Annamaria Brenti: art that inspires the art

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Annamaria Brenti is a well-known and appreciated textile artist on the Italian and international artistic scene. Many of her works have been exhibited in prestigious exhibitions in Europe, the United States and Japan and have earned her important awards and recognitions. Recently Annamaria has been invited to exhibit at the Museum of Embroidery in Pistoia on the occasion of “Pistoia Italian Capital of Culture 2017”.

Annamaria has also held workshops both in Italy and abroad, including England, Switzerland, France, Japan and the United States.

Annamaria ha inoltre tenuto workshops sia in Italia che all’estero, incluso l’Inghilterra, Svizzera, Francia, Giappone e Stati Uniti.

Annamaria how and when did you get to know quilting and decide that it would be your way as an artist?

What does quilting represent for you compared to other forms of artistic expression?

I approached self-taught quilting in 1986 in Boston. My first quilt for an ecru monochrome double blanket was a mixture of quilting and candle wicking embroidery on traditional colonial-style designs, divided into squares bordered by a lace strip. Followed by a schoolhouse and a log cabin quilt in the calicoes so fashionable then. My first encounter with pictorial quilting was through a Japanese friend of mine, also known in Boston, who passed on to me her experience of a pictorial quilting workshop on the “quilt as you go” method, essentially a hand appliqué through all three layers (in hindsight, not always recommended). I tried it on a very stylized drawing of mine with the naive colours of a view of the Basilica of Assisi, in a month I completed my first pictorial quilt and when I returned proudly to show my finished work at the quilting shop, I still remember that they said to me “Beginner’s luck”!

I also remember the emotion of when I first went to see the local exhibition of the Quilters’ Connection group, in particular I stopped to admire the 1983 “Archipelago” quilt by Nancy Halphern (now at the New England Quilt Museum) and Ruth Mc Dowell among the historic protagonists of the rebirth of American quilting in the twentieth century.

I never thought that 15 years later, a quilt of my Florentine Dance would be exhibited in the place of honor of their annual exhibition and that above all I would be welcomed with such warmth and friendship to be part of their group of artists and teachers …

Once I discovered quilting, I never moved away from it, gradually discovering its infinite creative possibilities suggested by the fabrics themselves. It’s them, the fabrics are the real protagonists and our creative muses! For example, if my grandfather was a sculptor of Carrara marble, I discovered that even with fabrics you can “sculpt” and create in three-dimensional, as well as you can ‘paint a landscape, draw and / or photograph on fabric …. so for me quilting and’ the synthesis of many other forms of artistic expression.


In your works there are important references to the history of Italian art.

Can you talk about how our culture and art influence your work?

Especially after many years spent abroad, you realize how unique and varied our artistic heritage is and what source of inspiration it can become.

In particular, it has been three magical years that I have lived in the centre of historical Perugia …. perhaps a little isolated from the world, but with a great desire to produce and create, taking inspiration from the beauty of the place as for example from the Roman mosaic that emerges from its two thousand year old past in the dreamy atmosphere at dusk of “Perusia”.

A constant source of inspiration for me is Florence, to which my dearest memories are linked. In “Fiorenza Dentro dallaCerchia Antica”, inspired by the techniques of the Guicciardini blanket conserved at the Bargello, by the sixteenth-century Map of the Chain and by the delicate compositions of Luca dellaRobbia in the Basilica of Santa Trinita where I got married. I was inspired by one of the oldest pictorial representations of medieval Florence in the Sala del Bigallo in Piazza Duomo, and remaining always in Tuscany, a constant point of reference in more than one of my quilts, is my favorite fresco of the Good Government of Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena.

A connection to the past that goes hand in hand with the search for fine fabrics and silks of which our textile tradition is rich.

“Perusia”In October 1998, the quilt “Perusia” was awarded the Yuko Watanabe Best of Show Award”at the VII Pacific Quilt Festival competition “Radiant Memories”.

When you start a new quilt, what kind of research do you do and what is your design activity?

