“I love color. I adore color. The brighter the better. And I love patterns, complex and detailed patterns. There is nothing subtle or minimalist about my work. I’m influenced by the vibrant colors of Mexico, Cuba, and Africa, cultures that challenge mortality with laughter. No matter the medium I choose—ink, paint, fiber, textiles or glass—the art I make is always a celebration of life.”
Julietta Appleton began making and selling art in her late teens, while studying Visual Arts at the University of California, Irvine. She crocheted and exhibited sculptures of cacti as well as intricate, erotic sculptures. And of course, there was macramé. She sold wall hangings, belts, and plant hangers. It was the 1970’s, after all. Her dream at the time was to make a place setting for Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Alas, Julietta’s crocheted yoni plate did not make it into the final piece.
A visit to Mexico in 1973 changed her life and her relationship to art. She met a biographer of Frida Kahlo’s and was asked to translate part of Kahlo’s diary. She had access to Kahlo’s private correspondence, and was deeply moved by Kahlo’s anguish over being unable to have a child because of a horrific bus accident. Julietta had just begun a career in women’s health, working with women to help them experience sexual satisfaction, empowered childbirth, and to have their choices respected. The idea of choice denied, at either end of the reproductive spectrum, struck her hard.
She became a mother herself, and instead of going to law school and working full-time, she chose to stay home with her children and focus on her passions: childbirth education, writing, and art. As her career in maternal /infant health blossomed, her art was never far behind. She worked as a decorative painter and calligrapher for years, creating faux finishes on walls and furniture, as well as writing invitations and diplomas, and sometimes illuminating and embellishing them.
In the early 1990’s she was invited to apprentice with a torah scribe, restoring torahs that dated back to the early 1800’s, cleaning and repairing parchment, replacing the sacred lettering that had faded or chipped, and preserving the scrolls. She also helped design and create kettubahs (Jewish marriage contracts), with detailed borders and embellishments, using ink and gold leaf to illuminate them on the parchment.
Julietta’s art flourished, but her marriage did not. And, four years after her divorce, she experienced another loss: Her fiancé died suddenly of a heart attack, mere days after moving in with her. Julietta inherited his mother’s molas—colorful appliqué designs on fabric, made by the Kuna women of the San Blas islands. In order to stay connected to her beloved, she learned to quilt, intending to use the molas to cover what would have been their marriage bed.
Instead, she discovered her own designs, her own way of using color and creating patterns, using not only textiles to create quilts, but venturing into the world of fused and slumped glass to make glass “quilt” vessels and other objects for the home and for display.
Her art expresses joy. Says Julietta, quoting the title of an Armenian folksong she found amongst her fiance’s CDs, “I will not be sad in this world.”