Embrace the term: Art Quilt

 Many people in the art quilt world  question the value of using the term “quilt”.

Several years ago I was a member of Front Range Contemporary Quilters.During one of several meetings in early 2012 there was a rich discussion of whether FRCQ should drop the reference to “quilt” in the guild’s name.

Members were passionate about the subject. Some viewed the term “quilt” as limiting the organization’s ability to attract interest of museums and galleries. They argued we should not be associated with making pretty bedspreads.The logic was that quilts were craft and not art. A  proposal to replace the craft term (quilt)  with a broad term (textiles/fibers) as a path to be taken as an “arts” organization was presented to members.

A catalogue from a show which I was selected to participate in which embraced the the quilt in all it’s forms.

Other members were comfortable acknowledging quilting as an important gateway term into our medium. Quilts like the Gee’s Bend quilts had been displayed in major museums; including an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. Quilts had already been understood as more than a utilitarian object. Viewers connected with quiltings rich  heritage. They understood the difference between an art quilt and a traditional quilt. Dropping the term was not the answer. 

I am happy to report FRCQ kept the Q!

The premiere organization represented art quilters is SAQA   (Studio Art Quilt Associates). SAQA has a plethora of opportunities to for the quilt artist and the public to see art quilts in a gallery or museum setting. The organization’s mission is to promote specifically the art quilt. Their member’s work is defined  as a stitched and layered structure.

In SAQA’s recent publication Sandra Sider argues that using the term art quilt presents a clear advantage for the acquisition of art quilts in  museums permanent collections.  Sandra surveyed curators across the country and asked whether they had “art quilts” in their collection.  She asked 140 institutions not associated with a University. Her results were interesting. 

Just a simple search of the term “art quilt” produces thousands of images; none of which are patchwork.

Many curators did not use the term art quilt. Computerized databases reflected what the artist or collector called the work. Maybe it was a fabric collage or stitched textile or mixed media. The result is that art quilts are not easily identified in museum collections. Using the precise term will help museums acquire and identify the work of art quilter

The fear that art quilts will be seen as craft may in fact be keeping art quilts from being identified as art.  

The fear of being a crafter is often just below the surface when a group of art quilters get together. I too was a victim of this malady for a period of time. I found a cure. After joined SAQA I embraced the term without regret and I spread the word about art quilts whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Below are ways I help encourage and educate when I am speaking with someone who is not aware of art quilts.  

When describing what I do to the novice, I reference SAQA’s definition. “My work is layered and stitched. It is a creative not functional product.”

Using a word bridge between a fine art tool and  the art quilt tool is helpful. “I use my extensive palette of thread like artist would use colored pencils to draw on the surface with my sewing machine.” 

I reference the history of art quilts.”The Studio Art Quilt Associates has been around for almost 30 years (founded in 1989).  The art world has recognized quilts as serious art for many years. In 1971 the Whitney Museum had an exhibit called “Abstract Design in American Quilts”

I avoid just talking about technique. Using the elements and principles of design to describe my compositions. “I started with a cool color scheme and created a visual pathway throughout the composition.”  

Until next time…..

You can see my work…….

Under The Western Sun
Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden CO
April 27 – July 25 2017
The Macey Center 
Socorro, NM 
July 24 to September 11.

National Quilt Museum, Paducah Kentucky
June – September 2017

Sacred Threads
Herndon VA
July 7 – 23 2017 
Flint Festival of Quilts, Flint MI – September 2017
HeART Gallery, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Toledo, OH – October 18-30, 2017
Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville GA – November 1 – December 15, 2017
Voice of the Spirit Gallery, West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, NC -January – February, 2018
Southeastern Quilt & Textile Museum, Carrollton GA – March-June, 2018
Good Shepard Episcopal Church, Hayesville NC – July, 2018
The Rectory Cultural Arts Center, Norcross, GA – August, 2018
Virginia Quilt Museum, Harrisonburg VA – September-December, 2018
Best of the Valley Quilt Show, Lindsay, CA – April, 2019
A World of Quilts , Danbury, CT – May 2019

Festival of Quilts
Birmingham, United Kingdom
August 10, 2017 – August 13, 2017

Southern Utah Museum of Art
Cedar City Utah
June 30 – August 26 2017

The View
St. George Museum of Art
St. George Utah
April 28 – August 16 2017

35th Annual New Legacies
Lincoln Center
Ft. Collins, CO
July 5 – August 26

Interpretations: Conversations
Visions Art Museum
San Diego, CA
October 21 2017 – January 7 2018