Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Quilt National 2 -- the jurors' bias?

Mere milliseconds after the Quilt National winners were posted online following the show opening Friday night, the SAQA email list started buzzing with discussion of whether representational quilts got their just deserts in the show.  Apparently there's a substantial bunch of people out there who believe that QN is biased against representation and in favor of abstraction.

There were remarks along the lines of "I know my work doesn't fit QN, which is why I haven't tried for a decade to enter" or "Quilt National has never been a venue known for representational work" or "it doesn't look like a venue for realism."  One person wrote "As someone who does representational work, it is incredibly discouraging.... Why would I bother... when I know the type of work I do has an infinitesimal chance of getting in or being recognized."  Another wrote "Quilt National has long been pro-abstract and pro surface design...  I entered twice, both times with what I thought were strong pieces and both time rejected.  I decided long ago that if they aren't in the representational camp... I would stop bothering to enter.  I haven't since."

Many of these posts were made by people who weren't at the show and hadn't seen anything in the show (since QN has the infamous internet virginity rule) except the prizewinners, which were indeed mostly abstract works.  But when I got home from the show and read the emails, I got out my catalog, made a count and came up with 41 out of 86 quilts with varying degrees of representational imagery -- hardly what I would describe as " an infinitesimal chance" of getting in!

Indeed, several of the pieces were in the extreme realism camp, clearly made from photos.  Take a look at these:

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred, Tagged (detail below)

Velda Newman, Clams

Mary Arnold, Grandma Maude

Joan Sowada, Morning Walk

Jayne Bentley Gaskins, Memories

Kathleen Kastles, Legislating Love

Dorte Jensen, The Sunshine Of My Life

I find it hard to think that a show with these pieces in it is biased against representation.  And I'll show you many more representational works in subsequent posts.

Finally, please accept my apologies for the poor photo quality.  The lighting at the Dairy Barn is not well suited to large works of art like quilts; spotlights are focused on the center of the pieces but leave disturbing shadows around the edges.  It was hard even to properly see the work in person, and photography just exacerbated the uneven light.  You really should get a copy of the professionally photographed catalog to see the quilts at their best.


  1. I remember in the past I felt these big shows, QN in particular, were biased against piecers, which I am.
    As I peruse my catalog of this years QN I am extremely impressed with the quilts.
    I only wish I could do something this impressive. Representation is wonderful, but it must be the heart of the maker, not simply a photo in fabric. My humble opinion

  2. Well said, Kathleen~very much enjoyed your artists talk and hearing about your process.

  3. It would be interesting to see the ratio of representational quilts among the winners as a comparison.

  4. Here is the list of winners. Three out of 14 were representational.

  5. When I first learned of Quilt National and art quilts in general, I was a new member of Front Range Contemporary Quilters. During show and tell, several art quilters walked their QN rejections across the front of the room. Most of these quilts could be categorized as looking like "traditional" genres: Landscapes, Portraits, etc.... The implication was that anyone who was not working with a contemporary mindset did not have a chance. I still believe that good work pushes the limits of it's tradition. It's (good work, at QN or anywhere else) not about genre; it's about challenging the status quo.

  6. I'm still waiting for my catalogue but have faith the jurors selected the best from what lay before them, as they usually have done, I think. And, we all know there are fads and fashions in techniques which over time skew selections one way or another. The bitching on the SAQA list was perhaps worse than previous years.

  7. Thank you for sharing this, Kathy. For those of us who can't get to QN/Dairy Barn, and don't have a store near by that will carry the catalog, it is hard to know what QN has accepted. As one of the people you quoted (anonymously), I am glad to see the photos you have posted here and in subsequent posts.

    Honestly, QN has a reputation for a number of things (some great, some not so much), and it might do well to share more of the works online once it has debuted--it would counter some of the misconceptions (including mine) and perhaps encourage those of us who only see the pictures of the winning quilts to enter. A larger field of entries will only make for an even better exhibit.

    As for the catalog, is it now professionally photographed? A few years ago the photos were deemed by many who were in the exhibit to be poor--lighting / printing was way off in color and value; it may have been printing that was to blame--but a shame that there was no opportunity to review the galleys and FIX the poor images. Since most of the works I've seen haven't been my cup of tea, I haven't shelled out the $$ to order the catalog, especially if it isn't well printed. It sounds like this year it is improved? I sure hope so!