May 2006 Issue
For centuries, quilts have been warmly regarded as functional items, meant to be draped over beds or snuggled in during long winter days and nights. Through June 25, The Ohio Craft Museum spotlights the artistry and talent that go into making them by presenting "Explorations Revisited: Quilts by the Quilt Surface Design Symposium Faculty."
"Art quilts are different [from the traditional quilt] because they are only for display," says Linda Fowler, co-director of Quilt Surface Design International LTD, an organization she helped found in 1990 after realizing that art quilters needed more opportunities to share and exchange skills and techniques. The exhibit represents the fruits of members' labors. Quilters from the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, China and the United States - 28 artists in all - are represented in the show.
The age-old art of quilting experienced a revival in the 1950s, but it wasn't until the turbulent years of the '60s and '70s that individuals became dissatisfied with merely imitating the antiquated patterns over and over again. Thanks to a few outstandingly creative pioneers, the art quilt was born, although that official term, says Fowler, wasn't coined until the mid-1980s.
"They were looked on as renegades by traditional quilters," she says. They didn't follow a pattern, but designed their own original ones, sometimes using haphazard stitching techniques drastically different from the traditional quilt. Since many quilters had backgrounds in fine arts such as painting and drawing, they brought that experience to their new passion and worked it into the traditional quilting process.
"The traditional quilt-lover can relate to these because we have taken the traditional process a step further," Fowler says. Technology has provided artists with countless opportunities to improve their work, and modern quilters have taken these advantages to heart.
Focal points in the show include Susan Shie's "Year of the Dog," the second in her series of 29 "Peace Cozy" quilts. The Wooster resident specializes in creating diary art quilts, pieces that reflect images and thoughts of goings-on in daily life.
"On New Year's Day I decided I really wanted to start a piece about the [fact that this is the Chinese] Year of the Dog," she explains. Shie airbrushed images of her beloved black labs into the piece, and took a stand for peace by including the universal symbol for it along with a composting pot, signifying that war should be composted in peace. The finished product is a brilliant splash of pinks, peaches and soft greens and the figures appear to be wrapped in a blanket of delicate handwriting.
Columbus artist Deborah Anderson bases her quilting on traditional patterns, enhancing them with rich fabrics and sophisticated color. Her "Hourglass II" shows the influence of the traditional hourglass pattern, but has been slightly abstracted with the strategic placement of rich earth-toned colors. Instead of following a cookie-cutter plan in placing the fabric, Anderson mixes it up by covering the entire quilt with random bursts of yellows, tans, browns and rusts highlighted by small swatches of floral patterned pieces.
The quilt, Anderson explains, is about the relationship of colors and how one color can modify another. For example, brown appears even darker when placed next to rust and tan. The way colors are placed controls where viewers' eyes focus first, and in this quilt's case, they stray directly to the center, where all colors collide in one chromatic palette.
"Ohio is a hotbed for art quilters," Fowler says. "There are so many pockets of people who come together and make up their own original designs." And, she adds, central Ohio in particular has embraced this growing art form, crediting prominent venues such as the Columbus Museum of Art and the Columbus Cultural Arts Center with hosting art quilt exhibitions over the past few years.