The 9th Northwest Contemporary Art Quilt Invitational

The 9th Northwest Contemporary Art Quilt Invitational
The American Art Company
1126 Broadway Plaza
Tacoma, WA 98402
October 19 – November 18, 2006
Tuesday –Friday 10 – 5; Saturdays 10 –5

Reviewed by June O. Underwood


The American Art Company is a commercial gallery situated in the heart of downtown Tacoma, Washington, a city which has undergone an arts and culture revival in the last few years.

The gallery is spacious. A good-sized entrance room opens up through a wide corridor to two large exhibit spaces. The wall art is floated about 6 inches out from the walls, so it has extra depth. In the back (primary) exhibit areas, the pieces are subtly grouped, often in threes, a larger piece having two slightly smaller ones on either side. The groupings in this exhibit area are set off by colorful, highly polished wood sculptures on pedestals between the groupings.



In the front room a few art quilt pieces are exhibited among watercolors, oil paintings, and mobile-like sculptures. The watercolors and sculptures were of a quality that the fiber art in that room lacked. The quilts hanging in the space, by Nancy Erickson, Patti Shaw, Dorothy Ives, and Barbara Nepom, seem like after-thoughts. They neither fit with the art quilts of the main exhibit nor are of the quality of the watercolors and sculpture.

Ericksons’s “The Interview” should probably have been a painting, since the minimal quilting doesn’t enhance the image or the texture, but rather makes the piece hang awkwardly. Even as a painting, the Erickson piece was less effective than other of her animal pieces.

Nancy Erickson, “The Interview”

Nancy Erickson, The Interview


Patti Shaw’s “Dame Edith,” beautifully worked, has pop connotations but caused confusion about its subject matter.

Shaw Dame Edith

Patti Shaw, Dame Edith


The Dorothy Ives’ piece, “Solitaire,” which looks interesting on the web site, is too busy for its poignant message to be read easily. The background obscures the figures.

Ives Solitaire

Dorothy Ives, Solitaire


These three pieces, all of which feature stylized representational figures, are also the only ones in the exhibit which make direct comments on the contemporary world. The other piece in the room, Barbara Nepom’s “Leaves,” is bright and highly stylized, and its placement outside the main exhibit makes sense because of its coloration.


Barbara Nepom, Leaves


The larger body of the exhibit in the main galleries is also generally quite bright. Red tending toward rust dominates much of the art; the second most predominant color is chartreuse and lime green. However, the work is tasteful in its uses of the bright colors, and the presentation artful enough to make the pieces individualized, not blending into one another.

Janet Steadman’s “Again” and Janet Kurjan’s “Madrona” stood out as making excellent use of color modulations. A close second was Jeannette DeNicolas Meyer’s “Autumn.” Both Steadman and Meyer designed their colors to form a glowing spot within darker surrounds, which made the abstract imagery more flowing.

3 pieces

Janet Steadman Again


Kurjan Madrona

Janet Kurjan, Madrona


Meyer Autumn

JeannetteDeNicolas Meyer, Autumn


One piece which gathered accolades is Borg Hendrickson’s “Fences Two #9” It is intricate, yet cleanly designed; the placement of the strips into wedge shapes is important to the overall image; the black and white strips add a strong focal interest.

Hendrickson Fences Two #9

Borg Hendrickson, Fences Two #9


Cher Cartwright, who has three pieces in the exhibit, and whose “In the Course of the Motion” is the website signature piece, uses linear strips and swirls of energy radiating from circular forms. They are more modestly hued than the website images indicate but this does not diminish the success of the piece itself. Cory Volkert, whose “Kelp II” uses Sassaman-like forms, has a sophisticated surface of overlapping and echoing shapes.


Cher Cartwright, In the Course of The Motion



Cory Volkert Kelp II


The piece that is top-notch is Toot Reid’s “Twenty.” Reid often has a seemingly simple schema in her work. She uses a background fabric in which the hue changes across its surface. On top of the background, she stitches raw edged 1 or 2 inch squares of another color. In this particular work, the background is red, and it is topped with small black squares stitched variously in black thread. The raw edges of the black fabric and the cut ends of the threads are left dangling as part of the design. The simplicity and starkness of the red and black combined with the variety among the black squares is most satisfying. The stitching is an important feature of this piece—adding a layer of design over the fabric layers that is like mysterious writing.

reid twenty

Toot Reid, Twenty


Abstract work dominates the exhibit although there are some natural images as well. The small representational floral pieces in the wide well-lit corridor between the front and the back of the gallery seem out of place in a high-end art venue. “Into the Woods, Autumn” by Bonnie Jean Thornton (which was sold) is particularly unsuccessful in its choice of fabrics and design. This particular mixture of organic and geometric shapes and hand-dyed and commercial representational fabric is jarring to the eye. The confusion of spatial distance is neither abstract nor realistic, so it adds to the problem of readability.

thornton woods

Bonney Jean Thornton, Into the Woods, Autumn


There isn’t much whimsy or humor in the exhibit, except for the “Pepperoni Pizza Mandala” by Linda Rudin Frizzell. “Pepperoni Pizza Mandala” is accessible, but it may be out of place because of its rigid symmetry and sugary color.


