Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time, Toilet Paper and Tomato Soup


We made a quick trip to Boise at the end of last week, mainly for Ray's 50th High School reunion, but we also spent time with relatives, I went to a quilt show, saw all that is new in Boise since we lived there and revisited what we loved, and still remains, of the city we remember. A sentimental journey in lots of ways.

The quilt show was put on by the Boise Basin Quilters guild and two of my favorite young, quilt artists, Lisa Flowers Ross and Kathleen Probst, were the featured artists. I walked the show enjoying the exquisite traditional quilts, as well as some bright contemporary quilts, and most of all, Lisa and Kathleen's bold, clear abstract art quilts. Each, in her own way, has explored the possibilities of simple forms, complex color and transparency, creating exciting work that really elevated the show. I was drinking in all that, plus the richness of tradition and craftsmanship in the rest of the show, then I saw something that stopped me short. In a vendor's booth a quilt and the pattern to make it, consisting of four quilt blocks, each depicting a slightly different view of a roll of toilet paper. I was dumbfounded, and I snapped a picture with my phone.

Walking to my car I kept thinking about why that quilt had so shocked me, and I posted the photo and my reaction to Facebook. Comments started rolling in. Some just didn't like the idea of making "art" from kits or patterns. Some expressed a distaste for the subject matter. One commenter defended it as "fun" and wondered why art had to be serious and a couple seemed to think I was attacking someone's personal expression in a rude or condescending way coming from someone who should be supportive of a fellow artist, while others dismissed it as "not art."

Only my friend Jeri seemed to understand that it was really time that I was reacting to. Events of recent years have made me acutely aware of how precious time is, and I have, more and more, pondered how one uses the limited time each of us is given. I have come to abhor busy work and mindless time-wasting. I hope I don't sound morbid or overly earnest. I want to relax and be entertained and have fun (though I still fail to understand why a toilet paper quilt is fun) as much as anyone, but I know full well what goes into making any quilt. When I expend my resources, including money, skill, emotional investment and time, I want it to be meaningful, and I could not, hard as I tried, coax any real meaning from that little quilt. My reaction turned to a little sadness that there are people who so little value their own time on earth and the skills they have worked to achieve.

I have been accused of overthinking in the past and this might be what I'm doing here. Things like school reunions and nostalgic weekends in an old home town will do that. I know I probably should not be concerned with how anyone other than I, myself, chooses to spend their time and energies and usually I'm not, and really this time I'm not so much concerned or disapproving as I am simply confounded.

And the tomato soup?

Several commenters mentioned Andy Warhol and his soup cans as somehow similar to the toilet paper quilt. One said, "how is this different from Warhol's soup can?..." Poor Andy. He has come to represent, for many, art that is so simple-minded that if a can of soup is art than anything can be. I rather love those soup cans myself, and find a lot of sly meaning to be found there. How many people know that he did not paint just one big tomato soup can? The original exhibit was 32 separate Campbell's soup paintings—one each of the 32 varieties Campbell's made. They were exhibited all together, side by side around a room in a galley—iconic in their style of presentation. Initially 3 were sold, but the gallery owner quickly realized that they were a set—complete only as a whole—and bought the 3 back. They have continued to be exhibited only as a group since. How does one view them? Icons of popular culture? A comment on the power of advertising? Beauty in the everyday object? When asked, Warhol said he chose soup because he liked soup and had eaten it for lunch every day for 20 years. So, now do you maybe see parallels in art and nourishment? Warhol went on to make many more variations on the soup can—large, very grand cans; soup cans as a repeating pattern; cans with the colors changed. A roomful of these pieces becomes a dizzying contemplation on the very nature of the manmade image, which can become entirely divorced from its original meaning. What has that image now come to represent? Simple nourishment? capitalism? the Pop Art movement? or something else? I'm probably overthinking again, but I think comparing Andy Warhol and the toilet paper quilt is a stretch. I don't think I'm buying it.

