Missouri Star Quilt Co.
A MassArt exhibit that steps back in time to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a small town quilt company hits it big with quilters nationwide, strange photography prints, and free performances in Downtown L.A.
BJ Robinson: In this edition of "KPBS Arts,"
artists respond to the Cultural Revolution.
Fred Han Chang Liang: The only love you can express
during that period of time was the love of the Communist Party
and love of the country.
BJ: An economic revival through a community of quilters.
Jenny Doan: People started calling us and they would say,
"Hey, you know that fabric you used in that video?
I'd like to buy some of that."
BJ: Art in the dark room.
Lauren Semivan: So that always really interested in me
that I was sort of creating a totally new space that didn't
exist in reality and that could only exist through the camera.
BJ: And a stage that grants access for all.
Mari Riddle: So artists know that they're reaching
a different audience, and that's really, really meaningful.
BJ: It's all ahead on this edition of "KPBS Arts."
BJ: Hi, I'm BJ Robinson and this is "KPBS Arts,"
the show that explores art of all kinds.
We're here at Montezuma Hall on the campus
of San Diego State University.
Behind me is a painting called the "Mural Triptico," a stunning
piece representing the evolution of the Chicano movement.
The Cultural Revolution in China lasted from 1966 until 1976
but its legacy lives on.
An exhibition at MassArt in Boston,
Massachusetts, looks at the revolution through the lens of
eight Chinese artists who either lived through it
or were shaped by it.
Fred: In my own family, it's not talked about.
male: Artist Fred Han Chang Liang was 12 years old when
his family left China, just three months before the end
of the Cultural Revolution, a decade-long period
that saw Chairman Mao strip the country of its heritage,
history, and ancient ways.
Fred: The entire society was collapsing in terms of culture
but doesn't mean culture didn't exist.
I was very much into drawings, looking at art,
looking at whatever kind of art that I have here
which is very limited.
male: For Liang and the seven other artists featured
in this exhibition, their work is meant to be a reclamation.
They're processing what the Cultural Revolution did to them,
both culturally and individually.
Fred: Everyone's humanity was stripped down to the most
neutral sense and the only love you can express during
that period of time was the love of the Communist Party
and love of the country.
Lisa Tung: All of the artists in the show are expressing
a dream, whether it's a more socially aware dream
or something that they want to call our attention to.
male: Lisa Tung is the curator of the show she titled,
Lisa: It's all very, very beautiful and very
thought-provoking and sometimes what you see on the surface is
a little bit different than what you think it's saying
when you delve a little deeper.
male: This photograph by Hai Bo shows a moment
of intimacy between an elderly couple.
But it's actually the picture of how they've been abandoned
What could be Zhan Wang's enduring mark of ancient
calligraphy devolves into darkness and his work "Night"
features two men happily caught in the throes of a rally.
The piece even shimmers up close.
Lisa: It's like diamond dust or something and you get very,
very close and you realize that the painting
is actually painted all with ash.
So during the Cultural Revolution Mao
tried to stamp out any religion.
So "Night" is created entirely with ash sourced
from Buddhist temples.
So when you look a little closer you realize that
it's saying that, you know, this is something that the Cultural
Revolution tried to stamp out but it has still persevered.
male: During the Cultural Revolution,
millions were killed, died of starvation,
were imprisoned or sent to labor camps.
Even for these artists, working after the revolution,
art-making came at their own peril.
Many first showed in underground galleries.
Performance art, though, presented less risk.
Lisa: It happens at a set amount of time
and then it goes away.
There's no trace of anything that can be used against them.
male: Unless it's recorded.
This film by Ma Qiusha shows her discussing the toll of
China's one-child policy, with a razor blade in her mouth.
In curating the show, Tung chose works in media
that reflected China's long history of art-making,
painting, porcelain, and paper, like Fred Liang's sculpture,
seemingly steeped and stacked in heritage.
Fred: It probably doesn't jump out as having,
like, kind of a Chinese influence but,
generally speaking, the large part of the influence is
from using a Chinese folk art form called jianzhi paper cut.
male: He created this installation using
one of China's most historic white porcelains.
male: Now, tell me, are these pieces emerging or receding?
Fred: You can think of it either way because one of the thing
that I'm trying to get across is that it's in flux,
it's in transition.
It's a metaphor for ideas gets transitioned
from one location to another.
male: Just as this exhibition does.
male: So would you ever see an exhibition like this
Fred: Every one of these artists have shown in China.
Every one of these paintings has shown in China,
but never in this context.