You’ve travelled a lot around the world. This has allowed you to get in touch with different textile artists and their unique ways of “doing” quilting, each influenced by their own cultural roots.

Can you tell us what role this has played in your experience as a textile artist? How does it affect the way you make art?

When I start a new work I start from an initial cue, such as the petal of a flower from one of the compositions of Gentile da Fabriano that caught my attention by flipping through an art book about Florence, then documenting myself I discover that there are other 35 (sic), that I can find another 3 or 4 on various art books and that finally I can ask permission to the Uffizi to take pictures of each composition of the gothic floral frame of the masterpiece of Gentile da Fabriano, the Strozzi altarpiece, of which the museum itself does not have the photos in detail … The photographer I chose sends me the disk and my work can ‘go ahead and improve and in the meantime I have the idea of comparing the beauty of these flowers to the beauty of some theorems and mathematical concepts dividing them from the most’ ancient to the famous mathematical conjectures, each of these embroidered on a square of about 12 cm side.

For the Daisen In quilt, inspired this time by a trip to Japan and the symbolism of one of its most famous Zen gardens in Kyoto, documenting the meaning of the garden itself, which basically represents a synthesis of the cycle of human life, led me to review the photos of my own trip to Japan through the lens of the passage of time in the various stages of life while in the second side of the same quilt, an abstract personal representation of the most spiritual and intimate part of the garden. This quilt is now in a private collection in the United States.

How has your work changed from the first quilts to the present?

Quilts are the source of quilts, and that’s my motto…

every quilt has a natural motivation and development for me, maybe influenced by the place where I am, by the techniques I would like to experiment, by the colors I would like to use. I remember, for example, during a very snowy winter spent in Sweden, where white was the predominant colour and of which I started to feel tired, that I began to contrast with a quilt in all-green tones with cypresses….

None of the quilts I made were motivated by participation in a competition. Maybe the opposite happened, when the work was finished I realized that it was in theme with a certain competition such as my first quilts “Daisen In Garden” that won in England among other prizes the best interpretation of the theme “All the world is a stage”.

What kind of textile choices do you make for your work? Do you like to experiment with unusual materials? Or do you prefer historical research and the recovery of traditional fabrics?

When my husband and I decided to return to Italy to live permanently, I remember that I was very worried about how you could find the famous American cottons for quilting. In fact in Italy at the beginning of the 90’s quilting was little more than tree quilting and the online trade was almost non-existent so I took care to bring with me a real arsenal of powders to dye the cotton by hand, which I learned to do (and I also taught, thus obtaining the shades of color and gradations necessary for pictorial quilting.

But it didn’t take long to understand with which other fabrics, such as thirst, organza, velvet and synthetics I could enrich my quilts. In the United States they are considered fabrics difficult to handle, on the contrary I think that without these fabrics I would never have been able to achieve the details that for example a floral composition by Gentile da Fabriano requires, or to obtain the brightness of a three-dimensional geometric solid. Of course,

unlike cottons, silks need a wise lighting to enhance all their reflections and for each exhibition I have always tried to make sure of this small but not negligible detail.

I also like the concept that as in a choir, in a quilt find harmony and unity ‘both the recycled piece of blue jeans and the precious silk from a thousand and one nights, without any discrimination …

How long does it take from the design to the realization of a work?

The long execution times, on average two years for each quilt, and when I was young I devoted myself to it with an average of 6-7 hours a day, allow me to mature and develop a project.  Today we do everything in a hurry, and sometimes there is the doubt that even quilting can become an occupation as expensive as a hobby subject to the laws of a market increasingly ‘eager to sell continuously materials and new equipment.

I really admire machine quilting and who knows how to do it with mastery after years and years of practice, even if personally I prefer hand quilting with its imperceptible inaccuracies, I love hand applique with its challenges to the most difficult and intricate curves similar to fractals. Beyond the aesthetics and the content, a well executed quilt to “rule of art” and ‘in itself’ a valuable object as a Persian carpet …. if then also becomes a’ work of art will be’ one more’ that we leave to others to decide ….

