At a recent quilt book sale I snagged a copy of Art Quilts: Playing With A Full Deck for 25 cents. I had never heard of this book before. It was published in 1994 to accompany a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition of the same name. Sue Pierce dreamed up the project and solicited pieces from art quilters to illustrate the 52 cards of the standard deck plus 2 jokers. Each piece was to be 18 by 28 inches and have rounded corners, but other than that, the quilters could illustrate their assigned card ( 10 of clubs, 2 of hearts, etc.) any way they pleased.
Well, the contributors’ list reads like a who’s who of the art quilting pantheon – Caryl Bryer Fallert, Libby Lehman, Susan Shie, Patty Hawkins, Jeanne Williamson, and so forth. There are lots of artists I hadn’t heard of before as well.
As you can see below, each card is unique. The style of some artists like Susan Shie (fifth card from the left) is instantly recognizable. For others, like Libby Lehman, you get hints of what their style developed into. And every blessed card uses techniques that today’s art quilters seem to think they invented.
In fact, the major difference in technique I can see is that today’s art quilters quilt their pieces more intensely. I know free motion quilting was used in 1994 but I don’t think the style then was for closely spaced quilting. Libby Lehman’s quilt displays the thread painting for which she is now known, but that piece looks bare compared with her later work. The club is done in reverse applique.
Here’s some other cards that caught my eye.
Natasha Kempers-Cullen’s In The Garden (7 of spades) is a whole cloth quilt that’s been decorated to a fare-thee-well with charms, stitching, embroidery, button, beads, etc. Again, the artist used wordplay with those spades, which were custom cut for this piece.
As with many prominent modern quilting practitioners, several of the artists in this book have art/design training. In fact, the forward and introduction to the book make the point that the softer, tactile medium of a quilt has become a recognized art form.
This collection was purchased by Warren and Nancy Brakensiek, who donated it to the San Diego Visions Art Museum in 2012.