Not for bedtime stories 

Not for bedtime stories
Bigger Than a Scrapbook: The Talking Quilts of Lauren Austin
Through March 20 at Crealdé School of Art, 600 St. Andrews Blvd., Winter Park

Mixing her two loves — art and education — Lauren Austin's two-venue show displays her own large contemporary quilts at the Crealdé School of Art in east Winter Park and the quilts she created collaboratively with west Winter Park residents at Crealdé's west-side
sister venue, Hannibal Square Heritage Center (642 W. New England Ave., Winter Park; 407-539-2680).

The "talking quilts" aspect of the title of Austin's main exhibition modestly describes the narrative quality of her rich tapestries; some of them do "talk," but many sing and shout and mourn and holler and hum and explode in your mind. The former Atlantic Center for the Arts resident, now living in China, employs nontraditional methods to document true-life stories in fabric, stimulating a response that you'd like to add to the conversation. Soft organic patterns, stunning colors, found objects, photographs, drawings and free-form composition make these quilts incredible sensory experiences.

Many of the pieces are very large in size, yet escape monumentality or bombast, fabric being such a soft, disarming medium. "Shhh! He's Composing Himself" is huge, two-sided, and shows a man with one hand playing a piano chord, the other hand holding a pen emanating colorful swirls of fabric and texture. Swirls appear again on the back in a giant sheet of music. A memorial to a difficult moment when her son was young and contentious about practicing his music, the work also speaks to artistic instincts in general, from the title referencing solitude to the inexhaustible creativity symbolized by the sheet music, with no beginning and no end.

The three-panel series "Did You Hear, Her Son's in Trouble?" references an experience that Austin encountered while serving jury duty, despite her profession as an attorney. In the second panel, a man in shackles comes before a judge who holds a law book by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and the Supreme Court justice's quote, "Beware how you take away hope from another human being," comes to mind. In the final panel, the mother sits, holding a string of actual cowrie shells; Austin's genius for weaving objects into the quilt makes them a natural extension of the fabric art. One must be strong of heart not to back away from this powerful story.

The quilting bee, a social art-making activity Austin employed last November at a residency at Hannibal Square, is highly important to her process and mission. Embodying her grandmother's status as a griot (a West African tribal historian) elevates Austin's finished products to archival status — these are not just bedcovers, and every one is a labor of love with lasting meaning.

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