History of SAQA

History of SAQAAlegre Retreat

Studio Art Quilt Associates

Excerpts from the Creative Force Show
by Yvonne Porcella

This is the history of the Studio Art Quilt Associates from Yvonne Porcella’s curators statement for the Creative Force exhibit that presented work by the founding members of SAQA. This show was premiered at Houston Quilt Festival in 2007 sponsored by Janome America.

It is a great honor to curate this important anniversary exhibit of those who lent their creativity to projects that defined the direction of SAQA. Through the generosity of out 2006 board member Karey Bresenhan and our exhibit sponsor, Janome America, Inc., we are able to present these beautiful examples of art quilts created by the artists who founded SAQA.

Today we know this organization as Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc. in 1989, it was just an idea. Several events in October, 1989, contributed to the development of a national organization of studio quilt artists. The High Museum at Pacific Center in Atlanta, Georgia, organized Fiber Expressions, a colloquium held in conjunction with the exhibit of Quilt National 1987.
Also that year, Americana Enshrined, an exhibit I curated featuring quilts by 12 artists, was shown at Great American Gallery. Another four quilt exhibits in galleries and museums nearby pieced together the artistic evolution of quilts from past to present. Many of the quilt artists whose work was included in the Atlanta exhibits attended the colloquium and receptions at the High Museum and the galleries. This presented the perfect opportunity to arrange a meeting of artists to discuss the possibility of forming a national organization. During this first meeting, several of the artists volunteered to spearhead a development committee. This led to a national membership drive in 1990. The creative energy generated in Atlanta was carried forward into the commitment of a strong core of volunteers, past and current, who have continued to drive SAQA forward.

To limit the number of works selected for the founders’ section to 24 was a difficult task, as so many have contributed so much in the past 17 years. Sadly, some artists who worked so hard for SAQA during those formative years have passed away without leaving statements about their contributions. We can honor and remember them for their dedication to developing an organization to promote art quilts and to support quilt artists.

To understand why SAQA came to be, it is important to note that by 1989, Quilt National was already in its tenth year. The Art Quilt exhibit, curated by Michael Kile and Penny McMorris, debuted in Los Angeles in 1986 and by 1989 had toured the country for three years. Although the term “art quilt” has by now been accepted in the quilt vernacular, at the time it always
required an explanation and clarification. Many people were interested in collecting art quilts, and having a professional organization was a validation of our art form to the general public.

In the first membership brochure, we thought it was important to define the art quilt. Beth Gutcheon, a member of our first board of directors, wrote the statement and other text. Beth was the author of the 1973 book The Perfect Patchwork Primer. Reprinted four times in five years, the book offered instruction not only on how to reproduce old quilts, but also on how to
create and execute personal quilt designs using traditional patterns. Her 1976 Quilt Design Workbook offered complex geometric quilt designs. Abstracting the day lily block was the theme Beth Gutcheon used for a series of five small quilts made in the 1970’s. Some have not survived, so we are fortunate to be able to anchor this exhibit with Day Lily 2 to
honor all that Beth offered to SAQA, as well as her creative talents as quilt maker and writer. She authored the first of her many novels, Still Missing, in 1981.

Judith Larzelere defined the strip-piecing genre by creating stunning colorful quilts using the Bargello style. Here Red and Blue Jar, illustrated in the 1985 Quilt National catalog, caused quite a stir due to its limited yet bold palette. In Veiled Color Darks, from 1986, we see the hand of an artist who can control color yet allows it to explode into complex rhythmical rays.

 Baseball: As American as Apple Pie and Quilts, made by Holley Junker, was featured in the 1989 Americana Enshrined exhibit and shows her interest in landscapes seen from above. She honors the great American tradition of this sport but places the Worlds Series, including images of foods favored by fans, in the context of a cathedral complete with gothic
arches. Holley served as Vice President of SAQA and was a valued supporter during the lengthy legal process of securing our non-profit status—helping to define our goals and stating our mission.

Another baseball-themed quilt in the exhibit is Edward Larson’s Satchel Paige: World’s Greatest Pitcher. Ed chose to honor a famous baseball player in his drawing for the Americana Enshrined exhibit. He created a small sketch in his signature folk art style, then he turned the drawing over to a fabric artist to enlarge and make the design in fabric. The result is offered here as an example of an artist breaking the boundaries of traditional quilting, in shape as well as imagery.

In the early 1980’s, the work of Susan Shie captivated the art quilt audience, and she was awarded the Best of Show in Quilt National 1987. Her work had hung at Great American Gallery (now Connell Gallery). The quilt shown here, The Magic Show Tonight, represents a unique tactile overlaying style original to this talented artist. Another artist whose work is defined
by layering, along with beading and painting is Jane Burch Cochran. She joined Susan Shie in the Green Quilts Challenge in the early 1990s to promote preservation of global ecology. A Fragile Balance incorporates items from Jane’s grandmother’s sewing box, including a glove which touches the earth in her quilt composition.

The diversity of the board generated many suggestions for programs, projects, and publicity, yet these members were still able to make their art. Many enjoyed working in series. Marilyn Henrion served two different board terms and is known for her use of sumptuous silks in complex architectural patterns, as seen in Byzantium V. Darcy Falk’s industrial landscape
Machinery/Cogs is one view of her small series of compositions where color and fabric patterns enhance the design. Wendy Huhn served as treasurer for many years, and her attention to detail is well known in her complex surface imagery, such as that seen in Girl Talk. Wendy has enjoyed a successful teaching career at the university level.

