People love quilt shows, and flock to them whether in a regional agricultural show or a major city or state gallery. No matter the source of inspiration or the pattern used, producing any quilt requires a certain amount of creativity and perspiration. Despite the similarity of tools, many of the processes, and many of the raw materials used to produce all the different kinds of layered textiles, it’s a mistake to assess them as equals in every way. Carrots and radishes, quilts and art quilts, yes they are alike, but different.
It’s over two decades since quilt show organisers began including art quilt sections in their events. Years ago when I still belonged to a traditional quilt guild, as a known art quilt maker I felt it was important to participate by entering the guild’s annual show when for the first time it offered an art quilt section in the annual members’ quilt show. A contemporary quiltmaking subgroup of the guild had formed a couple of years earlier, and there was enthusiastic interest in experimenting with techniques, materials and ideas beyond the range of traditional quiltmaking. The entry form asked for the inspiration source for the quilt design – so I submitted a photo I’d taken of a ceiling in some caves nearby, and handed over my quilt, La Cueva (spanish for The Cave) In quilt shows, the quilters expect and usually get some kind of technical comment back from judges, though this is not the case in art quilt exhibitions. My quilt came back after the exhibition with a judge’s comment along the lines of – ‘The wavy lines are most distracting’.
La Cueva (The Cave) 1998 150cm x 130cm
Hmmm … the photo I took of the cave ceiling with roots and stalactites hanging down was the inspiration for the repeat units I combined to make the quilt. That dismissive comment highlighted to me that the person chosen to judge the art quilts was not seeing these works as ‘originally designed art’ and really did not understand the difference between an art quilt and a functional bed or wall quilt from a traditional design or commercial pattern.
So the answer to my question is, no, I don’t think art quilts have a place in quilt shows. Many textile artists differ with that view (for valid reasons to do with their own practice and marketing) but eventually it’s a personal choice about where to have your work seen, and sometimes a difficult decision.