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With Quilting as Her Medium,
UC Artist Sews Up Placement in National Traveling Exhibit

Date: Aug. 3, 2001
Story by: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Archive: General News

You might say that University of Cincinnati fine artist Denise Burge has a patchwork background. She's created art in a variety of media, from painting to fabric, using skills gathered over the years, including stints in theater wardrobe departments.

Burge is now using those skills to create art that explores memory, family, and nostalgia. She's stitching together her art in the form of quilts, one sample of which is now included in the prestigious Quilt National, a biennial exhibit that is traveling the country. It's currently in Athens, Ohio, and will go to St. Louis next.

Burge, associate professor of fine art in UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, began using quilts as her medium in 1999. The first five were a series that explored and memorialized the personalities and lives of the women in her family, the women who helped to raise and to influence Burge. One of these, titled "The Sower," was selected by a jury for inclusion in the Quilt National which is comprised of about 80 pieces.

The Sower

"'The Sower' memorializes my grandmother and her place in our lives. She's represented by a large blue jay hanging upside down from a branch. She's squawking at the potato chopped and upturned in the earth below. The jay is a fierce bird, and my grandmother wasn't the cuddly type. She was always working. I remember how hard she worked to raise vegetables in the garden, how I always liked digging up the potatoes best," explained Burge.

The potato sliced into three parts represents her grandmother's children. Each part is covered with buds that represent the grandchildren. "It also speaks of the fertility of my grandmother's life, a fertility that was there on many levels. She's commanding the garden and her children to grow."

Though she's completed the series examining her family, Burge continues to quilt. Currently, her work examines the transformation of the rural south of her North Carolina mountain upbringing. (In fact, a mountain almost always appears in all her current work, whether quilting or painting.) "When I go through the region on my visits home, I'm more distracted each time by the artificiality and nostalgia of the tourist industry there."

Burge finds quilting to be especially appropriate as a medium to explore change and transformation, especially the transformation of the land she once called home. Quilts are similarly transformed by time and use. They often have a predictable life span: when new and "good," they have a special place and role inside the home. When they become worn, they might be used in a barn, as stuffing for a new quilt or just "entropy away," explained Burge. "They're made of things that were once other things. Their very essence, from birth to decay, is entropy and change."

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