Two by Twenty - Juror's Essay
It is both exciting and somewhat intimidating to serve as a juror for a quilt exhibition. Making the final selections always offers a challenge, especially when the field of entrants presents such a vibrant range of possibilities as this one did. But the challenge can also bring great pleasure in discovering new approaches to design as well as to technique, and the incorporation of unusual materials into the artworks.
Two by Twenty was especially stimulating in that there was not a specific theme for the artists — or juror — to play with. Rather, the artists who entered were asked to submit two to four works that would, in some way, relate to each other. These could be works produced as pairs, diptychs, or otherwise part of a related series, or as individual pieces that held a common connection in motif, content, style, or technique. My job then was to choose twenty of the artists who entered and two related quilts from each of those twenty. The final submissions — which included over 250 artworks created by nearly one hundred artists from many parts of the world—presented at first a rather dauntingly large field, given that I was limited to a total choice of only twenty artists and a total of forty works.
While many of the works could each hold their own individually, I was soon able to bring the list to a more manageable number as I focused on determining the relationships between the submitted works of each artist. Some were clearly presented, as with Teresa Barkley’s two wonderfully composed commemorative quilts that highlight two facets of remembrance: one a memorial to the devastating fire in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York that tragically took the lives of 146 workers, most of them women; the other a celebration of the past, present, and future of Grand Central Terminal, a New York icon. Ilse Anysas-Salkauskas chose a more naturalistic mode to draw the bond between her melancholy stitched landscapes of the prairies of Alberta, where the slowly deteriorating farm buildings she depicts seem to reach out to each other for support. Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry’s abstract images of watery reflections create a dramatic positive/negative relationship between two quilts, work inspired by one of the artist’s photographs.
The relationship between time and deterioration seemed to play a large part in a number of works submitted, and I found several of special interest both in their construction and use of materials as well as in the concepts presented. Deborah Fell’s two Passage of Time works (Braunschweig 1 and Braunschweig 2) serve as potent reminders to appreciate the weathered and changing aspects of life, as do Donna Radner’s Earth, Water, and Stone series and Maya Schonenberger’s works on climate change. The presentations, materials, and techniques of these three artists are radically different, but the relationships built within their work also relate conceptually to others.
Some artists used elements of nature to build the relationship between their submitted works. Marjan Kluepfel, for example, chose a naturalistic approach to the trees depicted in her two quilts, while Virginia A. Spiegel created abstract collage quilts to capture the dramatic texture of the bark of shagbark hickory trees. Pat Bishop combined both a sense of realism and abstraction in her lovely compositions of walking — and gawking — cranes, and Déda Maldonado expresses her love of nature through two vivid compositions of the Everglades and its inhabitants as day fades into night. The elegant diptych by Jane Dunnewold, based on altered photographs of feather and bone printed on cloth, is another elaborately patterned reference to the relationship between living creatures that presents nature in yet another way.
Some artists create transformative pieces that do not fit easily into a specific genre. One such artist is Janet Stevens, who deals both with the passage of time in her work and the sometimes-tense relationship between humans and nature. Her powerful quilts balance ultrarealistic compositions with a painterly quality that provides an extraordinary glimpse into an urban environment where nature still seeks to reclaim its own.
A limited amount of space has allowed me to touch individually on only a very few of the fascinating and creative works in this exhibition. I am sure, however, that you, too, will gain appreciation for the aesthetic qualities and technical expertise expressed in these works, and for the evocative content that provides depth to the relationship that each artist has drawn between their works.
—Dr. Jacqueline M. Atkins
Dr. Jacqueline M. Atkins, former Chief Curator and Kate Fowler Merle Curator of Textiles at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania, is a textile historian and independent curator who has organized and curated numerous museum and other exhibitions. She lectures and writes extensively on Japanese and American quilts, early modern Japanese kimono and textiles, and American textile history and has authored books and articles in those areas.
Dr. Atkins was a SAQA Board member from 2008-2014 and served as juror for Sense of Adventure, a 2011 SAQA exhibition. From 2004 to 2011 she was the only western judge for the Japan Quilt Grand Prix contest, part of the annual Tokyo Great International Quilt Festival. She holds a Ph.D. from the Bard Graduate Center and was a recipient of a Fulbright Research Award to Japan, where she studied the impact of Western-style quilting in Japan.