Tuesday, November 06, 2012

International Quilt Festival (IQF) Houston 2012

(Above:  View from the second floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas of the vendors area of the International Quilt Festival 2012.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

I've been intentionally creating art quilts for just four years.  I started as a result of my art residency at the MacNamara Foundation in Maine after learning that my Decision Portrait Series (on which I was working at the time) were, in fact, art quilts.  I sort of call the Decision Portrait Series my "accidental art quilts".  In Maine, I started making my first "intentional art quilts" ... the Grave Rubbing Art Quilt series.

Yet, even then, I'd heard about the "big show" in Houston.  It was described by the few quilters I knew as if "Mecca", larger than one's imagination dared envision, BIG ... like everything in Texas.  Well now I can safely say that the International Quilt Festival (IQF) lives up to and beyond this reputation.  I had an amazing experience from preview night (Halloween) right through Sunday, November 4th.  My mind is still reeling with inspiration, awe, and challenging ideas as to what, exactly, is an "art quilt", what, exactly is a "traditional quilt", where the wide, gray line is between these two and where, exactly, does my work and me fit into the scheme of this contemporary medium.  Big questions, big potential, big opportunity to explore my future in art and stitches.  

(Above:  View to downtown Houston from the convention center's second floor balcony.)

I've been to plenty of art exhibitions in the USA, UK, and in Europe ... some in major museums, some in prestigious galleries, some in small town church basements or community spaces, and others in all sorts of alternative locations featuring local or even international artists.  I like art shows ... regardless of media.  I attend many.  Like most artists, I've scratched my head wondering what a juror was thinking when awarding a particular work ... whether in agreement or disagreement.  I've seen pieces in shows that seemed "better" than the "Best of Show".  I've been rejected from shows to which I later went and saw accepted work of questionable merit.  I've been awarded prizes at shows in which I thought other works were more deserving.  These scenarios, however, had nothing to do with my impressions of IQF and the juried categories and special exhibits.

(Above:  Detail of America, Let It Shine by Sherry Reynolds of Laramie, Wyoming.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I have no idea how the juror(s) selected the awards ... because so many pieces were simply beyond my comprehension in terms of quality .... quality design, materials, craftsmanship, and concept.  The work in the IQF's "World of Beauty" was down right exceptional.  This area alone was more than the price of admission and one could easily have spent the entire four days wandering from one masterpiece to another.

(Above:  America, Let It Shine by Sherry Reynolds of Laramie, Wyoming.  This quilt is a tribute to American and its foundations and values, with the hope that they will guide us to a brighter future.  The 5,121 Swarovski crystals represent the words of the Constitution, Star Spangled Banner, Pledge of Allegiance, and the age of the country.  The 13 original colonies are represented with thirteen points on the outer blue rays; the ring of 50 starts represent the states.  Parts of the Gettysburg Address, Preamble to the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence are also quilted.  Techniques:  Paper piecing, hand applique, fused applique with machine finished edges, free motion quilting.  Materials:  Cottton, batik, and silk fabrics; Superior, Hemingworkn, Aurifil, Gutermann, and Kimono Silk threads; Hobb's Cotton and Hobbs Tuscany wool batting, Swarovski crystals.  Original Design. Click on image to enlarge.)

So ... here's the piece that won the HandiQuilter "Best of Show" award of $10,000.  AMAZING.  The description above was copied from the information label that was pinned to the black pipe and drape system beside the lovely, large ribbon.

(Above: America, Let It Shine by Sherry Reynolds of Laramie, Wyoming.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Throughout the special exhibitions area there were stationed docents with white gloves who, upon request, revealed the beautiful stitching on the reverse of any quilt on display.  The docents who oversaw the top prize winning quilts generally had conversations with the artists before engaging the public and all their questions.  I was able to witness several of these "training sessions" before the show opened at 10 AM.  Why?  Well, I had an "exhibitors badge".  It was a distinct advantage for walking the floor ... mostly alone, quiet, and uncrowded.  Most of my photos came from these early morning walks. 

