A milestone in perception occurred in 1971, when the Whitney Museum of American Art displayed quilts in a museum setting: Abstract Design in American Quilts bestowed institutional recognition of the artistry inherent in these humble textiles. In subsequent decades, quilting’s popularity exploded. Some who took up quilting created pieced quilts that honored traditional patterns, symmetry, and repetition. But others saw the potential for pushing beyond patchwork, giving birth to the art quilt. Today, adherents from both art and quilting backgrounds incorporate storytelling, digital images, nonfabric materials, asymmetry, and three dimensionsin short, anything goes in the world of art quilting, as long as the result is stitched, layered, and not primarily functional.
As a writer covering textiles, art, and craft, Linzee Kull McCray wondered just how deeply fiber artists were influenced by their surroundings. Focusing on midwestern art quilters in particular, she put out a call for entries and nearly 100 artists responded; they were free to define those aspects of midwesterness that most affected their work. The artists selected for inclusion in this book embrace the Midwest’s climate, land, people, and culture, and if they don’t always embrace it wholeheartedly, then they use their art to react to it. The proof can be seen in the varied, powerful quilts in this energizing book.
Enlivened by the Midwest’s landscapes and seasons, Sally Bowker paints her fabrics with acrylics, creating marks and meaning with layers of hand stitching and appliqued bits of fabric. Shin-hee Chin uses sketchlike stitching for its ability to penetrate fabric and create depth; living in the Midwest helps her stay balanced between eastern philosophy and western culture. The metals and mesh that Diane Núñez incorporates into her quilts connect to her days as a jeweler as well as to the topography of her home state of Michigan. Pat Owoc prepares papers with disperse dyes, then selects from as many as 150 to create her fabrics; her art-quilt series honors midwestern pioneers. Martha Warshaw photographs old fabrics, tweaks the images in Photoshop, and prints the results for her pieces, which connect her to the legacy of quilting in past generations.
The Midwest has always had strong textile communities. Now the twenty artists featured in this beautifully illustrated book have created a new community of original art forms that bring new life to an old tradition.
Marilyn Ampe, St. Paul, Minnesota
Gail Baar, Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Sally Bowker, Cornucopia, Wisconsin
Peggy Brown, Nashville, Indiana
Shelly Burge, Lincoln, Nebraska
Shin-hee Chin, McPherson, Kansas
Sandra Palmer Ciolino, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jacquelyn Gering, Chicago, Illinois
Kate Gorman, Westerville, Ohio
Donna Katz, Chicago, Illinois
Beth Markel, Rochester Hills, Michigan
Diane Núñez, Southfield, Michigan
Pat Owoc, St. Louis, Missouri
BJ Parady, Batavia, Illinois
Bonnie Peterson, Houghton, Michigan
Luanne Rimel, St. Louis, Missouri
Barbara Schneider, Woodstock, Illinois
Susan Shie, Wooster, Ohio
Martha Warshaw, Cincinnati, Ohio
Erick Wolfmeyer, Iowa City, Iowa
About the Author
Linzee Kull McCray grew up in California and resides in Iowa. After nearly 13 years as a writer and editor for the University of Iowa, she is a fulltime freelance writer with a focus on textiles, art, and craft. She is a contributing editor at Stitch magazine and her work appears in Etsy’s blog, UPPERCASE, American Patchwork and Quilting,Quilt Country, Quilt Sampler, Modern Patchwork, O magazine, and numerous other print and online publications.
Read an Excerpt
Art Quilts of the Midwest
By Linzee Kull McCray
University of Iowa PressCopyright © 2015 University of Iowa Press
All rights reserved.
St. Paul, Minnesota
For Marilyn Ampe, music and art are means to a similar end. "There are chords in music that create an emotional response of bliss, and that's the feeling I'm trying to recreate in my work," says Ampe, an organist at the Church of the Holy Spirit in St. Paul.
Ampe, who grew up on a Minnesota farm, is a painter and former printmaker. But the technique of arashi shibori, in which fabric is wrapped around a pole, tied, scrunched, and dyed, enables her to best portray these perceptions. "Fiber does what I want it to do in terms of color and space," she says. "The method produces a result that's so evocative. It gives the entire work a continuity of surface and enables me to work in rich, saturated color."
