The Columbus Dispatch (OH)

January 29, 2012

Spirit Unites carvings, Amish quilts

Melissa Starker For The Columbus Dispatch  

"Two Visions of Spirituality," a new show of vintage Amish quilts and Elijah Pierce carvings in Keny Galleries, was formed not just by a common theme but by a shared place in the personal collection of gallery co-owner Tim Keny.

"(My wife) Karen and I have collected Amish quilts since the mid-1980s and collected Pierce since the early '80s," he said.

As he lived with the pieces, Keny spotted a visual kinship between Pierce's work, particularly his later carvings, and the fiber art of Amish quilters in Pennsylvania and Ohio from the first part of the 20th century.

"One of the reasons why Pierce is one of the best folk artists in the country is that he distills information," Keny said.

"To me, his flattened forms relate in many ways to the quilts. There's a simplicity and elegance in each."

Made in the 1960s and '70s, the biblical and angelic scenes represent Pierce at a point when his style was established, his subject was comfortable and the effects of age were stripping his carving choices to the essentials.

They're full of lush red roses and other verdant flora, and the consistent presence of Jesus or angels with enveloping wingspans. In many of the works, such as Sermon on the Mount or Christ With Angel, celestial light is conjured through a spray of glitter or a sweep of metallic gold paint.

The quilts -- stitched from about 1900 to 1940 by Amish women in Pennsylvania and Holmes County, Ohio -- represent a vastly different form of spiritual expression. In works such as the Log Cabin Crib quilt, a predominance of muted colors and strongly ordered designs reflect a concept of spirituality rooted in conformity and humility before God. Nonetheless, some individuality emerges in each.

As Keny pointed out, "There's a spirit of humility in the community, but these are people expressing themselves. That tension is fascinating."

The tension flutters subtly in the Diamond in the Square quilt, a minimalist combination of tone and pattern that reveals, on closer inspection, stitched flourishes of baskets, fruits and flowers. It leaps out of the similarly patterned Nine Patch/Diamond in the Square quilt through a contrast of black and lipstick red, which lends a hint of scandal to the technically sublime work.

An intriguing balance of humility and creativity is found in the Ocean Waves quilt, a piece made in Ohio between 1925 and 1935. The pattern and color choices are relatively austere, but, with some thoughtful color placement, the quilter creates a visual effect that anticipates op art at least 30 years before Time magazine coined the term.

* "Two Visions of Spirituality" continues through Feb. 10 in Keny Galleries, 300 E. Beck St. 
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Call 614-464-1228 or visit


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