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New Holter exhibit rethinks the word, ‘quilt’
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New Holter exhibit rethinks the word, ‘quilt’

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Quilts like few of us have ever experienced before.

Quilts that exude --

Peace.

Tranquility.

Outrage.

Curiosity.

And, some that are just bursting with playful, exuberant creative energy.

They invite one to just sit in their presence and soak them in.

And then move in for yet a closer look.

The Quilt National ‘19 show now on exhibit at the Holter Museum of Art’s Sherman Gallery runs through April 8.

The traveling exhibit of 31 quilts is part of a larger national juried show of nontraditional quilts curated by The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio.

Quilt National began in 1979 and is held every two years, attracting submissions from around the globe.

These quilters take “the definition of quilting far beyond its traditional parameters” of being a “fabric sandwich” typically used as a bedcover, wrote Hilary Morrow Fletcher, the former Quilt National project director.

Beginning in the 1970s, a number of artists began to transform the humble quilt into art, utilizing new techniques and materials, while still respecting many of the techniques used by heritage quilt makers.

“The subject matter of the quilt, be it a personal memory or an artist's statement about a political or social issue, appears to be increasingly important,” wrote Fletcher.

Today's artists “view their quilts as a means of expressing their creative energies in ways that are simply not possible with other materials,” she wrote, and often seek to evoke an emotional response in the viewers.

What better way to truly see this exhibit than in the company of fiber artist and Archie Bray Foundation long-term ceramic artist resident Jason Burnett?

The word quilt has many associations and connotations, he said. But “quilting is just the ... stitchwork that combines the different layers.”

“The art of quilt making is ... just so large. What we have in front of us here --- they’re all quilts ... but what we have here is sculptural. We have paintings, collage, drawing, meditation, soul-searching, struggle, conflict, freedom of expression, freedom of exploration.

“At first glance, it seems a wonderful array -- not just of process but of the makers themselves. You have a breadth of culture that is unique to each of the makers. And you can see the heart and soul put in it by the meditative practice and the tightness of the stitch...”

Among the quilts that attracted this writer’s eyes was “End of the Line,” done in greens and rust and gray with a motif of lines suggesting perhaps the underside of leaves.

It emanates peace and contemplation -- a meditative exploration of nature in thousands of stitches, sewn by then-89-year-old quilter Janet Steadman.

Another one nearby, with a bold, broken-edge shape, “Renewal X,” is pieced together from off-kilter panels of vibrant golds and oranges and muted greens and gray. It speaks of artist Randy Frost’s spiritual renewal and rebirth of creativity after surviving breast cancer.

A third quilt, by New Mexico artist Terrie Mangat, dominates a far wall and sears into the heart. “Fireworks at the Border” shoots flame-like shapes and teems with cactus skeletons, skulls, tiny babies torn from their mothers’ arms, babies in cages, a mother’s face emerging from the dark chaos shedding jewel-like tears. Overlooking it all, a predatory hawk, clutching a religious medallion in its beak, perches ready to pounce.

For Burnett, one of his happy discoveries while wandering through the exhibit was finding a bold, abstract quilt, “Meditations #2,” by Pennsylvania artist Michael J. Ross, whose quilts first sparked Burnett to dabble in quilt making in 2015.

“The first quilt I made was for my husband. It was really about place -- pulling the colors from the landscape of our Tennessee mountain home.

“We’re selling that cabin as we speak, but it lives within that quilt.

“Each of these quilts represents someone’s landscape, home, loved one.... You spend time with each artist, each of these quilts -- there’s life within them from what they put in, meditate about, what they think about, the struggles. Our internal pain comes out through physical action.

“There’s so much patience in this room.”

A gifted ceramic artist, Burnett was lured to change the trajectory of his career by the sheer creative power and artistic potential of textiles and their colors and textures.

In fact, he’s designing a new line of textiles he’ll unveil later this year.

“I just got hired at the Sewing Palace, and I just love talking about texture with the sewing community” and urging them “to think outside the box and go with their gut and give themselves permission to explore.”

What he loves is that the quilters in this show are putting their works out for viewers to not only investigate their quilting techniques, but to ask themselves “How am I responding to the work? Where’s the emotional charge?”

As the artists release themselves from functionality, it allows for more risk-taking.

There are quilts using found objects, newspapers, plastic bags, cheesecloth, cotton T-shirt collars, beads, netting and more.

There are quilts of great beauty and quilts that challenge the viewer to rethink the word, “quilt.”

“Historically, the thought of quilts often provokes the sense of comfort,” said Burnett. “And after several years of constant noise and ‘certainty of belief,’ this show promotes space and a moment for pause and reflection to listen through pictures and to remember how important it is to be curious.”

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