Ampe's arashi shibori–dyed textiles provide materials for what she likens to collage. "I don't know when I start how they'll end up," she says. "I'll lay ten or twenty pieces on my design wall, and that's the part of the process that's the most fun and feels the most creative." After piecing the selected textiles, she topstitches them by machine and hand. "I like to work in a series of four or five at a time, but it's so time-consuming that rarely happens," she says. Still, she perseveres. "I love working on it and I love feeling it," she says. "Music is the same way. It's very tactile and I love doing things with my hands, things that consume you in time."
Taking pleasure in handwork derives from Ampe's years on her family's diversified farm. "My dad worked like crazy and I helped him in the fields and loved it," she says. "We raised cattle, sheep, ducks who would run to the river and swim away, bees for honey, wheat, rye, a little corn for animals, meadow hay for cattle." The farm was on a hill, surrounded by hardwood forest, with a view of a river valley. The work ethic honed on the farm, along with the views of water, woods, and fields, influences her to this day.
"My work is about nature and landscape, my love of the earth," she says. "Growing up there, I always felt a little excitement, a little anxiety about the weather, about droughts and storms. I get that feeling from being physically in nature and also from music. I'm in the present, and then it's gone."CHAPTER 2
Buffalo Grove, Illinois
While most midwesterners look forward to winter's end, the change of seasons signals more to Gail Baar than a respite from frigid temperatures. Warmer weather provides an opportunity to replenish her hand-dyed fabric supply, the pieces of which are the starting point for much of her work.
Baar employs the warmth of the sun to intensify colors on the fabrics she colors with Procion dyes. She'll purchase one hundred yards, then individually dye one- and two-yard cuts, hanging them outside to dry. Pieces that appeal to her wind up on her 8-by-8-foot design wall, where the result is rarely what she imagined at the start. These hand-dyed colors fuel her work, as does her focus on shapes. A childhood in Minnesota and travels to South Dakota and her family's cabin on Lake Superior exposed Baar to open sky, barns, massive ore boats, and blue water seemingly without end. "I like shapes that are fairly straight, but not made using a ruler," she says. "I like them to look like someone made them by hand." Baar limits her palette of clear colors within each piece. "Colors help me see the shapes and the relationships between them, but too many colors blur their importance," she says.
Her use of machine quilting is similarly restrained. Most quilts receive matchstick quilting, with lines 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart. She values this heavy quilting for the firmness it imparts and compares the resulting textile to a painter's canvas. Her attempts at varying the direction of the stitching have proved unsatisfying. "It looks too busy and interferes with the view of the shape," she says. "I like the simple and straightforward."
Baar started as a traditional quilter, and her transition to art quilting came after viewing an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2003. The quilters' spontaneity in cutting and color placement changed the way Baar worked, as did learning to dye fabric and attending workshops with the Ohio-based quilt artist Nancy Crow. In addition, Baar, a cellist and cello teacher, finds that elements of music — patterns and repeated motifs — influence her compositions. "I've been told my quilts have movement, and I think that comes from being musical," she says. "There are a lot of interesting correlations between music and art."CHAPTER 3
A move to northern Wisconsin provided the impetus for Sally Bowker's horizontally oriented Lake Views series. "I lived by Lake Michigan as a kid, but was only interested in the beach and swimming," she says. "Now we're up by Lake Superior, where seeing the shore, the sky, and the water is so important."
Her work commingles nature's ample elements with its minutiae. "In my earlier work, in photography and painting, I looked all around, then crouched down to get my point of view. I really enjoy representing all aspects of a place."
After a career in library science, Bowker started on the path to art quilts when she earned a BA in art and an MFA in drawing and painting. After twenty years her ardor for painting waned, and around the same time she saw an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts. "I was so struck by the life and sense of improvisation in those pieces," she says. "They used these loose, generous shapes, but there was a basic intention behind them."
Bowker tentatively started painting elements of quilts, then learned traditional quilting at a local shop. Workshops with textile artists Ilve Aviks and Dorothy Caldwell provided further inspiration. Bowker's current work starts on muslin, which she paints with acrylics, then appliqués with both commercial and hand-painted fabrics. "I save any scraps larger than a quarter-inch," she says. "Little pieces add a touch of something lively."
Stitching is Bowker's favorite part of the process. "I love the contrast and energy of those little marks," she says. "I work out from an area, building up different weights and densities. Sometimes I take some out. I enjoy this malleable medium that lets me cover up, undo, whatever the piece needs."
