written by Linzee Kull McCray
Though he embraces a traditional craft, Erick Wolfmeyer says he’s on the margins of the quilting world. “I don’t belong to a guild or go to quilting conventions,” he says. “I just happen to work in that medium.”
Erick—who has a BFA in photography—started quilting on a whim in 1990, when he was drawn to the graphic beauty of Amish quilts and stitched a baby quilt for friends. “None of this was planned,’” he says. “I just had a general sense that I needed to do this. People saw something in my work and that was great encouragement when times were tough.”
Times were tough in part because of Erick’s dedication to his art. His quilts often take up to six months to make and to support himself he drove a school bus and lived in a rural town, where rents were cheap. Though he’s moved into a city and has a fulltime job, he still works in the same way, completing one quilt at a time, then giving away or selling it. While his quilts could be used on a bed—they are intensively pieced and employ no embellishments—they most often adorn a wall. “I think of myself as a painter in fabric, making abstract art,” he says. “It’s the shapes, colors, design, and movement I’m drawn to.”
Even so, Erick has deep respect for traditional quilters and little concern about engagement in an arena traditionally populated by women. “I try to leave gender out of it—it’s about whether the work can stand on its own,” says Erick. “I balance seeing its infinite possibilities with staying true to a medium and history so tightly woven with women.”
Indeed, quilting is a thread that purposefully ties Erick to women—specifically the mother who gave him up for adoption when he was seven months old. “For most of us, some things in life don’t work out as we’d planned,” he says. “Women lose kids, kids lose their moms. I’m working it out through my quilts.”
Recognition of those quilts is growing. In September, Erick was one of five quilters invited to China as part of the U.S. embassy-sponsored Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers from 21st Century America. Another quilt recently appeared in Material Men: Innovation and the Art of Quilting in LaConner, WA. While he’s grateful for the accolades and opportunities, Erick’s commitment to quilting doesn’t depend on it.
“My perception of quilting hasn’t changed—the heart and the essence of it are still the same,” he says. “If the shows and fabrics and markets disappeared, I’d still make quilts, even if I had to chop up my clothes. I forever have the compulsion to keep recreating a whole—to put pieces back together. This is how I do it.”