Archive | Quilt National Artist

Earth Stories opens at MSU Museum

by Leni Levenson Wiener, curator


Earth Stories will be on view at the MSU Museum until November 20, 2014. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong.

The idea behind SAQA’s Earth Stories exhibit was simple enough; artists were challenged to create large works (or installations) inspired by a person or project anywhere in the world doing something positive for the earth. The word positive was important—we wanted inspiring stories of people who were working to change the course of over consumption and decay, rather than to embrace negativity.


The exhibit has 24 large quilts and 24 smaller summary quilts by the same artists.

Artists were chosen by a call for consideration. Each artist presented a portfolio of their work and Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi carefully chose the artists who would be included in the exhibition. They were given a little more than a year to complete their work in a very specific size—a footprint of 72” square or 72” on one side and at least 60” on the other.

As the curator of this exhibit I enjoyed watching the pieces develop and evolve and hearing the artists share their thoughts and progress. As one of the selected artists, I also shared the frustrations of finding an appropriate theme and creating such a large work.


Palimpsest by Brooke Atherton, Billings Montana

Most remarkable about this exhibit is the breadth and scope of the projects that inspired the work of these twenty four magnificent pieces. Many of the artists in Earth Stories are QN artists, and although I do not have the space to celebrate them all, here are a few of their artworks.

Brooke Atherton, Billings Montana: Palimpsest

Inspired by: Floating Island International

Using a matrix formed from recycled plastic drinking bottles and native plants, floating islands manufactures artificial islands that are moveable or can be tethered in place to rebalance water ecosystems that humans have upset. Brooke has incorporated a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt which has outlived its original purpose and repurposed into a new story that centers on repurposing for the sake of our planet.


A Source of Life in the Dead Sea by Maya Chaimovich, Ramat Gan, Israel

Maya Chaimovich, Ramat Gan, Israel: A Source of Life in the Dead Sea

Inspired by:

The Israeli government has invested more than a billion dollars in a project called “The Dead Sea Harvest”, the intention of which is to extract mineral rich healing salt that has sunk to the bottom.


Wise Choice by Kathy Nida, El Cajon, Ca

Kathy Nida, El Cajon, Ca: Wise Choice

Inspired by: International Planned Parenthood Federation

Many world-wide die from starvation or limited access to earth’s natural resources. When women can plan their lives and care for their families as they choose, the strain on limited natural resources will be reduced.

Light Towers by Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, The Netherlands

Light Towers by Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, The Netherlands

Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, Waalre, The Netherlands: Light Towers

Inspired by: The L Prize awarded to Royal Philips Electronics for an energy saving bulb with light similar to that of a common incandescent bulb.

Mirjam’s husband wrote the patent for this bulb. She was inspired by the skyscrapers in the US or the enormous tower apartment blocks in the outskirts of St. Petersburg, Russia. The ‘Light Tower’ is the nickname of the Philips building where bulbs and tubes are tested.


Crowded House by Kathy York, Austin, Texas

Kathy York, Austin, Texas: Crowded House

Inspired by: Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff)

Kathy York took Annie Leonard’s famous book about massive consumerism quite personally. She counted all the objects in her house over a period of six months. The Number, (which she calls the humiliating and nauseating number) spills out of the confines of her house.


Michigan State University Museum, the opening venue for this show and a partner in its development, is a center of regional, national, and international quilt-related scholarly and educational activities, including the Quilt Index (, an online tool for centralized public access to quilt and quilt artist-related materials. The MSU Museum is also home to an outstanding collection of quilts and quilt-related materials, both historical and contemporary, from around the world. Earth Stories provided them with an opportunity to share a collection of contemporary quilts that reflect the power of this art form for personal expression, education, and activism.

