If your vacation includes a road trip, here’s a great destination for quilters: The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, the site of the Quilt National 2017.
On display now through Sept. 4, Quilt National is one of the most renowned art quilt exhibitions in the United States. It includes pieces by 85 quilt artists whose work was selected from submissions by more than 700 artists from all over the world: the exhibiting artists represent 28 states and 10 countries.
“We had a jump in admissions this year and were pleased to see that more than a third of the included artists applied this year for the first time, including the winner of Best in Show,” says Jane Forrest Redfern, executive director of the Dairy Barn Arts Center. “We’re seeing a trend of younger people wanting to make things and [the new entrants] demonstrate that there are people who are just learning, and also a whole new generation who may come from other media or who come to art quilting from traditional quilting.”
(If you think you’re not an art quilt fan, it might interest you to know that Moda CEO Mark Dunn treasures them along with traditional quilts—his collection lines the walls of Moda headquarters.)
A barn might seem like an unlikely spot for an art exhibition. Redfern notes that it was once a place where Athens Asylum inmates did chores as part of their therapy and supplied the asylum with milk, cheese, and beef. When the asylum closed the state intended to raze the structures, but just days before the slated demolition in 1978 a group of local artists convinced the state to save one of the barns. The agreement with the state stipulated that an exhibit must be held during the first year and the result was the very first Quilt National in 1979, organized by Nancy Crow, Francoise Barnes, and Virginia Randles. They felt that traditional quilt show jurors didn’t always understand their work and they wanted to create an exhibit where it would be appreciated. The show has taken place every two years ever since, and in a full circle moment, Nancy Crow was one of the three jurors for this year’s 20th biennial exhibition.
One of the 85 artists whose work was selected to hang in the 2017 exhibition is Astrid Hilger Bennett. This is the third time Astrid’s had one of her pieces included in Quilt National. “It is probably the premiere art quilt show in the country and most of us who do this aspire to be in it,” she says. “It’s a show that appreciates and understands art quilts.”
Though she’s had success three times, she’s also entered and not been accepted. “It’s exciting to find out you get in and sad when you don’t,” she says. “It’s so competitive that to get in is a real plus.” Astrid notes that there are strict guidelines for entering the exhibition and that successful entrants must be ready to part with their pieces for a couple of years, as the exhibition travels to museums and other venues. In a first for Quilt National, the 2017 exhibition will also travel to the European Patchwork meeting in France.
Astrid says that in addition to seeing her work hung alongside other talented artists, she appreciates Quilt National’s support of the artists during the opening weekend. “Nearly three-quarters of the artists attend and it’s an opportunity to network and to meet people in person that I’ve previously only interacted with online,” she says.
Asked for advice about what makes a submission successful, she tells a story of learning at the last minute that the piece she planned to submit didn’t meet the show’s guidelines and instead submitting a photo of piece that was still under construction. “The binding wasn’t done so I pinned it together and sent it in and it was accepted,” she says with a laugh. “It was so serendipitous, you just never know. You just have to keep trying. That’s my mantra.”
If you’re not able to travel to Athens, the Dairy Barn Art Center’s website offers a variety of options for viewing the artwork shown there. The 2017 prizewinners can be found here, and one of my favorite sections is the listing of Quilt National award winners from all the shows. It’s a fascinating stroll through art quilting history. Check it out yourself, and if Athens is on your route, stop by!
Have you been to the Dairy Barn Arts Center and Quilt National? Tell us about it!