So that's what makes this exhibition kind of unique.
BJ: And now, here's a look at some of the arts events
happening this week in our community.
BJ: It's just east of Cameron, Missouri,
on Highway 36 known as the birthplace of J.C. Penney.
But that isn't why downtown Hamilton is such
a busy place these days.
The town has become practically a vision quest
for quilters thanks to the Missouri Star Quilt Company.
Let's see how fabric and family are building quite
a quilt empire in rural Missouri.
female: Like many of America's great small towns,
Hamilton, Missouri, had seen its glory days come and go.
But that all began to change in 2008 when the fates
of a family in this town of less than 1800 became entwined,
turning something very bad into something very good.
Jenny: In 2008 there was a major crash.
We lost all of our retirement, my husband and I.
And the children started thinking about what we could do
in our retirement that would keep us out of their basement.
female: The path to their ultimate success would be lit
by a simple question.
Jenny: One day I was going to pick up a quilt that had been
quilted and my son said, "Well, what quilt is this?"
And I said, "I don't even know."
And he says, "What do you mean, you don't know?"
And I said, "I can't remember what it was.
I took it there over a year ago."
And so he starts thinking about this and finally he says to me,
"Is this a thing?
I mean, this longarm quilting, is this something you could do
because if it's--if these people are backed up a year,
you know, there's a market for that."
And so they decided to buy me a quilt machine.
female: A quilt machine that was too big for the house
and cost more than the building they'd bought to house it.
Alan Doan: They had this little 1000 square foot shop.
You could open the door and peek in and,
like, see nothing and be, like, "Okay, I'm good,"
and we were, like, "Oh no, you've gotta come in."
We decided that we should start doing YouTube videos to tell
people about quilting so we looked online and there's--
there just wasn't a lot of great video content there.
And I was, like, "Hey, Ma, you wanna do tutorials?"
Jenny: Okay, I'm game but what's a tutorial?
female: Let's just say, she got the gist quickly.
And soon they were racking up viewers on YouTube,
a growing group who not only wanted to quilt with Jenny,
but quilt what Jenny quilted.
Jenny: People started calling us and they would say,
"Hey, you know that fabric you used in that video?
I'd like to buy some of that."
And I was, like, "Well, that's my fabric."
And they were, like, "Well, I want some," and I'm like,
"But it's mine," you know?
And they'd be, like, "Well, where did you get it?"
And I'd be like, oh, I'd think back and I'd think,
oh, 1984, Ben Franklin.
You know, I had no idea where I got that fabric.
So I said to the kids, "Maybe we should think
about selling fabric."
So we checked into it. We couldn't afford it.
female: But help was on the way.
Enter the newly minted Moda pre-cuts.
Jenny: So it was one square of every fabric in the line
and they were in these little packets.
So I would make a project out of the packet
and we'd buy one bolt.
So we started doing that and that--and YouTube is
what catapulted us into being familiar to people.
People were looking online for easy and quick ways to do things
and then they're, like, "Well, I could just buy one
of those packs," you know?
And so that's really kind of when things started getting
a little bigger for us.
female: Being catapulted into familiarity has its perks.
But growth has its demands.
That's where the Doans were uniquely positioned to succeed.
Alan: Thankfully, we've got, you know,
there's seven kids in the family and we're all willing to work
for free for several years before we got a paycheck and,
by doing that, we were able to pivot and iterate and iterate
and try and do things and then we finally found stuff
Jenny: We are a normal family.
We all are very strong, opinionated people.
We all don't have any problems sharing our opinion
but the reason we have owners is because
the buck has to stop with someone.
Now, in the beginning, the kids said,
"You know, Mom, do you wanna be one of the owners?"
And I don't. I don't.
I'm a really good worker.
I'm a really good face for the company, but I don't own
the company and there has to be somebody in charge.
female: Of Jenny and Ron's seven children,
five work for MSQC and two are owners.
Sarah is in charge of the customers' experience in town.
Sarah Galbraith: How we've decided to do it
is kind of get different styles of fabric per shop.
There was a bunch of buildings available that were kind of just
sitting that hadn't really been rented out and so we just kind
of purchased one at a time and we've been able to bring them
back to life, essentially.
First, we were worried.
Would people want to walk from store to store?
You know, it's outside.
Is it--do we have--I mean, it's Missouri.
So we have freezing weather and we have hot weather, you know?
And really, I kind of--I tease that it cleanses your palette,
right, from each little walk.
