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Women Who Run With Scissors™ - Art Quilts - Arts Around Boston Magazine, November/December 1999

Hand Made Future - The Arts & Crafts Movement -
Moves Towards the Millennium
- Arts Around Boston Magazine, September/October 1999

Crazy Quilts Make Me Sane
Quilt Magazine - Winter 1997

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Women Who Run With Scissors™ - Art Quilts
Arts Around Boston Magazine

As children we were taught not to run with scissors in our hands. Artists Mary Walter, Ginny Ruhe, Julie Brownlee, Karen Pulaski, Peggy Morris and Mary Clare Ryan belong to a group called "Women Who Run with Scissors" and no one is telling them to stop running. In fact, these six women are marathoners who are recreating the American quilt using some traditional and some not traditional art techniques. Through color, texture, shape and embellishments, pieces of artwork (art quilts) are created by the group that passionately explore and delight our visual longing. Each artist has a unique style yet together they collaborate, share hand dyed fabric and more importantly inspire each other to explore.

The Quilt As Art

Born in the 1950's and pioneered by Jean Ray Laury, the art quilt is just now reaching young maturity. Art quilts began appearing following a change in attitude toward cloth in the 1960's with the emergence of wearable art (embroidered blue jeans and tie dyed T-shirts). Modern quilters have taken the quilt off the bed and out it on the wall to be viewed like a painting. Using established quilt techniques, modern quilters are expanding the subject matter of quilts to reflect the diversity and complexity of our modern world. As in other forms of art, art quilt content and imagery can be serious or funny, wild or specific, colorful or dank, non-emotional or cathartic or be abstract studies in color, light, pattern and texture. Cloth, the basic ingredient for an art quilt offers a dimension not available to the painter. Tactile in nature, cloth evokes a sense of warmth and invitation.

New Options for Old Ideas

The art quilt reaches beyond the boundaries of traditional quiltmaking established primarily by American women during the nineteenth century. Modern quiltmakers draw on their life experiences and their skills as trained artists. They find inspiration in all that which has preceded, impressionism, realism, surrealism art, Baltimore albums, whole cloth crazy, Amish and African quilts, to name just a few. Mary Walter, a member of the aforementioned Women Who Run with Scissors said it so well, "We own all of its (quilting) past and now its future." Quilters' materials are just as finely inspired, African Kente cloth, Japanese Kimono silks, Bali Batiks, metallic threads, metal foils and a burgeoning market of exquisite hand dyed fabrics. Quilts traditionally shaped are now found in a wide variety of compositions. The "Ribbon" a quilt by Joyce Marquess Carey used as the cover art for the sumptuous book called 'The Art Quilt" by Robert Shaw is a trompe l'oeil that literally ripples to the eye while being absolutely flat.

Upgrading an Image

Quilting has a history of being a craft, the practical work of women. Until recently, craft has suffered from a somewhat devalued image as compared to fine art. Today, craft is becoming an important creative market producing unique products. Visit a gift shop at any major museum and you will see the majority of items are hand crafted. Art quilts are experiencing a slow but methodical acceptance into the marketplace. Most art quilters do not make a living selling their quilts. Well known art quilters like Nancy Halpern, Nancy Crow and Michael James also teach quilting. Demand by collectors is small but increasing. Corporations and interior designers are the largest purchasers as they appreciate the intrinsic value of art quilts as both motivating and pleasurable. Fidelity Investments, a large supporter of art installations in their workplaces is hosting a private exhibit in Boston for Women Who Run with Scissors. Massachusett's art quilter, Ruth McDowell's magnificent quilt (140" x 102") called "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" hangs in the stairwell of a prominent Boston law firm. Public access to art quilts can be found at numerous local exhibits, the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell and of course on the Internet. More visibility is in order.

