Quilt National continues to push boundaries

The Dairy Barn, Quilt National

The first art quilt exhibit continues to push boundaries in its 19th installment, scheduled to open next week at The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio.

Beginning in 1979, Quilt National is the preeminent art quilt exhibition, a juried competition that features the work of nearly 90 quilters from around the world. The 86 quilts featured in the exhibit are a mix of graphic abstract work, and more traditional pieces, such as portraits. The works have never before been exhibited and have all been created in the two years since the last Quilt National exhibit.

“The art quilt medium has pretty much exploded since the 1970s and, like all art mediums, these artist push their materials to the edge of what is possible to do with fiber,” said Kathleen Dawson, director of Quilt National. “This year’s selection is very graphic. There is a lot of abstract kind of stuff. Some are very traditional, there is one that is a portrait of someone’s grandmother. A lot of different kinds of surface design work.”

 

Diane Nunez, Cross Section, The Dairy Barn, Quilt National
Cross Section by Diane Nunez, Source: The Dairy Barn

The majority of the artists make their own fabrics using dying, printing, painting and other techniques rather than using commercial fabrics. One such example is Cross Section, by Diane Nunez, pictured above. The art quilt is comprised of strips of hand-dyed fabric secured to a frame made of tinker toys. There is no background, the work is entirely open between the strips of fabric.

Mary Arnold, Grandma Maude, Quilt National, The Dairy Barn
Grandma Maude by Mary Arnold, Source: The Dairy Barn

The exhibit is held in The Dairy Barn, a 100-year-old structure that used to be a fully functional dairy barn. The space has its advantages and challenges, like 5,000 feet of exhibit space and being able to drill holes right into the original ceiling without anyone batting an eye.

In between the biannual Quilt National exhibit, The Dairy Barn hosts four exhibits a year in all manner of other mediums, including ceramics, wood, glass and photography. It also hosts a summer art camp where children can learn to produce all forms of art as opposed to swimming and hiking in the woods. All of which help position quilting as a true art medium on par with the classic art forms.

“We obviously have always considered art quilts art. That was the reason this show was established,” Dawson said. “A lot of the artists get pretty frustrated that people consider it craft instead of art. But if you take the time to view it as people make them today, what you are seeing is every bit as much art as the traditional art forms, printing, painting.

“I think the problem with the term quilt is people have in their mind an idea. When you say the word quilt, it has a pretty particular meaning to people culturally. Not that the first quilts were not art; they were art. But they were utilitarian and people get confused.”

Quilt National 2015 opens Saturday, May 23 at The Dairy Barn, 8000 Dairy Lane, Athens, Ohio. Opening day will feature a breakfast and gallery walk with 64 of the artists to speak about their piece to attendees. The exhibit is open until September 7, and then it will travel the country for two years. However, as most galleries do not have the space to accommodate the entire exhibit, this is the only chance to see the exhibit in its entirety. For more information, click here to visit The Dairy Barn’s website.

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