Allison SMITH Art

Fancy Work is an installation that looks to an exuberant early-nineteenth-century decorative arts movement known as American Fancy to trace an alternate lineage for modernist abstraction and psychedelic light shows. Drawing from patchwork quilts by Rebecca Scattergood Savery and others that were inspired by the 1816 invention of the kaleidoscope, I gathered a group of local makers to create a vibrant, dizzying wall work composed of more than 2,400 screen-printed, cut, and sewn linen diamonds. The design is a variation of the traditional Star of Bethlehem quilt pattern, which Scattergood innovatively took to the edges of her quilts like explosive shockwaves that could not be contained. This monumental quilt top then served as the projection screen for an outsized colonial wall sconce that scatters light from an electrified candle reflected in its faceted mirrors. The sconce is like an inverted disco ball/satellite dish, and it actually spins. Viewers navigated the space with punched tinwork lanterns, creating moving patterns of light and shadow, while an ensemble of tunesmiths played the hauntingly beautiful musical saw to complete this sensory experience.

In order to activate the social space between quilt and sconce, I invited a number of speakers including historian Sumpter Priddy III on American Fancy, media arts scholar Robin Oppenheimer on West Coast light shows of the 1960s and 70s, light show pioneer Bill Ham on light shows as a forgotten folk art form, American quilt historian Roderick Kirakofe on his collection of eccentric improvisational quilts, and activist and NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones on the notion of turning a symbol of American family values on its head: quilt as both healing tool and weapon, battlefield and mass grave.

Fancy Work
Allison SMITH Fancy Work steel, acrylic mirror Plexiglass, blown glass, mixed media
Fancy Work (Colonial Wall Sconce)
2010
steel, acrylic mirror Plexiglass, blown glass, mixed media
12' diam.

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.
Allison SMITH Fancy Work steel, acrylic mirror Plexiglass, blown glass, mixed media
Fancy Work (Colonial Wall Sconce)
2010
steel, acrylic mirror Plexiglass, blown glass, mixed media
12' diam.

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.

Allison SMITH Fancy Work steel, acrylic mirror Plexiglass, blown glass, mixed media
Fancy Work (Colonial Wall Sconce)
2010
steel, acrylic mirror Plexiglass, blown glass, mixed media
12' diam

Barton MacGuire plays the musical saw. Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.
Allison SMITH Fancy Work public event
Fancy Work (Light Show)
2010
public event
12' diam.

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Allison Smith.

Allison SMITH Fancy Work punched tin
Fancy Work (Tinwork Lantern)
2010
punched tin
36" h

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.
Allison SMITH Fancy Work installation view
Fancy Work
2010
installation view
dimensions variable

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.

Allison SMITH Fancy Work installation view
Fancy Work
2010
installation view
dimensions variable

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.
Allison SMITH Fancy Work installation view, detail
Fancy Work (Tinwork Lanterns)
2010
installation view, detail
dimensions variable

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.

Allison SMITH Fancy Work public event
Fancy Work (Crazy Quilting)
2010
public event

Allison Smith leads a "crazy quilting" activity with scraps from the Fancy Work quilt. Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Allison Smith.
Allison SMITH Fancy Work public event
Fancy Work (Improvisational Quilts)
2010
public event

Quilt historian Roderick Kirakofe shows selections from his eccentric quilt collection. Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Allison Smith.

Allison SMITH Fancy Work screen printed ink on cut and sewn linen
Fancy Work (Scattergood Quilt)
2010
screen printed ink on cut and sewn linen
27 x 27'

Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "75 Years of Looking Forward." Photo credit Charles Villyard.
Allison SMITH Fancy Work screen printed ink on cut and sewn linen, nylon rope
Half-square Triangles
2013
screen printed ink on cut and sewn linen, nylon rope
9 x 9'

Commissioned by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

Allison SMITH Fancy Work giclée print
"Cheater Cloth"
2010
giclée print
Edition of 7, published by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 43 3/4 x 32 inches

This limited-edition giclée print is digitally printed in full color on flax linen with a finished hem sewn by the artist. It depicts imagery captured using a unique scanning technology, updating the tradition of "cheater cloth," a printed material meant to look like several different fabrics, usually calicos, appliquéd or patch worked together. The inspiration for this work was derived from a quilt Smith saw at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, made by a convalescing Civil War soldier; she made her reworked version by cutting out fabrics collected over many years from her and her mother's sewing chests.

The original artifact combines Smith's interest in wartime textiles and art made by soldiers in the context of war, and also contains another facet of her research: the history of tradespeople and street peddlers. This print was made as a Special Projects Artist Edition in response to the "American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915" exhibition at LACMA and is available from the museum for purchase.
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