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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quilt National 2013: The Oscars for the Art Quilting World

Quilt National 2013 opening, Dairy Barn, Athens, OH
I have been planning to go to the opening of  Quilt National 2013 for quite some time.  I have had it on my calendar for ages. While I  have been to every Quilt National since I moved to Ohio, I've never been to the opening.  Someone who is not a quilter asked me what it was, and the best I could come up with was that it is the Oscars of the Art Quilting world...only it is held every other year and there are only three judges rather than being judged by all your peers.

The quilts are judged from digital images submitted by the artists, but they are chosen blind.  The jurors are given the name of the work, a detail, dimensions, the artist statement and materials.  No names, although for some artists, their style is so remarkable you would have had to have had your head stuck in a paper bag not to recognize their work.  You cannot have shown the quilt anywhere, an it must not have been published anywhere---online, in blogs or on Facebook.  Even if someone from a guild or something has seen it and taken a photo without the artist knowing and put it up on the web, it can be disqualified.  851 quilts were submitted from artists in 44 states, five Canadian provinces and 16 foreign countries.  Only 85 were chosen.  It is not unusual to try for years to get in. Quilt National is one of the oldest art quilt venues and these rules keep the show fresh and exciting.

I was especially excited to go as I was going to meet Brooke Atherton and Del Thomas there for the first time, even though we have corresponded for quite some time.

This year's show was visually spectacular. I found myself looking intently at each quilt, close up and from a distance, even though close up at the opening was often difficult for the number of people present.  Line, color and form rang out and spoke to you.  I honestly felt that this is the best show Quilt National has put together of the ones I have been able to attend.

In general, I felt the show to be well balanced.  I did not find any quilt that my reaction was "What WERE they THINKING????"  The jurors were Linda Colsh, Judith Content, and Penny McMorris (who does not have a website other than Electric Quilt which she started, but is well known in the quilting field for having hosted and early PBS show on quilting as well as authored several books).  I was interested when someone (Martha Seilman?) suggested that the trends represented included a strong emphasis on neutrals, graphics and the utilization of digital photography in the works.  I don't remember anyone saying it, but I would also add mixed media in the works.  I really was puzzled by the "neutrals" comment because while I recognized the graphic quality of the reaction was the wonderful richness of color and texture in the show.
When I went back and tallied the pieces (as best I could) neutrals DID out number the brightly colored pieces.

Abstracts (both pure abstract and abstract realism) were strongly represented, outnumbering the more realistic works by quite a bit.  However, we don't know what was submitted, and I think this tends to be over emphasized.  Strong pieces, works with great merit, whether they are realistic or abstract are what should be in the show, and that is precisely what I saw.

When I  entered the show, I turned to the right, and I was about 10 quilts shy of the beginning when I ran into Brooke.  She told me that she won an award and was having a hard time keeping still while she took at class at Nancy Crow's Barn.  I had not yet seen her piece, and shortly thereafter, they started announcing the  awards...I had to restrain myself from hollering when they announced that Brooke won Best of Show for "Springfield."
Detail, Brooke Atherrton, "Springfield," Quilt National 2
Brooke Atherton, Detail, "Springfield," Quilt National 2013

Brooke Atherton, detail, "Springfield," Quilt National 2013
I apologize, my photos are few, for one, you are only allowed to take shots at the opening...and I have been having such problems with my hands, that I opted to use my "point and shoot" for fear I would drop my DSLR, and I didn't notice that when I hit the "macro" button, I accidentally turned off the things were blurry and like Brooke's piece here, yellow from the interior lighting,

Brooke is known for using all sorts of bits and pieces as well as for torturing things by burning and melting.  She uses found objects and in this case she used paper maps, text (including something which looks like it is Welsh or at least written in Middle or Old  English ( a college text perhaps?).

Some of her found pieces are trapped under organza, or wrapped in little packages. She stitches things down by both hand and machine.  You'll recognize the metal "sheath" from the top of a wine bottle in the top photo.  Below you can see bamboo, and bits of annular ware, pottery from the late-18th and first half of the 19th century, her pieces seem to be abraded, either showing water damage or that it has passed though fire.  I also found bits of Native American pottery sewn down...a treasure trove for the material culturist.

