review by Kathleen Loomis
(Note: The author had two quilts juried into the main Quilts for Change show.)
Judged by Carolyn Mazloomi (art) and Donna McDade (traditional)
Quilts for Change is a biennial, first held in 2004 and again this year. The sponsor is the Zonta Club of Cincinnati, a women’s service organization whose mission focuses on the elimination of violence against women. Although not a requirement for entry, the theme was featured prominently in publicizing the show. It attracted a significant number of quilts about women and abuse or self-esteem, along with other subjects of social protest such as guns and war — dark emotions rarely found at quilt shows but exciting to see here.
Although art quilts were the great majority of the 138 juried entries, three times as many prizes were given to traditional quilts. Despite its prevalence, none of the social-protest work received a prize. Prizes were awarded in three categories of traditional quilts (applique, pieced and other), but art quilts constituted a single category. It’s hard to know why the organizers decided upon this disproportionate allocation of prize money. The 2004 show was notable for the number and quality of art quilts, the show poster (by Susan Shie) was clearly an art quilt, and the lack of a minimum size for entries was art-quilt-friendly.
It was frustrating to try to understand the judges’ choices. Quilts were neither labeled nor grouped by categories, and in fact entrants did not even specify which category their quilts fell into. If you wanted to see, for instance, which quilts were judged against yours in the “traditional/ other” category, the only way was to walk around the exhibit, inspect each quilt and try to decide whether it fell into that category.
Two years ago show goers were frustrated by the hanging of the show – even the tiniest quilts were hung with their tops eight feet above the ground — and with the difficulty of finding their way around the show. If you saw a quilt described in the catalog and wanted to see it, there was no way to figure out where it was hung. And if you saw a quilt on the wall and wanted to read the statement, there was no way to find it in the catalog. This year saw great improvement on the first count, with small quilts (many entries were quite small) hung at eye level, but the catalog and exhibit map were still difficult to figure out.
Other than the many social-protest themed quilts, it was hard to spot any noteworthy trends – a refreshing change from some shows that inadvertently showcase quilt-fad-of-the-week. There seemed to be less embellishment on view than typically seen among art quilts, somewhat less use of phototransfer, hardly any Angelina fibers. The critical viewer could not but notice how many quilts on display lacked value contrast and seemed to have little thought for composition.
Quilts that caught my eye included Sandra Woock’s three whole-cloth works using the motif of the pointed crown on the Statue of Liberty.
Sandra L.H. Woock: Lady Sings the Blues, Taking Liberties II, Taking Liberties
Shelley Baird’s twin quilts, “Bruises” and “Burns,” were striking for their sound composition and the contrast of pretty colors with disturbing photos and text about abused women.
Shelly Baird: Burns, Bruises
Ellen Zak Danforth had a new and pleasant twist on the old-necktie quilt, with pairs of unmatched tie ends emerging from the pieced surface to be looped or tied together.
Two special traveling exhibits were on display. Artquilts Images, a juried show from PAQA South, showed photo images in quilts. The 26 works had a wide range of approaches to photos, from actual paper photographs to many different ways of transferring images to fabric. Artistically, the exhibit was a success, with several striking quilts. Especially pleasing were Cheryl Lynch’s small 3-D quilt of Christo’s gates, with orange fabric billowing out from a pale gray-tone photo of Central Park, and Janine LeBlanc’s antiwar quilt with a long yellow ribbon, “bloodstained” with red hand stitching, trailing onto the floor.
Janine LeBlanc: Yellow Ribbon
Visual Voice, a show curated by Keisha Roberts, was less successful. From the impenetrable explanatory text (“artists interrogate silence”) it was difficult to figure out the unifying theme behind the exhibit. Some of the text seemed to imply the use of text or communication; some pointed toward cultural and national identity. The 37 quilts were all over the lot and the exhibit would have been far more satisfying at half the size.
In particular, one artist, Karina Abdusamad, had nine works in the show! Two were striking, panels of many different white fabrics in decreasing size, each fabric with a hole in it. The works showed up particularly well against the black drapes of the show (by contrast, many black quilts in the show almost disappeared into the drapery). But Abdusamad’s other quilts appeared to be early work, heavy-handed in its ethnic imagery and technically disappointing. They should have been left at home.
The exhibit also included five of Angela Moll’s “Secret Diary” quilts. Each one is a masterpiece, with its almost-readable handwritten text hinting at the writer’s fraught life, but one or two would have been even more exciting than all five. Other quilts in the exhibit showed a puzzling juxtaposition of Afro-ethnic themes and fabrics, beaded works, and handsome abstractions, both pieced and dyed.
Although the show had all the amenities a visitor could want – convenient parking, comfortable classrooms, wide aisles, good lighting, cheerful attendants, scads of door prizes — there were unhappily very few people in attendance. Vendors were disappointed if not overly rebellious over the low turnout, and several workshops had to be cancelled for insufficient registration. Apparently the workshops were not advertised at all in print media, and the newspaper ad on the last day of the show gave incorrect hours. Exhibitors were given two free tickets to give to friends, but not told that the tickets were going to be available until they showed up (friendless) at the door. A lot of wrinkles still need to be ironed out if the third show is to be a success.