I spent my career in Louisville, KY, as a newspaper journalist and then a writer and editor for an international consulting firm. Since retiring in 2000, I have worked full time as an artist. My husband and I started our marriage with three years living in Germany and since then have traveled as much as we possibly can. Since retirement, with more time at our disposal, we have particularly enjoyed traveling on cargo ships.
I learned sewing, embroidery and other kinds of handwork from my grandmothers and made my own clothes for 30 years. I am a self-taught quilter, starting my first quilt in high school using leftovers from garment sewing. About 18 years ago I decided to get serious about quilts as art and decided I had to devote all my discretionary free time to that end. So I stopped sewing garments – that very day, leaving four dresses in progress, to which I have never returned. I still do mending, which I love.
I have exhibited my work in both quilt and all-media shows in the US and Europe. In recent years I have studied extensively with Nancy Crow, and when Nancy decided she wanted to try having her own work quilted by machine instead of by hand, she asked me to machine-quilt the first three pieces in this experiment. >nancy crow quilts
One of my works was included in Quilt National ’09 and won the prestigious Quilts Japan Prize. The award was a trip to Japan in the summer of 2010 where I taught two workshops for the Japan Handicraft Instructors Association.
How did you get to be an artist?
I grew up in a family that worshiped God, art and newspapers. My father was the arbiter of art, which he defined as representational images. When it became apparent, at about age 4, that I could not draw, that meant that I was not an artist.
That was fine with me, as I certainly agreed that I could not draw. I figured my role in life was to be a patron of the arts instead, and spent decades looking at, acquiring and loving art by other people. Meanwhile I took up quiltmaking and was strongly drawn to the format of the traditional quilt, although the quilts I made were generally of more original design, and over the years the quilts came off the bed and went onto the wall.
One day as I sat at my sewing machine working on a quilt, the voice in my head loudly announced, “This could be art!” A minute later it said, “I could be an artist!!” Another minute and it said, “I WILL be an artist!” Although I still can’t draw, I have learned to make art using abstract forms and unconventional techniques (i.e. the sewing machine).
How much time do you spend on art?
In general, it’s like a day job – 30 or 40 hours a week, with the occasional vacation, holiday or sick time. Not all of that is in the studio. I also spend time on the activities of two fiber art groups I belong to. And I try to read about art, visit general art museums and galleries as well as fiber shows and hang out with other artists to talk about art.
__Slivers 1, © 2002, 19 x 17
What’s your secret vice?
Regarding art, it’s the thrill I get out of working with other people’s scraps. I feel vaguely guilty because it’s not “serious work” but it recharges my batteries.
Where do you do your best thinking?
I do not sleep very well and frequently find myself lying awake in bed for an hour at 3 or 4 am. It is amazing what good thinking I can do, especially regarding art issues. I think that lying in darkness allows me to do better visualization - but on second thought, I don't actually do my art thinking with a lot of pictures. Rather I tend to think about the concept. In either case, having no visual distraction seems to help me focus a lot better.
What is your objective as a teacher?
It is my goal to free every quilter, whether beginner or journeyman, from the tyranny of other people’s patterns. I love to show quilters how to work on a design wall, making small modules and then arranging and rearranging them as the work progresses. I want to teach people how to watch and listen to the fabric and let it tell you what it wants to do.
What do you think about craftsmanship?
I’m a stickler for craftsmanship. I would like the backs of my quilts to be as beautiful as the fronts. I know that some art quilters are more haphazard about how they make their work, believing that the visual impact is the only thing that counts. I do care about visual impact, of course, but I think sloppy work detracts from the visual impact and I am willing to spend the extra time to do it well. Besides, if I did sloppy work Grandma Burtzloff would reach down from heaven to zap me and make me rip it out and do it right.