In skilled and knowing hands, fabric enters the world of fine artistry. Like clay, it can be molded and shaped into pleasing patterns. Like paint, it can be splashed or swirled, combined in bold arrangements or used for subtle enhancements. Like music, it can create polyphonal melodies that weave across the whole. Like dance, it can stir the senses.
Yet, it is all held together with simple needle and thread.
This is the state of art that quilting has reached in this new century. And you will see some fine examples at the 27th Annual Quilt Show in the Springville Museum of Art.
The show, which runs through Aug. 24, features 62 quilts. But each and every one is a work of art.
"They are all so remarkable," said Sharon Gray, associate museum director and curator of education. "As an artist, I lean towards the creative, non-traditional designs. But we have some fabulous traditional patterns as well."
Marsha Harward, with the Utah Quilt Guild, which co-sponsors the show, added, "I'm amazed at how quilters keep coming up with these wonderful creations. And we're so appreciative that they are willing to put their work on the line, share it with the world."
If anyone thinks that quilting is a dying pastime, she said, this show should convince them otherwise. "It gets bigger and better every year. Quilting is going full force."
The show features a wide variety: traditional patchwork stars and wedding rings, whimsical applique, cross-stitch and redwork embroidery. There are quilts with religious themes and Celtic designs and holiday motifs.
"Watercolor" quilts and representational "paintings" hang next to those with monochromatic color schemes and abstract designs. Some are quilted by machine; others are done painstakingly by hand.
"It's a good show," said Florence Evans, one of the judges. "There are so many different things you can do with quilts, and this is a good representation." Of course, that made judging more difficult. "It's a lot like apples and oranges. But in a way that's good. More styles make it more representational of what's being done."
That's not to say every quilt is perfect. But, said judge Jodi Warner, it's exciting to see many of the quilters building on what they've done in the past, to see them get better and stronger. And, she says, the artistic element continues to grow. "It used to be that quilts were mostly judged on technical merits, on the workmanship. Now we look at design and visual impact equally."
These quilts just need to be appreciated, added Esther Warner, the third judge of the trio. But she doesn't want them to be intimidating. "I want to say to anyone who is interested in quilting, just start. You will feel such satisfaction doing this yourself. And you will get better as you add this beauty to your home."
The three women are all quilters in their own right, with years of experience to their credit. They have won numerous awards and ribbons, have written books and articles and teach quilting classes throughout the state.
And they have kept pace with developments in the quilting world. Probably the biggest change in recent years, they said, has been the increase of machine-quilted works, now accounting for about half of those in the show. But that's no surprise to Evans; machine quilting is her most popular class, she said.
For "Best of Show," the judges selected a quilt titled "Friendship Garden," done by Ann Seely and Joyce Stewart. "It's absolutely perfect," said Evans. "There's so much intricate applique that is so well done." Add to that the charm of the images and the bright colors, and you have an exceptional quilt, she said.
For award purposes, the quilts are divided into Master and Artisan categories; quilters who have received a first place in more than one of the state's major quilt shows or received national recognition for their workmanship are considered Masters.
And for the show, said Gray, the definition of a quilt is "two pieces of fabric that have been quilted together with fiber batting. This loose definition emphasizes our direction by reinforcing traditional techniques as well as offering a springboard for imaginative adaptations and methods."
There are quilts with teacups and dragons and irises; quilts with old-fashioned patterns and modernistic designs; quilts with color and texture and dimension. In all cases, they are quilts that dazzle and sparkle and shine — prime examples of the magic and wonder that fabric finds in the world of fine art.