A patchwork orange

Tel-Aviv's unique history is laid out on 76 quilts in a new exhibition at the Shalom Tower.

flying camel quilt 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy, IQA)
flying camel quilt 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy, IQA)
In April 1909, a few dozen families stood on a Mediterranean Sea beach in central Israel and divided up a large piece of land that they jointly owned, in what became known as the "seashell lottery." Their goal was to build a city that would be a beacon for a modern, liberal society in the Middle East. They called the city Tel Aviv ("Spring Hill" - the Hebrew title for Theodor Herzl's visionary book Altneuland). Tel Aviv was the first modern city in which Hebrew was the official spoken language, joining some agricultural colonies which had already adopted Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's vision of reviving the ancient language of the Jews. Poets, thinkers, writers and painters were drawn to Tel Aviv, which soon became the center of Hebrew creation and the nascent Hebrew economy. According to national and municipal statistics, the city now has a population of 390,000 living in an area of 51,400 dunams, offers approximately 50,000 individual services and businesses, and attracts about half a million tourists each year. This year marks Tel Aviv's centennial. To celebrate, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, as well as a number of non-municipal entities, have planned numerous events. One of the first, initiated by David Sharir - curator of Shalom Tower's galleries - is an exhibition of quilts called "A Gesture to Tel Aviv." Sharir invited the members of the Israel Quilters Association to create pieces that reflected "Tel Aviv." The quilters took inspiration from the city's history, architecture, seashore and its combination of Bauhaus buildings and modern skyscrapers, and stitched together almost enough quilts to display one for every year of the city's history. In the end, 76 solo and group quilts were selected for the exhibition. Metro caught up with two quilters whose work is on display, Shulamit Ron and Maya Chaimovich, to discuss the inspiration and techniques that underlie their work. It also found out what could be expected of the exhibition and the role quilting plays in modern-day art. Ron, who lives in Moshava Kadima, has a degree in architecture from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and works as a freelance project manager, technical adviser and instructional designer for high-tech companies. She is married, has a 21-year-old daughter and has been a "serious quilter" for 10 years. Ron has one quilt in the exhibition, entitled "International Style in Tel Aviv." The piece comprises six panels featuring Bauhaus-style buildings, on a background based on a Piet Mondrian painting. The panels were made using the appliqué technique, in which small pieces of fabric are attached to a large piece of fabric to form pictures or patterns. The 114-centimeter-square quilt is made of mostly hand-dyed fabrics that Ron colored herself. A Bauhaus building near the Carmel Market on Rehov Kanfei Hanesharim provided Ron with the initial inspiration to base her quilt on the city's "international style." "The first thing I think about when I hear 'Tel Aviv' is 'The White City' - the architecture of the international style. The only problem for me is that I don't like working in white. I love color. I really wanted to do something with buildings, and I was really stuck with the idea," Ron told Metro. "At first I considered making something like Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe, by taking this one building and [representing] it in different styles and colors. I made the first block and it was very beautiful and then my husband - who is very involved in my quilting - said, 'If you're going to make this Andy Warhol-style piece with buildings, it will be a tribute to Andy Warhol. If you want it to be a tribute to Tel Aviv you have to [depict] several [buildings] in the same style, instead of one building several times.' I started looking for buildings that could be easily represented in fabric and had very strong and simple shapes," she explained. Ron photographed several of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus buildings and, in a similar manner to how Warhol represented Monroe in psychedelic colors, she created the quilted Bauhaus buildings in reds, oranges, yellows and purples. "I never pre-plan my quilts. I find that boring. I start an idea and let the quilt tell me what it wants me to do with it... I did have some visual concept of how 'International Style in Tel Aviv' was going to look, but that visual concept was very different from what came out in the end," she stated. In contrast to Ron's geometrical creation, Chaimovich's patchwork is abstract. Her work does not depict realistic, identifiable images and instead of neatly connecting pieces of fabric together, she leaves their rough edges exposed. Chaimovich, like Ron, has been quilting seriously for 10 years. After leaving their kibbutz home 20 years ago, she and her husband opened a business selling raw industrial materials. She has three daughters and nine grandchildren. Chaimovich's quilts have traveled the world in solo and group exhibitions in countries including the USA, England and Japan. All of the fabrics Chaimovich uses in her quilts come from old items of clothing. One of her friends collects old clothes from the flea market and other sellers of second-hand clothes and together they clean them and unpick them - remove stitches that connect the pieces of fabric - until they are ready for use. "I give clothes a new life. I don't know where in the world my fabrics came from, what they were used for, who wore them, or what types of people they were. From that, I make a new creation. Something new that