Saturday, September 04, 2010

Last night I finally treated myself to looking through some of the catalogs I brought home from FoQ.  I seem to have all the volumes of the European Art Quilt catalogs, from I-VI.  Hit the link to see pix of the exhibit.  Not a lot of close-ups but it will give you a good idea of what was up. 

A number of people have asked me what I saw as the difference (if there is one) between European art quilts and American ones. My answer: yes, I see a difference.

Having looked at this year's FoQ exhibits and having compared all six EAC catalogs, I have some personal observations and opinions about this exhibit and about what I've seen of European quilts in general.

1. Each year the exhibit is fresh - you don't see the same artists with almost identical pieces, year after year. 

2.  European quilts are, for the most part, abstract and non-representational. Reproducing a photo in cloth appears non-existent...and if anyone is doing it, those pieces are not in major gallery exhibits.

3.  There is a lot of experimentation with materials and ways of using them-- not just for the sake of being cute or clever or piling on the glop because they think that makes it ART, but because they add richness and texture and are integral to the piece. Silk, wool, rayon, plastic, linen, cotton, polyester, taffeta, organza (not necessarily all in one piece).

The first time I saw this was in 1999 in Paris: Artifil: Quilt et textile français contemporains--an exhibition of French art quilts that blew me away. I bought the catalog and much of the work is still fresh. However, many of the artists have gone on to do other kinds of work: Agnès Bockel, whose piece, Tomate Verte, captivated and influenced me back then, is now painting on canvas.

4.  There is more individuality in the work; Europeans do not take class after class after class the way Americans seem to, so there is not the blatant cloning we so often see here with people who have taken a class and then make quilts that are knock-offs of the teachers' work.

5.  Some of the most interesting work is from the Netherlands and Germany -- unfortunately, most of these artists do not have websites. Here are two I particularly like.
Willy Doreleijers
Willie Groenewolt  
Dominique Arlot is a French fiber artists whose work I find refreshing
Sara Impey is also a treat -- as are a number of other artists from the U.K. -- but that's for another post. A couple of my personal favorites with distinct voices are Christine Restall and Marlene Cohen.
Go to the QuiltArt Europe site where you'll get a look at the work of the international members of this group. Just click on members on the sidebar.  By the way, their QuiltArt at 25 catalog is one I'm saving as a treat next time I have a break.

And finally, here is the blog of Swedish fiber artist Gunilla Sundstrom, which I just discovered and find very interesting.

So now that I have spent my entire morning researching and writing this post, I had better get down to my REAL work!  I am very interested in your reactions/responses/comments to this post. Would love to have a discussion and hear your own observations.


Eva said...

A revelation! Thank you for these links as well as your observations. It is so helpful to see this art through someone else's eyes. Very inspiring links!
My impression of what I have seen (mostly online) in Europe is that the useable quilt is a rare thing; fiber art is vastly oriented in l'art pour l'art and doesn't have ancestors in a quilting tradition. This might have a liberating effect on fiber artists, but on the other hand means there is less routine in the craft side of it. These pieces partly show a mainly intellectual approach instead of an emotional or decorative intention.

Rayna said...

I agree that they are much more intellectual/cerebral in their approach -- but not all of them. Some artists (not you or me, Eva)can express themselves in the "less is more" tradition. That's what makes horse racing!

lindaschiffer said...

Rayna, thank you so much for such an informative post! I've only gotten to my second click on your list of names and I am already agog. :)

Eszter Bornemisczu (I hope I spelled that correctly!) is doing fascinating work (which I may never have encountered without your help:) -- and her website ( has a wonderful fresh design to it, too. Worth the visit, imho.

:) Linda (off to do more clicking)

PS am still pondering the point you made about European art quilters vs American ones.

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing these Rayna, I love looking at the fiber art of different countries. Gunilla took a Jan Myers Newbury class at Crow Barn with me and I knew she was someone to watch for back then.

Connie Rose said...

Thanks so much, Rayna, for the mentions and links to European quilt artists. And I loved what you had to say about the differences between American and European quilt art and artists.

Judy said...

Great links! I know that I will revisit them all often, as they really energized me! I loved much of Dominique Arlot's work. I think she spoke to me the most, but all were very inspirational, and as you said, different from our art quilts.
Last October I was fortunate to take a class with and get to know Gunilla (and Karen). She is an extraordinary artist.
Thanks so much for this post, and for providing us with these valuable links.


sandra wyman said...

This post really had me thinking, Rayna, and I think you've really hit the spot. Another interesting observation, from a Dutch quilt artist I met at FOQ, is the difference between continental Europe and the UK: here we have a very long (dates back to quilted undergarments to protect knights in armour from chafing!) quilting tradition which has also influenced things - often for the good but also there's a lot of resistance to art quilting in some circles; also of course there's the influence of a whole galaxy of innovative and inventive embroiderers who have had an enormous impact in Europe. I also wonder - and this is a genuine question - whether there's a difference in the new work seen in art galleries between the two countries. I'll shut up now - there's the potential of a book for anyone who has time to write it!

Anonymous said...

Rayna, this post was mind shifting, THANKS! Some quick thoughts as I leave on a three day Adirondack jaunt: Seems more ART than QUILT in Europe, and also more FIBER than Fabric, does that thought make sense? Quilting is the DESIGN ELEMENT, not the texturizer; STITCH is predominant, not an afterthought to other surface design techniques. I'm enthralled and will return to this post often. I'd like to add another name to your list: Fenella Davies. See you soon, Debbie Bein

Rayna said...

