Saturday, July 21, 2012

Quilt virginity

Yesterday Karey Bresenhan, the head of Quilts Inc., which sponsors the big quilt show in Houston, posted a message to the Quiltart list.

She wrote:  "please…don’t jeopardize your chances at winning a ribbon by showing your work prematurely on your blog or Facebook page. The judges keep up with these pages, too, you know, and they really like to judge blind, which means they do not know who made the quilt. If your good news is spread everywhere (WITH a picture) then it’s going to be hard for them to maintain that necessary lack of knowledge. This could work to your detriment, folks. Although it is not illegal this year, I strongly recommend that you take those pictures down right away. We’ve had several judges complain already, so I feel pretty sure this loophole will close next year. In the meantime, it is in your own best interest to take down the photos."

Judging by some responses on the list to that message, I am not alone in feeling that this is wrong.

I understand that every show sponsor wants to have a lot of new work on display, and doesn't want its thunder stolen by work that has been seen a lot.  Some of the top shows require that quilts have not been shown anywhere else, and a few even require that they have not been seen on the internet.  But even Quilt National, famous (infamous?) for its strict virginity rules, doesn't prohibit people from showing their own quilt on their own website, blog or facebook page.

And apparently, neither does the International Quilting Association, the sponsor of the judged categories at Houston.  Yet people are being threatened that if they post a photo of their quilt, they probably won't win a prize.

I think this is kind of low.  If a show thinks it can get away with such a restrictive virginity rule, then it should announce it in advance.  People can decide whether they want to enter or not, with those conditions.

Now on to those complaining judges.  Having both juried and judged a bunch of quilt shows, I know that it's nice to come to the table in total ignorance, to see everything as if it arrived just yesterday on a spaceship from Mars.  You don't know who made it, you haven't seen it before.  But this is frankly impossible, even if you don't own a computer.

The quilt world is a small one, especially at the top.  The same people enter year after year, and those who follow the shows come to recognize their work and their styles.  Even if these people don't post their latest quilts on their websites, I'm pretty sure that many of us would know the maker.  

I knew this quilt was made by Kathy Nida, before I ever looked at the signage

If a quilt expert, who presumably has been to many, many shows and seen hundreds if not thousands of quilts, is asked to judge at Houston she knows she's going to see identifiable work.  If she feels that being able to identify even more work, thanks to her internet travels, would make her job more difficult, then perhaps she should voluntarily stop "keeping up with these pages" for a couple of months.  Or decline the honor.

But I have to go back one step and disagree with the very premise.  Karey suggests that if a judge knows the maker of a quilt, that quilt isn't going to win a big prize, but we all know that's not true.  If it were, then Hollis Chatelain and Caryl Fallert, just to name two among many of the easily recognizable usual suspects, wouldn't keep winning at Houston and Paducah.  

In the legal system, judges recuse themselves if they are close friends with the plaintiff or defendant, but if we asked quilt show judges to recuse themselves when they recognize an artist, we'd often have nobody left to choose the winner.  That's a standard of viriginity that would quickly put the quilt shows out of business.  


  1. Sometimes I feel that this is sort of a split personality thing..on the one hand, big shows want to see "a body of work," and we are supposed to "have a voice", yet....we are supposed to be unidentifiable?

    Yes, some people follow blogs, and FB but there are soooo many, it does make you wonder. And as you pointed out, you often see quilts at Houston, which go to Paducah (sometimes they go to Paducah before Houston) and then on to Columbus at NQA....Sometimes when I see a quilt at NQA which is now 3 years old and has been to (and won at ) the other big shows, I wonder....but I'm really not sure I agree with the concept of banning images until after the judging. However, with good reason, I could be swayed the other way.

  2. In my experience, the opposite is more of a problem--judges who DON'T recognize that a quilt is derivative, or from a published pattern. You can't judge well in a vacuum--the more you know, the better. That means keeping up with the latest designers and pattern companies, fads and trends. A qualified judge should certainly recognize works by those who have developed a distinctive style.

    About those quilts that travel the show circuit--I know they are just trying to garner awards, but it is nice for more people to have a chance to see the quilts, so I can't complain about that.

  3. You are SO on target with my feelings on this topic. I have been hesitant to post pictures of some of my quilts on my blog for fear that I MIGHT, at some time, want to enter one of them in a show. Thanks for so elequently stating this position.

  4. I read Karey's email a bit differently. I didn't get the feeling that she was threatening someone couldn't win a prize; instead, I read it as trying to minimize human fallibility in having judges influenced by knowing -- either positively or negatively -- the maker.

    Also, as I read it -- for what that's worth, Karey wanted a hiatus on posting finished quilts with an "I got in" announcement. I don't see that as too egregious, but we'll see what next year holds. The part that concerns me is the notion of a "loophole". I can't figure that one out.

  5. I read the same message on the Quiltart list. Kathy, I agree with you and I appreciate that you posted your viewpoint on your blog. Along with Vivien, I have concern about the "loophole" and the probable change in the future rules for quilt entries.