The first SAQA newsletter required the work of many generous volunteers. Folding, stamping, labeling, editing, and mailing was accomplished by a team of artists, who often drove many hours to help at “newsletter central,” located in my California kitchen. During these time, many organizational suggestions were made, along with lifelong friendships. Others contributed from other states to help meet deadlines or submit articles. Michael James, our first guest contributor, wrote a series of articles on educational issues for the artist. Michael authored The Quiltmaker’s Handbook in 1978. His early strip piecedstyle signature quilts are recognized worldwide.Sky/Wind Variations II, made in 1990 and others,are featured in his 1994 Art & Inspirations book.During the three years of The Art Quilt touring exhibition,audiences were overwhelmed by the extremesize of the quilts as well as the different techniques.

The intent of The Art Quilt was to educate the public on the difference between traditional and art quilts. Therese May, with her paint, thread, and unique imagery, generated lots of comments as “that artist who left all the threads hanging on the front of her quilt.”
Her 1989 quilt Rose At The Top remains one of my favorites, showing the gutsy use of threads hanging from the stitching and the hand-painting over parts of the quilt.

How different we all are in our creativity, using textiles in such a variety of ways. No one does it better than Kathleen Sharp in Water Temple, where her perspective draws the viewer into the serenity of the scene. In contrast is Libby Lehman’s Fanfare, where the fabrics drop back to become the background for the intense thread work that exaggerates the textured surface.
Libby’s Threadplay technique book will be reissued soon.

Sharon Heidingsfelder is known in Arkansas for her dedication to developing 4-H quilting programs. Sharon managed the newsletter for many years and also served as SAQA executive director. Designed For Friends is a reminder of her generous and colorful spirit. In contrast to printed fabric and strong geometry, paint is the medium of choice for Nancy Erickson. The Gathering reminds us that our wild animals are in danger, and preservation of their environment is everyone’s responsibility.

With the advent of annual conferences and juried exhibits came the challenge for SAQA to identify artists who would help organize these events. Many helped generously, giving up studio time to enable our successes. Our first auction was spearheaded by artists who coerced their artist friends and other SAQA members to donate items to fund our activities.

 Our first touring exhibit and week-long conference with workshops required even more volunteers. Even though these tasks kept our volunteers busy, they still managed to find time to create art, finding inspiration in the world around them. Dee Danley-Brown, a former resident of New York City, created Gridlight in 1990. Life in the big city offers a different perspective for an apartment-dwelling artist who shares studio space with living space.

Scenes of nature also inspire artists to interpret their environment. Barbara Oliver Hartman’s 1993 Quilt National entry, Fallscape, designed with a variety of textures, contrasts greatly with board member Linda McDonald’s hand-painted image of Moving To The Country — It’s a Tick Sky. Family life and family memories serve as design sources for others. Sue Benner, who is known for her complex visual patterns in unique color, created Hostess with The Mostest II, taking inspiration from the circle-and-square fabric patterns of her mother’s apron. Sally Sellers uses the theme of house and home with such poignancy that many people have asked to purchase Goodnight Alice, a very personal quilt that honors her daughter. The Gathering Place,
made by Sue Pierce in 1996, recalls memories of 1940’s life centered around the family kitchen table. A member of the 1995 SAQA board, she concentrated her energies in organizing the 1994 groundbreaking exhibit Playing With A Full Deck. Sue was able to contract with the Smithsonian Institution Touring Exhibit Services to mount this exhibit in many museums and galleries around the country. The concept of this exhibit has been admired by many and helps spawn the “quilt challenge” contest that blanket the quilt scene today.

An important early project for SAQA was the rotating artists’ portfolio. The format has evolved in many ways over the years, from slides to color reproduction images. With the dedication of artist Dominie Nash, who kept the program active for many years, a large number of galleries and art consultants were exposed to the art quilt. Particular Poetry #16, made by Dominie in 1999, shows her bold use of color and abstract design.

When we began to discuss the idea for an extended educational program in 1995, it became clear that we could not rely on volunteers to oversee all of our projects. Cathy Rasmussen was hired to organize the successful conference and exhibit event: Insight! Diversity! Intensity! At Arrowmont—a 3-day conference about personal growth with an international juried exhibition
and a 5-day, in-depth post conference workshop. Diversity! Was our first exhibition to feature
a catalog. It had a unique design — a breakaway box containing a set of 4×6 cards with each artist’s work featured individually.

From the development of the first board of directors to the present time, only two artists have served as President of the Board. In 1989 I became president at the request of those who came forward to form the board. In 2000 Katie Pasquini-Masopust became the new president during the 3-day SAQA conference held in Santa Fe in conjunction with the successful exhibit Exit/Entrance: An exhibit of art quilts interpreting our departure from one century and entry into another. This exhibit also featured a catalog. The position of president demands hours of time, both physical and mental energy, and dedication to supervise the management of SAQA.

I first met Katie when we both were teaching at the West Coast Quilter’s Conference in 1980. She is well known as a teacher and author, and her books have helped develop artistic styles in quilt-making with an emphasis on color and design. Katie generously agreed to exhibit one of her early works in this exhibit. Made in a mandala style, Cassiopeia measures 72”, which was a common size for quilts made during the 1980’s. For myself, I also have chosen to exhibit one
of my earlier pieces, Memories of Childhood. It was made in 1988 to honor a childhood event, which is meaningful to me even today.

It has been an honor to organize the Founders portion of SAQA: The Creative Force exhibit and to select important work from such generous group of artists, and to remember them, their unique art, and their contributions to SAQA.
—Yvonne Porcella