On her statement, Brooke wrote
 "The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form,  and nothing stands.
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds, they shape themselves and go."

"A little stitching madness to hold an elusive memory"

Not only does Brook's piece have flow, texture, and all the other elements of design, but it starts a conversation with the viewer.  Which Springfield?  It could be any one of the 38 places in the U.S. with this moniker, or the ones in the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Ireland or New Zealand (USA holds the largest number).  Why did she choose to include the fragments she did?  Certainly the Tennyson poem really DOES describe the piece....and what does it say about us? How do we relate to the land? What bits of our souls reverberate and intertwine with the land and memory?

You can see more of Brooke's work at , and of course I've written about her pieces several other times here.  Just put a search up for Brooke Atherton in the blog search engine at right and you'll find earlier posts showing her work.  "Springfield" measures 32" h x 97" w.

Deidre Adams, "Tracings III, Quilt National 2013.60" h x 60" w.

I always cringe when people ask me what my favorite piece is....In fact in this show, I prefer NOT to say...I enjoy and appreciate so many pieces for so many different reasons, often the subject matter calls to me, or the message or political statement resonates with me.  I admit, however,  I am a color and texture junkie....and this is really the show for that!  Line, oh, that scrumptious foundation....

However, Deidre Adams piece "Tracings,  III"  grabbed me because it shimmered....glowed...and as Natalya Aiken said "pulsated."  Oh...ok, so it happens to also be in colors that I love's all about texture and surface design.  Deidre's website is here.
Deidre Adams, detail, "Tracings III, Quilt National 2013

One thing about the show which tickled me was that when  I saw several quilts from across the room, I assumed I knew who the artist was because I thought I recognized their style..only to be surprised an found out it was someone else.  Likewise, I was often surprised to see pieces by other artist whose work I knew, but these pieces were a departure from the previous works I saw.

One which didn't fool me was another wonderful piece by Dianne Firth entitled "Storm" the piece I spoke about at Art Quilt Elements at the Wayne Art Center last March.  This one is another fantastic piece where the shadow composes part of the quilt.....Dianne won the McCarthy Memorial award.

You can see the other award winners here.  One of my favorites is the Hillary Fletcher (the first director) "Persistence Pays" Award which is given to the person who tried the most number to tries to get in, and finally was chosen this year.

So many quilts spoke to me, too many to list....well....I could, but your eyes would be bleary. I suggest that you go and see the show if you can and if you can't, at least buy the catalog.  I'll be reviewing that at  a later date.

Quilt National runs roughly from now until September 2, 2013 at the Dairy Barn Art Center,  Dairy Lane, Athens, OH.

I am participating in Nina Marie Sayre's off the wall Fiber Fridays blog tour, take a look at the other blogs here:


Diane Doran said...

Thank you for your thoughtful review! Your descriptions almost made me feel as if I'd been there too.

Dianne Koppisch Hricko said...

Hi Lisa

Thanks for your review, I have never been to a Quilt National, but your review is very inspiring.

Jenny Lyon said...

Excellent review Lisa-thank you!

Lisa Quintana said...

Thanks, Diane D. One of the pieces I thought was YOURS and was surprised to find it wasn't.

Dianne Hricko, you should come down...It is only an 8 hour drive, and usually quite a few people from Philly come down...You can fly into Columbus, and I bet you could arrange for someone to pick you up, or you could rent a car, or....there is a shuttle called the "Go Bus" which runs between Columbus and Athens. I thought it might not run because school isn't in session right now (at least spring session is running, but the majority of kids are gone), but I overheard someone at breakfast who is a local say it was. It only costs $10 one way.

Thanks, Jenny, I appreciate it.

I have to say, that if I have to move farther away, I will still think about coming...but then I think Art Quilts Elements is another which I MUST see and there's a slew of other annual shows I haven't made it to yet, like Form not Function!

Susan Lenz said...

Thanks so much for this excellent blog post on Quilt National. It is especially meaningful to hear from someone like you whose been to many past Quilt National exhibitions. It was my first time there and very much like a dream. I especially enjoyed meeting you!