You're like, "Okay, I'm ready to see more."
female: One of Alan's long-time friends, Dave Mipson,
tends the finances, while Al oversees
the customer experience online.
Alan: Quilters are sort of this group that
they don't get enough credit, right?
They're like the happiest, most cheerful,
most supportive, most loving people.
Like, I built the website, right?
I built it from scratch and then,
and we launch it and it breaks.
And you get these people that would be, like,
"Hey, just so you know, things aren't working so good
on--I'll hold my order.
Don't worry about a thing. I'll be back.
I know it's probably hard today.
It's a big day."
I'm, like, "Really?
Oh, thanks, guys, 'cause it's really hard over here,
and I'm, like, I am stressed out."
And they're, like, "Don't worry about a thing."
It's quilting, right?
It's been around forever and it's,
like, yeah, yeah, but this isn't your mom's quilt shop, right?
This is a new way of doing it where we're kind
of reinvigorating this industry.
What we saw was that, like, moms and my grandma, like,
they love to quilt but Sarah, my sister,
she doesn't have three months to put into making a quilt
so we had to simplify it.
We had to make it easier.
And so we had to come up with these ideas to be able
to let people make a quilt in a day.
You know, we're just trying to figure out ways of letting
people experience success and have a good interaction with the
hobby and the art of quilting and then circle back and, like,
you'll do your bigger, crazier,
more intense stuff as you get more and more confident.
female: What started with a single longarm quilt machine
has ballooned to 13 stores, over 400 employees,
a massive new warehouse, and a national small business award.
The Missouri Star Quilt Company is still steaming ahead
but for this family, success has come in both tangible
and intangible forms.
Jenny: What I didn't realize in the beginning was,
for me, this was all about sewing and I really
thought I was sewing.
Now, these letters start coming and they come from women who are
handicapped, women who have MS, a man with agoraphobia who,
he says, "I know I'm in a prison of my own making,
but for the first time in my life," he says,
"I feel like I am doing something that matters."
Who gets to have those kind of stories told to them?
Who gets to do that?
It's been more than anything I ever dreamt of.
BJ: You can find out more about the company by visiting
And now, here's a look at some upcoming arts events
around San Diego.
BJ: Detroit, Michigan born artist,
Lauren Semivan, uses a camera that dates back
to the Model T era to capture some very interesting prints
and some lesser known techniques to develop them.
Lauren: The photographer Jeff Wall talks about
photographers as being either hunters or gatherers and
I definitely identify with the gatherer rather than the hunter.
The large format view camera that I use dates from the early
20th century and it's a very simple kind of primitive camera
which it's basically a box with a lens and a ground glass
on the other end.
So I have a large piece of black velvet that I use as a dark
cloth to block out the light so that I can see the image that
I'm photographing and the camera takes 8 x 10 negatives
so the negative is much larger than, say,
a 35 millimeter or even medium format negative and so,
as a result, there's much more capacity for detail.
Often, what I'm looking for as I'm photographing is a way to
kind of suspend time itself or to be able to say something that
can't be said without the film and the act of photographing.
Sometimes, I'll start with an idea based on literature
and then the composition evolves from there.
All my photographs are made in the same studio and they're
incorporating painting and drawing and found objects
and sometimes the figure as a narrative tool.
The set sort of evolves until it sort of devolves into the next
picture and so I kind of--I really enjoy how the process is
this continuous organic moment from one image to the next.
This is an example of a set that was really pretty
So these are individual little sticks that were kind of pressed
into the backdrop against the toile fabric.
I kind of enjoy the element of it could all fall apart
at any moment.
As I'm working, my concept of time is a little bit different
in that everything is much slower pace and there's a really
intense kind of element of composition in working
with the large format camera.
You can, sort of, go under this black cloth and then see what
you're photographing upside down and backwards so it's sort of
transposed in a way and removed from reality even further.
So that always really interested in me that I was sort of
creating a totally new space that didn't exist in reality
and that could only exist through the camera.
And then the finished product is not something that is really
visible or even I'm conscious of what's going to happen
until I can see the final print or the negative.
I have two sizes.
One is 40 by 50.
That size is quite large and it's almost a one-to-one scale
relationship with the viewer.
And then the other way that I work is by contact printing
the 8 by 10 negative to make a cyanotype.
So the cyanotypes are made on, basically,
a watercolor paper and the emulsion is a mixture
of two different light-sensitive chemicals.
So, mix them together and then you handcoat the paper
with the emulsion and then you allow the paper to dry
in the total darkness.
When the paper's dry, you can print the negative directly
in contact with the paper in the sunlight.