The switch to art quilts after a career in painting and drawing wasn't easy — Bowker had to let go of years of effort and her support system, and rebuild her professional resumé. But the timing and the medium seemed right. "I didn't know what this would turn out like, but when you hit a wall you have to go someplace," she says. "I still have ambition, but I'm more relaxed. I feel like I have the space to give this work the time it needs."CHAPTER 4
Peggy Brown's first foray into watercolor came in the 1970s, when her husband brought home paints. His interest waned, but Brown was hooked. "I became obsessed and worked hard at it, painting every day," she says. People frequently asked if her textural watercolors were on fabric, and the answer was no — until 2002, when a friend taught her to quilt. "I was immediately fascinated," says Brown, who moved from traditional quilting to applying watercolors to fabric.
Brown paints her art quilts on wet silk. "The paint spreads and mingles and mixes," she says. "You never know exactly what will happen and that makes it exciting. That extemporaneousness fits me." She irons pieces to set the paint, sometimes rewetting them to increase the depth of color with additional paint. Once they dry, she adds bits of fabric, or archival tissue coated with acrylic matte medium to prevent tearing.
Brown appreciates fabric as a base because it allows her to work large, as well as for its portability and tactile qualities. Once a top is finished, she layers it with flannel batting and cotton backing, then quilts with straight lines or simple, organic curves.
The Midwest's landscapes and seasonal changes enliven Brown's work, particularly her color choices. Winter Water is a memory of ice and snow, created in Florida where she formerly spent half the year. She recently returned to Indiana fulltime. "I love the deep ravines, hills, and ridges where we live," she says.
Brown and her husband, a fine-arts photographer, for years traveled to art fairs to sell their work. Though that's a thing of the past, she still spends time in her studio each day. "It's automatic, it's what I do," she says. "I have so many ideas, I'll never be able to do them all."CHAPTER 5
In My Ántonia, Willa Cather's book about life on the Nebraska prairie, there's a line that describes meadowlarks "singing straight at the sun." For Shelly Burge, that phrase resonates. On Burge's family farm, the sound of the meadowlark is a harbinger of spring. "I love that wonderful call," she says. "You recognize it right away."
Prairie Serenade also alludes to the human inhabitants of Willa Cather's Nebraska. "I finished the quilt and bound it, but thought it needed something else," Burge says. She removed the binding and cut six inches off one side of the quilt, adding a panel pieced from homespun fabrics. "I cut off- grain and pieced quickly to represent a utility quilt that a person in a sod house might make from scraps to warm her family," she says.
Meadowlarks aren't the only avian species to appear in Burge's work. Red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, and cranes show up in her quilts. "I love the details in their feathers and their freedom," she says. Dyeing her own fabrics enhances Burge's ability to depict fleeting moments and abstract concepts like sunrise or Nebraska's topography. "The colors, the big sky, the things around me inspire me," she says. The same is true of regional politics, and Burge's quilts address Walmart's growth and the Keystone pipeline expansion. "Quilting is my way of expressing myself, whether it's stories about my family or issues I'm interested in," she says.
Though Burge first learned to sew in childhood, on a hand-cranked sewing machine at her grandmother's home, it wasn't until she married and her husband's grandmother gave them two quilts that she started quilting herself. "I took classes, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn," says Burge. She started teaching quilting classes in 1984 and has since taught around the country and internationally.
Quilting in its many forms occupies Burge: she's written two quilting books, volunteers behind the scenes at the International Quilt Study Center in nearby Lincoln, and makes room in her life for all forms of quilting. "I love traditional blocks, but I also love creating my own designs," she says. "I enjoy variety and will go from machine to hand techniques to painting and drawing my own designs to traditional blocks. People ask if I'm a fiber artist. I'm proud to say I'm a quilter, perhaps enhancing tradition by doing contemporary things."CHAPTER 6
Though she's listed as the sole maker, Shin-hee Chin considers People of the Wind 1 a collaborative work. The art quilt's base is a worn silk coverlet that Chin divested of feathers, then batiked, painted, and stitched. "I'm fascinated by using old materials," she says. "I'm incorporating the work of an unknown woman. The legacy she left can be recycled and recreated as an art form." In addition to connecting her to other makers, reusing materials frees Chin to express herself without concern about damaging new and expensive goods. "The artist's idea is more important than the medium," she says, a concept she shares with her art students at Tabor College.
