Kudos to the NEQM for organizing this forum, moderated by NEQM curator Pamela Weeks.
Marianne Fons (MF) - Eminence Grise in the quilting world, founder, with Liz Porter, of the Love of Quilting media company. Love of Quilting was one of the first craft magazines whose production values were not an insult to the intelligence of its target audience, women.
Mary Fons (MyF) - daughter of Marianne, continuing the family business with new magazine Quilty, aimed at the "rookie" quilter, someone who did not have to take home ec in 7th and 8th grade, as I did, but who is now interested in quilting and sewing.
Martha Sielman (MS) - Executive Director, Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) and author of Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World.
Laurie Matthews (LM) - President, Boston Modern Quilt Guild (BMQG) and self-described stay-at-home mom and blogger.
Rachel May (RM) - Author and BMQG founding member.
|Audience and panel get ready for discussion.|
Quick facts, according to the 2010 survey:
There are 21 million quilters in the US
14% of US households are home to at least one active quilter
Average of dedicated quilter (female) is 62
72% of dedicated quilters have a college degree
Spent an average of $2,442 on quilting per year
Estimated total value of the quilting industry is $3.58 billion (yes, billion) per year
Following her presentation of these statistics, Pam introduced the format of the discussion - she posed a question to the panel, who responded at will. The summary of the discussion is based on my notes, and is reported through my own admittedly subjective filter.
First question - Who is today's quilter?
According Martha Sielman (MS hereinafter) many SAQA members came to quilting later in life, after another career. Of 1720 respondents to a recent SAQA survey, only 11 were male. Many SAQA members have a math or science background, hence are comfortable with measurement and numeracy. In her view, a decline in membership in traditional affinity groups, such as those affiliated with religious institutions, has led women to seek new forms of community such as quilt groups and guilds. Despite the fact that many SAQA members display confidence with math, quilters often migrate from "traditional" quilts to art quilts in order to move away from the need for much computation.
Marianne Fons (MF) shared a bit of her life story with us, to which many in audience could relate. She began quilting during the US bicentennial hoopla, when Americans were celebrating their history and heritage, and she was a new mother looking for a creative outlet. In her words, a quilt "stayed finished," was "something for me," and was something she could "pick up and do" during free moments.
|Note price of $1.25!|
MF bemoaned the stereotype of the quilters as little old ladies, and posited that the origin of this stereotype may have developed in the 1940's. After all, in previous centuries, quilters came in all sizes - young girls (and boys) learned to do hand sewing, and young women did communal stitching. However, during the Second World War, MF theorizes, younger women worked for the war effort and only grandmothers had the time to quilt; a stereotype thus emerged and today "even librarians are sexier than quilters." MF herself couldn't look less like a little old granny, by the way, in chic gladiator booties, black leggings, belted big shirt and Iris Apfel-inspired necklace.
Speaking of librarians reminded me of the mini-crisis when Jo-Ann Fabrics banned an issue of Mark Lipinski's magazine, which featured quilts with political and - gasp - sexual themes.
Mary Fons (MyF) made an important point is that we are not as isolated as media reports indicate. I think she's right - we are not all bowling alone, to co-opt the title of one recent book on social isolation. And, as long as one isn't driving, texting isn't necessarily an inherently bad thing - as MyF pointed out, tongue in cheek, isolated women back in pioneer days would probably have loved a text or phonecall, if such an anachronism had existed, for example.
If I may paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert, we "love, create, talk" about quilts online and it can bring us together. As MF emphasized, we all have an impulse to share, to be praised, to be nurtured and much of this happens online now. However, tactile input is still exclusive to an actual artifact - nothing can replace touching a quilt.
MF also pointed out that quilters were quick to embrace technology, even back in the Pleistocene era when email was pretty much limited to aol.com.
MyF claimed that her readers report no time to take an in-person class workshop but want instruction online. MyF did not explicitly state the corollary to this, but I will - which is that this online generation expects information - and this includes instructions - to be free.
An audience member mentioned that she can't give her instructional CD away - nope, not to Gen-Wiki!
|Some things are hard to learn online - Maggie Weiss teaches thermofax printing.|
RM attributes the beginning of the "modern quilt" movement to the flickr site Fresh Modern Quilts, and mentioned there are zillions of modern quilt books in the pipeline, so books still sell evidently, albeit on Amazon. The inspirations for modern quilts, according to RM, are Amish quilts, Gee's Bend quilts and Nancy Crow, who's no dummy when it comes to adapting to new markets. I was surprised that RM omitted mention of Denyse Schmidt, whom I would have thought THE godmother of modern quilts. However, I've since learned that Denyse Schmidt will indeed be the keynote speaker at Quiltcon (of course, it would have that name!)
|From website for Quiltcon.|
LM brought up a dark side to all this online connectivity: the ability to be dismissive, and yes, bullying, with few consequences. If you google "dumbing down quilting," results lead to blog posts which are rather negative, and worse, towards the "modern quilting" movement.