Leni Levenson Wiener is the curator for the Earth Stories exhibit. She also created a piece in the show entitled it’s a shell of a problem this piece focuses on both the helping hands of humans and the desirability of turtle and tortoise shells. Her website is

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Pamela Allen — a most unlikely art quilter

“So how on earth did she ever become a fiber artist?” you might ask. “For Pete’s sake, the woman could hardly thread a needle at first. She inquired of 2000 art quilters online what a fat square was. Her first show entry came back with a judge’s score of 0 out of 5 for her pathetic binding.  And the coup de gras was her $30.00 church basement sewing machine that needed duct tape over the dogs to free motion quilt! A truly unlikely candidate for the exacting enterprise of art quilts, if you ask me.”

The biggest thing in my favor when first switching to fiber as my medium was ignorance.

More than that, ignorance coated with arrogance that “ it can’t be that difficult”.  I arrived on the scene having worked for more than twenty years as a full time artist. First exclusively a painter, but moving over time, to printmaking, assemblage art and paper collage.   It was that last adventure with paper that made me question why I couldn’t do the same in a more permanent medium like fabric.

Does this look like an art quilt to you?  Well there you go! So did I.

LOS CONQUISTADOR, 1993, Paper collage by Pamela Allen

LOS CONQUISTADOR, 1993, Paper collage by Pamela Allen

Now I want to explain these two adjectives I applied to myself just then. First ignorance.  This describes a complete lack of knowledge of the materials and how to use them. I knew nothing about the tyranny of stitches per inch. I knew nothing about never using corduroy next to silk.  I completely ignored the sin of having knots on the back of my quilts. After all nobody ever looked on the back of my paintings! Finally I knew nothing of the unseemliness of entering every show in the universe.  I became known as a show slut, long before I could make a proper mitered corner!

Furthermore I didn’t know anyone.  Luckily I happened across extremely helpful email lists very early on.  The BIG one. It’s Everyone there took pity on me and soon got me on the right path with basic techniques and advice about planet Artquilt. Not only that, but anyone who was anyone in the art quilt world seemed to be on that list. I soon discovered that unlike the so called “fine art” world I was used to dealing with (they think they are so exclusive) the quilt art world had many many venues, festivals and quilt shows that I could try for  (see the show slut section above) Also I received very kind and good advice about pulling in my horns concerning the rules of the judging. Segue into the second adjective. Arrogance.

Normally that word is quite derogatory. And I confess it was accurate enough at the beginning because I was quite a brat about the fore mentioned rules. I continued for many years to flout them- knotty backs, folded over “bindings”, wonky edges. Finally I slapped myself and agreed that maybe there WAS some reason for rules. My quilts started looking better. I got 3 out of 5 on my bindings one time! I actually won some awards. Recently an award-winning quilt of mine came back with the judge saying there was nothing I needed to do to improve my workmanship! I had arrived!

THE BIG LOSER, 1st prize Masters Original Design La Conner quilt Museum 2013 by Pamela Allen

THE BIG LOSER, 1st prize Masters Original Design La Conner quilt Museum 2013 by Pamela Allen

There was another side to the arrogance though. I was not really arrogant, I was confident. I had a good art education and twenty years experience. So I never had a problem with the formal considerations like good composition and attention to principles and elements of art. I no longer wracked my brains about what the subject matter would be. I rely on every day events in my life, which seem to resonate with others. I think that is why I got into a lot of shows. After all you really can only see the imagery on a slide or jpg. What they saw was what they got. Who knew the back was all lumpy, bumpy and knotty in the beginning. And as I said, I actually got better as I went along. Last year was stellar for me, achieving a long time goal of getting into Quilt National.

What next? This year I am turning my attention to the business side of being an artist.  That means the dreaded “M” word. Marketing!

To be continued…

Pamela Allen

Pamela Allen

Pamela Allen (B.F.A. Queens University), an award winning winning fiber artist, exhibits regularly in  Canada, the U.S and abroad. Pamela has taught as an adjunct instructor in the Fine Art department at Queens University (Kingston) as well as leading workshops for fabric art in Canada and the U.S. To see more of Pamela’s art go to her website at, at ETSY, or ARTFUL HOME

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An interview with Lora Rocke

Lora Rocke is a quilt artist from Lincoln Nebraska. Her quilt Kathryn, Katy, Katie, Kate was in Quilt National 2009. She continues her creative work in fiber with a focus on portraits. We asked her a few questions about how she works and what inspires her.

