MARQUETTE - In the 19th century, a newly-made quilt would often start out on the bed in the master bedroom. Then, it would move to the children's room, later be used as the dog's bed. After that, perhaps it would be put on a barn floor or it would be remade into a new quilt.
Denise Burge's great-grandmother not only reused and recycled her quilts, but she also grew her own cotton for the batting.
"Quilts are not only recycled themselves, but they become recycled and repurposed over and over," said Burge, who is the first artist-in-residence at the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University this summer.
Denise Burge, artist-in-residence at the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University, works on an old piece of clothing that she remade into a new item that she used in her art exhibit, which will be housed at the DeVos beginning Aug. 22. (Journal photo by Julia Woehrer)
Burge, 45, has been making non-traditional quilts that have a common theme: the essentially earth-friendly cycle of decomposition and regeneration.
"I love composting and that's essentially what I am doing with fabric," Burge said. "That cycle of things breaking down and reforming interests me."
For example, one of Burge's quilts consisted of shredded fabric the size of confetti that she sewed back together into a quilt.
While Burge, who is a professor in the School of Art at the University of Cincinnati, has more recently been creating video and mixed media installation art, the theme of recycling has stuck with her. This week, she hosted a workshop where participants brainstormed about making old clothes into new ones.
One person brought a pair of old pants that he decided to cut off and embroider with song lyrics to give to a friend as a present.
The group also discussed what to do with an old wedding dress - the pattern, color and columnar shape reminded Burge of birch trees. The group came up with the idea to attach twigs, woven together, to the bodice of the dress.
Remaking old items into new ones "does take more time, but you have that sense of connection that you never have when you buy it," she said.
She added that reuse was the norm in bygone times but today, since it's so much more convenient to buy new stuff, the habit seems to have vanished.
"There's definitely something that we have lost because of the ease of buying what we need," she said. "We lost the sense of personal connection."
Other ideas that Burge shared included making old fabric into curtains, tablecloths or rags. With strands of fabric, a burlap sack and a crochet needle, one can easily make a carpet, Burge said.
"It's a real simple process," she said.
Burge, together with fellow artist Lisa Siders, are presenting a video and mixed-media exhibit called "On the Point of Crystal Time" at the DeVos from Aug. 22 to Sept. 28 with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 22.
For more information call 227-2235.