Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Accomplishment du jour

Having written for a living for decades, I will testify that one of the iconic parts of any writer’s life is that moment when you first see what you wrote in print. When I was a newspaper reporter, it was the moment they brought the papers up from the printshop, and everybody immediately grabbed a copy and checked out their own stories. When I did corporate communication, I usually had to okay the proofs, so I got to see my own work at an early stage of production, but I still liked to sit down and read my stuff when it came back from the printer. Whenever I write a magazine article or even have an artist statement in a show catalog, I feel an adrenaline rush the first time I read it in print.

This morning I wasn’t expecting to have one of those moments. The Kentucky State Fair catalog came in the mail yesterday and I thought I would look it over with my cup of tea to see when the deadlines were and start thinking whether I could fit it into my schedule this summer.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the State Fair. I’ve entered many times, won a lot of ribbons, and even got the Quilt Sweepstakes one year for the most points in all quilt categories. But I’ve also been mad to the point of boycott when I thought the judges were mired in the 19th century. I haven’t entered the quilt and textile categories in years, but I do sometimes put things in the fine arts and crafts department. Yet I always read the premium book avidly, underlining and circling and parsing how the criteria change from year to year, much as Sovietologists used to scrutinize who stood where on the May Day parade reviewing stand.

When I opened my premium book to the fine art section, I suddenly realized that I was reading my own writing!

Wait, you have to sit through the back story before you get the punchline.

There have always been four or five categories of “Creative Textiles” in the fine arts and crafts department. The criteria showed signs of having accreted for many years, with this or that stuck on by somebody for some purpose, but no overall structure.

In general, you can categorize textile art in three ways: by technique, by materials and by form. The State Fair did it each way. There were categories defined by technique (printed), by materials (“painting on silk”) and by form (wearable). But that led to overlaps (where would you enter a painted and screenprinted silk dress?) as well as holes, where a given textile art work might not fit comfortably into any category.

Although there are plenty of accomplished fiber artists in this part of the country, and the State Fair’s fine arts show has always had good participation from painters and photographers, the “creative textiles” categories were relatively sparse.

But something good happened last year. The superintendent of the fine art and craft department at the Fair decided it was time to overhaul the categories, and asked a fiber art group to make suggestions. I got to be on that committee, and after we hashed it over, I got to write up the notes. We knew that any changes would have to be approved by higher-ups in the Fair hierarchy, involving a journey into the 19th century, and wondered how our suggestions would be received.

The answer came this morning when I flipped to the creative textiles page and recognized my own writing. They adopted every one of our suggestions, practically verbatim, pausing only to add a few more examples to the lists we had provided. I am so pleased, because the new categories better reflect the wide variety of work being done in fiber art and should allow any artist to find the perfect category.

Many artists scorn the State Fair as plebeian, low-rent and tacky. The $25 prize for a blue ribbon is puny, and yes, your work is displayed in the same building as the homebrew beer and the flower arrangements. But for many people, entering the State Fair is an easy way to enter an art show. You don’t have to photograph your work, burn images to a CD, wait for jurying, risk rejection, write an artist statement or do any of the other bureaucratic tasks that make entering other shows more daunting. And it is nice to know that thousands and thousands of people see your work.

I hope the new categories and criteria will encourage more fiber artists to enter the Fair. PS – you don’t have to live in Kentucky to enter.

Here are the new criteria:

Stitched fabric construction – art made by stitching onto fabric or by stitching fabric together, by hand or machine, such as threaded needle embroidery, piece work, quilting, applique and embellishment, fabric collage, etc. Art must be generally flat and designed for wall display. May include non-fabric materials as an incidental part of the construction.

Manipulated fiber construction – art made with traditional fiber techniques such as any form of weaving, knitting, crochet, lace, felting, knotting, folding and looping, braiding and plaiting, basting, twining, rug hooking, etc. Art must be generally flat and designed for wall display. May include non-fabric materials as an incidental part of the construction.

Surface design – art incorporating a pattern or image applied onto fabric by dyeing, direct painting, printing (stencil, silkscreen or block), discharge, ikat and shibori (tied, wax or resist paste) batik, direct phototransfer, etc. Art must be generally flat and designed for wall display.

Three-dimensional – any freestanding or scultural work of textile art using any materials and techniques described in (classes above), in three-dimensional form. Art may be freestanding or displayed on the wall.

Traditional textile techniques, non-textile materials – innovtive art forms using any techniques described in (classes above), made from non-fabric materials such as metal, wire, non-toxic industrial material, wood, paper, etc. May include fabric materials as an incidental part of the construction.


  1. You and your committee did a fantastic job!

  2. $25 for a blue ribbon! Here it's $3 - one year I made $9. But then ours is a county fair , not state.

  3. Lucky fair committee. You are really a jewel.