Filling the Well

Filling the Well

A modern quilt
Sylvia Schaefer and “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Artichokes”

I have just returned from the AQS Chattanooga Quilt Show, only 3 hours away and an overnight stay. I went with a friend, Sylvia Schaefer, who had a quilt in competition. We spent hours (and hours!) at the show. Visited the Tennessee Aquarium. Listened to the pretty wonderful local band entertaining on the square. Ate dinner at a very cute little restaurant beside the city park. Strolled across the Tennessee River on the restored pedestrian bridge. Had some truly inventive ice cream. Watched other people with their dogs, their partners, their babies. Took the electric trolley around town. All in all, a good time.

This year has seen a bit of a turnaround in my thinking about taking these little trips. I’ve been telling myself I have too much to do, I can’t afford it … when in actuality, I can’t afford NOT to go. There is so much inspiration in seeing actual art, not flat art in photos or online. My subsequent work takes off in new and sometimes unexpected directions. My energy levels are replenished. Friendships are made, or strengthened. It’s great to see what products are available. And it never, ever fails that I meet someone who inspires me in an unexpected way.

This year it was Sandi Suggs, the featured quilt artist at the show. I was just walking through, taking a deeper, final look at her quilt chronology, literally minutes before the closing of the show. All by myself, not even really conscious of what, if anything, I was thinking. And then, there she was. She introduced herself and we had a rather deep and surprisingly intimate conversation. Perhaps it was her charming way of being so unassuming. Perhaps I was caught so offguard that my usual defences were not in place.

Finding My Voice: Quilts by Sandi Suggs
Finding My Voice: Quilts by Sandi Suggs

Quilt shows can be tricky places. It’s so easy to get caught up in criticism, what quilters call acting as the “quilt police”. So hanging all of your quilts, from the first to the most recent, probably feels a little like standing in your underwear on stage. (I’ve never been brave enough to do this.) Everyone started somewhere, and I remember reading an article in a quilt magazine where very famous quilt artists shared photos of their first quilts, with the object being to match the quilt to the artist. Some, it was easy. Most, not so much. But the other side of that is that if the only quilts hanging in a show took someone 2 years to make from start to finish, with no indication of beginnings or experiments or trials, many MANY people would be so intimidated they’d never consider trying one. And so, I find that more and more I am drawn to the experiments, the ideas, sometimes the execution of which is less than perfect or spectacular. They give me a bit of an inside view, a window into their thinking and method. They give me the itch to try some things myself! And Sandi’s journey was interesting, and winding, covering many different styles, patterns, and fabrics, and it was so nice to see the progress, both in her choice of styles that seemed to suit her better, and the progression of the skill set necessary to get to the next levels. I suspect many of us are on this path ourselves.

So thank you, Ms. Suggs, for sharing. For smilingly opening up a window into your process, your work, and your heart. I hope your courage is contagious!


7 thoughts on “Filling the Well”

  1. That’s a really good point, Candace, that it’s certainly not discipline-dependant! Thank you so much for reading!

  2. This was a real treat to read. I think most artists (in any field) tend to hold back at times and need to make those trips and/or connections to get their motor running a little steadier or louder or whathaveyou.
    Glad you had a good time!

  3. Ah … be careful, Angela, it’s a little addictive. I got hooked at a quilt show! You already have good skills, especially in the design department, I can’t wait to see what you make next!

  4. Thank you, Mary Beth for such kind and affirming words about my exhibit at AQS Chattanooga. I certainly agree with you that at times, I did feel like “I was standing onstage in my underwear” during this exhibit. However, I think most of the people, at least those I had a conversation with, understood the journey and the message.

  5. Mary Beth,

    I went to Chattanooga, thirsty to learn new (basic) skills and filled every waking moment with a different class,workshop and lecture. Perhaps I tried to do too much in just 4 short days, but the exhaustion was exhilarating. My last full day in workshop was with Sandi Suggs, an amazingly giving person and teacher. I would follow her to wherever she teaches. But the icing on the cake for me was a quiet, solo tour with her of her exhibited work. The place had emptied out and it was just she and I. She said she started about 40 years ago – and she’s achieved a beautiful body of work and graciously shares her gift. I don’t have 40 years to learn that much, but I’m encouraged to follow what I enjoy doing and learn from the “quilt police” what I really think matters and the rest …well, phooey! Love your blog!

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