Monday, March 27, 2023

The juror speaks... part 1

Twenty years ago, I was one of a group of four quiltmaker/artists who helped start Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, a juried show that has grown into one of the highly regarded venues in the US.  As a nod to old times, they asked me to serve as a juror again this year.

A lot has changed since those early years when we juried from slides, and then to digital images submitted on disk.  Now it's done through CaFE, an online platform that serves many of the big shows.  I've ranted several times in the past about my frustrations with CaFE as a show entrant, but never had a chance until now to be frustrated with it as a juror. 

Because I didn't wrestle with this particular setup as an entrant, I don't know what they did to confuse so many people, but apparently it worked.  At least a half dozen people were sufficiently confused as to enter two quilts on one entry form, one in the full view field and one in the detail field, and then a few went on to put one of the two into a separate entry form.  I hope nobody got lost in the shuffle with multiple entries (a fair amount of time was spent by jurors and show organizers trying to get those sorted out). 

In addition, many people attached their detail shot where they were supposed to put their full view, and vice versa.  I didn't count how many in the initial pool, but on our "short list" of 139 quilts, ten were switched around, which seems to point to some flaw in the system rather than just random user error.  

Arguably it is no big deal for jurors to see the full view and detail in the wrong order, but I noticed something that I have seen in many other of my jurying experiences:  I frequently liked the detail shot more than the full view!  And when that one came up first in the viewing window, I would think that was the whole quilt -- and then be a little disappointed to find that it wasn't. 

What does that mean?  Sometimes that wide borders and bindings and surrounds are putting too much boring space around the interesting part in the middle.  Sometimes that quilts composed of many versions of a recurring motif get carried away, with lots of smaller motifs distracting from the big, strong one that serves as the focal point.  (You knew that was the strongest part of the quilt, didn't you?  That's why you chose that for the detail shot....)  Sometimes it just means that less is more, that one strong, simple composition can pack a big whammy, especially if it's big. 

I was happy to find so many big quilts in the pool.  In our short list it is common to find quilts 6 feet square or even larger.  I don't remember how many years it's been since FNF did away with a maximum size, but I think the show has greatly benefited from that decision.  Many artists who want to play in the juried show ballpark have apparently decided that it's hard to make an impact with a medium-sized quilt.  I agree, and I found myself checking the sizes of the entries before assigning scores.  If an image looked great on screen (the same size as all the others) but turned out to be on the small side, it had to be really spectacular to get the highest ratings.

I was also happy to find that the artistic quality of realistic, representational quilts was pretty high. No rusty pickup trucks in this batch of entries, only one household pet.  I've always been biased against this genre of quilts, because the subject matter is so often kitschy and cliched, and because I don't think fabric is well suited to making realistic images.  But in this batch, many of the representational pieces had a distinctive artist sensibility, with a degree of abstraction and sophisticated composition that took them steps above the usual faithful rendering of a photograph into fabric; those were the ones that made it to the short list.   

I can't show you images of the quilts now, of course, because we're still jurying.  The show will open on May 11 and I promise to have lots of photos then to support my observations and opinions!  Stay tuned.  Meanwhile, because what's a blog post without a picture, here's Best in Show from FNF 2021.

Karen Schulz, Objects in This Mirror


  1. Thank you for this rarely heard perspective. It was most interesting, and I look forward to when you can "illustrate" with photos of entries. I particularly took note of your mention of detail shots actually being more impressive than the whole quilt. A lot has been said about cropping one's work for a stronger design but this observation of yours really brought it home.

  2. Thank you for your jurying insights. I was so happy to see that large quilt were being accepted. I saw an exhibit of Rosie Lee Thomkins quilts at the Berkeley Museum of Art. They were spectacular, and I wondered if it was partly because they were so large that they made such an impression. And BTW, wouldn't the cropped quilt being better than the whole quilt be an interesting talk? Just sayin'. 😉