Something to Talk About

An art quilt with naughty bits captured the spotlight at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Show in Hampton, Virginia late last month, sparking debate about what's proper (or not) to render in bits of cloth and patchwork and hang in a public venue.

Here's a picture of the quilt, as posted on the website of WAVY TV 10, a Portsmouth, Virginia, television station that reported on the well-known quilt show.

Lucky for us, we at Quilter's Home know the words to this song. 

We are very familiar, in fact, with being in the spotlight for alleged quilty sordidness. Jake Finch, one of QH's editors, wrote about the controversial side of quilting back in March 2009, with a feature that explored the issue of using quilts to express ideas or opinions that some might consider notorious or downright obscene. She dug into the whole "should it be hung at a show" question with discretion and candor.

That feature had several well-known newspapers and radio stations across the country, and even E!'s Chelsea Lately television show host Chelsea Handler , reporting on the flap and inanely exclaiming over the incongruity of controversy and calico. For the national media, it was mostly a grab for cheap laughs, but a few regional newspapers produced respectable coverage, going so far as to interview the artists whose edgy quilts were hung (or not) in various public venues. After all, if appliqué using a penis print got your quilt yanked from a quilt exhibit in a hospital, wouldn't you think there'd be some explaining to do? (And that feature, we might add, earned QH some mention in Stitched, a soon-to-be-released documentary chronicling the lives of three competitive quilters over the course of a year. Stay tuned to this blog and the QH Facebook page for more information about it.)

But back to last month's Mid-Atlantic Quilt Show. California quilter Kathy Nida created a quilted wall hanging depicting a homeless woman and her unborn child living in a cardboard box. The quilt is about being one paycheck away from desperation and begging for help, Kathy says, and it shows a naked woman with a fetus in her belly and her girl parts out there in front of God, the quilt judges and everybody. (Click here for WAVY TV 10's on-line coverage.)

Are we offended by Kathy's quilt?

Heck no. But it wouldn't even matter if we were, because for us, the value of controversy in quilted art is all about the act of envisioning, and not the actual vision.

In our opinion, Kathy's quilt — and the ensuing chaos during which one upset show-goer was apparently nearly escorted off the show premises for complaining loudly — simply widens the discussion about quilts-as-art. It invites more people to look at quilting as more than just a quaint way to keep warm. It proves and reproves the validity of quilts as a
medium of expression.

Being moms, though, we do understand the views of those who feel controversial quilts should be hung publicly only with care. Television newscasts label stories as having "mature content" so viewers can choose to continue listening, or not. This may be an appropriate move to maintain a family friendly quilt venue. But in general,
because quilters are responsible enough to operate a rotary cutter without a license, it's a good bet we can make our own choices about whether to look at a controversial or sexually explicit quilt.

We like the way quilt author and teacher Norah McMeeking sums it up, in her comment on Facebook recently: "I really like to think of myself as a grown-up and don't want quilt shows to 'protect' me from life's unpleasantries. Quiltmaking today is not flower arranging, but a vibrant area of expression of all kinds. If we want quiltmaking to be taken seriously, it's time to open our minds, as well as our eyes."

Well said, Norah.

– Jake Finch and Melissa Thompson Maher

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