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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Run, Don't Walk to Quilt National 2011

Wednesday, I dropped my daughter off for her freshman year at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  I had hoped to get over to the Dairy Barn to see Quilt National one more time...but it was just too hectic with all the programs we had to attend (really) and moving too much stuff into a 10' x 12' room shared with another young woman....

Quilt National is a biennial exhibition of contemporary quilts exhibited at The Dairy Barn Arts Center, a converted dairy barn which once served the psychiatric hospital just up the ridge.  The show is always interesting and it will close on Monday, September 5th.  So, you really do have to run and see it.

Of course, you should run and see it just because it is a fantastic show.  Every two years, three jurors, two quilt (fiber) artists currently working in the field and who have name recognition and a third juror --usually from a related but outside field to bring a different perspective  review quilts and pick approximately 85 quilts from the submitted entries which meet the entry rules/guidelines and represent the best of what was offered. 

The rules state that the purpose of the show is:  "To promote the contemporary quilt by serving as a showcase for new work that provides the viewer with appreciation of the variety of techniques and innovative trends in the medium of layered and stitched fabric.  The jurors will select works that represent unique approaches to the medium and demonstrate the breadth and diversity of contemporary expressions.  Visitors to Quilt National 2011 will see that the time-honored traditions are thriving and are being expressed in new forms as today's artists rise to meet the challenges of new techniques and materials."    This year, Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, Eleanor McCain, and Nelda Warkentin served as jurors.  This year, over 1,000 quilts were submitted....and only 85 were chosen. 

Since coming to Ohio in 2005, I have been privileged to be able to attend three of the shows.  Each year, I think that the show is more exciting and interesting than the show previous. Even so, it is difficult for me to pick what pieces are my favorites. 

This year's show I thought was interesting on several levels.  I found that there was a theme, in a way, for the pieces which were submitted.  Many used subdued palettes, often using greys and neutrals.  Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of eye catching and bright quilts, but my overall feeling was far more subdued.  I also felt that the quilts shown were pieces which when using an innovative technique or material, it made sense.  That is, it wasn't using a different technique or material just for the sake of being different or cutting edge or just to use it, the selection of that particular material and technique added to the piece; the piece would have been diminished if it hadn't used the material.  In addition, the pieces were masterful in their use of material AND technique.  For instance, using found materials or "green" materials might be just a trend, or stuck in, but when Paula Kovarik used plastic grocery bags in her "Global Warming, The Great Unraveling", the bags not only fit her topic and what she was trying to say but were gorgeous...I wouldn't have thought of using them like she did and it really added to the quilt.  Kim Shearrow used all manner of recycled and unusual materials in her "Sunrise at Age 45"  which created an absolute masterpiece of color and texture worked into her large and wonderfully designed (and sparkly) piece (which by the way, the catalog doesn't do justice to).

One of the things which pleases me the most about this show is the response and discussions which it engenders.  I was very happy to have bumped into Beth Schillig, a fellow SAQA member and Ohioan at the show in the beginning of August.  Beth and I immediately started to talk animatedly about what we were seeing....and I was sad that my time was so limited that I had to buzz through the show and not talk with her more fully about her impressions.  When I have gotten together with others who have seen the show at different times, people have almost tittered with "I don't think that was a quilt" or "what did you think of ....." or "What was your favorite???"  I love this because when statements are made, then it gives a starting point for a full discussion. Why DO you like that one?  What makes it more successful?  Is it more successful than another piece, and if you think so, why?  Why do you think that this particular piece shouldn't be here, or isn't really a quilt???? 

Certainly, the catalog also has created quite a buzz on the Quiltart message list as well as on the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) Yahoo group.  In fact, some of the discussion, particularly Eleanor McCain's comment "What about these works of art demands that they be formed from cloth and thread?  Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium?  What in the quilt form is important to the art?  As a fiber art professor once asked 'If it's not about the fiber, why work in that medium (Eleanor McCain, Quilt National 2011:  The Best of Contemporary Quilts, Lark Crafts & the Dairy Barn Arts Center, p. 12.). 

The discussions which arose from this in some ways depressed me about what I was doing (the assertion that if a piece is representational --which most of mine are-- rather than abstract then it wasn't really an art quilt and wasn't worth thinking about).  It took a quick kick in the pants by Vivien Zepf to move me out of that bad train of thought.  I usually wait and buy the catalog at the Dairy Barn's gift shop as that way the Dairy Barn can benefit more from the proceeds.  Such heated discussions were arising out of the book, particularly from Eleanor McCain's comments and Pauline Verbeek-Cowart's comments (out of context, but generally her reaction that the first viewing she made of the entries she was looking for innovation and "was initially disappointed.  Not a single entry in my opinion represented that leap into new territory, or challenged conventional notions of the medium and stood as a radical new approach." (Ibid, p. 14), that I bought the book on Amazon so I could more fully understand the discussion and be able to look at the exhibition with a more critical eye developed from the discussions and reactions I was reading about.  Take a look here.

