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Peterborough

Drawing on threads of inspiration

Work of nationally recognized Peterborough quilt artist to be shown at Thing in the Spring music festival

  • Anna Von Mertens's quilt "Gray Area/Maximum Ebb at San Francisco Bay Entrance" will be hung vertically as part of a backdrop for Thing in the Spring performances at the Peterborough Town House.<br/>Courtesy Photo

    Anna Von Mertens's quilt "Gray Area/Maximum Ebb at San Francisco Bay Entrance" will be hung vertically as part of a backdrop for Thing in the Spring performances at the Peterborough Town House.
    Courtesy Photo Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Anna Von Mertens, speaking at Boston Center for the Arts recently as part of her solo exhibition there titled "Gold! And Other Fallen Empires."<br/>Photo by Melissa Blackall

    Anna Von Mertens, speaking at Boston Center for the Arts recently as part of her solo exhibition there titled "Gold! And Other Fallen Empires."
    Photo by Melissa Blackall Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • A detail from  "Gray Area/Maximum Ebb at San Francisco Bay Entrance," a quilt by Anna Von Mertens that will be part of a backdrop for Thing in the Spring performances at the Peterborough Town House.<br/>Courtesy Photo

    A detail from "Gray Area/Maximum Ebb at San Francisco Bay Entrance," a quilt by Anna Von Mertens that will be part of a backdrop for Thing in the Spring performances at the Peterborough Town House.
    Courtesy Photo Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • A detail from "Vanishing Point," a quilt by Anna Von Mertens that will be used as a backdrop during Peterborough's Thing in the Spring festival.<br/>Courtesy Photo

    A detail from "Vanishing Point," a quilt by Anna Von Mertens that will be used as a backdrop during Peterborough's Thing in the Spring festival.
    Courtesy Photo Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Anna Von Mertens, speaking at Boston Center for the Arts recently as part of her solo exhibition there titled "Gold! And Other Fallen Empires."<br/>Photo by Melissa Blackall

    Anna Von Mertens, speaking at Boston Center for the Arts recently as part of her solo exhibition there titled "Gold! And Other Fallen Empires."
    Photo by Melissa Blackall Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Anna Von Mertens's quilt "Gray Area/Maximum Ebb at San Francisco Bay Entrance" will be hung vertically as part of a backdrop for Thing in the Spring performances at the Peterborough Town House.<br/>Courtesy Photo
  • Anna Von Mertens, speaking at Boston Center for the Arts recently as part of her solo exhibition there titled "Gold! And Other Fallen Empires."<br/>Photo by Melissa Blackall
  • A detail from  "Gray Area/Maximum Ebb at San Francisco Bay Entrance," a quilt by Anna Von Mertens that will be part of a backdrop for Thing in the Spring performances at the Peterborough Town House.<br/>Courtesy Photo
  • A detail from "Vanishing Point," a quilt by Anna Von Mertens that will be used as a backdrop during Peterborough's Thing in the Spring festival.<br/>Courtesy Photo
  • Anna Von Mertens, speaking at Boston Center for the Arts recently as part of her solo exhibition there titled "Gold! And Other Fallen Empires."<br/>Photo by Melissa Blackall

Anna Von Mertens is a different kind of quiltmaker. She studies patterns — both from natural phenomena, such as ocean currents or the ebbing tides of San Francisco Bay, or from man-made events, such as the way energy is dispersed in a nuclear explosion. Then she takes those patterns and hand-stitches them into intricately detailed quilts, some of them highly colorful and others simply black or white creations.

“I refer to my quilts as drawing in thread,” Von Mertens said in a phone interview last week. “Quilts have such strong connotations. I want to use that, those rich associations around the quilt and the bed, of intimacy and familiarity. I also want to bring the realm of science in, to see what comes when you put the two worlds together.”

Von Mertens, 39, lives in Peterborough with her husband, Chris Anderson, and their children, Hayden and Rhys. She returned to the town where she grew up in 2007, after spending 13 years in San Francisco, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from California College of the Arts.

“We knew that when we had children, we wanted to come back to Peterborough,” she said. “The art world is mobile. I’ve been able to continue my career and it’s great being based here and raising a family.”

Four of Von Mertens’s quilts will be highlighted at this year’s Thing in the Spring festival, which runs from June 6 to June 9 in downtown Peterborough. Three pieces that make up a triptych called “Gray Area” will be hung vertically at the back of the Town House stage, to serve as a backdrop for musical performances throughout the festival. Despite their title, the quilts are very colorful, with bars in vibrant shades stretching across white backgrounds.

“I did this series back in 2005,” Von Mertens said. “In the stitch patterns, I use water as a metaphor. These works lend themselves to rhythm, repetition and vibration. The music is such a wide spectrum, and this will add a strong visual presence.”

The fourth piece, titled “Vanishing Point,” is currently on display in the San Francisco Bay area but will be returning to Peterborough for the Thing in the Spring. It will be hung in the Toadstool Bookshop, where smaller musical performances will be held.

“It’s a straightforward visual piece, that’s formally very simple,” Von Mertens said. “I’ve been looking at astronomy, at expanding and collapsing forces. It really draws you in.”

She is looking forward to working in the confines of the book store.

“It’s a very cool space. It’s quirky, but fun as well. I’ll be jury-rigging a solution to create a performance space.”

Von Mertens said she got an unexpected request from Eric Gagne, the organizer of the Thing in the Spring, who was looking for backdrops for the musical performance spaces.

“Eric knew I was an artist. He’d seen my work and just asked me to do it. It was a happy coincidence. I went looking through what was available and there were just the right ones for the space.”

Von Mertens has been showing her work at galleries and museums around the country for a number of years. She currently has a solo show at the Boston Center for the Arts that’s running through June 16, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston just purchased one of her quilts, which is going on display in the museum’s contemporary wing. She participated in 2012 in the biennial exhibit at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass., and in the 40th anniversary exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery.

Von Mertens and Anderson, who works in the solar energy business, live off the grid in a house they built in Peterborough when they decided to move back East. Von Mertens has a small studio there where she can work on quilts.

“I have simple needs. I don’t need a lot of special light or ventilation for my work,” she said.

As she works, she also keeps tabs on her children. She said it’s a challenge being both an artist and a parent.

“It’s great to have both lives. I cram in every minute I can, trying to balance the two. I do need the creative outlet.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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