A Pilgrimage to Art Quilt Mecca

Last Thursday a friend and I sojourned to Athens, Ohio, best known as the home of Ohio University, party school central. Athens is also the home of Quilt National, held since 1979 at the Dairy Barn Arts Center.

We were there for the current (until November 22) show called “Quilt (R)Evolution: Art Quilt Retrospective 1979-2014.” It features the work of 28 Quilt National jurors, who were asked to contribute one early work, one work  made at the time they were a juror, and one work that represents their current work.

Just to give you a sample of the artists represented: Nancy Crow (of course,) Michael James, Jan Myers-Newbury, Yvonne Porcella, Elizabeth Busch, Joan Schulze, Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry, Arturo Sandoval, Liz Axford, Paula Nadelstern, Sue Benner, Katie Pasquini Masopust, Eleanor McCain, Judith Content, Rosalie Dace, and Ann Johnston.

Photographs weren’t allowed, so I’ve searched online for images to share. In some cases, I’m using photos of work similar to that in the exhibit.

I’m linking to a post Kathy Loomis wrote about this exhibit. The first photo below was taken by her. And I just found a site that shows all the quilts, so if you want to see every (I think) quilt in the show, go here for a slide show. I have no idea how this ended up on a photo sharing site, but I’m unable to copy any of the pictures.

QN_Revolutions2Here’s the view looking right from the entry door. A piece by Yvonne Porcella is to the right, one by Nancy Crow (current work) is center, and the kimono (early work) to the left is by Yvonne Porcella.

Nancy_Crow_February_Study_II_1979An early Nancy Crow piece from the days she was into precision piecing.

An early Michael James piece from the same era, about 1983. This isn’t the one in the show, but the curving drunkards path style is close. I see that both Nancy and Michael liked striped fabric.

Michael_James_1983And here are examples of their more current work.

Michael_James_A_System_of_Classification_2009Michael James who now uses digital imagery.

6406.1.%20Nancy%20Crow%2c%20Constructions%20%2383%20Anxiety%2c2006-2007Nancy Crow whose work is still hand quilted.

Some artists, like Jan Myers-Newbury, seemed to have always worked with one aspect of quilting – hand dyed fabrics in her case – though their designs have changed over time.

1978-Electric-Blanket-Jan_Myers-NewburyHere’s her Electric Blanket from 1978. She hand dyed gradients, cut the fabric into squares, and arranged the squares to form a color progression. Her 2013 piece in the show, Sticks and Bones, uses color gradients as well. Almost all her work over the past decade has used arashi shibori.


Generally, the artists’ work seems to have loosened up over the years.

Freehand_4_Liz_AxfordFreehand 4 by Liz Axford was done in 1992. It’s pieced like a log cabin and follows traditional quilt structure.

LogJam_5_Liz_AxfordLogjam 5 was done much more recently, in 2012.

I was surprised not to see a lot of change in the work of Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry. It may be she’s always used hand dyes, so the fabrics don’t date her work. Here’s her works, in chronological order.

HighTechTucks34_1991_Caryl_Bryer_Fallert-GentryHigh Tech Tucks from 1991

Feather_Study_#1_Caryl_Bryer_Fallert-GentryFeather Study 1 from 1998.

Caryl-Bryer-Fallert-Gentry-On-the-Wings-of-a-DreamOn The Wings of A Dream from 2008 (Read more about this quilt here.)

The quilting on this is beyond exquisite. It’s the most elaborate quilting in the show, and must be seen in person to appreciate. Or you can buy it for $61,000.

Speaking of quilting, since a quarter to a third of the pieces were done before 1990, there’s more hand quilting than is the norm today. Also, as my friend pointed out, wall hanging type quilts just weren’t as densely quilted then. In general, the machine quilting used enhances the pieces but doesn’t upstage them.

Some artists truly began in traditional quilting. Rosalie Dace contributed the second quilt she ever made, and I never would have surmised her later art quilt career from it. Ann Johnston contributed a traditional bed quilt she made for a family member.