  6. I have to agree with Kim in ND, a lot of judges don't know what is out there. I feel like some of them have no idea what is original and what is not.
    As a scribe for a local show they were mystified by more artsy type quilts. It is pretty exasperating to listen to them critique a quilt where the blocks are not supposed to be perfect but wonky!

  7. I have to think that if shows want that level of exclusivity, there must be more reward to all exhibitors (from whom all show income flows)...

  8. Wow, I hadn't even given that a moments thought! I have a quilt entered into the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham here in the UK in august and I hope to goodness the judges don't think like that there, because not only have I put an image of the finished quilt on my blog, I showed every single stage in the making too...though actually, now I think about it, I showed a picture of one I made called 'Portholes' 2 years ago and that got first in its category, so hopefully not!

    I agree that there are some quilts you just 'know' whether you've seen them before or not...and I also agree with Kim's comment too - the less they know, the more in the dark they are about other people's designs etc...

  9. Kathy, my thoughts after reading about this topic on the different web lists is that maybe the judges should not be out looking at blogs and such until they have awarded the prizes.

    Bonnie J. Smith

  10. I think Karey is drawing a fine line in the sand, and a line that needs to be drawn.

    There was an email blast about a quilt that was accepted in Houston. I'm sure the intent was benign, but if that quilt ribbons, then many people are going to say it won because of who promoted it, whether that is true or not.

    If I were Quilt, Inc., I would want to avoid the appearance of bias. Asking accepted quilters to refrain from showing the quilt image for a few weeks between acceptance and judging is a small price to pay.


  11. Yes, Janet, I agree and have posted my feelings about what you are talking about. That email blast was huge.

    I can actually see why in that case, and that case only, the judges might be concerned that if they awarded a ribbon to that quilt, people might talk, because that quilt in particular has received a lot of exposure.

    I feel that situation is unique, and probably should not be repeated.


  12. Janet and Sheila -- I wish I knew about this email blast you refer to. Would anybody care to give us a bit more info, or Sheila, link to your blog where you discuss it?


  13. Kathy, I'll see if I can forward it to you. It was from The Quilt Show.


  14. The only show I know that has asked for exclusivity is Quilt National -- and I don't believe that they ban your quilt from your own website -- only others. I think if I had to keep my work off my blog & website between the time I make it & the time it is entered into Houston & then shown at Festival (which for me is about a year) -- then my entire blog has to go away if I want to continue to enter that show.

  15. It does seem simpler for the limited number of judges to agree to stay off of blogs and internet quilt pages during the year prior to judging. There are many fewer of them than there are of us! How many people never get to a big show, but enjoy seeing the processes and finished products online.

  16. My Houston entry is on the splash page of my website. I don't have the bandwidth to take it down right now so that the 3.6 people who visit my website regularly, one of whom is a subject in a primate test facility, won't see it.

    I guess I'll simply have to have faith that the judges will employ their professionalism and art training as they assess submitted works.

  17. IOnce a show judge was staying at my home while judging a show I was in. Because I respected this judge and was thrilled to meet her I wanted to be judged on merit not familiarity. Before she arrived. I took newspaper and hung it over all of my artwork hanging on the walls. Then it was such a silly thing instead of taking it down I left it up for her to laugh over. When she came into the house and saw my unusual installation we laughed and laughed. I should have never have questioned her integrity.

  18. I am a member of The Quilt Show. The email that went out showed only the upper portion of the quilt. To see the whole quilt you had to click through to the site. The quilt is a fractured portrait quilt and it is made by a group of quilters, so I don't think it will be in the same category as quilts made by one individual.

    In the "Stitched" documentary there is a segment showing the way the judges conduct the initial elimination of quilts for final judging. If you haven't seen the documentary, I highly recommend it. Show volunteers hold up the quilt and the judges are seated looking at the quilt as it is held up. There isn't a lot of time spent on it (I'm sure that is because there are so many quilts entered in the show). The judges say "yes" or "no" as to the quilt moving on to be in the final judging. I just can't see how photos any place on the web could affect that initial elimination process. Obviously, when the judges move to the final judging decisions, they spend a lot of time and look in detail at each quilt; but I really believe the judges of these shows are very professional and that they do their best to be impartial.

    As artists, we are taught to develop our own voice and style so we will, over time, have a coherent body of work. There will be times that the judges "know" the maker of a quilt simply by the artist's style. In that circumstance they must be very careful not to show prejudice simply because that artist's style is widely recognizable. I really believe the judges of these large quilt shows are extremely professional and that they really do judge each quilt on its own merit.

    As far as the email from The Quilt Show goes I don't think there should be such a brew-hah-hah over it! The original photograph was taken by Ricky Tims and the group of quilters asked if they could use the photograph as their inspiration for their quilt. Both Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims are consummate professionals and they would not do anything that would unduly influence a judge's decision at the show.

    If there is so much concern about this, we need to hear from the judges themselves.