Friday, June 24, 2011

Quilt National report 10 -- something different

I've been attending Quilt National in person for probably 20 years, and reading the catalogs even longer, and one of the things you can usually put money on is the "gimmick" quilt.  (And before you get upset, I use that term solely to describe a category, not to denigrate.  I guess I could also call it the "different" quilt.)  Without even consulting my catalog library, I can recall some of the favorites from the past:

a 3-D skeleton that sat in a chair

a quilt made of wood squares, with perfectly matched growth rings making a pattern (giving new meaning to the term "quilt blocks")

a seven-foot sphere

a quilt made of bread bags

a quilt made of flattened aluminum Coke and Pepsi cans, arranged into a huge American flag and machine-stitched

a little 3-D diorama of ladies sitting around a table (or were they quilting around a frame?)

a quilt that covered a faux bed made of large twigs

The gimmick quilts are sure crowd-pleasers, or maybe more accurately, crowd-teasers.  A lot of viewers get incensed -- that's not a quilt!!! -- but they sure do look at, and talk about, and remember the pieces! 

As I reflect on the gimmick quilts that stick in my own mind, I realize that many of them are 3-D.  Even though we're comfortable leaving behind many of the tropes of traditional quilting, the flatness of the old-fashioned quilt seems to be hard to abandon. A cynic wanting really hard to get into QN might be well advised to make a 3-D piece, and might even double down with a 3-D quilt made from strange, non-fabric materials.

But this year's Quilt National didn't really have a gimmick quilt, just one more piece of evidence that this may be one of the most serious and straightforward QNs in a long time.  There were two pieces that were a bit different, and deserve comment.  I've already written about the first, made by Naomi Adams, which won the award for Most Innovative Use of the Medium.  The other "different" piece in the show is this one:

Jayne Bentley Gaskins, Solitude

The central image in this piece is entirely thread-painted, and is shaped and stuffed so that it becomes a bas relief, standing about three inches up from the backing.

I found this piece intriguing, even though I often dislike both "gimmick" art and pictorial quilts.  While many fabric treatments seem poorly suited to photorealism, somehow the thread painting worked very well in this case.  And the "gimmick" of 3-D seemed to be natural rather than contrived.  My hat is off.

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