Linda Rudin Frizzell, Pepperoni Pizza Mandala


The pieces are mostly moderate (around 3’x 5’) in size, including Reid’s and Erickson’s which in the past have been much bigger. A couple of the pieces have titles which seemed provocative, but they are attached to unexceptional imagery. “Not Just Another Anita Bryant Day” by Cher Cartwright and “It’s not My Fault Line” by Bonnie Brewer are both technically competent, but the titles give them more content than the work justifies.

Brewer Fault

Bonnie Brewer, It’s Not My Fault Line


The exhibit is a well-hung, well-lit, beautifully paced commercial venture, with well-crafted, well-designed, mostly “good” pieces. The strongest critique is that, in the end, it is very safe. No one will be offended, and no one’s heart is going to beat faster upon encountering this art. This is art that can definitely go over anyone’s couch.

This is Tammy and Craig Radford’s second art quilt exhibit. They plan to continue the biennial show as an invitational. Some edgier, not-so-nice pieces might have set off the other pieces and extended the visual range as well as adding interest to a larger number of buyers.

The exhibit is up until November 18 and can be seen in its entirety on the website, All photos, with the exception of the site view, are courtesy of the American Art Company.

11 Responses to The 9th Northwest Contemporary Art Quilt Invitational

  1. Omega says:

    This most satisfyingly detailed review almost made me feel that I was there in the space, and I was so pleased that differences between the view on the screen and real life were pointed out. The hang seems really thoughtful with ‘oddballs’ hung separately, and I found the idea of the six inches off the wall one which would probably enhance the exhibition all round.

    It is interesting that June had a hankering after edgier pieces, and I would very much like to hear the gallerists/curators’ view on this. I imagine that it can be quite difficult to be sure of regular sales of more controversial items. It was fascinating to learn that the piece that was singled out for most negative criticism from June was one which had sold. Invitationals I suppose can be quite difficult to manage as although you get to choose the artist, unless very prescriptive, you don’t really know what they are going to come up with – they might even change from the style expected. At least with a juried show the curator gets to choose the final pieces.

  2. Julie D says:

    Hi June, It was great to read your thoughtful review, but this comment caught my eye “Cory Volkert, whose “Kelp II” uses Sassaman-like forms, has a sophisticated surface of overlapping and echoing shapes.”

    We seem to have this need to link everything back to someone famous.

    Perhaps some people enjoy seeing connections between new art and pieces they’ve enjoyed over the years, but it also feels disrespectful to the artist, as if she can’t think for herself.

    In this case it looks like Ms Volkert knows her botany. Why can’t something just look like … kelp?

  3. marti plager says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. I might not agree with all the statements from just the views online but then art is always in the eye of the beholder. It is good for all of us to read what others think.

  4. Well-written, giving us lots of thoughtful description of the show.
    Not everyone thinks art has to be edgy to be art, though.

  5. Holly says:

    June, I especially appreciate the factual observations in a review – lighting, description of space, percentage of abstracts vs. representational pieces, overall color dominance in selected pieces, etc. I find comments on specific pieces to sometimes be subjective, and somewhat unfair in the sense that if this were a critique with the artist, the critiquer would be able to discuss with the artist what their intention was with the piece. For example, perhaps a busy background was Dorothy Ivers’ intent (“The Dorothy Ives’ piece, “Solitaire,” which looks interesting on the web site, is too busy for its poignant message to be read easily. The background obscures the figures.”)

    Could you explain what you meant by this:
    “The small representational floral pieces in the wide well-lit corridor between the front and the back of the gallery seem out of place in a high-end art venue.”

    Do representational florals not belong in high-end galleries? Or was it just that they were in the minority in this particular show and seemed odd mixed in with so many abstracts?

  6. June Underwood says:

    Hi all,
    Thanks for the comments — I appreciate your careful reading of the review and your thoughtfulness in responding to it.

