Chapel Chromatica concludes a three-year exploration by
Dallas artist Ellen Frances Tuchman. The installation is made up of plexiglas
benches and twelve painted and beaded vellum panels that function as windows
of color and light, providing emotive and symbolic access to months of the
year. The panels are not quilts but are paintings that use the language of
quilting—repetition, stitched accents, abstracted images that signify
forms in nature and embellishment.
Chapel Chromatica is inspired by the Rothko Chapel at the Menil Collection
in Houston, Texas—an octagon shaped building that holds six monumental,
darkly hued color field paintings by Mark Rothko from 1967 in a somber atmosphere
that elicits quiet contemplation. For Tuchman, Chapel Chromatica is the counterpoint
to the Rothko Chapel. She describes it as a celebration of light and color
and of the seasonal changes in nature, inspiring reflection about our place
in this cycle. Also important are elements of kitsch—mass produced elements
(in this case, certain beads and color choice) that signify a particular month
by calling to mind popular traditions or media images and add an element of
humor and a new discovery upon every visit.
Each painting begins with a bead—a vintage cabashon (a non-faceted stone
often found in costume jewelry), a 1950s plastic corn husk, an iridescent
sequin—specifically pulled from Tuchman’s vast collection to represent
both the color and the idea of a given month (each knowingly surrendered to
cliché). Using the computer software AutoCAD, Tuchman creates particular
shapes within a two-inch square (her ‘quilt block’) designed to
hold a specific bead and a unique color assignment that is repeated square
after square. The beads are stitched onto the vellum in arrangements that
create organic, abstracted forms, morphing from tree roots to ice crystals
as the panels move through the four seasons. Similarly, color is chosen for
the way it makes us feel and for its botanic relation to the various months.
Shades are applied with powdered pigment, acrylic and color pencil. Lightly
shaded vertical lines suggest eternity, while shimmering horizontal lines
represent the time and tone of morning, noon and night.
Tuchman’s work is both beautiful and complex. She was trained in fiber
arts, learning to weave textiles and to use silkscreen to transfer painted
imagery onto fabric surfaces. She has utilized repeated geometric pattern
throughout her career, and the notion of a repeat is mathematical, musical
and visual in her paintings. Her methods are informed by early childhood lessons
influenced by the theories of Friedrich Froebel, an 18th century German educator
who developed the premise that play leads to skilled activity. For Tuchman,
visual exercises that conveyed mathematic concepts have developed into a life-long
application of color theory, pattern and collage in eye-catching detail.
Chapel Chromatica is a portal through which the methods of the quilt artist
can be compared to those of the fine artist. Important in Tuchman’s
paintings is her process—collecting, developing series, placing the
personal and emotional into the order and rhythm of repeated pattern and building
each piece layer by layer. Her work is smart, with touches of kitsch and wry
comments on history, art and nature. It is simultaneously purposeful as solving
a math problem is purposeful and intuitive as knowing one’s connection
to the Earth, to history and to other human beings is intuitive. So too does
the quilt artist work.
Chapel Chromatica, a three-year exploration by Dallas
artist Ellen Frances Tuchman, consists of sixteen painted and beaded vellum
panels that function as windows of color and light, providing emotive and
symbolic access to months of the year and the passage of time. The panels
are mixed media, embellished paintings that use the language of quilting —
repetition, stitched accents, and abstracted images that signify forms in
nature. Inspired by the Rothko Chapel in Houston, as well as the Klimt’s
Beethoven Frieze at the Vienna Secession Museum, this installation is a celebration
of seasonal changes, inspiring reflection about our place in this cycle.