Reacting to this discussion of modern vs. traditional antagonism, an audience member mentioned feeling unwelcome at a "traditional" guild.
RM underscored that this is a common feeling among younger quilters; however, the new movement itself risks falling into the same trap of becoming another clique. In her view, the goal should be to avoid this and break down barriers and reject labels.
MyF, in an effort to mellow the tone of the discussion a bit, perhaps, stated that it's only natural for affinity groups to self-select - we have a need to make sense of our world, and sorting and compartmentalizing do this. However, she remembers her horror at one show-and-tell when a modern quilt, proudly displayed by its maker, was greeted with "crickets" (silence so pervasive you can hear crickets chirping). This should not happen to anyone.
An audience member picked up on Mary's remarks, stating that since her "traditional guild" met only once a month, there was an understandable tendency for people to gravitate towards folks already familiar, but the guild was recognizing the problem and trying to introduce "getting to know you" exercises. Also this guild has a rule that everyone must clap for every show-and-tell quilt.
|Round Robin quilt projects get people talking to one another.|
MF reminded us that some people just hate change, and that machine quilting was for a long time not accepted. She pointed out what had been obvious for a while in the discussion, that there are really no universally definitions for traditional vs. modern vs. contemporary. In Marianne's words, "I'm still here, so I must be contemporary!"
This led Pamela to her next question, To what extent is the modern label based on a certain aesthetic?
Interestingly, this question was largely ignored by the panel. I'll go out on a limb here, with my impressions of modern quilts. They are often characterized by what I call the "kate spade" color palette of neutrals and high tones - no more "Grateful Dead" rainbow brights, no more toned Civil War colors, and fewer "jewel tone" batiks. Some modern quilts feature repeated blocks but many are improvisationally pieced. Graphic impact is achieved not by intricate piecing but through contrast of hue or value. Most functional modern quilts are machine quilted, but there is a growing move towards hand work too. Am I near the mark?
Before the exchange could devolve into generational antagonism, Pamela asked her discussants to peer into their crystal balls, and predict where we are headed? For example, with this online emphasis, is print media dead?
MS practically leaped out of her chair at this, waving the books she had brought for the post-discusson book signing. She regularly convinces the SAQA board of the continuing importance of the print version of the SAQA journal. MyF is pleased to announce that her newly-launched print magazine Quilty is doing well, which is a pleasant surprise, as I would have thought the market for quilt magazines quite saturated already.
Pamela continued with the question What role will shops and museums play in the years to come?
MF told us how she was influenced by seeing Nancy Halpern's quilt Archipelago at the NEQM many years ago, and the work of Caryl Bryer Fallert in another exhibit. Museums, in her mind, continue to be important as repositories and for conservation. Not to mention events such as the one she was in at the moment, perhaps? I think museums must do much more to make themselves relevant, and I thnk the NEQM understand that too. As MyF pointed out, The Met serves painters and quilt museums should serve quilters, but I think it would help if the museums educated quilters in the use and interpretation, as opposed to reproduction, of historic models. The Victoria and Albert museum makes an effort at this, but then it was always designed to be a resource for industry as much as an edifice for culture.
|Fallert's Corona #2. Source: http://www.bryerpatch.com/images/quiltrecords/corona2/corona2.htm|
For MF, who has had a successful online store for ages, aided by her television exposure, retailers must respond to market demand. She mentioned the role wholesalers Checkers Distributors in helping drag retailers into new territory and encouraging them to offer up-to-date fabric selections.
Finally, as time grew short, Pamela asked - what's the artistic direction for quilts?
The answers finally touched on something I'd been waiting for since eating my mini-bagel - a discussion of process, as opposed to product. MS mentioned the artistic approach of "Mark Making,"as opposed to quilt making, and gave two SAQA examples, Dorothy Caldwell, a Canadian, and Pamela Fitzsimmons, of Australia, as artists for whom "the time it took" is as much the product as the completed artifact.
|Dorothy Caldwell. Four Fields. Source:http://www.quiltstudy.org/exhibitions/online_exhibitio/qic/international_quilts1.html|
|An enthusiastic "thank you" to the panel from NEQM director Connie Barlow.|