Art Quilts Celebrate Women’s History Month

By Shannon Houston

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In honor of Women’s History Month in March, Southern Oregon University will be hosting the Notable Women Quilt Initiative from March 2-20. An exhibit of over 25 art quilts will be displayed, each featuring a different notable woman from history, in the Thorndike Gallery in the Art Building on campus.

Communication Studies professor Alena Ruggerio first discovered the world of art quilting when she visited the Medford Public Library and saw the Ashland-based Rogue Art Quilters’ previous exhibit titled A River Runs Through It on display in one of the hallways.

“I just stood there weeping because it was so beautiful,” said Ruggerio.

An art quilt still contains a back, middle batting and a front like all quilts, but will contain much more elaborate decoration and would never be seen gracing the top of a bed. Enthralled by the idea of art quilting, Ruggerio attempted both buying and creating art quilts herself before realizing she would have to get involved with the craft in a different way.

“I thought, ‘I can’t make them and I can’t buy them,’” said Ruggerio said. “‘How will I get closer to this world?’”

When Ruggerio heard that the Rogue Art Quilters were looking for places to display their new exhibit, she jumped at the chance to coordinate with the university.

Janis Stoker, moderator of the Rogue Art Quilters, decided that celebrating women was a natural step when choosing a theme for their next exhibit.

“Let’s tie together the importance of quilts with the theme of notable women,” said Stoker.

Some of the women featured include Florence Nightingale, Betty White, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jane Austen, Queen Nefertiti, Marie Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Each quilt submitted follows a set of guidelines including fitting into a 2 foot by 2 foot panel and featuring a notable woman, be it in abstract representation or by with a portrait. Submissions are coming from all over the country as well as internationally, including quilts from Mexico and England. There are currently around 28 quilts submitted for the exhibit, though Stoker will be collecting quilts up until the last minute.

The work put into these quilts can take anywhere between forty and eighty hours, according to Stoker. Some of the fabric is hand-dyed by the artists themselves before embellishments are added. Many of the quilts have 3-D elements including tulle, beads, yarn and other trappings.

Some of the women featured, despite doing notable things in history, are not very well-known to the general public. Each quilt will be accompanied by a short writing that both explains the artist’s work as well as the woman who inspired it.

“In the midst of an incredibly stressful time on campus…working on this project has brought me so much joy,” said Ruggerio.

“If nothing else it will be a learning experience,” said Stoker. Both she and Ruggerio hope this will bring attention not only to Women’s History Month, but to the concept of art quilting.

The quilts will be shown in downtown Ashland in April before moving on to Washington and continuing on a tour around the country. A typical tour for an art quilt exhibit will take between a year to a year and a half.

SOU will be the first stop on this tour, and there will be an opening reception to launch this exhibit on March 6 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Art Building. There is no admission charge.

The exhibit is sponsored by the SOU Queer Resource Center, Courage Papers, and the SOU Gender, Sexuaility and Women’s Studies program.

To preview some of the quilts that will be at the exhibit and follow the progress of the Notable Women Quilt Initiative as it travels across the country, visit http://notablewomenquiltinitiative.wordpress.com.

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