Chin embraces unconventional materials and techniques in part because of circumstance. An immigrant to the United States from Seoul, Korea, Chin lived on both coasts before landing in Michigan, then Kansas. "I lost my language, so for a long time I was voiceless," she says. "The visual language of making art became my way of communicating. I was uprooted from my tradition and had the double marginality of being a new immigrant and a woman in American society."
The subject of People of the Wind 1 — a rough translation of the word "Kansas" — is another marginalized population, Native Americans. Chin chose the piece's overall golden tone to emphasize eighteenth-century Europeans' romanticized notion of Native Americans as "noble savages," as well as because it's the rich color of the prairie on which they lived. To render individual faces, she used gestural, sketchlike hand-stitching, which she prizes over drawing for its ability to penetrate the fabric and create depth. "My needle becomes an extension of my hand, and I enjoy the engagement with my materials," she says, noting that hand-stitching allows her to create more expressive faces and control the pace of her work. In sewing by hand, she also pays homage to women's work. "Sewing machines can be very masculine, making things bigger and faster," she said. "I'm fascinated by taking this feminine activity and turning it into fine art."
Chin finds it's easier to maintain her pace, and explore her art, in the Midwest. "Being in the middle of the United States gives me moderation and helps me stay balanced between Eastern philosophy and Western culture," she says. "I can respect the boundaries of quilt making, but enjoy pushing them to make the work my own."CHAPTER 7
SANDRA PALMER CIOLINO
The stereotype of getting a job done in the Midwest involves teamwork: joining forces to raise a barn, bring in the harvest, or stitch a quilt. But Sandra Palmer Ciolino finds she creates best in solitude.
That's not to say she works in isolation. "I like uninterrupted opportunities to make decisions and call my own shots," says Ciolino. "But I also appreciate critical feedback from respected colleagues." That feedback sometimes comes at Nancy Crow's Timber Barn in central Ohio, during workshops that feed Ciolino's interest in contemporary, nonrepresentational work. "When I first went, I felt I'd found my niche," says Ciolino of the classes organized by Crow, the influential art quilter and teacher. "It offered a viewpoint on my art I hadn't encountered in other studies or pursuits."
Ciolino's passage from traditional to art quilter evolved along with an interest in infrastructure. While taking photos, she found herself eschewing landscapes for close-ups. After returning from a vacation without a single shot of family members, she realized her visual interest lay in abstraction. "I'm a detail person, I like minutiae," she says. "This transition from macro to micro was part of my process of finding what I truly love creating."
Ciolino works frequently in a series: she'll explore simple, abstract shapes first, then distort, exaggerate, and elongate motifs in subsequent pieces. This enables her to relax and enjoy the process. "I don't have to solve all the problems in the first quilt," she says. "I know I'll have a chance to try other ideas." (Her pieces are often named for these shapes: martello is Italian for hammer, while the translation of sgabello is stool.)
A design wall is an integral part of Ciolino's composition process. "It's intuitive and improvisational," she says. "I pick a palette and have a general idea of a motif or overall composition, but it evolves. There's a lot of fabric flying and a lot of editing." Many of the fabrics she uses come from Kentucky- dyer Virginia Keiser and her studio, Color by Hand.
As Ciolino works on each piece, she's also mentally working through ideas for machine-quilting the finished top, which she does on a domestic sewing machine. "I pay just as much attention to that as to the composition," says Ciolino. For Martello 5: Liaisons she opted for the subtle nuance of an overall grid in eight different thread colors. In Sgabello 5: Surveillance, she chose a variety of patterns, ensuring that particular areas advance or recede. "There are limitless ways to quilt a quilt. My goal is to elevate the quilt's artistry."CHAPTER 8
Kansas City, Missouri
Jacquie Gering's quilts always have a story behind them. A "founding mother" of the modern quilt movement, Gering typically tells her tales with bold color, graphic shapes, and abstract designs. But Building Bridges and Bang, You're Dead employ representational imagery to directly address their subject matter.
Excerpted from Art Quilts of the Midwest by Linzee Kull McCray. Copyright © 2015 University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Art Quilt by Astrid Hilger Bennett,
Introduction and Acknowledgments,
Sandra Palmer Ciolino,
Donna June Katz,