Thoughts on Quilt National 2011 Book

Quilt National 2011; Lark Books;;  ISBN 978-1-60059-799-2
I just read my Quilt National 2011: The Best of Contemporary Quilts book, showcasing each of the quilts in the current QN exhibit.  I was so excited to see it, not only because I wasn't able to attend the opening, but also because a number of Fiber Revolution members were juried in.  I'm so excited for my fellow Revolutionaries!
The book has two implied sections: the written portion which includes an introduction and the jurors' statements, followed by the section with images of each of the quilts, accompanied by the artist statements.  I read the first part with interest, especially the jurors' statements.  I was particularly taken by Pauline Verbeek-Cowart's statement for its brutal honesty. She admitted to having a predisposition about what she was expecting to see among the entries.  She's not a quilter, but a weaver, and came to the jurying process with a bias based on her experience in her field.  She wrote, "New tools allow us to do things that were not possible before...It is not so much the idea that new tools are better, because often they are not, but they entice us to ask questions and stimulate us to think of new ways to create and express our interests.  I viewed the more than 1,000 entries with this mindset the first time around and I was initially disappointed.  Not a single entry in my opinion represented that leap into new territory, or challenged conventional notions of the medium and stood as a radical new approach."

That gave me pause.  So I went back to the QN website to see what their expectations are for entries and it states the following:

"The work must possess the basic structural characteristics of a quilt. It must be predominantly fabric or fabric-like material and must be composed of at least two full and distinct layers (a face layer and a backing layer). The face layer may be described by any or a combination of the following terms: pieced, appliquéd, whole cloth, stitch/fused to a foundation. The face and backing layers must be held together by hand- or machine-made functional quilting stitches or other elements that pierce all layers and are distributed throughout the surface of the work. At least some of these stitches or elements should be visible on the back of the work. As an alternative, the work may be a modular construction (an assemblage of smaller quilts). Each individual module, however, must meet the above structural criteria."
Well, in my opinion, that description means that pieces appropriate for QN are going to continue to be fiber-based and, somehow, tangibly derivative (whether through appearance or structure) from the traditions of quilting.  I'm not sure that, while this definition stands, there will be any large number of submissions that will push the envelope in terms of materials (such as recycled bottle caps as the base for the work) or technique (such as adding LED lights).  But Pauline's opinion, as an "outsider", is very thought-provoking.  I don't know how I'll respond to it -- I'll probably continue working as I do since that's how my voice speaks -- but I think I will question what I do more.

Based on what I've seen in the book, I think the three jurors did a magnificent job of choosing the pieces for this year's exhibition.  Of course, nothing can compare to seeing the pieces in person, but I think that, through the book, we can get a good sense of the mastery on display.  I loved reading each of the artist's statements.  I looked through the book three times before I felt I could stop.  First I just looked at the pictures.  Then I read the whole book, start to finish.  Then I looked through it again, backwards.  I really, really, really wish I could see these pieces up close and personal.  For example, just how close are the quilting lines in Judy Kirpich's and Lisa Call's pieces? Is there texture in Katherine K. Allen's painted surface besides the stitching?  What does the stitching look like in Helene Davis' piece?

And this leads me to my one criticism of the book.  As Pauline said, "...most fiber does not translate well, nor is fully represented, in digital form.....If stitching, piecing, texture, or a special surface treatment are crucial elements in a quilt, they have to be visible in the detail shot."  I couldn't agree more and wish that Lark Books had taken note of that sentiment.  I understand that this is meant to be a cocktail art book and, as such, is supposed to be a visual treat with a high-end feel -- hence the hard cover.  However, in my opinion, much of the beauty in our art form comes from the texture created by the artist.  I would prefer that Lark use a format enabling us to see detail photos of all the pieces, not just those for which there was extra space on the page.  For example, I would have loved to see a detail of Sue Cavanaugh's, Ori-Kume 20 piece, the winner of the Lynn Goodwin Borgman Award for Surface Design.  Unfortunately, the page couldn't accommodate a detail shot.  Too bad.  I'd be willing to trade a hard cover for more pages in a volume containing detail pictures from all the quilts.  (If you do want to see excellent pictures of the exhibit, along with some thought-provoking text, visit Kathy Loomis' blog.  She wrote an eleven-part series on her impressions on the exhibit, especially interesting since she's an exhibitor as well. She also reviews other shows and shares her thoughts on art in general.  I'm a big fan.)

Lest you think otherwise, I consider the book money well spent.  I'm sure I'll linger over it for many hours to come and force my children to linger over it, too.  And some day, I hope to get to see the exhibit myself.  But first, I'm going up to my studio to ask myself thoughtful questions about what I'm creating.   


I would also love to see detail shots taken at an angle rather than straight on. That can really offer a different perspective of the texture and dimension in a piece of fiber art. Doncha think?
Vivien Zepf said…
Yes, Deborah; I think you're absolutely right!
Michigoose said…
Interesting, Vivien. I will pick up my copy when I go to the show in August. I am particularly interested in Pauline's comments and your reaction AND looking at the requirements for submittal to Quilt National.

I think the show has a tradition, unstated but a tradition none the less, as being a cutting edge show. I was under the impression that pieces which are submitted should push the envelope. While I don't think I am good enough to put in an entry yet, I have been wondering lately (well, since the deadline for submissions to Quilt National) just how much more cutting edge can we get?

