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QUILTER PROFILE: Pauline Burbidge

By Celia Eddy

Pauline Burbidge is one of a very few British Quilters to have achieved truly international status. Her work has featured in many exhibitions, both solo and mixed, in Britain and in many other countries, but particularly in America.. In Britain, her work can be seen in several Art Galleries and Museums, including The Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield, Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, The Glasgow Museums, Glasgow and The Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham.

In addition to receiving several major awards from, for example, the Crafts Council, Burbidge has undertaken commissions both from institutions and from private collectors and has been featured in several books, including The Passionate Quilter by Michele Walker, The Quilt Room by Pam Lintott and Rosemary Miller and The Fine Art of Quilting by Vicki Barker and Tessa Bird.

Writing in 1995, Burbidge explained that she first trained in fashion and textiles at St. Martin's School of Art, London but has been making quilts since 1975. She said: 'My work has grown from a love of fabric, colour and traditional patchwork quilts - although the imagery is far from traditional.' Her early quilts were characterised by strictly controlled geometrical structure and construction, using strip-piecing methods. However, over a period of time she has progressively moved away from the constraints of pre-planning, technical drawings and intricate piecing which that style demanded, to work in a much freer and more immediate way of working. Her series entitled 'Reflections' exemplifies this new way of working: each piece is still constructed from blocks, but now she uses a simple collage technique to create them and each one is, as she says, 'like a separate study'.

Since her move to the Scottish Borders, where she and her husband, sculptor Charles Poulsen, have their home and studios, Burbidge works from photographs taken in the rich, unspoilt natural surroundings in which she now lives. The result has been quilts such as Tweed Reflections, based on photographs of the River Tweed, which flows near her home, in which nine individual blocks are united by black sashings to create a unified image.

Burbidge's contemporary work is moving yet further away from the formality of her earliest work. Today, she is still working in blocks, still using the collage technique, but has introduced an entirely new element in that her quilt surfaces are covered with thin plastic of the sort used to cover library books. This is not the only innovation in her materials: blocks are constructed by building up patterns using pressed flowers and petals before being sealed under the plastic, after which the whole surface is hand-quilted. The effect is of great subtlety of colour and texture, enhanced by the reflected light of the shiny surface.

Describing her motivation and aims, Burbidge has said:

I am constantly trying to work more freely with my
fabric and stitching, which continues to be a
challenge to me, and moves my work further away from
its traditional beginnings and the hard-edged piecing of my earlier quiltwork, and brings it closer
to my heart.

Today, she must feel that she has moved a long way in those directions which are dear to her. In looking at her current work, there is, to use Michael James's words, 'wonder here, and surprise, mystery, exhilaration, satisfaction.' For an in-depth, scholarly appreciation of Burbidge's aesthetic, note that Quilt Art Magazine, Issue No. 7, contains a perceptive and stimulating article by Michael James about Pauline's current work.

TAKE 4: New Perspectives on the British Art Quilt

From 11th September to 15th November, four British Quilt Artists, including Pauline Burbidge, are exhibiting at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The other artists exhibiting are Jo Budd, Dinah Prentice and Michele Walker.

WWW sites where Pauline Burbidge's work can be seen: http://www.artstream.com




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