually there were plenty of children at that festival. Why hide them away? A bit of re-education is needed, methinks!

  4. I have seen Annabel’s work in Leamington Spa and at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK and have been amazed by her skill and all the emotions expressed in the quilts and the impact on the viewers/readers of her work. This reaction says more about the US than about the work. The organisers should have thought for longer before taking this decision. The idea that children are shocked by nudity is absurd – it is the attitude of the adults in their lives that cause any such feeling. Shame on those who could put this magnificent work behind a black curtain.

  5. Well, I can tell you how the artist feels; she’s pretty fed up that no one told her or had the decency to ask my opinion. Definitely the last time I’m involved with this show. However, I must thank you for your post which says a lot of the things I would have done. Thank you for your support, Annabel Rainbow x


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