The Women

Women Who Run with Scissors met at member Mary Walter's Marlborough store, A Quilter's Garden. Mary teaches quilt classes and the above mentioned women began to find themselves meeting often and having similar tastes and goals. The group formed and together they are finding new areas of creativity and new ways to get exposure for their art. In the past year they have exhibited in over ten exhibits. Each woman considers herself an artist whose medium is fabric. They are eclectic in personalities and their quilts echo that energy. Julie Brownlee started quilting after being inspired by her grandmother's quilt that was used as a curtain on her dorm window. Mary Clare Ryan hailed from an art background but worked in the computer field. She always sewed for practical reasons and found a creative outlet through art quilts. Karen Pulaski always wanted to paint and work with color. She never had any interest in the traditional. The diversity of fabric was the perfect medium for her. Peggy Morris uses her seamstress background and an intuitive nature to develop her art quilts. She finds the process very therapeutic. Mary Walter has made quilting her business. Her career is an extension of what she calls her "tactile" nature. Ginny Ruhe is perhaps the quilter in the group who is most uninhibited and expressive. She has a deep understanding of what she wishes to convey and approaches her art by saying, "You never know whom you are going to influence." Art Quilts by Women Who Run with Scissors are available through Sitta Fine Art.

Upcoming Events/Resources

"Quilt 21 - American Art Quilts for the New Century" will premier in Lowell, MA in August 2000 and will become an annual show that will travel around the country for two years. For information call Maxine Farkas at Brush Art Gallery at (978)-459-7819

The Art Quilt, Robert Shaw, 1997, Hugh Lauer Levin Associates, Inc.

New England Quilt Museum - 18 Shattuck Street, Lowell, MA
(978) 452-4207 -

World Wide Quilting Page -

Sitta Fine Art - (508) 376-2676

Hand Made Future - The Arts & Crafts Movement -
Moves Towards the Millennium
Arts Around Boston Magazine

In 1896 William Morris died from what his physician declared as, "simply being William Morris and having done more work than most ten men." Morris was a designer and manufacturer of furniture, stained glass, tapestries, wallpaper and chintzes; an accomplished weaver; a pioneering preservationist; an active Socialist and social reformer; a successful poet and novelist; and in his last years, the founder of the Kelmscott Press.

Perhaps though, Morris' greatest contribution was to inspire the Decorative Art Movement. In the late nineteenth century, the art of crafting was near extinction. Cheap factory made goods proliferated. Morris' influence established a demand and appreciation for hand made crafts. Today over a hundred years later, the Decorative Art movement is thriving with collectable artists whose works fill museums, galleries, retail stores and the White House.

New England and particularly Boston have always been in the forefront of the Decorative Art movement. A group of architects, educators, craftspeople and collectors in Boston organized the first crafts exhibition in 1897. The exhibit featured the work of more than 100 craft artists. The success of this first exhibition provoked the organization of The Society of Arts and Crafts, the oldest non-profit craft organization in America. The Society is still in existence and actively supports contemporary crafts through education, exhibits and retail.

The sophistication of crafts as art can be seen in museum collections, galleries and special crafts shows, which all offer viewers an opportunity to observe the creations of talented craftspeople whose work represents the best qualities of the technique, skill and creativity. One the one hand, museums (and some private collections meant for public display) give credibility to the form as art and help to preserve the works for future generations to admire and experience. While on the other hand, galleries and craft shows like Paradise City held twice a year in Northhampton, MA and Crafts at the Castle, held annually in Boston, allow viewers a chance to examine the artworks, perhaps purchase something for their personal collections, and to participate in the dynamics of the art world.

The sophistication of craft as art is also established through the collections by museums. This heightened interest noted by Hilliary Rodman Clinton, established the White House collection of American crafts in 1993. The collection features works by seventy-seven of America's leading craft artists of today. Included in this amazing collection is a glass piece by Massachusetts's artist Josh Simpson called Megaworld, a spherical glass object reminiscent of a childhood marble yet seemingly encompassing the entire universe. His work is literally out of this world: when astronaut Cady Cleman went up in the space shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, she took with her a miniature glass planet created by her husband Josh Simpson.

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) here in Boston has a permanent collection of contemporary craft that boasts local artists, many who were selected directly from Crafts at the Castle and/or have participated at Paradise City.

In 1998, Joanne Russo, a Vermont artist was selected for "The Director's Choice" (chosen at Crafts at the Castle by Malcolm Rogers, MFA Director) and her piece put in the permanent collection at the museum. Joanne also received the 1998 Artists Choice Award, at the Smithsonian Craft Show. Joanne's work is highly labor intensive, black ash baskets that combine traditional skills with classical forms to create contemporary pieces of art.

