Aeqai Review: Heather Jones at the Taft Museum of Art

“A Sense of Home: New Quilts by Heather Jones,” Taft Museum of Art, through February 18, 2018.

December 23rd, 2017 | Published in *, December 2017 | Karen S. Chambers

Jones sees modern quilting as “look(ing) at traditional quilting and then do(ing) its own thing.” 1 For this quilt maker, “its own thing” marries tradition and contemporary abstract art in quilts that are meant to be used and “paintings”—smaller pieced works stretched over wood supports.

Heather Jones, “Something in Your Eyes”, 2017, pieced cotton over wood support, 48” x 36”. Inspired by Robert S. Duncanson (American 1821-1872), “Landscape Mural”, 1850-1852, oil on plaster. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft, 1932.239. Longworth Foyer.

Tamara Muente, the associate curator of the Taft, invited Jones to exhibit in the Sinton Gallery, which showcases local artists. Its purpose is to continue Anna and Charles Taft’s desire to educate and inspire the people of Cincinnati. Artists chosen are tasked with creating new works in response to the collection, the house or its history, and the people who lived there. Jones chose a diverse and eclectic mix including paintings, decorative arts, and architectural elements for her eight pieces.

Heather Jones, “Change Every Day”, 2017, pieced cotton over wooden support, 14” x 11”. Inspired by Léonard Limosin (about 1506-1575/7), “François de Clèves, Duke of Nevers”, mid-16th-century, Limoges, France, painted enamel and gilt on copper. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft, 1931.305. Renaissance Treasury.

Born in 1976 in Dayton, Jones, who currently lives in Springboro with her husband and two children, studied art history at the University of Cincinnati. She was also painting representational work, mostly landscapes and still lifes. She was drawn to quilting because her septuagenarian great-great Aunt Ollie had made a baby quilt for her. As a teenager, Jones collected vintage quilts, but didn’t begin quilting herself until 2010 because she found the process intimidating.

Jones’ aesthetic is an amalgam of traditional quilt patterns, new designs inspired by her environment, and contemporary abstract painting. Her husband, Jeffrey Cortland Jones, who is a minimalist abstract painter and professor at the University of Dayton, introduced her to the work of Josef Albers, Mark Rothko, and Robert Ryman. Jones added Ellsworth Kelly and Sean Scully to the list. All of those painters influenced her desire “to pare things down to their most essential elements.” 2 The bold abstract designs of quilter Denyse Schmidt and the improvisational approach to composition of the quilters of Gee’s Bend also migrated into Jones’s style. 3

Like traditional quilters who took what they saw around them to devise patterns such as flying geese, rail fence, churn dash, and log cabin, 4 Jones uses her surroundings to spark her creativity. She gravitates to mundane things such as grain silos, painted parking lot grids, industrial machine components, agricultural buildings, etc. 5

For this exhibition, the artist selected works that she was visually drawn to and, as I mentioned, it was a diverse and eclectic lot. It included the siding of the original house in What You Can’t See (Sometimes Jones’s titles “are lyrics to songs or lines of poetry; other times they are words that I like the sound of when they are strung together” 6 ), an 18th-century Chinese vase for From the Darkness, and John Singer Sargent’s 1887 portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson for Don’t Look Back.