(Above:  Prometheus by Ferret of North Harrow, Middlesex, UK.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Occasionally I'd remember to shot a photo with other people inside the lens' frame ... for contrast and a sense of scale ... to give a better impression of the overall atmosphere of this show. 

(Above:  Prometheus by Ferret of North Harrow, Middlesex, UK.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Occasionally, I'd shot an overall shot and a detail or two as well.  Since returning from Houston, 've created a Flickr! set of the images I captured.  Almost every quilt is labeled ... not just with the title and the artist's name but with all the information that was included on the signage.  Why?  Well, I want to remember these pieces, my impressions, and the information!  Also, I type fast, so I can manage this.  The Flickr! set is HERE.  There are approximately 70 individual quilts in this collection ... with full information.  (Two don't have information.  I forgot to snap their sign's photos.  Another one is probably wrong ... so if anyone sees a mistake or knows the correct data, please let me know!)

(Above:  Fifteen by Camilla Watson of Wellington, New ZealandClick on image to enlarge.)

So ... a few of these pieces are included in this blog post.  They are among the visual thrills I experienced during the four days.  Above is Fifteen by Camilla Watson.  I was struck by the success of this miniature quilt.  I'm not generally a fan of digitally printed image transfers.  They generally leave me with the impression of being "artificial".  My mind says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah ... take a photo, print it out, quilt it ... not very original ... not very interesting."  I generally don't like the surface of computer generated fabrics either.  They look like "computer print outs" to me.  Yet, I couldn't keep my eyes off this piece.  The blend of this very realistic face through the quilt-enhanced hair and into the abstract, quilt background worked on every level.  This piece reminded me of so many female portraits by Gustav Klimt ... where a beautiful, natural, realistic, porcelain-skinned face gives dimension to a fabulously attired though flatly created body on an ornate background.  (Think Judith I or the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.) 

(Above: Columbine by Sue Reno.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I was happy to view pieces by Sue Reno.  Cynotype is a photography method I watched professional photographer Lisa M. Robinson do while at the MacNamara Foundation four years ago.  I've been reading on-line about "sun prints" and wondering if they aren't very much the same as this century old, chemical process.  I wanted to see Sue's work "in person" because she was the juror for the SAQA I'm Not Crazy exhibition and because she sent me a nice email message months ago saying I ought not be nervous about going to Houston.  (I was still nervous ... but looking at this "garden" was relaxing!)  

(Above:  Double Vision, Twist Tie Quilt # 6 by Amy Orr.  Click on image to enlarge.)

A highlight (possibly the most important one for me personally) was seeing two of Amy Orr's pieces.  Once in the area near these two works, I made a beeline path straight to them.  AMAZING!  I'm not very good at remembering names, but the signage did trigger a hazy recognition.  Of course, I couldn't remember WHY the name Amy Orr was familiar until I later googled it!  Of course ... I've seen and admired her work on the pages of art magazines and on important fiber websitesShe was the director of FiberPhiladelphia 2012 ... and a juror for at least one or two important exhibitions into which my work wasn't accepted!

The pieces were amazing.  The contemporary concepts and materials were constructed using very traditional quilting designs.  Here the lines of "art" and "tradition" are challenged most successfully.  These works have me thinking about some of the things I've read in on-line forums and heard from other "art quilters".  This is the sort of work that ignores categories and opinions.  It is work that is important to me on so many levels ... and I'll not forget Amy Orr's name ever again ... and I'll enter a juried exhibition if she's a juror too!

(Above:  Second Wind by Katherin Knauer.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Yes, my head was frequently spinning with concept and media questions ... with those often discussed on-line topics:  WHAT IS AN ART QUILT?  WHAT IS A TRADITIONAL ART?  There have been threads discussing "traditional" quilting". "arts vs. crafts", the new SAQA definition for "art quilts" and what title those working in these media should call themselves ... all sorts of other ways to categorize the medium and the work.  I seem to stay in a state of puzzlement.

