When is a quilt not a quilt, yet still a quilt? When it’s a photograph composed of color saturated microcosmic images of birds of paradise, pink ginger flowers and vivid green aloe like the aptly titled “Nature’s Quilt” by fine artist and photographer, Kiersten A. Stein, one of the featured artists at the Quan Gallery in Lahaina.
The cooperative gallery, sandwiched between Hard Rock Cafe and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, is an oasis of difference within the sea of celebrity and tourist-driven art galleries on Lahaina’s crowded Front Street.
Among those attending last Friday’s reception for Stein—a multi-cultural, multi-generational mix of residents, recent arrivals and those hoping to become residents, that included an intuitive healer from Arizona, a newly married Russian photographer, a couple of seniors from Kihei and a nine-year-old and her mother from Kula—the collective consensus was that this was what those who love art and Maui have been craving.
Founded by Carolyn Quan, fine art photographer and four-time gold record winner for her creative achievements in the music industry, the gallery represents six talented local artists, all working in different mediums and styles.
Which, in a patchwork way, brings us back to Stein’s photo mosaics and quilts composed of images from the natural world, as well as words and phrases. For these, too, can be a collaborative effort.
Stein custom-quilts to represent the customer’s dreams and desires in a variety of formats. So far the largest commissioned quilt measures 32 inches by 40 inches—twice the size of her pieces on exhibit at the Quan Gallery. Custom collaborations using images from Stein’s library of flowers and fauna begin at $750 for a 16-inch by 24-inch quilt.
Clients can ask Stein to photograph a particular flower or plant and incorporate that into the other images, at an hourly rate. Or they can draw upon her experience as a portrait photographer to create a piece commemorating a special occasion such as a wedding anniversary, graduation or birth.
Stein prints the finished quilt on a variety of surfaces, including tile, textile and premium archival canvas. The latter produces a contemporary look that doesn’t need framing.
Stein says that she is “the artist,” but that she is “also the facilitator to the client’s vision.
“Sharing gives me a feeling of connectedness,” she says.
It may also be a part of the fabric from her own family’s quilt.
“My father was a generous man,” Stein says. “He didn’t teach me everything he thought I needed to know, he taught me everything he knew.”
The oldest of five children, Stein says one of the rituals of her childhood was patchwork quilting twice a week with her Nana.
“When I photograph, I want to become the atom moving through space and time,” she says. “I like to go below the surface. Yet I’m not interested in being invasive. Respecting the natural state of what I’m photographing is important to me. I’m extremely shy. So, in a way, I can use the camera to hide behind yet still experience great intimacy. I want my pieces to effect those who see them on an emotional and sensory level to mean something and bring something positive to those who witness them.”
Newer pieces especially, such as “Gecko” and “Needles and Thread” are hypnotic. Departing from the vivid patchwork style of the tropical pieces, which are filled with beehive and pink ginger flowers, birds of paradise, king protea, and a variety of aloe, these use desert hues and repeated images. The finished effect is reminiscent of tapestry, reminding me of an intricate Balinese or Tibetan textile.
What I like about these quilts is that they integrate the personal and the political, the local and global and especially the need for connection, intimacy, truth and beauty in everyday life. Stein’s artist statement card sums it up this way: “It’s in the still that we can experience the extraordinary.”
Stein’s current exhibition continues through Spring at the Quan Gallery, 900 Front St. Stein can by contacted through the gallery, or at her other gig, “Unions in Paradise,” where she plans intimate and exceptional events, weddings, and other meaningful celebrations. MTW