Contemporary Quilt Art combines a well-researched history of studio quilts in the context of fine art and studio craft and includes an overview of educational resources and the marketplace. Recently, the IU Press blog interviewed author Kate Lenkowsky about her new book:
According to your bio, you began quilting in the early '90s. What drew you to quilting? Did you do any other type of art before you picked up quilting?
Growing up, I was surrounded by wonderful art,
but it was the musical, not the visual form. In the early '70s, I spent a year in
Within a few years my interest had taken a back seat to raising children. A school volunteer project actually drew me to quiltmaking. Over time, I became increasingly interested in artists' quilts. Some of these had the same effect on me as the art at the Tate Gallery and I wanted to know more about them.
In the introduction of your book, you present a thorough discussion of the evolution of studio quilts. Could you briefly summarize what qualities define studio quilts and the major differences between them and traditional quilts?
Quilts made by artists give visual form to
their on-going explorations--of concepts, line, shape, texture, color, light,
and techniques. The artist's intention may
be to express an emotion or to communicate a message about some aspect of
life. The fabric and structure of the
quilt and the metaphor evoked by the quilt medium are an integral part of their
Traditional quilts are an art form in their own right, but the intention of the quiltmaker is different. Most often it is to make a beautiful quilt or a functional one, or both. Sometimes it is to tell a story. Studio quilts might be beautiful but their beauty is the result of the artist's continual explorations and his or her mastery of materials and composition. There are other differences too, such as the stitching or the use of fabrics which the artist has designed herself rather than purchased already dyed or printed. I believe the principal differences, however, have to do with the intentions of the artist.
What was one of the most fascinating and/or surprising things you learned about studio quilt art while working on this book?
What I found most surprising was the number of artists who, even after obtaining their arts degrees, immersed themselves in the study of the textile arts of non-Western cultures. The influence was not always immediate or direct, but it certainly affected both the ideas and aesthetics of their art over time. Sometimes, it suggested new ways of looking at everyday experiences at home.
Discuss some of the obstacles studio quiltmakers face getting their work accepted as an art form by those in the art world and the general public. How does your book challenge this notion?
The largest obstacle to acceptance is the public's continued association of quilts with their grandmothers. Studio artists can begin to overcome this by entering their art more often in mixed media competitions and exhibits. Another handicap is the perception, among many gallery directors, of quilts as "women's work" and, therefore, not comparable in price or quality to fine art. This obstacle is hard to overcome. The artists featured in Contemporary Quilt Art are all professional artists.
A third factor that works against artists making quilts has been the prejudice of some critics and museum directors against objects made with craft materials. This persists in spite of the fact that many artists no longer make such distinctions themselves. It is also possible that these individuals do not know enough to understand textile art. It is notable, however, that no one stopped calling Robert Rauschenberg an artist when he put part of a quilt into one of his paintings.
Finally, people tend to think that textile art is hard to care for and not durable. I address the general care of quilt art in my book. Most often, it is relatively simple. Many artists give their customers care instructions with the purchase of a studio quilt.
Between working on and promoting the book, have you had any time to quilt? What kinds of quilting projects are you working on (or will plan to work on)?
I definitely miss the time I once had to spend in my studio. My research for the book, though, has taught me much about creativity and the creative process. I am presently working on a project at the