In terms of fabrics, works of artists who used hand dyed fabric have a more timeless quality than those made with commercial fabrics. Here’s an 1981 work, Heaven’s Reach, by Kate Pasquini-Masopust that can be dated by its fabric.  Cotton blends appear in other works on exhibit as well, and the colors of commercial fabrics are very period (and often ugly.)

katie_pasquini_heavens_reach_1981With some artists, you can see increased technical mastery over time, though for the most part the techniques are handled well even in early work. I didn’t see a lot of digital imagery on fabric, which may reflect the age of over half the pieces shown. At the 2013 Quilt National I was struck by the number of pieces built on digital photos.

Please enjoy the slide show of these works, and if by some chance you find yourself in southeast Ohio make a point of visiting the Dairy Barn before the show closes.


Filed under Art quilts, Quilt Shows

16 responses to “A Pilgrimage to Art Quilt Mecca

  1. Judy

    I was interested in the negative comment overhead at a show regarding traditional quilts. Those quilters do some amazing work. I am always grateful to them, because I believe we can learn from their techniques, and composition– and I know myself well enough now to realize I could never/would never attempt some of the things they do. I am always delighted to see someone else do it!

  2. This was such a wonderful post – thank you for searching out and sharing these photos and some of your impressions. Your notes were really serendipitous of some things I’ve been going through personally – it’s great to read about how the works have changed over the years and how some of these artists started out. 🙂

  3. Wonderful ! Thank you for sharing. I like your thoughts on commercial prints and dyed fabric. I always enjoy your blog!

  4. jennyklyon

    Oh lucky you! What a great post and thank you for sharing. Great perspective-I hope to go to QN sometime! We had 2 parts of the current show in San Jose and I was able to see it-what a treat!

  5. This is so interesting! I’d love to see the show, even though I am totally confused about distinctions being made between traditional, modern and art quilts. Melanie gave me her take on the subject–would you like to give it a go, too? And why don’t they let you take photos?! 😦

    • I think the no photo rule has to do with copyright, and the existence of a show catalog that QN would like you to buy. I ran into the no photo rule at Quilt Canada as well. However, that organization posted photos online once the show closed. My problem with the no photo rule is that I’m mostly interested in details that no catalog shows.

      Yikes, as to the distinctions among different types of quilts – it’s partly self-defined. Both traditional and modern quilts can be functional – for beds, tables, etc. They typically are made of cotton fabric (though traditional and modern quilts often use very different colors and prints), have three layers, and usually are held together by quilting. Art quilts are meant to be equivalent to other forms of art that hang on walls – not for use. They can use lots of materials beyond cotton fabric, may not have three layers, and may not even be quilted. Beyond that, there’s lots of cross over, in my mind. Just look at the winners at big national shows to see traditional quilts that certainly wouldn’t be used on a bed, not with those beads and frou-frous.

      • You know, I just read, in someone else’s blog, that she overheard women at a quilt show saying, “oh, let’s not waste time on the traditional quilts. Nothing new there.” That makes me crazy! Even a little snarky! Why do people get so judgmental and cop such superiority attitudes? To me, quilting is about community and personal vision and choice–live and let live, people!

      • I can’t speak to the overheard comment, and certainly haven’t seen the show in question, but I just watched an episode of the Fons and Porter TV show, which usually features traditional quilts, and saw some wonderful block settings. I might not make such tidy and symmetrical quilts, but I wouldn’t automatically dismiss traditional quilts as old hat. I do wonder about a show that segregates the quilts exhibited by type, though I realize the organizers may have grouped them by judging categories.

  6. Thanks for sharing these lovely quilts with us. I had not heard about the Athens show. Last spring,, Ihad the privilege of visiting the studio of Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry in Paducah. You are correct that the quilting on her art quilts is “exquisite.” I was so fortunate to meet her before she moved out to Washington state. I enjoy reading your blog!

  7. What a treat this must have been. I immediately recognized the Porcella pieces from the top photo. The pieces you’ve shared have held up well, though the artists’ selection bias likely contributed to that. Looks like a show worth traveling for. I’ll spend time in the linked photos later.

    • I hope you have time to go through the show photos in the link. Most of the early work does hold up well, even though some artists’ styles have changed enormously. A few of the early pieces look like the work of mere mortals.

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