comes from within me," she explained. Chaimovich does not have any preferences for certain types of fabrics. "There are some people who like working with cotton, there are those who like working with fabrics they colored themselves. I use it all: velvet, synthetic fabrics, silk, cotton, fabrics that I dyed, fabrics that others dyed. Sometimes I use parts of the clothes - whether it's buttons, sequins or some decoration on the clothing," she said. Chaimovich has two quilts in "A Gesture to Tel Aviv." The first piece, "New and Old," is a depiction of how the old buildings of Tel Aviv's Sharona neighborhood provide a background to the modern Azrieli towers. "I tried hard to ensure the central part of the quilt comprised many shiny fabrics, including sequins and fabrics with gold in them. The shiny and sparkly materials represent the Azrieli buildings - full of light, color, people and shops. In the background, I used matte creams and whites, which are intended to represent the old houses of the Sharona neighborhood, which was so well-preserved," Chaimovich said. This 119 cm. tall x 117 cm. wide quilt expressed Chaimovich's appreciation for the great deal of money that had been invested in preserving Sharona's old buildings, rather than destroying them to make room for new high-rise structures. The second of Chaimovich's pieces appearing in the exhibition is entitled "Old Tree." The name refers to the venerable trees that line Tel Aviv's boulevards and the thick trees that were uprooted to make space for construction. "I outlined the tree with red to show how much happiness and love there is in Sderot Chen, [in particular] among the people, families and children who love going for walks and out to play." The "Old Tree" quilt measures 126 cm tall by 141 cm. wide. Chaimovich quilts over her patchworks with a "free hand" - a term that means that instead of quilting with a preset machine stitch, she guides the layers of fabrics through the sewing machine "freely," to create a unique pattern. Her signature stitch is a series of circles - a motif similar to a fingerprint, or the circles of a tree stump that indicate its age, or the ripples created when a stone is thrown into water. Usually, Chaimovich spends one and a half to two months working on a single quilt. "I don't work from morning until night. The break between working on each piece is very important. I leave the piece, occupy myself with other things and two days later, the piece looks somewhat different. I change my ideas and go in different directions that I didn't think of at first," she observed. "A Gesture to Tel Aviv" is on display at the Shalom Tower (known in Hebrew as Kolbo Shalom), the first high-rise to be built in Israel. Two of the building's floors are dedicated to showcasing the urban and architectural history of Tel Aviv, and the space includes two non-commercial galleries. Sharir, a renowned painter and set designer, volunteers as the curator for the Shalom Tower. He assumed the role seven years ago after he designed a huge mosaic wall there, which stands opposite a 40-year-old mosaic wall designed by Nahum Gutman at the time of the tower's inauguration. Rather than calling himself a "curator," Sharir prefers to refer to himself as a "helper." "I help artists and the owner of the Shalom Tower, whose public activities I believe in very much," he said. In addition to his own artwork, Sharir - who also holds a degree in architecture - teaches 3D design, set design and model building at the College of Management. Sharir acknowledges that quilts serve both practical and decorative purposes. He says that quilting occupies a middle ground between "art" and "craft." But according to former chairwoman and current board member of the Israel Quilters Association, Eti David, quilts are moving more and more toward becoming an art form. In addition to traditional quilted blankets and pillowcases, modern-day quilters are creating more and more decorative quilt wall hangings and displaying their work in exhibitions. David asserts that quilting is reasonably easy, unlike painting, which she suggests requires more than just technique. "[Quilting is just] putting pieces of fabric together in patterns - everyone can do it," she said. The Israel Quilters Association has approximately 320 members, most of whom are women. Not all members are artists, and not all quilters in Israel are members of the association. The organization holds workshops twice a year: one three-day workshop is held at a hotel during the summer and a one-day workshop takes place at Kfar Yarok during Hanukka. Various teachers give classes, and two quilt shops sell merchandise to enthusiasts. The association also holds its own exhibitions every year, and hosts other activities, including tours. The IQA also has a handful of members - mainly Jewish - based in the United States. They send their work overseas so it can be a part of quilting exhibitions here in Israel. The work of one of these American members appears in "A Gesture to Tel Aviv." "The [IQA] is very important for promoting quilting in Israel. We [live in] a very small country and we have a small association. If the serious quilters don't participate in exhibitions, then you aren't going to have high quality work and you aren't going to attract [audiences]," said Ron. In 2009, Tel Aviv has as strong an appreciation for the arts as it did in the days of Bialik, Tchernikovsky and Agnon. It is home to over 15 museums and more than 40 private galleries, and attracts over a million visitors to its museums each year. In A Gesture to Tel Aviv, 76 quilters express their visions of what the first Hebrew city has become. "A Gesture to Tel Aviv" opens on Friday January 16 at 11 a.m. The exhibition will run until Friday March 20. Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Fridays and holiday eves 10 a.m.-1 p.m.. Entrance is free of charge.