    For the record, 4 of us went to the exhibit and by and large we all agreed on the assessments I wrote up. The one disagreement was over the “Pepperoni” piece, which I liked more than the others.

    Here are some quick responses to what has been commented on.

    It’s true that in a Walk-Around with the artist, you might get more sense of what was intended, but this isn’t a dialogue with the artist, but rather with the art. In the instance of the Ives’ piece, Solitaire, I was reminded of the old dictate that a novel about a boring person doesn’t dare to be boring, unless the author doesn’t care about his readers. I think you are right that the busy background was intentional. It just didn’t work with the whole piece.

    Holly, you caught the place where I knew I was being vague. The problem with the “small representational florals” was that they were unexceptional — something you would expect to see in your local quilt shop as samples. Not bad in any specific way, but just sort of blah. It’s hard to put one’s finger on that kind of assessment (which is why I was vague) but it wasn’t that they were florals or representational (the Kelp was, after all, a representational floral) but that they had not much of a presence.

    I included the fact that one of the pieces that we all felt was unsuccessful was one that sold. I thought that was an important comment on the necessarily subjective viewpoint of the reviewer. I think I’m relatively sophisticated about art and art quilts, but it would be shocking if my assessments were held by people who are more or less sophisticated or who come from different lifestyles, backgrounds, etc. The subjectivity of the reviewer has to be acknowledged by both reviewer and reader. Then the review can be seen as just one more bit of information, to be used or discarded as you wish.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.


  7. lisacall says:

    Julie commented above:
    We seem to have this need to link everything back to someone famous.

    In the Summer of 2005 the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum held a symposium in conjunction with the opening of the showing of their new collection “Rooted in Tradition: Art Quilts From the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum”.

    In my review of the event that appeared in the museum’s newsletter I wrote the following:

    …The keynote address by Robert Shaw and the talk by Arturo Alonzo Sandoval followed suit [well organized] and both talks included thought provoking analysis of the art quilt movement. As they pointed out, it is important for us to understand the history of our medium so we can build on what has been done in the past, instead of repeating it. This collection gives us some very interesting context to do exactly that.

    Like these 2 men, I believe as artists we need to understand how our art fits into the larger art quilt world but also more importantly the entire history of art.

    A review is not written for the artist, it is written for the public. For them to understand better what the show is about and to help them understand and appreciate how the work on display fits into the larger art world.

    I think it is very valid for the reviewer to point out the relationship between these pieces. From my reading it was not meant as a negative comment but instead a reference point to bring context to the work.

  8. Julie D says:

    Hi Lisa,
    I didn’t take it as a negative comment either. I just think Ms Volkert deserves the credit for doing her own homework. This is what kelp looks like. Why should any artist get credit for inspiring her?

  9. lisacall says:

    No one said another artist inspired her. That is not what the review nor my comment implied.

  10. terry grant says:

    I was with June when we viewed this exhibit and much of what she wrote reflects back to the discussions we had as we viewed the exhibit. Of course everyone will see the same group of art differently, but all in all my impressions were very similar to what June wrote about the show.

    I’d like to respond to Julie’s comment about the comparison of Cory Volkert’s work to Jane Sassaman forms. It was not the subject matter that elicited the connection, it was the similar way that she took a plant image and rendered it in a bold, flat way, much larger than life size, and emphasized the graceful, repetitive pattern that it created. What she did with it was quite different from Jane Sassaman’s compositions and the piece seemed, in no way, to be mimicking Sassaman’s work. The observation was simply that the plant form brought to mind Sassaman’s similar approach to plant forms.

    All of us with June, that day, commented that we would like to have seen some work a bit more “edgy”, if you will. More daring. At the same time we understand that the gallery is in the business of selling art and will understandably choose work that is like what has sold before. Still, I think they may be underestimating the buying public. I also speculated that since most of these artists have shown and sold work in this gallery in the past, that they might be tailoring their work for the venue as well.

    And a quick comment on the Dorothy Ives “Solitaire” piece. When I viewed it I found it unfocused and chaotic and it did not really draw me in. Interestingly, I did not see the figures until I viewed it later on the internet. With my nose 10″ from the piece, in the flesh, I missed seeing this very important element.

  11. Cory Volkert says:

    The thread that I am commenting on is old – but since it is about my work and I just discovered it, I will add a comment. It is a personal priority that my work NOT make reference to the work of others and, altho it is true that nothing is really new and previously undiscovered, I would point out that another of my priorities is that my work is always pieced, never raw edged or bonded. When I read the review, I was disappointed that the differences between my work and that of someone famous were less important than writing my piece off as referential to Jane’s work.

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