Saturday 7 July 2018

The American Museum in Bath by Adèle Geras

It's been three days since the 4th of July and it's only a few weeks till POTUS arrives in the UK, so I felt it was appropriate to put a USA - themed post up today. First things first and I'm writing it in BOLD type because it's the main thing I want to say: I love America. I've loved America since I was a very small child, going with my aunt to the main post office in Jerusalem to pick up parcels her sisters had sent from New York. These were full of treasures and ever since, I've thought of America as a cross between a cornucopia and a paradise. This love continued as I grew up, fuelled by Hollywood, which was a dominant influence on me in my childhood and which furnished my imagination in ways I can't even begin to describe. I love the landscapes and cityscapes (as shown in thousands of movies) I love the music, particularly Country and Western, and rock 'n roll but more than anything else,  musicals, which have been  the soundtrack of my life.   I became enchanted with the literature, from my first reading of Little Women. It was my favourite book in 1952 and it still is in many ways. Since then, there have been passions for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, and more modern US writers than you can shake a stick at: Anne Tyler,  Philip Roth, Elizabeth Strout, Nora Ephron....the shining names go on and on.  The USA is also a vibrant democracy,  and has an admirable press.  I won't even begin to write about the Golden Age of the Box Set. American television is now the home of some of the very best drama ever.  Readers will no doubt be able to add much else. 

So it was quite appropriate that on a recent visit to Bath, the first place I wanted to see was the American Museum. This is the only museum outside the USA to be dedicated to the decorative arts. It overlooks the Limply Stoke Valley and above you can see the terrace of the café which shows the magnificent view.

Helen Craig and I were very lucky on the day we visited because, (see above) the oldest known patchwork quilt made in England was still on display. It's going to be put away soon to preserve it, and won't be seen again till 2028 so I was thrilled to see it. My photo is most inadequate but you can read about it  and see a better image if you follow the link on the website. 

My main reason for wanting to visit the Museum, I have to confess, is my passion for patchwork. My book, Apricots at Midnight: stories from the quilt  (1977) was about a woman who had a patchwork coverlet on her spare bed and told stories inspired by different patches that she'd used to make it. I'm fascinated by this art: domestic, practical and capable of such beauty and of being so different when different people make it. Patchwork is often [sewn communally, with a group of women sitting together, and that's one of the reasons I like it so much. 

One of the things that struck me as we looked at the many quilts   (brilliantly displayed) 

 was the enormous variety of patterns, materials, and imaginations of the people who made them.  In the quilt shown above the photo of the room, the pattern is very reminiscent of Matisse's paper cut-outs. There were Matisse - like patterns in quite a few of the quilts.

Above is a detail from a quilt made from silk ties.  There are quilts from the Thirties, instantly identifiable as being of their time. Kaffe Fassett has a quilt here,  made up of images of hatboxes, in vibrant, light colours. 

The effect of the whole collection is overwhelming and I do recommend a visit if patchwork is your thing. 

There is much more here than the patchworks, however. Furniture, Native American Art, silver, crockery and cutlery, rooms set up as they would have been during certain historical periods, and many, many beautiful works of naive art. Below is a portrait of a nineteenth century girl called Emma Thompson, and it's one of the few portraits signed by the gorgeously-named Sturtevant J. Hamblen. The Hamblens were sign painters.  I love this portrait. 

 There is one room set up as if in a Shaker house, complete with chairs hanging up on the walls to save space. My favourite objects were the ones shown below: a sewing box, and a truly lovely bonnet. The Shaker style has been influential on modern furnishings and I find it most beautiful: simple and elegant and using natural materials. 

So that's the American Museum....a terrific place to go to if you're in Bath. It has, appropriately enough, (see upcoming Presidential visit)  not forgotten MONSTERS and FOOLS. Below are two photos. The top one depicts many different monsters, and is full of wonders. Below that is the World, depicted as a Fool's Head.  Some of the Latin words on the Map have been translated and read:  

The number of fools is infinite.  That's about right, but I'm more interested in beauty and the best of humanity and there's still plenty of that both in the USA and in this Museum. 


Unknown said...

Isn't it a gem.

Sally Prue said...

Thanks, Adele. I wonder if Matisse ever saw quilts like that, or whether it was entirely a case of convergent evolution?

adele said...

Maybe he did...who knows. But I like CONVERGENT EVOLUTION!!