The Narrative Banners of Alice Gant

Alice Gant of Trumansburg creates banners, sometimes as large as 12 feet square, using scraps of fabric of all different kinds. “I use anything I can get my hands on,” she told us recently. “Upholstery and drapery fabrics work best because most of them have been treated to resist sun damage.” That’s important, since much of her work is displayed in sun-filled public buildings, especially churches and libraries, locally and throughout the country. Her favorite themes are gardens, birds and her personal heroes. Each banner has a story to tell and since words are important to Alice, she often includes them as a design element. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art has begun to tell the stories of their narrative paintings on labels, so I feel I’m in good company,” she said.

Alice holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art, and was a printmaker before she switched to banners over 30 years ago. “Printmaking is messy and smelly. It doesn’t work well if you have a family and you’re working at home,” she said. “Creating with fabric fits in better with women’s lives. That’s why we do fiber arts.”

Her studio is in the front room of her home, and her tools are simple: a 35-year-old Singer sewing machine with a zigzag-stitch feature, and a good sharp pair of scissors.

When she began working with cloth, Alice wanted to be able to define the volume of each element in her scenes with a flexible, curved line. “Traditional appliqué is done by taking a piece of fabric and turning the edges under. It makes it very difficult to make curved edges,” she explained. “I was looking for those curved lines, so I sort of invented a way to get that effect. I call it ‘neo-reverse appliqué.’”

It works like this: Alice creates a design by drawing on black cloth with chalk. “That’s the biggest challenge for me,” she said. “Most quilters are not drawers.” Fabric cutouts are then appliquéd to the surface, while other design elements are placed under the black cloth and machine-stitched down using the chalk lines as guides. “The black lines you see on my banners are holding all of the fabric pieces in place,” she added. “I cut the black fabric away as each area is sewn, which gradually reveals the design. The lines help to make the banners strong to withhold a lot of hanging up and taking down and draping over altars and things.”

Alice will sometimes sew the banners through to a batting and backing, which makes them eligible for quilt shows.

Through a variety of grants, Alice has created banners for public display, and she is often commissioned by private individuals to create something for their homes. Right now she’s working on a banner that features scenes of Cape Cod. “The family wants me to include the mother and daughters in the scenes, along with the family’s dogs.”

Her work is available through the Belle Melange Gallery in Ithaca.

by Tina Manzer

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