Here is a fabulous piece directly referencing the traditional Log Cabin and Barn Raising patterns ... but the concept is BRILLIANT and the fabrics printed in order to make this important statement are simply gorgeous!  I know that this is undeniably "an art quilt".  I love the fact that it directly references the traditional in order to drive home its concept.  PERFECT!

Yet, I also saw a lot of work (generally in areas where photography wasn't permitted) that appeared much more "traditional" to me.  I know that these were also "art quilts" ... but in my mind, translating a personal photo into an art quilt using all sorts of modern materials and computer programs in order convey "a love of nature", a favorite "portrait", or fulfill the requirements of a "special exhibition" theme can't hold a candle to a piece like this!  (This is just my opinion!  I'm a conceptually driven artist!  For me, the materials, inspiration, elements of design, and just about any other factor comes behind the reason for making the work!)  

Above:  Second Wind by Katherin Knauer.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Provided statement:  In Second Wind the theme of wind energy is illustrated in each print by images of wind turbines or dandelion seeds blowing in the wind, or electrical devices such as light bulbs, electric fans or power cords.  Wind is further represented by the color blue, and electricity by the color yellow.  In juxtaposing a medium conventionally associated with comfort and warmth against dynamic surface imagery, I am imbuing the quilt with personal meaning and the energy of an unexpected fusion.

(Above:  Make You Happy by Brigit Aubeo Bell-Lloch of Girona, Catalunya, Spain.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Please don't think I'm against using photos for inspiration ... not at all!  I was blown away by Make You Happy by Brigit Aubeo Bell-Lloch.  The choice of materials, the sense of nostalgia/time/memory/universality, of personal presence, of strength of character, and the overwhelming power of this work is truly brilliant ... and much, much more than simply taking an old photo of one's mother and making an art quilt out of the lines and shapes!

(Above:  My Gentle Giant, Ben by Patti Blair.  Click on image to enlarge.)

The same goes for this top prize winner art quilt.  It is much more than the translation of an image.  I had to look at this piece from both sides and still wondered if it were indeed flat.  It was.  The three-dimensional quality, the in-your-face stare, the "humanity", and the power of this work challenged viewers.   It spoke of wildness and tameness, the ability to feel love and kindness, and silently it spoke of extinction and lost environments.

(Above:  Ear of Rice by Sachiko Sano of Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

Blurring the lines of old and new, I feel in love with Ear of Rice, a modern arrangement with traditional stitching ... a collection of vintage and antique kimonos.  My Flickr! set includes a detail photo.

(Above:  Detail of Blackberry Summer by Theresa Fetch.)

There really isn't a great way to capture the details of many of these pieces.  Each quilt possessed something special.  I particularly liked the use of Shiva paintstiks on Blackberry Summer by Theresa Fetch.  I've seen oil sticks, especially the metallic ones, used on various works ... whether on fabric or on gessoed stretch canvas.  I generally don't like it ... but, this one was PERFECT ... so well blended and for such a strong affect.  I didn't even realize how the surface was achieved until I read the label!

(Above:  Not Forgotten by Peggy Brown.)

I was excited to see inspiration from a cemetery in Not ForgottenI wasn't really sure my favorite theme for art quilting was an inspiration for anyone else with needle and thread!  It felt like a kindred spirit.

(Above:  Hallowed Ground by Deborah Bein.)

Walking around the fifty or so special exhibits also meant bumping into work by people with familiar names ... like Deb Bein, a new email/SAQA/Facebook friend ... whose discharged materials perfectly suited this sober piece memorializing the tenth anniversary of September 11th.  (Deb ... I got so engrossed that I forgot to snap a photo of the sign!)

(Above:  Positano by Daniela Marco and Arnoldi Sarzi-Sartori of Milan, Italy.)

The International Quilt Festival is also amazing from the stand point of global participation and attendance.  I met people from South Africa, Australia, Norway, Canada, Japan, Brazil, all over Europe, and all over North America.  The work ... including this very three-dimensional and very, very large piece called Positano ... made me appreciate the work involved in packaging, shipping, and installing such an exhibition.  
(Above:  Green Blue Planet Under Siege by Marja Matiisen.)