Thanks for reading all this. If you've hung in here you probably want to see that TP quilt that got me so agitated. I decided not to publish my photo without permission from the maker, but here is a link to the original pattern:


Draw your own conclusions.



  1. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Back in the 60's to late 70's my aunt was the executive secretary for a vice president at Campbell Soup. Over the years we received countless items with the "Campbell Kids" on them (utensils, mugs, bowls, etc.). However, the thing she gave us that I liked most was a large Campbell's tomato soup beach towel. She gave all four of us one. As we have been going through my parents' things, helping my dad downsize, we've found many Campbell items. It's only now, as an adult, that I realize that the towels were probably made as a direct result of Warhol's art. It was probably a very clever marketing move on the part of the company.

  2. Not something I want to spend my time on but I can see a couple of TP blocks in a small wall hanging to put in a bathroom. Maybe the guest bath? To each his own.

  3. I heard an NPR interview with the author of a book about Warhol. He said Andy's mom fed him Campbells soup every day for lunch when he was young.

    I too am confounded by a quilt about toilet paper.....so much beauty to in the world...my only thought is that the only place I would ever display something like this is in the bathroom....guess it could be an amusing comment

  4. The toilet paper reminded me of an interview with (I think) the singer Rod Stewart, who commented that life is like a roll of toilet paper, the nearer you get to the end, the faster it runs out. Rather apt, considering how it prompted your thoughts on the passing of time!

  5. I guess that were saying that everything is art, but of course that is not true. I am 72 and I like many kinds of quilts and art, but I can't see spending time and money making a quilt about toilet paper. Cute, but about the third time you looked at it you would want to bundle it up and take it to - the dump? the resale? the dog's bed? Some place where you wouldn't have to look at it any more. (I don't like paintings of outhouses, either, or of anything trite.
    Whew, that sounds like an old sour woman!

  6. Just goes to show the diversity of the human mind. Not my first choice, but oh well.

  7. Even more kudos to something so simple as a roll of toilet paper that can generate so much reaction......after all isn't that what art is all about. Interpretation by the viewer. The artist made the rolls interesting for some to like and others not so much. There was a time when the impressionists were looked at as not real artists but in the long run proved they were. Don't know if the toilet paper quilt will do that but at least for now it has created a good discussion.

  8. Anonymous3:01 PM

    i think your sense of humor is in the toilet

    1. You may be right! Perhaps I've been taking myself too seriously. ( wouldn't be the first time) your comment made me laugh, though!

  9. What timing. We just had this designer at our guild. She introduced the "toilet paper" as humorous (and deeply embarrassing to her teenagers). Perhaps it would be a simple, quick project when you just want the feeling of accomplishment of getting something done!

    Worst part is: I wonder where she came up with this idea?

  10. Terry, I'd like to respectfully submit that your reaction to the quilt is why so many people think Artists are snobs, and perhaps, sheep. Andy Warhol paints soup cans and the elite call it art, and sigh from the deep social commentary. I see an awful lot (pun intended) of quilt art that looks like a major waste of time.

    I would say that the toilet paper roll quilt is a fine example of art. It has us talking, it has us thinking and questioning. The maker has found a way to present one of life's most mundane items in a way that provokes a strong reaction. I say Bravo!

  11. Considering the topic of controversy over how to hang the toilet paper roll and my own frustration with how my husband always leaves a square on (the one with adhesive) so he doesn't have to change the roll ("it hadn't run out yet"), this quilt might speak volumes. Would I make it and hang it in my bathroom (or anywhere else)? Nope. But I can see where the idea came from. And it did get a reaction.

  12. At least one can tell the subject matter. I love the fabrics used in the photo for the pattern. It's better than some 'art' quilts out there where it looks as if the maker just threw something together and called it a quilt.

  13. Anonymous5:31 PM

    Great discussion and comments Terry. I tend to agree with you and share your thoughts that life is short and so is time to work on art. I would not spend my time working on this; I wonder if the person who created this was trying to initiate the thoughts or it just happened.