Saturday, October 30, 2021

How Marti saved me from the quilt guild ladies

I wrote about my dear friend Marti Plager, who died earlier this month, and promised to tell you how she singlehandedly set me on the path to quilting as art. 

In the mid-90s we had both been members of a big local quilt guild, but neither of us really felt at home.  It was the kind of guild where people would give show-and-tell of their latest quilt, and the first question was invariably "what pattern did you use?"  Those of us who did our own designs were regarded with suspicion if not downright disapproval.  Finally Marti decided she had had enough, and quit the guild.  I was reaching the same conclusion.

Marti and I didn't know one another except as faces in the crowd, but she had paid particular attention when I had show-and-tell of a quilt I had made for a contest sponsored by Quilter's Newsletter Magazine.  The contest was called "Rhapsody of Roses" and the rules called for at least one rose on the quilt.  I figured that the vast majority of the entrants would have beautiful roses all over the place, and I couldn't compete with beauty, nor with realism.  So I deliberately went in the other direction, and came up with a quilt that was almost all thorns, with one little rose in one corner.

Rose Among Thorns

sorry for the wimpy color -- this is a digitization from an old slide; the quilt is gone now so this is the only image I  have, unless I can find my copy of the QNM where they printed the contest winners

I explained my thought process to the guild, and showed my finished quilt.  I can't remember whether this occurred before or after the contest was judged, and I got the award for "best interpretation of theme" (a decision that still mystifies me...)  The guild ladies were not impressed, but Marti was.  A few months later she called me, reminded me who she was, and said she was getting together a small group of quilters who were doing original designs and aiming for art rather than bed quilts.  Would I like to join them?

Yes, of course, and for more than two decades this small group, with slightly changing membership, was my closest and most important support as I learned to become an art quilter.  Not only did I have to up my game technically and artistically, I had to learn how to enter shows, how to get my work photographed, how to ship quilts here and there.  

I suppose I could have figured out this stuff by myself, but it was so much easier and better to do it with friends.  Most important, we came to trust each other enough to both give and receive criticism and suggestions without being defensive (or offensive).

Over the years I've participated in many a discussion of support groups, and so often it ends with somebody else saying "I wish I could find a support group like yours."  Often people try to get with others, but find that the others are too judgmental, or too critical, or too arbitrary in what they like and dislike.  Or on the other hand, the others don't have high enough standards or work hard enough or are too easily distracted by distractions.  I never know what to say to these people except to keep trying; if one group doesn't work, maybe another will.  Or maybe if a group doesn't work, you can tweak the ground rules or the membership list and hope that in time the group will get better.

Rose Among Thorns -- detail

Our small group only did two joint projects in two decades.  Once we were asked to prepare a table setting to showcase the dinnerware made by a famous ceramist; we dyed and printed a fabulous tablecloth, napkins and placemats.  Once we ordered four dozen blank silk scarves and did a round robin in which each scarf was dyed or painted or printed by four different people.  The consensus was that we had fun but that wasn't what our group was about.

We didn't talk much about our families or our jobs, just the art.  We didn't have refreshments at our meetings.  We chose the next meeting date based on when everybody could be there, and somehow we almost always stuck to it, with all of us in attendance.  We all grew immensely as artists during our time together.  I don't believe I would have accomplished half of what I have done without that group of friends, and Marti was the one who started it all.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Memories of a dear friend

I've had a deep loss this month with the sudden death of my friend and art pal Marti Plager.  Not only was she my oldest continuous constantly-in-touch friend -- dating back about 25 years -- she opened the door for my development as an artist/quilter.  If you've ever done workshops at the Crow Barn or Arrowmont, or attended Quilt National or Paducah or Houston or Form, Not Function, or gone to a regional or national SAQA or SDA meeting, there's a good chance you met Marti somewhere along the way, because she was not one to let any person in the same room with her go unmet. 

One of Marti's proudest moments was being juried into Quilt National in 2011.  Her whole-cloth quilt was dyed with flour resist, a technique she used brilliantly and taught in several local workshops.

Another of her great accomplishments was helping to start the juried show Form, Not Function at the Carnegie Center in New Albany IN.  When a tiny group of local fiber artists had a show at the Carnegie in 2003, the museum was surprised and delighted that so many people came in (even if many of them mistakenly expect to see traditional quilts),  Marti and I, along with the others in that show, suggested that the museum should put on a juried show and do art quilts every year.

The first FNF, in 2004, was limited to artists in Indiana and its surrounding states, but quickly expanded to the entire US.  For the first several years, the six members of River City Fiber Artists served as jurors, and we also would hang the shows, back when we were a lot more agile.  Marti was always the one to go up on the ladder.  Today FNF has an excellent national reputation and regularly draws entries from the top tier of quilt artists.

In several workshops with Carol Soderlund in the early 2000s, Marti mastered the art of dyeing, and explored many different techniques.  After good runs with flour resist and screenprinting, she mainly settled on dye-painting.  In later years, after moving to a smaller place with no good wet studio space, she went to her closet and found enough in her stash to make dozens of quilts with intricately pieced bits of her own dyed fabrics, like the one below, in Art Quilt Elements 2016.

You can see a whole lot more of Marti's work on her website.  I'm going to need at least one more post to tell you about my personal connection and how she changed my artistic life.  Stay tuned!