Kathryn, Kathy, Katie, Kate by Lora Rocke

Kathryn, Kathy, Katie, Kate by Lora Rocke

How does your art fit into your daily routine?

The greatest boon to my productivity was discovering that my brain is not creatively active in the morning.  After my first cup of coffee, I can dive into mundane, day-to-day business: updating my website, answering emails, filling out forms, paying bills etc.  I am efficient, single-minded and able to multi-task.  But by mid-afternoon, my creative side takes over, I can almost feel my brain switch over to the right side. Working intuitively, choosing fabric and thread with a “skwinty” eye, I imagine what each will look like when applied to my current portrait. The music gets louder and my focus turns to shape, color and texture, and I will gladly stay on this path until early evening (unless someone interrupts with a “What’s for dinner?”).

Why do you use textiles/quilting as a medium?

I have an affinity for getting my fingers into any project.  Early on it was charcoal & pencil drawings, then batik work with the dipping and dying of fabrics, even my painted portraits involved moving the paint around with my fingers.  The tactile nature of fabric and thread has always intrigued me.  With years of practice, trial and error and some successes, I found that thread and fabric can be used much like pen, pencil, ink and paint.  With patience, I can create an intensely stitched face that has the same depth, detail and personality.

What inspires and motivates you to make art?

The main inspiration for any piece that I do, whether it is a commissioned piece or one for exhibition, is a personal connection.  Is there an emotion that touches me?  Do I feel that it can clearly be portrayed through fabric and thread?  It sounds silly, but I look for the story in each piece that I stitch.  Who are they, what are they thinking, what do they want to say and how can I communicate that?  In the end, I love the look on the faces of those who view the completed portraits, and the questions that they ask about those people that I have stitched.

Catfish Stringer by Lora Rocke

Catfish Stringer by Lora Rocke

What are you working on right now?

I have just completed several pieces for exhibition.  These “Ordinary People” include a fisherman and his catch, two “trick-or-treaters” and a little girl after a birthday party.  The most intense piece, done in thread and appliqué, is a triptych of a little boy and his self-styled haircut.

Lora Rocke

Lora Rocke

The intimate images in my portraits have stories to tell.  Captured in dense freehand stitching and cloth, I strive to create the face of a loved one, the romance of childhood, or the remembrance of a lost friend.

To see more of Lora’s work visit

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Quilt National knows the way to San Jose

by Deborah Corsini, Curator, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

Heaven & Earth by Jane Sassaman, 1992, from the Marbaum Collection

Heaven & Earth by Jane Sassaman, 1992, from the Marbaum Collection

The 1970s were a stimulating time for fiber arts. Spurred on by the counter culture, many people looked to crafts traditions and developed a renewed appreciation of working with textiles.  Alternative schools located around the country such as Arrowmont, TN, Haystack, ME, and in Berkeley, CA—Pacific Basin School of Textile Arts (established in 1973) and Fiberworks Center for the Textile Arts (also established in 1973)—offered workshops in an exciting range of fiber techniques that ran the gamut of spinning, weaving, dyeing, basketry, tablet weaving, ikat, felting, quilting, and surface design. National magazines such as Fiberarts and Quilters Newsletter (founded in 1969 by Bonnie and George Leman) were chronicling the interest in textile arts. Yarn and quilt shops were opening, and supplies, classes, and information about different textile techniques, design, and craft was readily available.

San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles now in its 37th year

In 1977, a group of forward thinking women from the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association (SCVQA) founded the American Museum of Quilts & Related Arts, which began its own remarkable journey as the first museum of its kind to recognize, appreciate, and preserve quilts and other textile arts. Now in its 37th year and in its spacious permanent home on South 1st Street, the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles (SJMQT) continues to celebrate and promote the art, creators, craft and history of quilts and textiles.

