Like her quilts, Anna Chupa’s artistic career is multi-layered, and each layer adds to the richness of the others.
She has found international acclaim in photography, design, textile art, and even studio installation work. But as varied and full as her portfolio may be, Chupa says that her photography is the “thread that pulls them together (no pun intended).”
All of her art incorporates photography into the process, and her quilts are no different.
She was a photographer first— she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in photography at the University of Delaware and teaches now at Lehigh University. While she has mastered traditional photography and its elements, Chupa now finds herself doing what she refers to as “collecting.”
When she’s out in the world taking photographs, she’s amassing photos of the objects that grab her attention. She doesn’t focus on the traditional composition of the photograph, but on the quality of the object in frame, often using a zoom lens to bring out its detail.
The layering process which defines traditional quilting is done digitally here, as Chupa makes her quilt pattern out of many layers of these digital objects.
“I like to work with odd numbers,” she says. “Asymmetry is often more interesting than symmetry.”
Her affinity towards deeper thinking is apparent in her quilts, both in their physical “layers” and in the multi-layered meaning behind them. Chupa’s use of “girih” tiles in her quilts (seen in the sky of her “Pieces Petals Leaves and Eaves” series, for example) comes from Islamic geometric art, found often in traditional Islamic architectural decoration.
She borrows this tiling technique from the past, but it’s her own creative spin on it that makes it truly mesmerizing. Islamic tiles are traditionally filled with flat colors, but Chupa fills her tiles with flowers. Through the process of collecting, she takes photographs of flowers that catch her eye. She then carefully extracts them away from their background in Photoshop and digitally layers numerous flowers of varying scales into the frame of each tile, arranging them into kaleidoscope-like symmetry. The result is a stunning and complex thrill for the eye and a testament to Chupa’s artistic mind.
“There are millions of shells you can collect,” she says, “but one just catches your eye.”
The best example of textile tiling can be found in Chupa’s “Pieces Petals Leaves and Eaves” series, which began her journey into the world of quilting. Living in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in an area full of Victorian architecture, she says the roofline along her street had long fascinated her, and she wanted the chance to explore it through her art.
She had been working with tiling in silk pieces for three years by this time, and a colleague suggested that she think about using quilting as a potential medium to expand her work with tiling. In 2014 she applied for a grant through Lehigh University to acquire a longarm machine, and used it to more thoroughly explore the architecture of her home state.
Armed (pun now intended) with a new machine and a complex new skill to master, Chupa chose four cities in Pennsylvania that meant something to her and her family—Allentown, Bethlehem, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia—and began collecting images she would use in her quilts. She took hundreds of shots of the rooftops and gardens that decorated these cities and went to work. Each final piece in this collection combined hours of photography, hours of design and digital piecing and touch-ups, hours of composition and layering, and yes, hours of quilting.
The results of this painstaking process are quilts that stun their viewers. She will begin incorporating her work with fabrics into her teaching life. While she’s taught art classes since 1978—in high schools, universities, and even prisons— she’ll be teaching her first Textile Design class at Lehigh in the Spring.
By: Mary-Peyton Crook