"Layers of Memory"   Juror's Essay

Most people take memory for granted, that is, until they forget something. While we tend to remember more than we forget, memory is one of the strongest cognitive processes experienced by humans. Thus the underlying complexity of memory cannot be overlooked and it is no wonder that the breadth of expression evidenced in the quilts submitted for this exhibition was far ranging and tremendously varied.

The act of jurying an exhibition on-line presents many issues. No doubt at this point in time it is the best and inevitably most practical way to make selections from such a geographically wide ranging group of artists. However it is not lost on me that this exhibition, titled “Layers of Memory,” necessitated my using the medium of digital memory to make the selections for inclusion. The images I was presented with were stationary and the detail images were pre-selected by the artist. Often I would have preferred to view a different detail or to see a much more enlarged view. While overall the quality of the photographs was high, some quilts were not included for display because a true sense of its physical presence did not come through in the submitted images.

A central question to me as I view quilts or other fiber works is always, “Why express this in fiber?” Why not express this thought or feeling or mood in paint or another medium? It is my belief that a successful quilt ought to always appear as if it necessitates construction in fiber.

Therefore in selecting quilts for the exhibition I was looking for quilts that fulfill this criterion as well as that of addressing the stated thematic emphasis of the show, memory. In addition, I was looking for pieces that are conceptually sophisticated, technically masterful and visually fresh.

Many of the artists look inward for inspiration, while others comment on the world around them. Still others, regardless of their inspiration point, possess the ability to produce a visceral reaction in the viewer by the pure strength of their physicality. Even as I viewed them on a computer screen, these works produced an almost overwhelming instinctual desire in me to touch them in order to physically experience them. Not an easy task to accomplish on a computer screen, now I long to see them in person!

In an internally inspired work, the moment of creation is recalled as a childhood memory in the engrossing work of Joan Sowada. Carolyn Sullivan persuasively recalls playing among the gum trees in her plant-dyed fabrics. The circles in a childhood feed sack dress provided inspiration for the magnificent color play of Mary Ruth Smith. The much-loved fragment of a quilt made by her grandmother provides the backbone for Patricia Caffery’s quilt, literally held together by the repetition of the stitched word, “love.”

Holly Adkins-Ardrey’s captivating quilt creates a mood which speaks to a rich inner world full of personal symbols of harmony and peace.

Fear of memory slipping away is poignantly expressed in Diane Bird’s work, with a doll used as a distancing device from a fear that can become overwhelming. Familiarity with the results of Alzheimer’s disease is affectingly presented in the compassionate work of Teresa Shippy and Mickie McCormic’s delicately rendered portrait of her mother.

The outward world is expressed in powerful images such as the dreamy violinist by Jennifer Day, the homeless couple sharing a recollection by Mary Pal and Deborah Langsam’s multilayered history of an entire city in the mind’s eye of its namesake.

In a tour de force of conceptual wit, Kathleen Kastles captures an all too familiar sight, an airport lounger lost in the limitless layers of virtual memory on his smart phone.

Nature’s genetic memory to reproduce is referenced and stunningly captured by Valentina Maximova in her secretive and storied flower that blooms but once a year.

Certain works (even viewed by the juror in digital imagery) produce a visceral kick of recognition in the viewer by the pure strength of their physicality.

Meredith Grimsley’s work describes the seemingly indelible imprints her son's ears made on her body while she held and nursed him as a baby. The sisters in Lora Rocke’s quilt share a physical closeness that is masterfully underscored by their puffy quilted robes. One moment in memory that changes an entire life is blindingly articulated in “Shattered” by Betty Busby.

The beautifully integrated vintage linens in Susan Lenz’s quilt arouse a tactile memory of the long gone hands that made them. Genevieve Attinger evocation of bygone work in progress exhibits a compelling complexity of depth and visual strength.

Gerrie Congdon’s layered quilt mines for gold in the strata of memories. By exquisitely re-combining scraps from quilt projects past, Joyce Seagram strikingly celebrates the love we all feel as artists for our own chosen mode of expression.

I believe that each quilt displayed in the “Layers of Memory” exhibition possesses a distinct individuality in style and execution, maturity of expression and each eloquently plumbs the depths of the universal theme of memory.

It has been both a pleasure and an honor to serve as juror for the exhibition.


Kathryn Harris

July 2011