Counterculture Quilter to Open Exhibition in Indiana
Quilting is not the first thing that comes to mind when the counterculture of the 1960s is mentioned. However, Indiana fabric artist Penny Sisto has used the turbulent era as inspiration in her latest pieces. Sisto is set to open a new exhibition of her work at the Carnegie Center in New Albany, Indiana on February 16.
Although she now makes her home in the United States, Sisto was born in the Orkney Islands, an archipelago of rocky islands just off the coast of Scotland. The islands are more known for basketry and weaving than quilting, but Sisto was destined to make her mark in fabrics. She learned how to sew at the young age of three and was soon creating unusual sewing projects to the confusion of her grandmother, a traditional Scottish woman who had raised her after her mother left. After leaving the islands for mainland Scotland, Sisto began to discover the music and culture of the 1960s. While working as a seamstress in Scotland, she even led a walkout of fellow seamstresses over unsafe working conditions.
After the birth of her daughter, Sisto began selling her unique quilts to earn extra money. She also worked as a midwife for a British foreign aid organization, traveling to Africa to assist Maasai and Kikuyu women in childbirth. In Africa, she met American Peace Corps workers who invited her to return to the United States with them and live at the Ananda Village commune in California. After living at the commune for several years, Sisto and her husband moved to a cabin in Indiana where they reside today.
Sisto uses a combination of fabric scraps, pastels, dye, beads and even human hair to form her quilts. She combines European and African styles to create her pieces. Her latest 1960s-inspired collection features brightly colored quilts depicting Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Martin Luther King Jr.
The exhibit, titled as “The Sixties – Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!”, will launch with a reception on February 16 and will run until April 20. To close the exhibition, Sisto will give a talk about the effect the counterculture movement of the 1960s has had on her life and work.