Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Show entries and hanging rods

Thanks to everybody who commented on my earlier post about juried fiber art shows and their requirements.  Today I have more thoughts in response to your comments. 

Martha Hall wrote, "I was reading the rules of another show this week, and they require you to send your own rod or hanging device? Really? They've been putting up an annual quilt exhibit for all these years and they don't have poles or a hanging system? That's going to be a pain in the neck to pack."

On this issue I have to come down on the side of the show.  If the show is Houston or Paducah, yes, they have a hanging system that is used every year -- but it's a pretty minimal "pipes and drapes" affair.  That works sort of OK for displaying bed-size quilts but less satisfactory for smaller pieces, which either must be suspended up there near the ceiling or pinned lower down to the drape.

Pipe-and-drape isn't always viewer-friendly.  The common layout is to make three-sided boxes facing an aisle.  You can only see one of the three quilts in that box straight on, and that one only from six or eight feet away (so no peeking at the details to see how she made it).  The other two quilts are visible only at an angle, although you can get up close and see what's happening on the side near the aisle. It's difficult to get decent lighting onto all three of the quilts, so at least one is in the shade. And there's usually a big bulge at the top of each quilt where the 3-inch pipe is threaded through the sleeve.

And speaking of viewer-friendly, I vividly remember being at the big Lancaster show a decade ago when a huge crash reverberated through the hall.  I spun around and saw a whole section of pipes going down like dominoes and people shaking in fear because they almost got hit.  It took all day to get the exhibit back in shape and I can't imagine it did the quilts any good.
If the show is in a museum, however, the quilts will be displayed on a wall and will require hanging rods.

I have been associated with the Form, Not Function show at the Carnegie Center in New Albany IN since its inception, and we have always asked artists to provide hanging rods.  Occasionally somebody didn't include one, and we never penalized them.  The museum had some lath strips in the back room and we would cut one to fit, but that added time to the hanging.

I was told last week that the Schweinfurth Art Gallery in Auburn NY, home of Quilts = Art = Quilts, has its own rods to use for the show, which I think is quite generous.  I wonder how many rods they own, and what happens if your quilt is 44 inches wide and they only have one that's 45 inches long.  Will they saw off an inch and replace the eye hook on one end?  Or will they hang your quilt with a half-inch of wood sticking out at each end?

I suspect they'll do the right thing and saw down the rod, and over time as all their rods shrink an inch or two every year, they'll have to buy new wood.  But I know this will take a fair amount of money and a lot of time, not to mention a lot of storage space.  It may also be tricky to come up with hanging devices for odd-shaped quilts.  I commend the Schweinfurth for doing it, but don't expect it of every venue.

Yes, it can be a pain in the neck to pack long rods, but having shipped many quilts in my life and seen many, many more as we packed and unpacked them at the Carnegie, I don't think it's as bad as Martha may think.  First, you usually want to ship your quilt rolled rather than folded, and if it's taller than it is wide, your rod will just slip into the box alongside the rolled quilt.  Second, you can often use a telescoping rod such as a drapery fixture.  Third, if you have a special situation you can call the show organizer and ask for a dispensation.

Last year I had to do that with my piece in Quilt National '09.  The quilt itself folded into a package not much larger than a shoebox, but needed to hang from loops on a visible rod, 110 inches long.  When we shot photos I had cruised Home Depot and found a nice copper pipe the right length for $10 and almost bought it, but decided not to -- if the quilt got into the show, it would probably cost me $30 to get the $10 pipe to Athens OH!  We used a plain wood rod for the photos, and when the quilt got into the show I called Kathleen Dawson, the QN executive director, to discuss the problem.  She was totally cheerful and understanding, and the obvious answer was that she would go to the Home Depot and buy the same pipe I had cased out here.  

Artists whose first experiences in exhibiting were the big traditional quilt shows may be spoiled because we could just fold up the quilt and ship it in a box and they did the work of hanging.  Yes, that was easy, even if the quilts often had folds and bulges when they were displayed.  But those of us whose preferred show venues are galleries or museums have gotten used to providing our own hanging systems.  It's something more to worry about, but you do eventually figure out the best way to do it. 


  1. Hi Kathy, I'm getting around to catching up on some blogs and see that you pulled out one of my previous comments to address. I don't know if I should be a little embarrassed about that! Thank you for your explanation. Perhaps I am a little spoiled with thinking that the typical 4" hanging sleeve covers most circumstance. Also, Schweinfurth accommodates quilts beautifully with the way they hang them. I do have my own system that I use for hanging my work, but have never had to ship it that way. I have seen a couple of shows directing NOT to mail in tubes. There are so many variables one has to keep charts to keep track of it all! It does sound, from your description, as if show organizers are usually willing to help solve any problems in order to hang the quilts well. In the meantime I keep my eye out for funky sized long boxes for when and if I need to send a larger quilt and/or a hanging rod.

  2. Yes, keep those boxes when you come upon them! I order batting by the bolt, and that comes in a nice big box suitable for the very biggest shipments. Supposedly golf club boxes are available at sporting good stores, although I've never looked. I have also heard about shows that don't want tubes, but I think that was some of the big events like Mancuso, not gallery shows. Or you can order long boxes from Uline.