Opinion: A Collector’s View

by John M. Walsh, III, SAQA member, Art Quilt Collector

Recently, I have been asked to talk to a number of groups about art quilts and being a collector. Although talking about quilts is something I enjoy, when we get to the Question & Answer period, one particular question always causes me to stumble: “How do you go about selecting a quilt for the collection?” It puts me in the state of mind of the centipede in the poem –

The centipede was happy quite
Until an ant in fun
Said, “Pray tell, which leg comes after which?”
This raised its mind to such a pitch
It lay distracted in a ditch
Wondering how to run.
- Traditional

I frequently respond with general principles – artistic composition, an artist’s technical skills (do they match the nature of the work?), etc. This normally satisfies the audience (or at least enables me to move on to the next question) but it never satisfies me. The problem seems to be trying to use the left half of my brain to describe an activity in which the right half of the brain is the driving force.

I am not suggesting that the left side of the brain plays no part in such endeavors. A body of knowledge is very helpful in making informed decisions. However, in judgments involving the arts, it is probably better to let the right brain take the lead. The most important factor for me when selecting a quilt is the flow of energy from the work to me. Here are some of the ways in which I have experienced that energy.

Visual Impact: A number of years before I ever thought of collecting quilts, I was walking past the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Manhattan. I glanced in the window and there on the back wall was a Joan Lintault quilt depicting autumn leaves. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I made an abrupt right face and walked to the back of the gallery where I stood for the longest time admiring it. To this day that visual image stands out in my mind. I remember thinking, “I wish I were an art collector so I could enjoy a work like that every day.”

Impetus for Involvement: In the late 1980s I saw a program with Michael James on the BBC. The moment I saw his quilts I thought, “I have to somehow become involved in this world of art quilts.” And I did.

Surprise: When I first saw images of Therese Agnew’s quilts I thought she must be painting on cloth. When I saw the actual quilts, I was amazed that the images were completely constructed of fiber.

Emotional Impact: Recently Rachel Brumer completed “Describing Rain,” a large quilt on commission. Soon after it arrived, I was surprised by how peaceful I felt in its presence. I have noted the same reaction in visitors. An acquaintance who was a professional kick boxer gazed at it for quite a while and commented on its calming effect.

Capturing the Essence: Waterfalls have been a part of my life almost since I was old enough to walk. I have climbed them and played in them in all seasons, whether dried up or flowing so fast that standing up is difficult. The sights and sounds of waterfalls are deeply entrenched in my emotional storeroom. When I first saw Joy Saville’s “Canyon Falls,” my immediate reaction was, “She knows waterfalls. She captured the essence.”

My right brain is largely responsible for how I experience a quilt and the “energy” which comes from the quilt, which I feel is key to my attraction to it. Much more could be said about the communication that occurs from artist to collector through the medium of the quilt, and of the selection process. It would be interesting to learn of the experiences of others.

NOTE: Opinion Pieces are the opinions of the individual authors and are not necessarily the opinions of the SAQA Board Members, President, or Executive Director. The Newsletter Editor encourages the membership to express their ideas through the Opinion Forum.