I'm really glad I did.  Although Andrea Lewis points out a problem in her foreword:  "Works in fiber were not meant to be experienced in two-dimensions.  Works in fiber are intended to be experienced firsthand, to allow the viewer to discover the nuances in surface texture and variations in color, and to appreciate the details articulated in stitches."  (Ibid., p. 6).    I agree....I must admit, even though I noted the size on the label in the book, when I saw Eleanor McCain's "9 Patch Color Study 7" at the show, I was blown away.  The illustration in the book is 3 1/2" square...the quilt measures 110" High by 109"'re just not prepared for this.

A terrific problem with the catalog is that there are no close ups so that you can see the texture and the stitching.  Everything is absolutely flat...Each quilt, for the most part, is represented by one photograph.  In the case of Jayne Bentley Gaskin's Solitude  this is a grave disservice.  Nothing in the catalog nor the description prepares you for the fact that this quilt is three dimensional.  The person and the backpack are dimensional...stuffed with fiberfill so that the backpack stands out from the surface of the quilt as a real backpack does.  My memory says that it is, or is almost, life sized.  It is an amazing concoction of thread and fiber to render this piece.  I do think that the color on this edition is better than it has been in the past. 

If you are able...please see the show.  While the entire show's last date in Athens is this coming Monday, Sept. 5, it will be divided into three traveling shows.  From October 2, 2011 - November 4, 2011, it will be in St. Charles, Missouri at the Foundry Art Center (all three parts); and Feb. 14, 2012 - April 29, 2012 San Jose, California:  The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles (parts A and B only).  For additional locations/dates please contact the Dairy Barn Arts Center.  At the very least, get a copy of the catalog...I think you'll be glad you did.  And if you do...please put your thoughts on the show here...I'd love to hear your reactions and discuss the pieces as well.

I really wish that photos of the quilts were allowed....but they aren't and so you're stuck with the shots I have here. :)


Sherrie Spangler said...

Thank you for this very thoughtful review. I haven't seen the quilts, but I'll keep your comments in mind when I do. Hope you daughter is enjoying her new life!

Pat Pauly said...

I read your comments with great interest, and so wish I was in the gallery with you to talk about them. I do have a piece in the show, and was thrilled to be able to attend the opening. Many of the questions you brought up were part of the discussions, and it was lively and full of energy. Thanks you for your well written thoughts.

Michigoose said...

Thanks, Sherrie, I'm sure she's going to settle in and do just fine...I'm really pleased with the college and all the things they're doing to make sure the kids succeed.

Pat, you have no idea! I am always delighted when some of my more conservative quilting friends start out by saying "How is that a quilt? That's not a quilt." Or this year, the biggest comment has been made about "that holey old blanket..." (Glenys Mann's "Memory Cloth
#11: Worn"). These discussions do more to improve the field than anything else I can think off off the top of my head. Opening the discussion to what works and why, what is done just for shock value and is that important or not...and then the real bones of art...whether I like the piece or not is irrelevant to me, understanding WHY the piece was done that way and what responses it invokes are more important. Where will we go from here? Where will I go with what I have discovered about myself and my art through looking at this piece, regardless of whether it is "my style" or my preferred method of working. Would I ever do a piece like Lisa Call's? Probably not, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it. So, here's hoping I do run into you at some exhibition! Congratulations on being accepted, maybe some day I'll feel my work is strong enough to submit. Lisa

shades said...

Thank you for your kind comments about my work. I told Pat that someday I am determined to embed a web cam into one of my quilts so that I could monitor the shrieks and mutterings. I think the discussion of "why fiber" serves to wake us all up. The type of medium an artist uses shouldn't matter if the content is strong. I have seen museum quality work done with chalk on a sidewalk.
Paula Kovarik

Michigoose said...

Paula, I sometimes find the discussion "why fiber" a bit odd...I mean, who questions the choice of oil over watercolor over pastel? But that is part of it all....I love how when you go further in reading the WHOLE piece which Eleanor wrote, you understand it wasn't a shot over the bow, but what we've all been saying...there's just something about fiber that makes it our medium...for me, it's texture and the direct contact...heck knows, just painting and being done with it is far quicker and easier for me than being halfway done once I finish the painting/quilt top. :)

And you're absolutely is the wake up call and the makes us think, which to me is one of the most important things about the process....and not done far enough..(of course, I have to get past the thinking stage and into the doing sometimes. ;) ). Lisa