QuiltCon 2015 is winding up. Though I couldn’t help but see some of the quilts that were on the edges of the exhibition, near the vendor booths, I decided to save the main part of the exhibition for last. In addition to the quilts accepted for exhibition and judging, there were special displays, including Quilts of Gee’s Bend, Bill Volkening’s quilts from the 1970s, a sampling of the Modern Quilt Guild’s quilts of the month and of Do.Good.Stitches charity quilts.
Quilts submitted and accepted for entry were juried in a number of categories: Piecing, Applique, Improvisation, Minimalist Design, Small Quilts, and others (you can see them all here http://www.quiltcon.com/quilt-show/categories/).
Walking the aisles was both inspiring and intimidating. There were so many ways to consider the quilts, from the concepts behind them to the workmanship and skills used to create them. It was impossible not to think “I’d love to make a quilt like that,” and then wonder if I was capable. It was humbling to remember that while some quilters have art backgrounds or are graphics professionals, others have no formal training. Every now and then I’d see a proud quilter posing in front of her or his piece, a soothing reminder that even quilts that make artful use of color and design might have been stitched by someone who reminds me of my next-door neighbor. Part of what I find so engaging about “successful” quilts is seeing simple, accessible materials—needle, thread, and fabric—wielded by quilters with an eye for color and design. It makes personal, visual expression seem possible for those of us who don’t paint or draw.
When it comes to personal expression, there was one quilt in particular that exemplified what is most interesting to me about QuiltCon. Penny Gold’s quilt Self Portrait, Year Two (Beneath the Surface) shares her stark reality of having lost a child: it’s unlikely that this quilt would be welcome in a traditional quilt show. (Click here to view the quilt.) While quilts usually evoke color, warmth, and a soothing tone, this quilt bleakly, bravely, powerfully expresses Gold’s pain. In the same way that Jacquie Gering’s 2013 Bang, You’re Dead quilt, a handgun dripping blood, stirred controversy, contrasting a quilt’s soothing qualities with harsh reality only serves to strengthen its message. Congratulations QuiltCon, for including the quilt and giving us pause, challenging our expectations, and helping continue the conversation about what a quilt is, should be, and can be.
QuiltCon 2016 will be held in Pasadena, California, Feb. 18-21, 2016.