I missed the opening of Quilt National this year, but was able to visit Athens last month and catch the show before it ended. Unfortunately, if you miss the opening weekend, photography is verboten, so I can't give you a detailed review of the show.
Martha Sielman had an excellent article about QN in the latest SAQA Journal, and in case you missed it, I'll give you the recap. She noted several trends in this exhibit:
Hand stitching: almost 20 percent of the pieces in the show were hand quilted; others used hand stitches as design elements.
Subdued palettes: at least 35 percent of the quilts were primarily neutrals, and many of those in color used muted tones.
Photo transfer: in more than 20 percent of the quilts
Machine stitched "drawing": like this wonderful quilt by Paula Kovarik, where the drawing is done through all layers.
Sheers: lots of tulle and other sheers for color effects; a few quilts using transparency and shadows.
Recycled materials and found objects: most notably, the best in show was covered with stuff (yet it was one of the few quilts with embellishments).
But what struck me most about the show wasn't mentioned in Martha's article: the near-absence of the pieced quilt. For this discussion, I define pieced quilt as one where the design and composition is achieved wholly or predominantly through piecing of fabrics. To fit the definition, it has to be traditional piecing: no raw edges, no fusing.
That leaves out quilts that achieve their design through applique or collage of pieces of fabric, and those where surface design does all the work. So, for instance, I didn't count Jan Myers-Newbury's magnificant shibori quilt as a pieced quilt; even though she has pieced different fabrics together, the design of the quilt comes primarily from the shibori.
So applying my definition, I counted only two pieced quilts in the entire exhibit, out of 85 total. And this was disturbing.
You know that I make pieced quilts, so seeing only two representatives of my own kind of work in the pantheon of contemporary quilting made me feel marginalized and left out; like trying to be an Abstract Expressionist when everybody else had moved on to Pop Art and minimalism.
And this disturbs me. I like the fact that the quilt world has been so adventurous in trying and accepting new techniques and approaches. In particular, surface design has become so important and exciting in the last two decades. But have we gotten so enamored of the new that we have totally disrespected and discarded the old?
I know that the results in any given show primarily reflect the likes and dislikes of its jurors, but they also reflect the zeitgeist of the larger art community. And in a show as influential as QN, they also help shape the zeitgeist. That's why it's so worrisome to think that pieced quilts, the foundation of our collective quilting sensibility, are so easily relegated to the margins of the premier venue for our art form.
It's not because pieced quilts are traditional and the art form has moved on -- piecing is simply a technique, and can be used to convey images and messages just as new and edgy as anything you'd find in phototransfer or other trendy technique. And it's not because this pool of entries had no decent pieced quilts to choose from; forget about my own, but I know more than a dozen fine artists who submitted wonderful pieced quilts (I've seen many of them) that were rejected.
If indeed the pieced quilt is becoming passe, what does that mean for the art quilt community? One possible moral of the story is that the basic techniques aren't good enough any more -- you gotta have a gimmick. I don't see that as a desirable outcome.
Another possible reading is that piecing is going to become a lost art form, at least in the "art" part of the quilt world. If piecing lives on only in the realm of the state fair and the quilt police, will it drown in the tedious tide of quarter-inch seam allowances and matching points, and lose all the wonderful vitality that it has achieved in the last thirty or forty years?
I hope I'm overreacting. I hope pieced quilts will come back to QN '15 with a bang. But I worry.
What do you think?