As documented on the Dairy Barn’s website one of the jurors of the first Quilt National exhibition (1979), Gary Schwindler, wrote “American quilt making is now at a stage of experimentation and development as it prepares to take its place as a major form of artistic endeavour. This notion is supported by the variety of media employed and the number of directions indicated by the artists represented in QUILT NATIONAL ’79.….There has also been an increased interest in industrial materials and processes for artist purposes and a willingness on the part of “serious” artists to explore and enter into modes traditionally excluded from the status of “fine” art.” Further down that website, under History and Philosophy comes: “The works in a Quilt National exhibit display a reverence for the lessons taught by the makers of the heritage quilts. Many of the works hold fast to the traditional methods of piecing and patching. At the same time, however, the Quilt National artist is intrigued by the challenge of expanding the boundaries of traditional quiltmaking by utilizing the newest materials and technologies. These innovative works generate strong emotional responses in the viewer while at the same time fulfilling the creative need of the artist to make a totally individual statement.”
That was a bold mission statement, and since my first appearance in a Quilt National (1993) the face of fibreart has changed enormously, so that what techniques and materials were deemed extraordinary back then have entered the textile art mainstream. However, I’ve always understood those words to be one of the main things QN jurors look for, and therefore have entered works that I felt went some way towards that ideal. They have influenced me to experiment a bit with technical ideas or consider using ‘different’ materials. I myself have never won any of the most innovative use of the medium awards, but I am proud of my works selected in 1993, 1995, 2005, 2007, 2021, and 2023, because in their time they were different, original, and well within the scope of Quilt National’s search for creativity and innovation in contemporary art quilt making.
These are my QN pieces, in order of appearance:
“Abstract Landscape Textures” was selected for Quilt National 23. I was unable to travel up to Athens OH to attend the opening last May, and my Exhibitor’s Copy of the Catalogue took several months to reach me here in Montevideo. So when ‘everyone’ online was discussing the exhibition, talking about the opening itself, the awards, and posting pics of attending exhibitiors pictured with their works, I had little to refer to or contribute to the discussion! But even so, there seemed less discussion of this year’s collection as a whole, and so far online I haven’t yet found an actual review or critique of the whole exhibition, either. I hope that once the collection comes down and is divided into the three touring groups that go to regional galleries and museums around the USA and several other countries, that more review articles will appear.
From what post-opening discussions there were, I had the impression that QN23 was a bit ho-hum, a view confirmed when I opened the pages for a good look at everything, including careful reading of the jurors’ statements and gallery director’s introduction. Of course, there’s no substitute for seeing the exhibition in real time, is there, but with the exception of John Lefelhocz’s beautiful work (“Like Words That Shape Poems…Like Notes that Shape Music” ) nothing leaped off the pages as ground breaking in technique or materials – and goodness I miss those close detail images that used to be included in the QN catalogue! There was nothing controversial, and it all seemed pretty safe to me. I even felt several people had studied with the same Big Name workshop teachers, and so yes, I am suggesting some works seemed more derivative than original. The two award-winning pieces I really did like were Cecile Trentini’s “Puzzled” (Most Innovative Material award) and Judith Martin’s “Under Drifting Stars” Handiwork award. The other award winners may have been spectacular, but the catalogue failed to show me that – detail shots of at least the award winning works would have been helpful. And, of course, the jurors can only select from the submitted entries!
Knowing some of the artists and their works, I felt the colour printing in the catalogue was a bit dull. But another angle is that perhaps these days there are many more high quality, equally prestigious calls for ‘the best contemporary quilts’. I will always try to have something to enter for future QNs, but several makers I know feel QN has lost some of its prestige, and there are probably some newer makers who know little of this biennial exhibition’s historic role in the art quilt world.