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Dream Weaver: This Guy's Quilts ROCK!

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If you were a metal-head in a past life, you probably have a collection of concert t-shirts stashed away somewhere.

Maybe you use that prized souvenir from Pantera's Cowboys From Hell tour to polish your vintage 1981 Pontiac Firebird.

A San Francisco artist who goes by the name Ben Venom has come up with an unusual use for those old heavy metal shirts — he sews them into quilts.

And the results are on exhibit in galleries in the Bay Area and Birmingham, England.

Venom (a.k.a. Ben Baumgartner) tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan that he was inspired by a 2006 quilt show at San Francisco's de Young Museum, featuring works from rural Alabama. "I was completely blown away by the architecture of the quilts, the handmade nature of them, and probably [for] over 130 years they've been making these quilts," he says.

Those quilters — from the community of Gee's Bend — used scraps of fabric from around their homes, including old clothes.

Venom says his concert T's were logical materials because "they've been lying around my closet for years. Like my Testament shirt was completely threadbare; you could see my nipples through it," he says, "It's not very heavy metal to wear that out in public."

Venom displayed his first quilt at a museum in Berlin, Germany, back in 2008. He said, if nothing else, the quilt was easy to transport because he could just fold it up and carry it with him on the plane.

Making subtle references to the heavy metal scene are a point of pride for Venom. He once put T-shirts featuring Megadeth and Metallica on the opposite sides of a quilted cross. Venom says he did it because Megadeth's guitarist, Dave Mustaine, had been kicked out of Metallica.

"Just from someone to go and see it in the gallery, you probably wouldn't pick up on that," he says, "but if you're a metal head, you would immediately recognize what's going on there."

And concert T-shirts aren't cheap. "A vintage Black Sabbath shirt can go for $100 or $80," he says. His quilts have incorporated up to 120 different T-shirts and fetch as much as $8,000.

Unfortunately, Venom's personal collection of shirts is tapped out. Most of the ones he uses now are are donated by friends in metal bands.

"These are shirts they wore out in public, or when they were on tour with their band, and they played with these other bands and they exchanged T-shirts," he says, adding, "It's great because the quilt is not just mine; it's ours."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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