Events, People

Inspiration doesn’t come out of a can; it comes out of Detroit

Detroit is the original DIY community. In other words, our crafters can beat up your crafters. Maybe that’s why artist Carole Harris finds so much inspiration here.

Detroiters are known for creating something out of nothing. So you’re bored on a Sunday afternoon in March? Create the Marche de la Nain Rouge! Want a place to buy bagels? Open up your own Institute. Like contemporary art? Take an old auto dealership and re-imagine it as something wildly wonderful.

Ms. Harris is just like all of her fellow Detroiters. She looks out her window onto Woodward Avenue, and she sees the beauty, motion and majesty of the city. She then translates it into a quilt. Not those flouncy ones you might have seen during a grandmotherly sleepover. Oh, no, art fans. These are genuine unique expressions of Harris’ vision – just through fiber instead of tempera.

Harris and I spoke this week to highlight her participation in Quilt Art: International Expressions exhibit at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. The exhibit, which continues through March 25, features more than 30 quilts that will shake you of any old-fashion notions you might have about these lovely pieces of art.

The Ford estate is the first stop on the quilts’ national tour. Some 22 international artists from nine countries are showing their work there – and it is all free to the public. So not only do you get to go onto the grounds of one of the finest estate homes in Southeast Michigan (I am gaga about everything there – the view, the gardens, the grandeur) but you can explore the exhibit in full sans money from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Love that.

These are contemporary works. There is no pastel pink or puffy paint here. No, ma’am. The colors are sensual and saturated. Harris is taking the exhibit to the next level through her March 22 presentation on her version of quilting, which she considers Improvisational Art.

Some background on my new friend. Harris is a professional interior designer and longtime fiber artist. She learned needlework from her mother; she also grew up at a time when these arts were taught in school. Harris said she was a tall teenager, so she started making her own clothing as well. She got her art degree and started her career.

Her first quilt was in honor of her marriage. That was a standard quilt, allowing Harris to learn the basics of this art form, she said.

“It was a traditional pinwheel pattern, one of the oldest and most dominant patterns in quilt making. That was the last traditional quilt I ever made,” Harris said. “From there, I was experimenting with different formats. … For me, it’s too boring to do a pre-conceived pattern from somebody else. I’ve always approached my work as an artist.”

In other words, don’t think you’re going to snuggle up under her creations. Nope. These are the ones you hang on the wall, ponder, study, allow to free to your imagination.

And that’s how Harris feels when she creates them – they are symbols of the freedom she feels as she puts them together. Since she was old enough to know, Harris said she was drawn to painting, drawing and music. And she studied music for 10 years (until that teen thing got in the way). But it plays a huge role in her art.

“I’m inspired by music. … People will ask me what inspires me. I truly don’t have anything in mind to start. I put two pieces together and see if they speak to each other. It’s like playing one note, which leads you to the next note. It will tell you where it wants to go. It will help direct you.”

Her intuition, her imagination, her spirit of do-it-yourself-ness and improvisation guide her.

“I just love making them. I’m not concerned with the final thing,” she said.

So there you go, Detroiters. Don’t worry about the outcome. Just go try something. Let yourself be inspired. You’re doing great so far.

Now for the fine print…

Reservations for all programs, including Ms. Harris’ talk on improv quilt art, can be made at or by calling 313.884.4222.

 Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores.  Since 1978, Ford House has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to share in Eleanor Ford’s vision of preserving the estate for future generations to enjoy through interpretive tours, family activities, lectures, exhibits and gardens and grounds events.  For more information, visit or call 313.884.4222.

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