Pam Geisel’s Art Quilts warm up Yellow Springs Brewery

By Karen Ander Francis

Photo: Pam Geisel’s Art Quilts, at the Yellow Springs Brewery through Feb. 5

To step inside the home of quilter Pam Geisel is to step into a world of pattern, color, and texture. She is an artist who approaches her work with the trained eye and computer savvy of a graphic designer and the childlike sense of whimsy to paint with fabric. But her art is more than the sum of these parts. The result is an award-winning collection of quilted pieces that tap into tradition and dance into modernity.

Art Quilts, featuring several of her creations, is currently on display at Yellow Springs Brewery through Feb. 5. One, called “Fly Me to the Moon,” is on a U.S. coast-to-coast tour through 2019.

Visual interest in texture, shape, color, and symmetry abound throughout the mostly open living spaces of Geisel’s home. From the kitchen table, my eye is drawn through the living room to a tableau on an old chest in yet another room. Her home appears carefully, invitingly arranged without the artifice of looking staged, and therefore, untouchable. “Everything around me that I have control of, I’m going to arrange… it’s extremely intentional,” she states. “A friend says that my house is very well curated,” Geisel adds with a hearty laugh. “Everything is situated on a shelf for optimum purpose—it’s engrained.”

Laughter punctuates the interview, especially as she explains that her career path to graphic design began as a desire to avoid taking sewing in junior high school, choosing instead a shop class in drafting. There, her penchant for visual order found a place to thrive. For years, Geisel, the graphic artist, visualized blank space, in which she pieced together imaginary blocks filled with images and information that became artistic postcards and posters and brochures. Today, Geisel, the quilter, uses the same process to design fabric mosaics and “quilted paintings.” Just as in the graphics studio, computer software enables her to experiment with placement, arrangement, and color combinations, enabling her to imagine the finished product. “The computer allows me to play with those ideas in a way that is less time-consuming and frustrating than experimenting by hand. When you are sewing, and you don’t like it, you just can’t undo it,” she says. “I try to avoid using the seam ripper if at all possible.”

What drew Geisel to quilt making as a distinct art form? The answer to that is tip-of-the-tongue easy for her: “The vibrancy of color and the feel of fabrics.” There is something about how a piece of fabric feels that informs how and where she will use it. The sense of touch imbues Geisel with a feeling of intimacy she found lacking in clay (“It’s too messy—I didn’t like getting my hands dirty”) and paint (“I love the vibrancy of color, but I didn’t like waiting for it to dry before I could touch it”). She slides open a closet door to reveal colorful stacks of fabrics. “I just want to get in there and touch it all,” she says, explaining that quilters call their store of fabrics “stash,” and refer to selecting fabrics as “petting my stash.”

Except for a single class 17 years ago, Geisel is largely self-taught. As fresh ideas outstrip her know-how, she turns to YouTube for instructions to learn skills such as applique and fabric fusing. Long an admirer of quilting, Geisel originally expressed herself in counted cross-stitch, calling it her “gateway drug.” It was on an errand to pick up more embroidery thread at a now-shuttered sewing shop in Fairborn that she took an introductory class in quilting. “Because I really like the vibrancy of fabric, and I wasn’t getting that in paint, I took a course at Daisy Barrel,” she remembers. Every piece was handmade and hand-stitched. “I loved the result, but it took so long.”

At about the same time, she inherited a very basic sewing machine from her grandmother—it only stitched forward and in reverse.  It was just what Geisel needed to get hooked on quilting. “I was only going frontwards and backwards,” she laughs, explaining that machine quilting saves time and makes her work more affordable.

Geisel’s quilts are definitely not bedcovers, even though “Through the Prism,” a seven-square series, uses traditional, 20×20-inch squares. But that is where the resemblance ends. In response to an online quilting challenge, participants, using a specific fabric collection, interpreted a design that was posted on the website each month. Thinking outside the square and using traditional piecing and quilting techniques for each one, Geisel decided to choose a dominate color for each month’s design and then added a length of black yarn to represents what’s going on,” she says. The result is a playful series that is whimsical and clever. “Titling is almost the last thing, the clever thing, that pulls it together,” she says of squares named “Monkey Tail” and “Flying Geese.”

At the other end of the design spectrum is “View from my Hammock,” a skyscape painted in fabric that evokes the subtle depth and the fluidity of watercolor, Geisel’s favorite paint medium, “because I didn’t have to get my hands dirty.” Creating clouds presented a new frontier in fabric art for her, and once again Geisel turned to the internet, discovering very little help this time. So, she got creative and played, combining a number of techniques that she had already mastered with a new twist. Beginning with a variety of blue-hued solids and mini-prints, she overlaid some of the fabric pieces with lace, evoking the ethereal nature of the changeability and movement of clouds.  On top of that, she machine-stitched irregular, wavy lines to achieve the look of a watercolor painting rendered in fabric.

As she continues to paint with fabric, Geisel is moving toward more free-flowing, intuitive designs, “playing with opposites—big and little, darks and lights”—and blending a variety of techniques and materials, adding buttons and beads—and frequently incorporating her signature length of yarn.

Art Quilts by Pam Geisel are on display at the Yellow Springs Brewery, 305 Walnut St. Suite B in Yellow Springs. The artwork will remain on display through Feb. 5.  For more information, please visit YellowSpringsBrewery.com and ForQuiltsSake.com.


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About Karen Ander Francis

View all posts by Karen Ander Francis
Reach DCP Freelance writer Karen Ander Francis at KarenAnder@DaytonCityPaper.com

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