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ASU Professor Featured in Quilt Exhibition: Tradition Intertwined With Innovation

“In this region, just about everyone grew up under a quilt,” says Patricia Mink, head of the ETSU fibers program. “Down here, everybody has a quilt story. It’s part of the richness of this region.”

Mothers, grandmothers and younger stitchers have been making quilts for warmth and bedding since the beginnings of the “New World” and padding fabrics to clothe, comfort and protect for centuries.

In the last 50 years, though, quilting has become a billion-dollar industry, Mink says, and at the same time, visual artists have experimented increasingly with the layered form and myriad techniques and marks. “It’s a medium that’s accessible because it has the connection to the familiar,” she says, “but it is also new to people in a lot of ways, so it is my intent to help expand that understanding of the quilt.”

LAYERS: Quilt As Form, running Oct. 5-30 at ETSU’s Slocumb Galleries, should broaden perspectives on the contemporary evolution of the art form, says Mink, who is curating the show. In collaboration with the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts and Honors College at ETSU and the Tennessee Arts Commission, Mink – an internationally exhibited fibers and quilt artist herself – and ETSU’s Department of Art and Design have arrayed contemporary quilts by eight regional, national and international artists. Renowned teacher and artist Joan Schulze will highlight the exhibition with an Oct. 15 talk on her work, travels and the evolving art form.

Artists in the LAYERS exhibition are Susan Brandeis, Dorothy Caldwell, Judith Content, Nancy Crow, Michael James, Jeana Eve Klein, Aaron McIntosh and Joan Schulze.

A Klein Quilt
A Klein Quilt

These artists are “redefining what ‘quilt’ means,” Mink says, while at the same time, they are perpetuating various traditional elements of the American form and often exploring nature and the environment. The continuing traditions of at least two layers of materials and some kind of stitching are the threads that connect these quilt artists, their works and the LAYERS exhibition.

“This is a world-class exhibit,” she says. “These are internationally known artists, but still, none of them are denying the connection to the quilt and the tradition, which I think is important. They aren’t offended by [their work] being called quilts.”

The eight artists she chose fall into three categories, Mink says. “Joan Schulze, Michael James and Nancy Crow are essentially pioneers of the studio quilt movement,” she says. “They wrote the books – literally. Dorothy Caldwell, Susan Brandeis, Judith Content are artists working unselfconsciously with the quilt form, also relating to the landscape and the environment, and Jeana Klein and Aaron McIntosh are young artists consciously selecting the quilt form as their means for expression.”

“The new generation” representatives in the LAYERS exhibit, Klein and McIntosh, while nationally known, are regional. McIntosh, who teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art, grew up in Kingsport and is a fourth-generation quilter. In his work, he explores material culture, family tradition, identity shaping and sexuality. Klein creates her quilt artworks – using digital images, recycled fabric, stitching and acrylics – from Boone, N.C., where she is an associate professor of fibers at Appalachian State University.

Works by Caldwell, a Canada resident, and Content, from California, incorporate contemporary interpretations of Asian Shibori and Middle Eastern dyeing techniques. Content’s hand-dyed, quilted and pieced silk wall pieces often depict elaborate Pacific landscapes, while Caldwell often integrates historical work in contemporary contexts, traveling to the Australian outback and Canadian Arctic to pursue these themes.

Brandeis, like Klein and McIntosh, is an educator, coordinating the fibers and surface design program at North Carolina State University. Her work, exhibited the world-round, focuses on honest, universal human themes and features repetition, pattern, color contrasts and textured relief surfaces.

The “pioneers” – Schulze, James and Crow – have taught and exhibited across the country and abroad. James, also a longtime professor and department chair, in Nebraska, melds the psychological and emotional with the pattern-focused abstract in his works, whether dreamlike or tense and conflicting.

Author of several books, Crow maintains a large studio and teaching facility on her 90-acre farm in Ohio, as well as leading textile and arts tours to disparate locales, such as South Africa, Peru and Mexico. Her color-saturated works, boldly cut and pieced from hand-dyed fabric, are known for their exceptional use of color and line and in recent years, screen-printed surface design.

Schulze’s studio is in California, where she teaches less nowadays and focuses more on her own work and inspiring her 13 grandchildren to various artistic explorations. Reviewers have called Schulze the female “Rauschenberg.”

Midway through the exhibition, on Thursday, Oct. 15, Schulze will travel to Johnson City to expose some of the layers of her art, which in the 1960s, started with dyeing fabrics and “stitching,” expanded to quilt-making and added layers of poetry, collage, photocopying and glue transfer.

Her talk, which begins at 6 p.m. in ETSU’s Ball Hall Auditorium, is titled “The Restless Explorer” and will include, she says, how travel impacts her work, as well as her process and perspectives. She will also spend a day working with ETSU students and art graduates on an “exquisite corpse” collaborative activity.

The exhibition and the exploration of the form of expression are multi-layered, “metaphorically,” Schulze says. “That is the exciting complexity of it all, the reason why we keep making quilts …

“I am looking forward to seeing other people’s exploration of layers … Patricia has invited an extraordinary group of people, each one doing their own thought processes and they are very true to what they do.”

The pieces in the LAYERS exhibition are impressive in their scale, as well as their scope, says Slocumb Galleries Director Karlota Contreras-Koterbay. “Most of these pieces are large scale,” Contreras-Koterbay says. “Some of the works in the show are actually iconic pieces. Like Nancy Crow’s ‘Construction’ series, which has been on covers of catalogs and books. A number of them are coming from museum exhibits, galleries and the artists’ collections. This is a very ambitious project.”

The exhibition and talk and activity with Schulze make a good package, says Anita DeAngelis, director of the ETSU School of the Arts. “It’s important for us to support some of the curriculum activities that are happening on campus and the art department has long had a very active fibers program and this particular region is known for quilting, as well,” DeAngelis says. “So, being able to participate with an exhibition that is about the contemporary quilt, not only satisfies a need in the Department of Art and Design but also in our community.”

Looking at three-dimensional quilts on slides, in photos or in books is one mode of teaching the craft or art, Contreras-Koterbay says. “Seeing the actual work to-scale in front of you is very different,” she says, “That is a very different aesthetic experience that our students and the community will truly benefit from.”

A limited number of catalogs for the exhibition will be available in exchange for a donation.

A complementary exhibition – Threads of Empowerment – is running Sept. 28-Oct. 22 at Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City, featuring work by emerging artists – using quilting, stitching and thread to express social concerns, such as racism, sexism, ageism, ableism and motherhood. Threads includes pieces from the collaborative Exquisite Uterus Project, curated by Alison Gates; a quilt project that ETSU Art & Design MFA student Lyn Govette has undertaken with the local Girls Inc.; and works by Jeana Klein, Jessica Jones, Joetta Maue, Shara Rowley Plough, Jaime Santos-Prowse and Lydia Wilson.

The School of the Arts and Slocumb Galleries will also be collecting blankets, which can be dropped off at the galleries during the run of the exhibition, to be donated to the Haven of Mercy Ministries’ new women’s shelter. Any donations of quilt squares or material, Mink says, would be appreciated, as well. Students in Art & Design fibers classes will use the materials to make quilts to be donated to the women’s shelter.

For information about reading and ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, call 423-439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/martin.