A couple of generations back, quilting was a utilitarian pastime. Quilters patched together and stuffed fabric to warm their children, cover their beds and insulate their windows – but not as an outlet for creative expression.
But even a cursory examination of old quilts reveals an impressive world of artistry – precise stitching, charming use of colors and patterns that range from uniformly pleasing to wonderfully chaotic. And as quilting has moved from a necessary chore to an artistic pursuit, the patterns and designs have grown more innovative, unexpected and wildly creative.
That evolution will be showcased in “Connected by a Thread,” which will open with a reception Friday at the Durango Arts Center.
The exhibit will feature more than 30 quilts from Four Corners quilters and quilt collectors. Pieces range from a straight-forward Log Cabin design crafted around 1890 to a contemporary fiber wall-hanging created to mimic a row of Japanese sheds. Traditional patterns such as Basket, Star and Flying Geese repeat themselves in several of the quilts, but are distinguished by the quilter’s individual interpretation and personal style.
“Our goal here was to combine antique, modern and contemporary art quilts to show how patterns have moved through time,” said Connie Nordstrom, a quilter and quilt historian who curated the show alongside Janet Lever-Wood.
“This is educational as well as visual,” Lever-Wood said. “There are some wonderful connections here.”
Lever-Wood said despite differences in style, pattern and approach, the quilts all have one thing in common: “These are all beautifully crafted.”
Along with pieces from local quilters, the show features vintage quilts from the collections of Nordstrom and Patricia Joy and represents a collaboration with Dolores Mountain Quilt Guild and Cortez Quilting Company.
Viewers can see a traditional Flying-Geese strip-pattern made around 1935 by a farm woman named Bob Hall, then can compare it to an artful and non-traditional take on the same pattern by Farmington quilter Patty Hanscom. MaryAnne LeBlanc’s out-of-the-box contribution features three wall panels that pay homage to United Kingdom ravens with a primitive aesthetic. And Leesa Zarinelli Gawlik takes quilting into the realm of contemporary art with abstract pieces inspired by the sights of Japan, which she made with discarded kimono lining that she hand-dyed with plants.
The show will even include four quilts that trace a family line and handed-down tradition. The quilts, dating from 1900 to 1981, were made by German immigrant Johanna Faesler and three of her descendants: Faesler’s daughter, great-granddaughter and great-great granddaughter.
Methods range from hand-appliqued to tied to machine quilted and elaborately embroidered, and patterns vary from a Grandmother’s Flower Garden to a spiritual circle design by Allison Goss. Pyramids, precise edges, swirls, waves and flowers live in these pieces, and each quilt comes with its own history of people and places.
“Every quilt has a story,” Lever-Wood said.
And while some people still may consider quilts to be musty old-fashioned craft pieces made by grandmothers, the curators hope to show them in a new light: as wonderful works of art.
“It’s kind of a new understanding,” Nordstrom said.