You leave the print in the sun for your exposure and then
you can wash it in water and then you have your cyanotype.
The show that I recently had at David Klein Gallery was titled,
"Door Into the Dark," and, to me,
this idea is more about the creative process
as a pursuit of the unknown.
The creative process is something that kind of connects
people through time and space and also I think that
as we're--as artists are making things we don't necessarily
always know what we're doing or what we're looking for but we
feel the need to keep--to create the thing and to keep making it.
So I feel the process is sort of the door into the dark.
The painter Pierre Soulages talks about his black paintings
as being more just representative of the forms
that are in the paintings rather than about other ideas or,
you know, they're non-representational
so they really can't be described in language
and I think a lot of art is that way.
And that's the strength of art, is that we can't necessarily
always explain or identify what may be happening
when we look at a painting or any kind of image.
So I would say that I hope that my viewer is able to kind of
enter the photograph and have questions and things to think
about and want to be in that space but maybe not necessarily
have a way out of the space so that they can feel--relate to it
enough to sort of understand but then maybe their questions are
what keep them there or keep them looking at the piece.
Maybe some people are more comfortable knowing the answers
and others are comfortable with not understanding exactly
what is happening but being engaged in it at the same time.
BJ: To learn more about Semivan's work,
BJ: In the center of Los Angeles, California,
stands a beautiful downtown venue that offers people
a chance to enjoy an incredible array
of cultural performances at no charge.
Take a look at Grand Performances.
Leigh Ann Hahn: Grand Performances
is definitely a place of discovery.
This is one of the things that we are very,
very proud of but one of the things that I believe is
that what we do is medicine wrapped magic.
We tell a story about the humanity and the common things
that we share as human beings, through those shared
musical experiences, through those shared performances,
whether they're theater or dance.
The opportunity to put those things on our stage?
It's a real privilege, and it's a real responsibility
to make those choices.
You know, sometimes people say, "Oh, you're such a taste-maker."
And it's like, I don't think that we are taste-makers so much
as we are an organization that opens the doors
to the rest of the world.
Michael Alexander: When this program started,
it was neutral.
It didn't belong to any community so therefore could
belong to all communities.
And we made real concerted efforts to get the word out
that everybody was welcome.
We would buy advertising in community newspapers,
we engaged with people who were community activists all over
the city, and the result was we've been told we have the most
diverse audience in the country.
Mari: I have always been a proponent of looking at free
performance arts and performing as a way of uniting people.
And really, sort of, how-- disarming them, if you will,
with whatever tensions they come in,
whatever preconceived notions they come in,
in a sense to let art, music, dance, all spoken word,
disarm people to get to the essence of, if you will,
a humanity where people come across to each other
as humans first.
Leigh Ann: It's an opportunity to be yourself, blend in,
be with communities.
It is representative of not only Los Angeles
but the entire world.
Michael: Very, very important and special about gathering
with other people and that's a must.
People want to be with other people
when they experience the arts.
Mari: For that moment of time, which is two hours,
to take you to a place that you might not ever have had before.
And people remember that and it's sights,
smells, and all of that.
That's the magic of the performing arts
presenting industry and I don't think this is well known.
And I think there's a lot of opportunity and a lot of people
wanting to be more--to know more about that.
To sneak behind the curtain, to understand how it all works.
Mari: I think the artists, you know,
a lot of ways they're extremely appreciative of having
the ability to access an audience in this venue.
Often because it's a free venue, oftentimes there are people that
are, you know, audiences that are coming to this venue
and might not have had the opportunity to pay for
an artist on stage.
So artists know that they're reaching a different audience
and that's really, really meaningful.
Michael: A gentleman came up to me and said,
"I wanna thank you for these programs.
I've been homeless for 63 days.
I had a heart attack, had no health insurance,
and I lost my condo and I lost my car.
I have two sets of clothes and these are the good ones.
And if it wasn't for your program and the public library,
I would have gone crazy."
And he told me that all of us involved in the arts,
whether it's public television or those of us involved
in live performing arts at the galleries and the museums,
are keeping our whole society from going crazy
and we're playing a very important role.
And that has made it easy to wake up in the morning
and come to work.
male: Thank you, family.
BJ: For more, log on to GrandPerformances.org.
And that wraps it up for this edition of "KPBS Arts."
For more arts and culture, visit KPBS.org/Arts
where you'll find feature videos, blogs,
and information on upcoming arts events.
Until next time, I'm BJ Robinson.
Thanks for watching.
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