by Suzanne Labry
Distance and family dynamics prohibited artist Sarah Bork from developing a close relationship with her maternal grandmother, Margaret Wrbitzky, who died years ago
at age 102.
A doll quilt that her grandmother made for Sarah’s mother when she was a child, however, has ignited a creative spark that is allowing Sarah to form a connection with her grandmother that was never possible before. That little quilt inspired Sarah to reexamine what she knows—and doesn’t know—about her mother’s mother.
Target Log Cabin, 28" x40," fused plastic Target and other bags. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bork.
Sarah calls her current project “Quilts: Heritage & Hereafter” and in it she considers the way in which hobbies and events in her grandmother’s life have impacted her own. “Each of us has a legacy of joys and sorrows that are part of the lore of our families,” she explains. “Every generation sheds and builds on these stories as it further refines its own values.”
Sarah is not a quilter, although she has sewn since she was a preteen. “I made a mix-and-match wardrobe and won thirdprize for it at the Great Frederick (Maryland) Fair when I was 11. After that, I sewed everything, even my own prom dresses,” she laughs. “And I started collecting fabric!”
A theater major in college, she worked as an actress in New York and Los Angeles, and for 13 years worked in film at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. Sarah has been a professional photographer for years, and is now known for her fine art photography and mixed media art. It is through mixed media that she is exploring the tie to her grandmother’s quilting heritage, although she is definitely putting her own spin on
Case in point: Sarah’s quilts are constructed from fused plastic bags.
3+2, 28" x 40," fused plastic Target, New York Times, and other bags. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bork.
An inveterate recycler, she was also influenced by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, whose large-scale assemblages of recycled pieces of aluminum sewn together with copper wire resemble metallic cloth-like “quilts.” Sarah uses only recycled bags in her quilts, and she says there is an endless supply of them.
Of course, that’s unfortunate from an environmental perspective, but it means that she can readily find the colors and patterns that she needs for her work. For example, one quilt features a red center square set on point surrounded by alternating red and white strips formed from Target bags and bordered with blue New York Times newspaper bags.
Her process is simple. She first fuses bags together to achieve the thickness she wants by placing layers of bags between parchment paper and ironing them until they meld to one another. She then cuts the fused pieces into the shapes she wants and sews them together as she would fabric. The fused layers give dimension to the finished product, making it appear almost as though it contains batting as in a traditional quilt.
Parisian Compassion, 28" x 40," fused plastic crime scene tape and New York Times bags. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bork.
Sarah’s quilts may have a different look and feel from the one her grandmother made, but the fact that Sarah chose the form of a quilt as the basis for her art project is a recognition of the creative heritage that has been passed down through generations.
Although the relationship with her grandmother might not have been as rich as what Sarah wished she had had growing up, nevertheless her fused plastic bag quilts are also fusing an emotional bond that previously did not exist.