There are photos, paintings and pieces of music that are touching you in a very emotional way, that are resonating deep within. This quilt for me belongs to this kind of art. I’m really drawn to it and I feel like I have a relationship with this gorilla.
This masterpiece is called „My Gentle Giant – Ben“ and was created by Patt Blair from California (read more about her and her quilts here). It won the „Master Award for Machine Artistry“ at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2012.
I asked Patt Blair to tell us a more about „Ben“:
In 2007 I read a tragic article about the fate of adult male, female and offspring Mountain Gorillas in the Congo. These gorillas are beautiful family oriented creatures that as most know live in groups with the dominant male (represented ultimately by ‘Ben’ ) becoming assertive/aggressive when needed to defend either his position or his family. The group male is the epitome of power in restraint.
Ben as seen in this piece is not a photographed gorilla. I looked at many photos to understand the facial characteristics of this exquisite animal. But my Ben grew/matured as I created him across 3 years. I wanted to humanize him somewhat and took minor liberties with nature. My goal was for the viewer (including me) to sense the tender nature of this giant male while at the same time being aware of the power held within.
Ben was created like many of my projects.. I first drew a black and white contour drawing, enlarged it to desired size at a local print shop, and placed the large drawing underneath fabric before I began painting.
My pieces are often perceived to be photos on fabric, but it is a painting. I began with the eyes and worked from there. I will admit, this guy was a bit scary when I painted his eyes in true to life colors. When I continued to feel uneasy about his presence, I chose to soften the value and eye color to make him more emotionally approachable by a viewer.
Ben hung on my design wall, painted but unquilted for almost 3 years. He was unnamed for most of that time. As I would enter the room, he seemed to demand attention such that after a while, I began to say “Hello” as I entered. He seemed gentle to me … and I thought of a TV show years ago about a bear named Gentle Ben … thus the ultimate title: My Gentle Giant – Ben. Maybe a bit silly, but it was fun saying “Hello, Ben” when I entered the room.
I contemplated long and hard on how to quilt Ben, not because I didn’t have any ideas, but because he had become so important to me, that I wanted to really do him justice. I knew pretty much what I would do around his eyes and the rest of his face, but his black and sometimes silver fur were the challenge. One morning I awakened with the answer and got started almost immediately.
The quilt is 31 inches wide and 41 inches long. It is painted with pigment ink on cotton. Batting is Australian wool/poly blend.
As a side note, I happen to be a quilt judge myself and I often think of my pieces the way a judge might. I know that judging for quality of workmanship and creativity is a given for all judges and that drives my expectations of my own work. Of greatest importance aside from the aforementioned is the WOW factor: the overall impression.
Ben seemed to grab a viewer’s attention and wouldn’t let go even when a viewer wasn’t normally drawn to wildlife. I worked hard on Ben, but I also got lucky. When exhibited at the International Quilt Festival in Houston it seemed nearly everyone learned Ben’s name and spoke of him like he was alive and present. A little strange, I know but fun!