“In the Beginning…” is a new exhibition at the Embassy of the Argentine Republic featuring the quilts of Dr. Diana Larisgoitia. She was born and raised in Olivos, Buenos Aires, Argentina and now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Making quilts has become one of the stages of my evolution as an artist and gives me a great deal of pleasure to create utilizing fiber as a medium,” says Dr. Larisgoitia, who is a founding member of the Argentinean Club of Philadelphia and works as a psychotherapist in different capacities in Philadelphia.
Her mother, grandmother and aunts taught her to sew, knit and crochet while growing up in Argentina. “They would sit in circle in the garden or in front of the fireplace and engage in the process of making or fixing clothing and accessories,” Dr. Larisgoitia recalls. “They would spend hours talking and discussing family affairs and projects for the future, share wonderful food recipes or drafting books on early childhood education.”
One aunt spent time with her cutting and sewing dresses for her dolls, setting her on a path for an artistic and productive future. “I learned to paint from my uncle and to embroider from my grandmother,” Dr. Larisgoitia adds.
Once in the United States, she says she learned, by watching a TV program on quilting, how to transform small pieces of cloth into intricate artwork. This has given her “a great deal of joy to develop the sewing skills into pieces of artwork.”
Quilting is an ancient form of art that has no clear origin, says Alfredo Ratinoff, the exhibition’s curator. Early samples have been discovered in Egypt, Mongolia and Sicily from 3400 BC to the first century AD, he points out.
Since the 12th century, he observes, quilting appears to have been introduced by crusaders in particular in the form of quilted garments worn under armor. Quilting flourished from the colonial period, Ratinoff notes, serving first as a mostly utilitarian function, but later as an art form as the manufacture of fabric became more common and affordable and designs, techniques and materials became more sophisticated. It was no longer in the province of the wealthy.
“The works created by Diana Larisgoitia in this exhibition ‘In the Beginning…’ are a wonderful display of the continuation and modernization of this ancient form of art,” Ratinoff states. “Larisgoitia breaks out of the traditional form of quilting while at the same time capturing many of the techniques used in the past that she learned from her family. Her work constantly evolves, telling us stories through the materials she uses and her choices of subject matter, a lucid metamorphosis from her memories and her journey as an artist.”
Dr. Larisgoitia met Ratinoff while organizing the Argentinean Week in Philadelphia and that led to her exhibition at the embassy. “I have been doing crafts since my childhood and gradually developed the technique that I use to sew the quilts displayed in the oval room from the Embassy,” she states. “I learned recently that it is not very common to find artists who work in fiber among the Argentinean artists.”
She is researching and learning techniques to sew dresses from the last century, particularly from the Civil War era, such as what was worn by Clara Barton, the pioneering nurse who founded the American Red Cross.
Dr. Larisgoitia graduated as a clinical psychologist from the University of Buenos Aires and was selected to participate in an exchange program to come to the United States to work and interact with psychologists, social workers and youth leaders from all over the world in order to promote peace and cultural understanding. “While loving and working in Philadelphia,” she states, “I was accepted to do a Ph.D in Special Education at Temple University and afterwards I completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard School of Education where I did research on the mental health status of Mexican migrant workers in Pennsylvania.”
“I hope that the individuals and artists that visit the present exhibition will enjoy the results of many hours of peaceful work that was invested in the wall hangings and postcards,” Dr. Larisgoitia says. “They make me feel very proud.”
Her exhibition continues through March 4, 2016 at the embassy at 1600 New Hampshire Ave. The exhibition is open to the public by appointment. Please contact the embassy for details.