Good analysis, Debbie. Now that has given ME food for thought and for going back to take another look at those works.

Yes, Fenella Davies is part of the QuiltArt Europe group so her work is on that site.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Great post Rayna! I can't wait to check out all the links. I appreciate your comments and hope you will share more of your thoughs as you have time.

Karoda said...

Rayna, I really enjoyed reading this post! I know once I start clicking on the links, I'll be lost forever so I'm going to come back.

When I'm working on surface techniques one of the things that echoes in my head is Claire Benn saying Americans usually want to stop at the first or second "wow" moment instead of pushing it further.

Stephanie Forsyth said...


It's interesting that you point out that here the shows are often redundant in that many pieces are similar or nearly exactly the same due to so many people taking the same classes. But I think what it really does, it point out a distinct difference between the type of shows they have and what we have. They have FIBER ART shows, where as here in the US, we have Quilt shows.

As someone who has been sort of swimming against the current of traditional quilters for around ten years, I can tell you that we are just now starting to move towards what you see across the pond. Perhaps this was due to quilting falling to the wayside for so long before the revival?

Right now we are seeing people hitting the fiber art scene that did not start out as a traditional quilter, I think this makes a difference. They are seeking fiber as a means of expression, where as many who start out with traditional work have sought the medium as a means of relaxation or for social purposes. (Or they are working on hardcore traditional pieces that are for show, and it is the same people winning that top prize over and over and over again.)

I think fiber art is just in its infancy here in the US, but honestly in the last month I have received 5 different local publications, and EACH of them had an article in them about a fiber artist. (Not all quiltesr, some felters, etc.)

I for one am excited about our art form, and what is yet to become of it! :)

Thanks for this post Rayna! :)

I do have question though: When you were over there, did it seem like the public respected fiber art as a fine art form? (Which is something I feel is a HUGE obstacle for us here right now.) Just curious!

John hopper said...

Interesting article which throws up a lot of questions about the meaning of a quilt behind the quilt on both sides of the Atlantic.

I wonder whether perhaps this is at the heart of the difference between attitudes in Europe and North America to the quilt. Generally quilts and the craft itself is not seen as being an integral part of the social history of Europe as perhaps it is in North America. The generations of amateur craft, along with the colonial, pioneer and slave history of America is missing from the European experience. It sometimes appears to me as a European, that there is almost an emotional connection with quilts and quilting in America and often it does seem to work on that emotional level. In Europe, that emotional and historical connectedness with the craft is not present on anywhere near the same level. Perhaps that is why Europeans are more ready to experiment within the craft because in many respects they are emotionally removed from it and see it as an interesting textile format but little else.

I could well be wrong of course, but that is how it appears to me.

k baxter packwood said...

Is there anyway to find out who the artists are w/o buying the book?

Marianne said...

To answer the question of recognition of textile art as art in our problem is the same as at home, not many galleries, art dealers or art museum recognize that unfortunately. For proof just go to the site to realize that not many textile artists are listed
Pour répondre à la question de la reconnaissance de l'art textile comme de l'art chez nous, le problème est le même que chez vous, pas beaucoup de galerie, de marchands d'art ou de musée reconnaissent cet art malheureusement. Pour s'en convaincre il suffit d'aller sur le site pour se rendre compte que pas beaucoup d'artistes textiles sont répertoriés

sandra wyman said...

I enjoyed this post - have mulled over the differences some time and your post clarified a lot of things. One comment on the comments though - it is a widely held assumption that there is no traditional quilting this side of the Atlantic. I'm not an expert on the quilting history of mainland Europe but here in the UK there is a long quilting tradition going back ultimately to the middle ages, though prevalent in recent centuries mainly in Wales Scotland and the North of England. For many of us in the UK there are issues regarding recognition of art quilting similar to those in the US. Agreed though that there is much more of an art tradition, especially in mainland Europe, which those of us making art quilts in the UK really appreciate, with many people starting from the ART end rather than the QUILT end - i.e. not so much what can I do with this fabric, but more this is what I want to do, now how can I do it.

Gloria Hansen said...

I love going to the Birmingham show, although I didn't go this year. Instead I went to the Knitting & Stitching show in London. I was told it's also excellent, and it was. The knitting was incredible -- stuff that could go down any red carpet event. A lot of the stitchery was just fabulous -- layers and layers of stitches, portrait work that was jaw dropping beautiful, a lot of abstract work, and so on. While there was traditional work (some Jacobean crewel and such), there was far more contemporary work. I have some pictures on my blog, but you'll need to scroll down a bit.

At both shows, I like that individuality is encouraged. The City & Guilds courses sure help in that regard as does the general respect for textiles.

The first time I went to the Birmingham show, I was amazed at how many younger people were there - like teenagers and people in their 20s. I wondered if it was a school trip or something. There were also a lot of guys there, which I thought was cool.

I had quilts in two past Birmingham shows, which was fun.

Rayna, I was so glad to see you were teaching there. I bet they all loved you!

Penny Mateer said...

Thanks Rayna. Willy Doreleijers work blew me away!

One of the great things about living in Pittsburgh is the Fiberarts Guild, sponsor and home of Fiberart International. Given that I haven't been able to travel abroad (which is about to change) we bring a taste of the world to us.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Natalya Aikens said...


Wen Redmond said...

Wonderful post- I really enjoy surfing the net and exploring other artists work. Thanks for sending those artists out to us!

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