Over the course of a year I teach many students. Some of them return for follow up classes. And there are those I could count on a hand or two that have become perennial attendees. At that point they have probably become friends as well. Marilyn Davidson is one of those people, along with her husband Joel.
I first met Marilyn in Texas at Quilting Adventures six years ago. She had taken a different class but visited the classroom where I was teaching to admire the student work. She expressed an interest in attending a future class of mine. And, not long after that, she signed up for one of my Maine quilt retreats. The rest is history.
It’s funny to look back on that first class of Marilyn’s now. She chose to do a mermaid. It wasn’t very large (my students will tell you that I encourage BIG designs). I don’t remember if I suggested that to Marilyn or not, but the total height of her mermaid quilt was probably no more than a couple feet. She claimed to be a intimidated by the more experienced students in the class, but she did a fine job. The mermaid turned out very sweet and lovely, just like Marilyn.
The funny thing was, Marilyn returned to another retreat and knocked my socks off with her next quilt, based on a photograph taken by Joel.
It was like she had mulled the fabric collage technique around in her head for a while, then came back to show me what she could really do. As a teacher, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t see it coming. If I had, I would have set her a challenge higher than the mermaid from the very beginning. But, regardless of my oversight, Marilyn picked up fabric collage quickly—she just got it. Her background in painting probably helped her understand about value, how darks and lights create form.
Since then, Marilyn has brought to class a steady parade of wonderful subject matter from African wildlife to portraits of people from around the world and has created stunning fabric collages each time. The inspiration and source material for many of her quilts comes from her very talented photographer husband, Joel. (You may remember Joel as the consultant in my blog post “Take a Flattering Picture of Your Quilt with the Camera in Your Pocket.” I also used his photos to create my quilt of a marabou stork, “Kaloli Moondance.” See blog posts here, here, here, and here.) Joel is a retired dentist who picked up the camera as a hobby, but his mastery of the medium is at a professional level, as you will see below.
As he often remarks in his blog on photography, Joel spends a lot of time getting close to his subjects.
“I immerse myself into the culture around me and will try to build rapport with my subjects before asking permission to take an image,” he says.
This effort pays off in the intimacy of his photos. It’s quite clear that he puts his subject at his or her ease before snapping the shutter.
After years of Marilyn using Joel’s photos as subjects for her quilts, last year the two had a combined show featuring Joel’s photos and the quilts that Marilyn based on them. Both his and her work is deserving of shows of their own, but as a combined show their artistry becomes an interesting conversation. As insightful and revealing as Joel’s photos are, Marilyn’s interpretation of them usually takes the images to a new place, usually someplace with more color and texture than is possible in the real world.
As Marilyn puts it, “Sometimes I try to interpret his photos in my quilts as realistically as possible. On other quilts, I make his images whimsical by using unconventional colors and patterns.”
I am as proud of Marilyn as I could be. I feel I am most successful when a student takes the fabric collage technique and really owns it. Marilyn has done that. It’s also inspirational to see how she and Joel make such a special partnership.
“We work as a great team helping each other with our very different art forms,” Marilyn says. “We feed off of each other. His pictures motivate me to do a quilt. I have input into his pictures while he’s processing them. He gives me feedback.”