Can you tell us about your quilt “In a Mathematician’s Garden” which is part of the permanent art collection of the Jewish University of Jerusalem?

I don’t call myself a mathematician because I only have a degree and I have never done research but having lived a life among mathematicians, including an active one at home, I understood, perceived and breathed the passion, energy, creativity that animates a mathematician to discover new worlds perhaps from a volatile intuition like an organza silk that connects several theories, other worlds ….so you can interpret one of the two sides of my quilt “In a Mathematician’s Garden”, while the second is a visualization in a special case of Fermat’s conjecture, demonstrated 300 years later in the place and place where I finished the quilt at Princeton…. and where it was exhibited for the first time at the Einstein Institute for Advanced Study receiving compliments even from Enrico Bombieri, one of only two Italian mathematicians to win the prestigious Fields medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics. Since it is higher than the standard American ceilings, the Institute could not stay there, and ‘was acquired, the only textile work of his art collection, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and when I think about it is as if a small piece of me were there, in that beautiful campus, oasis of knowledge, culture and hope …

“In a Mathematician’s Garden”  In November of 2003 the quilt “In a Mathematician’s Garden” is acquired by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as part of its permanent collection of art.

Most of your work is large. Why this stylistic choice?

Usually, the size of a quilt of mine is determined by the minimum size that allows me to do the piecing. Let me give you an example: for the Perusia quilt, the row of houses at the top of the hill has been enlarged from one of my photos to the minimum possible size to allow me to piecing for a total length, surprising for me too, of almost 4 meters! Same thing for the floral compositions in Flowers of the Mind or in the garden of Mathematics where many pieces are millimetric despite the maxi size of the final quilt.

In conclusion, one of your most famous projects is represented by: “Le Finestresull’Immigrazione” (The Windows on Immigration), an initiative started a few years ago and which, through the use of a technique imported from the East (“Cathedral Windows”), aims to involve artists and enthusiasts from all over the world on the decidedly current theme of immigration.

What does it consist of? Can you tell us about it? How far has its development come today?

At the end of a long work, finished with 1004 rectangular cathedral windows for the edges of the triptych “Flowers of the Mind”, I was curious to explore this technique of the cathedral windows known mainly in their square version. At the same time, I had enrolled in a philosophy course on entitled “Justice” by Prof. H. H. M. H. and his wife. Harvard’s Sandel, an enlightening course that I always recommend to everyone, and that in particular has prompted me to reflect differently on a theme of current interest that is increasingly recurring in contemporary art as well. This is how FinestreMigranti was born, a project that belongs to all the artists who participate with creative ideas and that the quilters of the Roman School have known well since I presented it together with Silvana Zenatello di Marzano, friend and companion of many quilting adventures, and to Nadia Realacci, with whom we prepared the video tutorials to build the windows. I made available on my website the models I prepared for the various rectangular windows that offer endless possibilities of composition.

Each artist elaborates them with their own ideas, colours, variations in an impressive succession of quilts that all together will form a single body, a labyrinth where the visitor can go around, interpret or, if he prefers, read the description of each quilt during the first exhibition of the project that will be held in Verona from 25 to 28 April 2019, thanks to the hospitality of the Association Ad Maiora in their biennial Verona Tessile.

We are all in contact via Facebook on “migrant quilts”, a group of a hundred enthusiasts of the project with an active international participation from three continents represented by textile artists from Italy (from Sicily and Sardinia to Piedmont), Chile, Argentina, Kenya, United States.  The variety of ideas, the beauty of the colors and fabrics, the variety of the techniques of the vorazione of the windows, the multitude of details, the cultural tradition inherent in each of these works and ‘absolutely extraordinary …. A special mention for their active involvement in the many organizational, popular and creative aspects of this project goes to Silvana Zenatello di Manzano and Piera Quaglia.

An adventure and another example in which quilting creates friendships and can migrate everywhere without limitations and borders!

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