I’ve been told I shouldn’t use such a harsh word on myself, but it certainly is a clear statement of facts: I offered one of my quilts to QuiltCon, and it was not accepted for display. Don’t worry, my self-esteem is still quite intact… I love the quilt I made, and no amount of quilt show rejection will change that!
I have not attended the last two QuiltCon shows, so my impressions of what got in is somewhat distorted by the limitation of what can be seen on social media. I will say that, while I saw some envelope-pushing work in the feeds, I saw an incredible amount of “been there, seen that.” I have wondered on more than one occasion if the displayed quilts were chosen more for their illustration of and adherence to the definitions of modern quilting (as put forth by the Modern Quilt Guild) than for being perhaps more challenging examples of where quilt-making is going in the moment. Really, how many wonky what-evers (set off-center in a solid background with matchstick quilting) should be displayed? We get it! Point made! Mind you, it is their party, so they do get to groom the guest list. I will be attending the show in Pasadena next month, and am looking forward to making an informed opinion or two about the works in person. And of course, I’ll be sharing those thoughts here!
Here’s my rejected entry:
I made this quilt top in 2014 as I was developing my Five Stars pattern, with not a thought in my head about sending it to competition. I had been playing for some time with the idea of nesting stars, and thought the complexity of nesting them offset was a modern way of looking at things. I chose the color palette because I love ORANGE and teal, and love them both when paired with gray. I chose batiks as I’ve worked with them for years, and love the texture they have over solids. While they are often dismissed in a modern guild or shop as “your mother’s fabric,” they are one of the most hand-made fabrics available to us, a quality that I believe important to contemporary social and ecological interests. And if I’m being candid, I liked the idea of challenging the modern structural ideas with some batiks.
Once the top was done, I was so happy with it that I was bouncing about the studio. I knew my utilitarian quilting skills would do it a terrible disservice, so I hired Nancy Stovall to take it to the next level, and couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome. Truly, she leveled it up out of the park – it’s stunning. It was at that point that I thought, perhaps, I should show the quilt.
In general, quilt show competitions (not exhibitions – the distinction is important) bother me a bit. As a formally trained artist with an MFA, I find it frustrating that the usual criteria that separates the winner from the runners is craft. And for the record, I’m a HUGE proponent of attaining good craftsmanship; I just don’t think it’s the only thing to look at.
While I have no idea if the QuiltCon judges will be checking quilts for square and checking the binding miters to see if they are stitched (don’t laugh, I was critiqued about the lack of stitches in my miters some 20 years ago on a quilt that went to Paducah), the fact that such technical nit-picking seemed to outweigh artistry made me abandon competition years ago. I was tired of getting judges’ notes about my miters, and having no mention of my artistry, choice of colors, or my prowess with hand-dyeing my fabrics. I see us wanting our work to be considered ART, but then still approaching it like it’s CRAFT. It’s hard for Craft to ascend to Art when it’s judged less for the artistry than the craftsmanship. By these criteria, a Monet would be rejected because the paint was a bit thicker here than it was there.
I know… it’s a bit of a chewy conversation, but hey, I’m trained in thinking about art this way, and these are the thoughts I ponder in the wee hours. You can take the girl out of art school, but it’s hard to take the art school out of the girl!
Anyway! The quilt won’t be heading to QuiltCon, but no matter.
Oh, and I still don’t sew down my miters ;-p