A World in Stitches
In 1979 Poland, storefront shelves drew dust due to shortages, and the announcement of a shipment of toilet paper could draw a line of desperate buyers that stretched for blocks. But in Łódź, a textile manufacturing town, shops selling fabrics, yarn, and sewing notions put out brightly colored window displays advertising their wares, and maintained a comparatively well-stocked assortment of goods. For a young Bożena Wojtaszek, Polish born quilt artist, this unusual surplus of supplies made learning to sew an interest that turned into a lifelong outlet for creativity, and has served as a connection to the world.
Wojtaszek uses the skills she learned as a seamstress to create gorgeous, award-winning art quilts, one of which just returned from a two-year journey throughout the United States with the Festival of Quilts. The piece, entitled Global Village, shows 42 different homes, each a different shape, size and color, but all inextricably intertwined in a delightful mélange, just as diverse and surprising as the global village we all live in.
Another favorite of Wojtaszek’s is an art quilt called They See, in which hooded figures facing away from the viewer gaze toward a luminous sky.
“It was very nice to sew, but it is even more interesting to hear what the viewers see in it,” she said. “It turns out that this quilt is very meaningful and evokes so many interesting associations.”
While she learned to sew at the tender age of nine, Wojtaszek had been hearing stories of her maternal grandmother, a talented and passionate lifelong seamstress, for much longer. Soon she was dyeing her own yarn and cloth, and creating patchwork pieces that she now recognizes were precursors to her current art quilts.
“I was trying to make art quilts not even knowing that they were [those kinds of] quilts,” Wojtasztek said. “In Poland we are not familiar with the quilts. We know patchwork and usually it is meant to cover the bed. I was never interested in making bed covers. I wanted to make things to hang them on the wall and admire.”
Sixteen years ago, Wojtaszek discovered an entire community and tradition of textile arts she did not know existed.
“I was searching Amazon for ‘patchwork,’ and this strange word, ‘quilt,’ appeared,” Wojtaszek said. “I started studying this area and discovered what ‘American quilt’ really means — with its history, tradition, and people.”
After a decade of validation through contests, Wojtaszek is focused on a new endeavor- her burgeoning Etsy business.
She opened her online shop last December, and has seen slow, but steady growth in sales since April of this year. While she hopes for Polish customers in the future, for now they are all from Europe, North America, and Australia.
For Wojtaszek, inspiration lies everywhere.
“I’m always interested in everything. Curiosity is my middle name,” she said.
But when everything she looked at became an inspiration, she found a way to bring some order to her myriad interests. In the end, she found that the kitchen and its bounty of food were an abundant source for her creativity. Because these seemingly simple two topics encompass nature, culture and emotions, Wojtaszek never lacks for a subject for her art.
“A few years ago, I ‘discovered’ medieval art,” Wojtaszek said. She sees illuminated manuscripts, though inlaid with gold leaf by ancient masters, as modern day cartoons.
“When I find a humble, common plant in medieval herbal [texts] looking exactly like we know now I think, ‘Oh my, the whole world changed [a] million times and forget-me-nots are still the same.’”
For more information on Bożena Wojtaszek, and to see more of her work, visit http://textilecuisine.blogspot.com.