O fortuna – Elizabeth Barton


O fortuna  

27”w, 41”h


This quilt figures the winding gear of the old coal mines where many men, including my grandfather in Stanley, Co Durham, went to seek their fortunes.  As the wheel turned, one knew there were men going down deep into the earth.  There was a harsh beauty to the head gear but also a tension related to their dark purpose.  It’s very sad that most of them have been demolished.  They would have been a great tribute to all those miners.





I work with cloth and dye, I am a quiltmaker.  The quilts, however, are not at all traditional; they are “contemporary” or “art quilts” or “fiber collages”.  I have always sewed and find myself comfortable and skilful with cloth and stitches. I love the medium of quilts because it’s so accessible to everyone.  People are not put off by unfamiliarity with the medium and immediately start relating to the work. But then they notice the difference from the quilts they remember and begin to really look and explore my pieces and (I hope!) are delighted by the richness of light, texture and color. I want to express in an exciting, visual, colorful way the excitement that a certain scene or pattern of shapes and shadows creates within me.   I would like everyone to realize how much having a piece of original art can add to a home.

I paint or dye all my own cloth; I don’t like the tightness of imagery in most commercial fabric and I want every part of the quilt/fiber collage to be my voice, my hand, my heart.   Sometimes I make fabric for a particular piece, but more often I just dye the colors I relate to that day.  I do have a list on the studio wall:  “need more blue fabric with dots” etc so that I have a good inventory.  When the fabric is washed, dried and lovingly ironed (a very sensual task involving the power of smoothing out wrinkles, making the colors glow, and the spreading warmth and soft ironing smell!) then I can cut out the really juicy bits of fabric and arrange them into strong designs that are always a little off – they just don‘t quite follow the rules.  When the work is going well I’m floating! I love it when colors and shapes come together to make a rich, satisfying, and fascinating mix.

I have focused on a few particular themes:
buildings and cityscapes (I come from a medieval city and this is what I saw as a child), industrial landscapes (my first job was in a chocolate factory and I love walking through this amazingly weird cathedral dedicated to the cocoa bean),
black and white curves and lines (always loved woodcuts, they are sensuous and nostalgic).
Landscape (I love space, light, sky, distance).

I have a lot of ideas and prefer to sketch out many possibilities and then choose just one or two ideas per piece rather than stuff everything into one jumble.  I never completely finish a series: when the idea flow dwindles, I switch to another one for a while because I want every piece to feel fresh and energetic.  I want a dynamic balance and rich color. .  I’m happy when the piece is pulled together, strong, and compelling. My goal is to enjoy a marvelously expressive activity that yields something tangible that came right out of my head and heart and hands.

I was born in York, England, educated in England and U.S.A., obtained a Ph.D  in 1975.  I emigrated to U.S.A. in 1976.  Whilst working in the health service at the University of Georgia, I began to make quilts, focusing on Art Quilts with the encouragement of an NEA grant and acceptance into Quilt National in 1995. I’ve been accepted to many shows (Quilt National 5 times, Visions 4 times) and won several prizes. My book: Inspired to Design will be published April 2013.