I suppose that as new materials come out then we can think about how to work with them and incorporate them, but sometimes doing new and cutting edge just for that sake and not looking at older techniques which are still art quilts none the less leaves me cold... we still have artistic merit, we still have voices and can speak though our quilts...

Lisa Quintana
my croft said…
Kathy Loomis did a series of posts (as in-depth as blogging allows) of work at QN. She organized the post by particular characteristics of the quilts and posted some detail shots that she took at the opening.

I'm with Lisa here, though, wondering how a place can ask for traditional -- perhaps "classic" is a less loaded word -- materials and structures and still expect to be "cutting edge." Kathy Loomis addressed this a bit in her post about "gimmick quilts" she has seen at QN in the past.
Vivien Zepf said…
Lisa and Melanie, I agree! I don't want to use something just because it's new. But, I do think that questioning what we do and how helps keep our work from getting stale. That's a point I'm going to keep reminding myself of.

And yes, I've been reading Kathy's blog about Quilt National. I've amended my post to include a link to her blog. She also has some FABULOUS detail pictures of quilts.
my croft said…
I think there can be too much emphasis on !!NEW!! to the detriment of thoughtful content, so I'm not wildly enthusiastic about a lot of things that I see. I look at a lot of things and think "Okay, this is a print with a batting, this is painting with a batting, this is photograph with a batting. Why is this being called an art quilt?" And I can't help having the niggling suspicion -- is it because you couldn't get it into a fine art show? If an artist completely ignores or obscures the characteristics of the fabric, why imagine that fabric is the medium? but I think I've talked about this with you before...
Michigoose said…
Ah...keeping work fresh, that is different.

I, like you, do find it refreshing for a juror to be frank about what she thought...and her preconceived notions. I'm REALLY looking forward to seeing the show now.

This is a super article and series of comments. I have very mixed feelings about the restrictions for QN and some other exhibitions which serve (in my mind) only to keep quilts quilts. I just don't feel good about putting a lid on growth and exploration.

Thank you Vivian for your article.
norma said…
I am anxiously awaiting my copy to get here from Amazon, but thoroughly enjoyed reading your review, a good one as usual. I have been to QN several times and always love to see the quilts and am usually in awe of most of them. Here's my one complaint. It is supposed to be new, fresh, cutting edge work, yet some of the same artists are juried in year after year. You can recognize their work from across the room. I know that the jurors are different each year, but surely they know what has been in previous shows. Not to say that their work isn't fabulous, but if I recognize it, how is it new and cutting edge?
Michigoose said…
Terry, I'd love to hear your insight on this. To my mind, the only definition that Quilt National cites is, that by the loose definition--it be some sort of fiber in three layers held with stitches that go through to the other words, that it be a quilt (although the quilted skeleton does make one pause...).

If it didn't fit this criteria, then how would it be Quilt National? Wouldn't it just then be any other sort of art show?

Norma, that's the rub....we, those of us who make quilts, attend QN and think about it...we THINK that this is a "cutting edge" show, which it often is....but, no where in the criteria for entering does it say that the pieces are all supposed to be new and cutting edge.

Interesting quandary....and that goes back to Vivien's keeping it fresh...

Sometimes I wonder why a particular quilt was accepted...or actually more to the point gets an award. That's OK...and I love it when I can see into what the jurors were thinking. Thank goodness that the jurrors change every year!

Lisa Q.
Kristin L said…
I am all for brutal honesty. I am sad to hear of the demise of Fiber Arts as I will miss their commentary (I don't see a critical eye in other quilt-related publications) -- but I digress.

This current Quilt National show was the first one in which I entered any artwork. Given the caliber of the work accepted, and the sheer number of entrants, I'm not surprised that my work was rejected. However, I was disappointed in the entry process that the forms weighed heavily on materials and technique and left little to no place for an artist's statement, or for variation in format (my entry was a grouping of five non-rectilinear pieces that worked together). I would have loved to have submitted a detail of each separate part as well as a photo of the whole, but could not. Anyway, long story short, I was surprised that a show known for being on the forward edge of art quilting had an entry form reminiscent of pole and drape traditional quilt shows. I suppose that's because it still is, essentially, a quilt show and not a fiber art show.

In a related experience, the works rejected from QN were accepted to SAQA's Beyond Comfort show, but even there, I must conform to traditional sleeve mounting restrictions rather than allow for what works best for the individual pieces (thinner sleeves, on a laundry line a bit away from the wall, or 3-dimensionally on dress forms, for example).

My take-away has been, of course, to continue to improve my technical skills and conceptual ideas, but also to see my work realized in a gallery show, not a group quilt show.
Wen Redmond said…
I'm not sure what Paulette expected as new and different. There was astounding variety in this show. There are perimeters will which one has to fit work into. What would a show be if the medium was just fiber and it COULD be anything! Now that would be something!
I agree about the book. I realize they can't get the colors of ALL the work perfect but my piece is totally different in hue. Unfortunately, I used many delicate colors lost in the book. Details or photography that could capture texture is always important in this medium.
judykirpich said…
Deborah, I can tell you how close the lines were on my piece in Quilt National. About 1/8" apart. the quilting of this piece took forever and I figured out that I stitched something like 15 football fields of stitching for this quilt alone. Here are a few close ups from my blog. Judy