Monday, December 14, 2009

Artist Profile: Sylvia Einstein - A Fresh Look at Traditional

Dialogue - 2009 - 42" x 50"
Currently on exhibit at The Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center, Auburn, NY

Sylvia Einstein is an artist I'm sure many of you know either from seeing her work in one of the numerous exhibitions in which she has participated or by having her as an instructor in a quilt workshop. She is a lovely person whose smile and quiet confidence drew me in as soon as we met last summer at Quilting By the Lake.

Sylvia was born and educated in Switzerland but was in the US in 1975 during the celebration of the Bicentennial of the US and made her first quilt in honor of that event. From that beginning she has build a reputation for her sophisticated compositions, skillful use of color via commercially printed fabrics, and for her talent as a teacher. You can see the reference to traditional quilt structure in some of her work but her use of colour and bold patterns gives the work a youthful fresh feeling.

Questions and Responses

Terry: It is always interesting to me as to how artists, who work in a specific medium for many years, keep the work fresh for themselves. What type of study, research, preparation etc. do you utilize in the development of your work?

Sylvia: I read magazines, (Fiberart, Surface Design, Art News, Art New England,) that is, I mostly look at pictures. I go to Art Exhibits. I collect pictures of stuff that interest me and I take the occasional class, not necessarily in the medium I am working in. I occasionally make collages. I consider all of this filling the well.

Messenger - 2002 - 37" x 58"

Terry: Tell us about your studio experience. Do you clearly visualize a new piece or is it a process of discovery "on the design wall" or perhaps somewhere in between?

Sylvia: No, it is a process of discovery. I am attracted to the interaction of patterns with geometry. I love the grid, the block. I love breaking the seam-lines visually and I find limits of the traditional techniques encouraging. The traditional sewing methods force me to work with chance and the unexpected does happen and I follow. "Chance is much cleverer than I" (Quoted by Gerhard Richter in an article by Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker)

Quiet Neighborhood - 1999 - 41" x 42"
Photo by David Caras

Terry: I believe you always use printed fabrics. What is it about printed fabrics that attracts you? How may that have changed over the years?

Sylvia: Using commercial prints gives richness to the surface that I cannot achieve with hand dyed material. There are far more colors and color variations if you combine many prints. The colors are clearer (not grayed as they are in many batiks) Large scale patterns cut up gives me shapes and lines that I could not think of. I consider my work a dialogue with the material. I often work a long time on a block till it connects to its neighbors. I cut and re-cut material, I do not sew the composition till the whole front is finished. Every time you move a piece it affects the others. It is a constant balancing act. It may look random. It is not.

Red Lantern - 2003 - 25" x 54"

Terry: What was the progression of "making a quilt" to making many quilts which are art?

Sylvia: There was no progression, I started quilting in 1975 in the Boston area and the fiberarts were fermenting. I started out as a weaver earlier. I was lucky to meet so many who were exploring quilt making as an art form, although the discussion at that time was mostly: is it art or craft?

Bagdad Burning - 1991 - 47" x 46"

Terry: What do you enjoy in other people's work? (all mediums)

Sylvia: Colour, lines, texture (visual and real) abstract work. Humor.

- 2002 - 39" x 59"

Terry: Generally we talk about what we learn from a teacher in classes or workshops. What have you learned from being a teacher?

Sylvia: I had to analyze what I do as much as possible. I had to pay attention to the process and verbalize it. Of course there is a mysterious happening that defies explanation.

Arabesque - 2002 - 37" x 58"

Terry: If you could have your work exhibited anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

Sylvia: In any of the modern art museums, especially the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland because the space is so beautiful and they hang the shows so intelligently.

Sylvia Einstein

Sylvia keeps a busy teaching schedule and you can find a full listing of her schedule here.

Thank you Sylvia for sharing your work with us.


  1. Another fabulous interview- Terry, I love your series and hope it goes on forever. Sylvia's work is wonderful and very individual and your questions have brought her thought processes to all of us. Thanks!

  2. Terry, thanks for adding more dimension to our world through these interviews.