Nationally recognized and among a handful of institutions in the world that focus on quilts and textiles, the Museum has a significant historical chronicle of traditional and contemporary exhibitions and programs. It offers a substantial range of exhibitions that draw from the museum collection, the national and international textile art movements (including groundbreaking, themed group shows which focus on particular topics or techniques—Scrap Art, Primary Structures, Navajo Weaving, Milestones), and the work and legacy of individual artists. Mark Adams, Mary Balzer Buskirk, Radka Donnell, Caryl Bryer Fallert, Jean Ray Laury, Therese May, Judy Mathieson, Eleanor McCain, Ruth McDowell , Katie Pasquini Masopust, Mary Walker Phillips, Yvonne Porcella, Deidre Scherer, Joan Schulze, Lydia Van Gelder,  and Katherine Westphal, are  a few of the many artists that have exhibited at the Museum.

At this same time, a parallel experience was conceived in Athens, Ohio. The first Quilt National was inaugurated, and it too has grown and evolved during its 35 years. Establishing itself as the foremost and quintessential exhibit of contemporary art quilts, this ongoing biennial continues to showcase current trends and developments in the art quilt movement.

Over the years the Museum had the opportunity to bring portions of four Quilt National exhibits to the West coast.

Quilt National on view at the  San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

Bow Tie by Sylvia Gegaregian

Bow Tie, by Sylvia Gegaregian

Viewing Quilt National is much anticipated and the shows from 2003, 2005, 2011 and now 2013 were well received. The current exhibition features 47 works by 48 artists. This year, we have added local
artist and Quilt National juror Judith Content’s quilt Cenote Azul to the mix. Like previous years the range of quilts and artistic expression is formidable, imaginative, and outstanding. From the classical Amish inspired Bow Tie by Sylvia Gegaregian to an updated still life by The Pixeladies (Deb Cashatt and Kris Sazaki), American Still Life: The Weight of the Nation, there is amazing technical virtuosity and meaning in each of these works. Once again, Quilt National features a rich diversification of style (abstract to representational) and shows us thematic content that is imbued with personal symbolism and contemporary ideas. We are pleased to host Quilt National as it fulfills the museum’s artistic goals of bringing shows to San Jose that have a broad appeal and demonstrate that quilts are a transformative and compelling medium of artistic expression.

Quilts from the Marbaum Collection of Hilary & Marvin Fletcher

In 2010 another connection to the Dairy Barn was forged. The Museum organized Cream of the Cloth: Quilts from the Marbaum Collection of Hilary & Marvin Fletcher that encompassed a 25-year survey of the art quilt movement and included work from previous Quilt National exhibits from 1985 – 2007. This private collection includes work by Michael James, Sue Benner, and Jane Sassaman. For over 20 years, Hilary Fletcher was a beloved and pivotal figure in the contemporary art quilt movement through her leadership of the Quilt National exhibitions. Under her advocacy, the biennial Quilt National exhibitions grew to be among the largest and most prestigious of contemporary art quilts in the world. She would certainly be pleased to know that pieces from her personal collection and Quilt National are still going strong and finding their way to San Jose.

Deborah CorsiniDeborah Corsini is the curator of the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles and in her seven year tenure has created a wide variety of historical and contemporary fiber art exhibitions. Some exhibition highlights include: Beyond Knitting:  Uncharted Stitches, Changing Landscapes: Contemporary Chinese Fiber Art, Hawaii’s Alfred Shaheen: Fabric to Fashion, Scrap Art, and Milestones: Textiles of Transition.

In her studio practice she focuses on tapestry and creates dynamic wedge weave and eccentric weave works. Her pieces are exhibited in national and international venues including the International Chinese Fiber Art Biennial and the American Tapestry Biennial.

Her love and appreciation of quilts came from her previous job as the Creative Director and fabric designer for P&B Textiles, a manufacturer of quilt fabrics. She is active in the textile community and an advocate for contemporary fiber art.

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