Monday, August 20, 2012

Still Verboten

Long before Hitler and the Nazis made the swastika their symbol, the little twirling design turned up in all sorts of art. The swastika was an innocuous ancient design and usually meant as a good luck or fertility symbol. Seen on native American baskets, in weaving, in Chinese porcelain, and lots of other artifacts, it took World War II to brand the swastika as evil. Once when I was dealing in antique quilts, I happened to be selling a swastika quilt in typical 30s pastels. A woman viewing my quilts yelped at me and stormed off and I didn't know what I'd done as the old quilt, to my eyes, was a pinwheel pattern but she had seen it as a swastika. When I realized the gaffe, I reduced the price and off-loaded the offending quilt as soon as possible.

The quilt pictured is a late 19th century swastika quilt in the state of Nevada museum (photo credit Scott Klette).


The other day I came smack up against the power of the swastika again. While making a quilt for a friend, I got pretty creative with variations of the Drunkard's Path pattern. My friend's favorite color is red so there's lots of experimenting with all manner of red prints. In the center of a Drunkard's Path block, I used a bright red almost-solid batik and a white-and-red-toile. I worked through the afternoon but by time to go home, something about the piece bothered me. I pinned it to the design wall and stepped back. What was the problem? Then it hit me: the inner pinwheel of the Drunkard's Path block, in red and white, looked like a Nazi swastika.
Yikes! I couldn't get out my seam ripper quick enough.

By the next day, the middle of the Drunkard's Path block had been re-sewn as a Rob Peter to Pay Paul block and I'm happy with the quilt now. It's being machine-quilted for me and will be going to its new home in a couple of weeks.

Could I have dismissed the swastika reference and not changed the quilt?  Maybe. But I ran the risk of offending my friend who's older than I am and likely has an even stronger emotional reaction to the swastika symbol. I'm not willing to  hurt someone's feelings just to make an artistic point. My purpose in making this quilt is to bring her joy. The swastika is still verboten in my house.

8 comments:

Ruth said...

I am working on a quilt based on St. Francis's prayer that includes the line, "where there is hate, let me sow love." Many quilter friends made me blocks for this quilt, including one block that uses a heart to depict love and a swastika to depict hate. It has been a challenge for me to determine how to lay out the blocks to make it clear that the sentiment is anti-swastika ... I'm still working on it.

Patchysails said...

Good luck to both of you, the stigma is a spiritual one on the swastika now I cant imagine any Jew or one who loves a Jew will ever buy or get that quilt or even understand it with ought cringing...

Vicki Lane said...

Yep, it's a shame that an interesting geometrical figure is so charged with hate -- one would have to be explaining all the time why that swastika was there.

Katie said...

It's a teaching moment. There is so much history to the symbol that has nothing to do with the Nazis. It's too bad.

Anonymous said...

Distasteful quilt, innocuous or not, the symbol will forever be ingrained in the minds of those people who lost loved ones in Hitlers butcher shop, gassed to death !
In a world of political correctness where we can't say Obama is a jack ass , without being called a racist instead of just understanding we don't like his politics, this is very insensitive.And that is the only teaching moment I see.

Patricia Cummings said...

Love the quilt you made, Pepper. Leave it to you to always put a lot of thought into your creative works and thoughtfulness, at the same time. Great work, as usual. Keep it up! Hugs, Pat

winia said...

I can appreciate you wanting to save the quilt, but I would not hang it in my living room. I don't know that I would have even bought it. I probably would have walked right by it and just felt seething anger when I looked at it. It carries too much garbage with it to in any way, shape or form explain it away.

Koo B said...

Yes its a much more ancient symbol, but I suspect that several generations will have to pass by before it ceases to be a symbol of death, destruction and hatred.