On September 16, the University of Kentucky Art Museum opened an exhibition of 37 contemporary art quilts by 32 artists, all from the collection of New Jersey executive John M. Walsh III. Walsh has been collecting quilts since 1990, but began focusing on contemporary works in 1992 after a visit to Kentucky for the symposium Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt.
According to Walsh:
… the lecturer stated that there was so much good work going on that it was a tragedy that there were almost no persons who were dedicated to collecting contemporary quilts ... artists were getting discouraged because museums were losing funding and financial institutions were no longer purchasing art work they way they once did ... leaving a void. So I though, ‘Well there is me.’
With the help of Penny McMorris, an independent curator with an expertise in contemporary quilts, Walsh has established one of the country’s leading collections by nationally renowned artists. He once stated, We look for a quilt that is the best of a series or a quilt with tremendous visual impact … a work which represents the artist at their best, and so each quilt in the collection signals a milestone in an artist’s career.
The art quilt movement began in the 1970s and has since exploded into one of the most energetic areas of textile expression, transforming the functional domestic textile into an object of expressive depth. Among the artists included in Walsh’s collection are Ohio artist Nancy Crow and Massachusetts artist Michael James, two of the more influential leaders and teachers whose innovative abstract quilts are striking reinterpretations of traditional designs or techniques. Other artists incorporate unconventional materials and approaches: Seattle artist Lou Cabeen
uses paper cash register receipts marked with her own handwritten inscriptions to comment on
contemporary social themes; Kentucky artist (and UK professor) Arturo Alonzo Sandoval focuses on the devastation of the earth’s natural resources in his mixed-media fiber constructions; and Kentucky-born artist Terrie Hancock Mangat embellishes quilts with ornaments, beads, pins, and trinkets to salute and satirize American culture.
Walsh, who operates a water purification business, has a particular fondness for water subjects and has commissioned several artists to create theme-specific works. California artist Joan Schulze was inspired by the waterfalls near Walsh’s summer home in upstate New York for her quilt Flow, which incorporates a broad swath of sculptured blue textile bounded by paper photocopies of running faucets. Other artists whose commissioned works will be on view are English artist Pauline Burbidge, Minnesota artist Tim Harding, and collaborative Maine artists Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an essay by Robert Shaw, one of the country’s leading authorities on traditional American crafts and folk arts. His 1997 book The Art Quilt was the first comprehensive overview of the history and achievements of the new medium and is considered the definitive text on the subject. The former curator of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, Shaw lectures frequently on quilts and other traditional arts and has guest curated exhibitions at numerous institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, Houston Museum of Natural Science, University of Michigan Art Museum, and New England Quilt Museum.
The exhibition opens to the public on September 16 and continues through December 17, 2001. On September 23, Robert Shaw will give a lecture on contemporary art quilts and the Walsh collection. The lecture will be at 2:00 p.m., followed by a reception in the exhibition galleries. The illustrated catalogue will be available for purchase at the museum’s reception desk.
Cedar Waxwings at the AT&T Parking Lot, 1996