The global itself was the subject of some of the works too ... like this piece!  There's a "full view" on the Flickr! site showing that the recycled jeans also form a feathery sphere.  It includes a statement on the dangers of "having too much stuff" and it was the second place winner of the Open European Quilt Exhibition as well as that event's "People's Choice".

(Above:  Hapa (left) by Kathy Quinn Arroyo of Gig Harbor, Washington and (right) Long Fong (Chinese Dragon and Phoenix) Ming Hse of Woodside, South Australia, Australia.

This corner of "World of Beauty" certainly lives up to the theme!  It's an Hawaiian inspired quilt made by a lady in Washington State beside a Chinese inspired quilt made in Australia.  Both were dazzling!

(Above:  Hope by Yoshiko Miyamoto of Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Ken, Japan.)

Talk about DAZZLING!  This piece was simply amazing.  The sense of space, motion, and color was grand!

(Above:  Hot Africa by Janneke de Vries Bodzinga of Kollumerzwaag, Friesland, The Netherlands.)

 Not to be outdone in the "dazzle" department as well as the "international mix", this art quilt won a top award ... sizzling sun stitched in The Netherlands about a memory from Kenya.

(Above:  In My Mind by Eun-Suk Lee of Cheong-Ju-Si, Chung-Buk, Republic of Korea.)

I know I'm not the only one with puzzling thoughts about art quilting.  Eun-Suk Lee's In My Mind includes a statement confessing tangled thoughts as well.  She's trying hard to find ways to include her native Korean motifs and meanings into a medium that is not traditional in her country.  Personally, I think she's quite successful!

(Above:  Quilted Yurt by Linzi Upton.)

Another quite successful blend of diverse cultures is this quilted yurt by Scottish artist Linzi Upton.


Both the interior and the exterior were beautiful.  The construction was amazing too.

(Above:  Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative booth.)

Because I was at the convention every day well over an hour before the doors opened, I was able to look at several exhibits without anyone walking in front of my camera.  Yet, other exhibitors were there too ... including a fantastically fun crew at the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative booth.  One morning they were trying to take a time lapse video ... or at least the very end of one!  They were trying to walk back and forth in front of their area and bow.  They needed someone to say "click" every time the camera shot a photo.  That person became me!  Here's a click to the video they made!  It is VERY CUTE!

(Above:  The Husband's Lounge.)

The Husband's Lounge was a nice touch for this exhibit.  Other amenities included plenty of general seating areas, places for tired quilters to rest.  FedEx had a shipping office in the building ...  near a Starbucks.  Quilt's Inc. had well placed information stands outside the main show but also plenty of booths selling programs (just ONE DOLLAR for an amazing booklet).  Please note that this exhibit is more than four city blocks in length!

(Above:  Donna Skvarla, quilt appraiser.)

Other people were working too ... like quilt appraiser Donna Skvarla.

News-styled quilt programs were also being taped.

There were plenty of booths that were selling affordable quilted works ... like Pokey Bolton's Pet Postcard Project to benefit Houston-based animal shelters.  (Please note ... photos taken over an hour before the show opened!)


Another important booth was the new Texas Quilt Museum's space ... where affordable quilted art was being sold along with all sorts of souvenir items.  Information brochures were plentiful. Charity is important at this exhibit and the causes were so very, very appropriate.

(Above:  SAQA's exhibition area.)

I'm almost thankful that there were large expanses where photography wasn't permitted.  It would have taken at least another day to process all the photos I would have liked to have snapped!  Two such exhibits were in the SAQA area ... Seasonal Palette on the interior walls and Sense of Scale on the outside.  It was rewarding and intellectually stimulating to see these shows.  I'd followed them from "call-for-entry" and excited email announcements of inclusion to weekly messages from SAQA featuring the work.

One evening Quilt's, Inc.'s founder, the amazing and generous Karey Bresenhan, hosted a SAQA reception at the Hyatt Hotel.  Karey is the one seated.  There was even "show and tell".

