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Report From Quilt National 2003 posted: 6/20/2003
by Alice Kish Printable Page
Category: Reviews Method: All
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Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio

View several of the Quilts exhibited at Quilt National

Quilt National opened its 13th biennial quilt exhibit at the Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center in Athens, Ohio on May 24, 2003. The show will run through September 1, 2003 and is considered one of the premier art quilt exhibits held in the United States. During the run of the exhibit, people will travel from all over the world to this small college community in southeast Ohio to see these quilts. Parts of the show will then travel throughout 2004 to various venues.

Opening night was a celebration and awards ceremony and 66 of the 86 artists attended from such diverse locations as Japan, Australia and Switzerland. Suzanne MacGuiness ( "Lullaby For Luke") drove 2347 miles from San Diego for this her first acceptance into Quilt National. This was her first finished quilt and first machine quilting. She started quilting three years ago, and has a degree in photography. Some were combining their trip to Athens with a vacation in the United States, and all interviewed were thrilled to have been chosen for this prestigious show. Most of the artists in the show sell their work and consider themselves working artists. Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), a professional development organization, met this year in Athens, and many of the members attended the opening ceremony. A good number of the quilts in the show came from their membership, and they are also one of the sponsors of the exhibit.

The Dairy Barn is a cultural arts center, which came from the restoration of an old working dairy. The building was to be torn down, when a local Athens group rescued and restored it for use as an arts center. At the same time, pioneer art quilter Nancy Crow, who lived in Athens, proposed an exhibit of art quilts and Quilt National was born. As interest in quilts as art has grown, so too has interest in this show held only in odd numbered years. Naturally, space is limited, and this year there were more than 1400 entries, which were juried down to the 86 quilts shown. Lark books has published the catalogue of the show, which is an exquisite hard cover photography book, but seeing them in place at the Dairy Barn is the best way to appreciate these works of art.

The rules state that these works must be quilts. They must be made predominately of fabric or fabric-like material, must have at least two full and distinct layers, and be held together by quilting stitches or other elements that pierce all layers which are distributed throughout the surface. From this starting point, the artist is free to use whatever media expresses their artistic vision best. John Lefelhocz ("Match Schticks") made a Double Wedding inspired quilt with matches, fiber, and printed images of corsets. A match made in heaven, or a volatile relationship? John became a quilter after seeing the show several times. He is a local Athens artist and has since been juried into three Quilt Nationals. Besides Johns' use of matches and glue, dyeing, monoprinting, photocopy, paint, leaf hammering and shibori were just some of the many other techniques used by the artists. Fabrics ranged from Mylar to silk, but with cotton still the predominant choice.

Not surprisingly, an art background is part of most of the quilters' biography. Kristin Tweed ("#9 Big Head Series") has a Masters in design and is a self-taught quilter. Her quilts are paintings on white bed sheets that she buys at estate sales, in order to get the old high quality thread count and 100% cotton. She uses the quilting stitch as an outline drawing and follows by painting the portrait. Lori Lupe Pelish ("Injuries") was a printmaker for 13 years. When she became a quilter, she used fabric like paint. Her impressionistic quilt is truly like a painting, with small pieces of fabric used as a palette to create the portrait of two boys. She does not fuse these small pieces but pins ("A lot of pins") and outline sews each raw edge before putting it together to machine quilt. She is an amazing person with a BA Degree in Fine Arts. Carol Owen ("Wildflowers") is a mixed media artist working in wood and textiles, who began her quilt life as a traditional quilter. Her main interest is dimension, and fittingly, her quilt has dimensional elements and hand painted backgrounds.

Some of the quilters come from fields seemingly unrelated to quilting, but have used that background to inform and inspire their work. Connie Scheele ("Early Autumn") used the same technique she uses at work to make slides of blood to monoprint her trees for her quilt. She uses two pieces of Plexiglas and paint. Florida A & M college professor, Valerie Goodwin ("Riverside Settlement") is an architect and college professor whose quilt looks like an aerial photo of architecture. Bean Gilsdorf ("Quija #1") has a Masters Degree in Linguistics, and she describes her quilts as seeking to communicate a personal statement. Since she began quilting 5 years ago, she says she feels more centered. Bean won the emerging artist award.

Several of the entrants have been in Quilt National numerous times. Jan Myers-Newbury ("Cat's Game") has been in 11 of the 13 shows. Elizabeth Busch ("Abundance") has been in 5, and was a juror one year. She also won Best in Show in 1989. Others, such as Connie Scheele, John Lefelhocz, and Juror, Liz Axford ("Life Lines 1") have shown multiple times.

The inspiration for art quilts is a very personal interaction between the artist and the art. Outside events such as 9-11 are a source of contemplation and can influence the work. Martha Warshaw ("Cope: Scattering") used the colors of "ash and dust" to make her quilt, She fashioned it after a religious vestment she saw at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Juror, Wendy Huhn ("Silent Killer") explained her own illness and used her quilt to educate the public about the disease.

A trip to Ohio this summer to see these fantastic quilts could be your best vacation ever. Remember the show is only in odd number years so it will be 2005 before another chance comes.

2003 Alice Kish

The jurors (Liz Axford, Wendy Huhn, and Robert Shaw granted the following awards for Quilt National '03:
$ 1,500 - Best of Show - sponsored by Bernina USA: Nancy Erickson
Trip to Japan - Quilts Japan Prize: Elizabeth Busch
$ 1,200 - Award of Excellence: Ludmilla Uspenskaya
$ 850 - Most Innovative Use of the Medium - sponsored by Friends of Fiber Art International: Michael James
$ 350 - Lynn Goodwin Borgman Award for Surface Design: Clare Plug
$ 250 - Domini McCarthy Award: Nelda Warkentin
$ 250 - Cathy Rasmussen Emerging Artist Prize - sponsored by Studio Art Quilt Associates: Bean Gilsdorf
Ballots cast by visitors to the show determine the recipient of the following award:
$100 - People's Choice Award

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