Studio visit with Claire Sherman

One of the things I love about the US is the sheer scale of the quilting universe here.  I relish the variety and availability of fabrics and haberdashery, the old quilts, the quilt shows, the Quilt Museum in San José, the collections in local museums, and the sheer number of people working in this field. The fabrics, the designs, the passing on of skills, the new approaches and radical departures are all fascinating and impressive. There are at least 21 million quilters here over the age of 18 and in 2010 the US quilt industry was worth at least $3.58 billion.*

Quilts also live in my imagination as the authentic beating heart of the US. Their history here and their unique beauty to carry messages and meanings that are tactile, personal, political and practical just plain fascinate me. The experimentation with geometry and pattern alone is quite overwhelming but when you add fabric quality, community, place and story-telling into them, the scope of fascination and creative possibility seems endless. Living in the Bay Area, I also love the contrast here between the dominant digital world, and the slow persistence of these creative, handcrafted and defiantly soft, emotional, and often talismanic works.

Amulet quilt, 12 x 12 inches in blue with elaborate geometric embroidery and central panel with hebrew text

Amulet quilt, 12 x 12 inches in blue with elaborate geometric embroidery and central panel with hebrew text

Claire Sherman is a quilt artist of skill and imagination. I met her through the 12 x 12 challenge run by the Textile Dream Studio in Berkeley. When I visited her home studio in early December 2017 the skies were drab and overcast and it was such a treat to feast on the color and textures she works with and creates.

She graduated in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1970s. Inspired by architecture and old ruined buildings her early pieces were explorations of structures, space and spiritual ideas. She moved on from this conceptual work into making beautifully crafted ceramic Jewish ritual objects that she sold through outlets like Afikomen in Berkeley.

Her first quilt was a ‘crazy quilt’ made between the ages of 13 and 18, which she took away to college. Now Claire works in the modern quilt arena, which welcomes bold departures from repetitive patterns and symmetry for more abstract and experimental forms. Narrative can still play a role in the conception and execution of a finished work but the rules of traditional quilting are there to be broken and played with in playful and surprising ways.

I had the luxury of viewing the complete range of Claire’s output and I can only mention a few of her quilts here. Her regular blog has for more information and detail about the making process and the technical skills involved. I particularly enjoyed her ‘Baskets and Hot lemonade’ piece below, which is wonderfully colorful and whimsical in its use of shape, fabric and overall composition. Claire tells the story of the quilt’s evolution on her blog, and I love the idea of her liberating the traditional basket form after being inspired by Gwen Marston, another quilter. The delicate and precise work involved in finishing and completing every detail gives you some idea of Claire’s skill.

Detail of whimsical quilt featuring a cut-out of a cupcake added to green stem as if it were a fruit, with mottled green leaf to balance and a wavy quilting pattern over the whole design
Detail of quilt called ‘Baskets and Hot Lemonade’ featuring stem, leaf and cupcake ‘fruit’ by Claire Sherman
Bright blocks of color with object shapes such as a cup made out of a print of lemons and a basket made our of a print of strawberries.
Medium view of quilt called ‘Baskets and Hot Lemonade’ by Claire Sherman

Check out these upcoming quilting classes with Claire Sherman:

Very Variable Stars is at Hello Stitch Studio, 1708 University Ave., Berkeley, Sunday Feb 4, 10 am-1pm.

Exploring the Hamsa: A Hands On Workshop, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley, Sunday Mar 4,  2-5 pm.

Claire’s blog is  


Useful quilting links:

Bay Quilts

East Bay Heritage Quilters


Modern Quilt Guild

Pacific International Quilt Festival

San José Museum of Quilts and Textiles

Social Justice Sewing Academy

Stonemountain and Daughter

Textile Dream Studio

Studio visit with artist Bill Bruckner

On my way out of The Black Woman Is God exhibit at SOMArts in August, I was delighted to meet artist and access consultant Bill Bruckner. He’d been to a life drawing class nearby and had also visited the show. We got talking and it seemed natural that a studio visit to check out his latest work should follow. I’ve always liked his portraits but he also has some exciting new work that relates to recent eye surgery. We planned to meet soon, share some food and talk life-drawing and approaches to making art.

A full length portrait of slim, white man Bill Bruckner in acrylic paint. He is smiling and balding, looking straight at the viewer and wears jeans and is bare-chested with a single, short arm.
Self-portrait (unfinished), Bill Bruckner, 2012.
Detail of head from full-length portrait of one-armed artist. He is smiling, and is white, balding with some grey hair and wearing round wire-rimmed glasses
Self-portrait (unfinished – detail), Bill Bruckner, 2012.

Sharing works and process

Arriving at Bill’s studio near Balboa Park BART station, I was happily reminded of how important it is for artists to spend time with each other, to touch base, share experiences and swap useful contacts and ideas for future endeavors. Somewhere in there, we talked about the local disability scene and the history of the US, we showed each other our recent work and glimpsed each other’s sketch books. Bill has been drawing and painting versions of the air bubble that was part of his cornea transplant surgery,  images that his ophthalmologist has heard about but never really seen or experienced himself.

Other related paintings we discussed were inspired by the “blood moon” of April 2014. Our conversation came soon after the summer eclipse season of 2017, and his images seemed to resonate and pulse with a lightness of space and time that made them more immediate.

Image: a dark square background has a circle that resembles the moon with a golden hue, suggesting
Air bubble – Full Moon #2, acrylic, Bill Bruckner

I am always drawn to monochrome line work and loved everything black and white that Bill shared with me. He has many beautiful landscapes that remind me of English or European artists and from time to time, he adds to his wonderful series of portraits of people with disabilities and his 2012 self-portrait remains unfinished. Writer and activist Leroy Moore  features Bill’s portrait of him in his new book Black Disability 101.

He has an Open Studio as part of Artspan Week on October 28 and 29. His studio will be open 11am–6pm and is  opposite Balboa Park BART in San Francisco at 2377 San Jose Avenue (corner of Niagara). His studio is # 20 and wheelchair accessible but there is a slightly hair-raising slope for wheelchair riders down to the entrance. You will need to zig-zag down an expanse of parking lot before entering the building, and going down a long corridor to his studio.