(Above:  In attendance were several "big name" art quilters and also the "SAQA leader", executive director Martha Sielman ... seated in the front center, in profile.)

(Above:  SAQA Vice president Kris Sazaki at the podium, Karey Bresenham is seated, Sheila Frampton-Cooper's curly hair at the right.)

I was rather nervous meeting many of these important people whose work and efforts I've admired for the past few years.

(Above:  Mix and Mingle on the third floor of the convention center.)

On another evening there was a "Mix and Mingle" with door prizes.

Some of the quilters had obviously "shopped 'til they dropped" !

(Above:  Vendor area of the convention center.  View from the second floor.)

Now anyone who knows me knows that I'm NOT A SHOPPER.  In fact, I spent very little time in the vendor area but heard that it was often so filled that elbows were used for navigating the aisles.  I didn't buy anything ... this is simply too much ... too much overload ... but a very pretty view.  From the brief stroll in this massive space, I'm pretty sure EVERYTHING a quilter could ever want ... whether traditional, art, or an explorer of the medium from an outside interest ...was here!  I heard that the prices were good too!

The retailers I talked to were very, very pleased.  Sales were good.  Why not?  There was a mobile bank in the middle of the food court!

(Above:  Food court for the IQF ... hours before the doors opened!)

Quilters really don't have to leave the building while at the IQF show.  The food court provided quite a selection and plenty of seats.

Will I return to Houston?  I honestly don't know.  This experience introduced me to a new venue and to many new opportunities into which I could submit work.  I do most sincerely want to submit work to future IQF shows.  To have a piece hang with this sort of company is truly an honor  There were more quilt categories than I could possible keep track of and more exhibits than I anticipated.  The potential for my work seemed strong.  This year's show was truly wonderful.  I learned so much.  I'm still processing my thoughts and impressions.  Time will tell what I'll figure out ... how I might return or at least have a piece represent me!


Julie said...

I can imagine how your head is reeling after so much stimulation. I always come away from shows feeling the same way. The question of what constitutes an art quilt as against a contemporary or traditional quilt seems to be a hot topic at the moment and there seem to be many answers. I also feel a certain amount of uncertainty about art quilting at the moment. I sort of fell into quilting through admiration of the skills exhibited at the first show I went to and through a wish to acquire skills myself that would enable me to make the work in my head (even though I probably wasn't completely sure what that was). I will be interested to see where your thinking time takes you. I am in a quandary myself as to where I am going with my art work.

Thank you for all the images of the Houston IQF. I don't think I will ever get to see it so I enjoyed your insights. I shall go and have a look at your Flickr file now.

Debbie Bein said...

WONDERFUL commentary, Susan, I've been waiting for this! And thanks for including my Hallowed Ground. Going to look at your FLICKR photos now! How DO you DO IT ALL? And you do it SO WELL!

Jean Cheszek said...

Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful photos and your comments...makes me feel like I was there.

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hi, Susan. Wow. Excellent reporting on the Houston mega-event. You made this interesting without being overwhelming. And I enjoyed visiting your blog on the Decision Portraits. Wonderful project--artwork with a message.
best from Tunisia,

Sue Reno said...

Hi Susan,
Excellent coverage of the event, and thanks for the shout-out! I'm glad you had such a positive experience, and as always, I look forward to seeing where you and your work go next.

Timna said...


Thank you for an accurate description of the show. I never know how to describe it to people who have never been.

Your Decision Portraits were so striking and moving. I have been thinking about them all week.

Wanda said...

I can't even begin to express what I am feeling after looking at the pictures and reading your excellent commentary. I don't think I could go to something like this. It is way too emotional for me, I think. I am very glad that I get to go through you. If it left you speechless and in deep thought, you can imagine how wet my face is with tears. I just can't help it. It totally overwhelms me. I can't even give an opinion on traditional vs. contemporary or any other issues that go through your mind. I simply don't have one...the whole subject is just too big. Wow...it's going to take me some time to get a grip on myself after experiencing the Houston show through you. I can't even begin to understand how your head must feel!