Alan Goldfarb's, MFA piece is entitled "That's a Spicy Meatball." A Vermont artist, Alan combines milestone designs from the glass history of the ancient world with elements of contemporary popular culture to create objects that reveal a humorous and ironic tension between the past and present.

Hiroshi Nakayama, a self taught potter from Massachusetts, creates primarily non-traditional work. Born in Japan, he began to study pottery in Argentina in 1976. He creates wheel-thrown pieces and fires them with a glaze he has developed over fifteen years, giving his pieces a soft, warm, polished-stone appearance. The "Ceremonial Vessel" acquired by the MFA (1997) is representative of his work: high-fire stoneware assembled from wheel thrown and slab-built pieces with a multi-layer of wood ash glaze.

Judy Motzkin is a potter and clay artist who produces beautiful Asian inspired forms, with classic shapes and sensuous surfaces. Motzkin uses smoke and flame to paint the final coat. Motzkin’s studio is a showroom, not only of ceramics, but also of her paintings, prints and collages. A resident of Cambridge, Motzkin continues to strive for the recognition of craft artists. Recognition of her work is growing: a large vessel of hers is in the collection of Contemporary Craft at the MFA.

Public interest in crafts is on the rise. The Paradise City Arts Festival, now in its fifth year and already considered one of the countries premiere venues attracts over 25,000 visitors to its annual shows. According to co-founder Linda Post, herself an exhibiting painter, "the philosophy of this show is to promote artists and create a market for the work among new and returning collectors." Ongoing craft demonstrations help to familiarize the consumer with the skills and demands of the craft process and create new audiences with awakened appreciation. In addition, music, fine food, and fall foliage enhance the experience. This year's October show includes 220 artisans juried from over 1200 applicants from 44 states and countries, artists like Josh Simpson of Shelburne Falls. Other Massachusetts artists represented at Paradise City, include Elaine Alt of Marblehead, whose ceramic teapot could have originated in Alice's Wonderland, and Joel Liebman of Easthampton, whose wood and leather chairs blend color and design to create clean, distinctive lines with high interest impact.

Established by Family Service of Greater Boston and one of the few shows in the country that supports a non-profit organization, likewise applicants from across the country each year. According to Gretchen Keyworth, "In the 5 years since I have been Show Director of Crafts at the Castle, it has been so exciting to see the show achieve a national reputation... and to be considered one of the top shows in the country. This has really allowed us to present work that is the best of the best."

It is the high quality of juried shows like the two mentioned here, along with a growing number of galleries dedicated to offering fine crafts year-round, that have simultaneously responded to and helped to fuel the current enthusiasm for crafts.

Fine crafts are a unique art form.  They have the power to link us with our past, while transforming the present. They bring three-dimensionality to art; blend textures of wood, fiber, metals, glass; stretch our perception of "ordinary" forms or function; decorate our homes or our bodies and enrich our lives with a connectedness that is different but as equally important as other art forms.

Paradise City Arts Festival - Columbus Day Weekend, October 9, 10, 11 - TriCountry Fairgrounds, Northhampton, MA 413-586-6324 or visit

Crafts at the Castle takes place December 1-5 at the Castle in Park Square. Information about the event can be found at or by calling (617) 523-6400 ext. 5508.

White House Collection of Crafts visit

Society of Arts and Crafts visit or call (617) 266-1810. 

Museum of Fine Arts Crafts Collection visit or call (617) 267-9300.

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Crazy Quilts Make Me Sane

Crazy quilts are my link to sanity. Each crazy quilt that I piece together becomes a symphony for me, yet others stare and think cacophony. I don’t mind. I have finally created the form and function that works for me. I am a busy mom (three kids), business owner (home based marketing services company), artist (writer and quilter) and community activist (publicist for local arts association). Each day is an exhilarating race to see just how many tasks can be accomplished. I never finish and the next day is a frantic carbon copy of the previous day. Everyone tells me to slow down, but I know I won’t. Sanity comes in stolen, quilted moments. I am not alone. Most of the people that I meet, whether in business or socially, are experiencing the same circumstances. Modern life has us caught in a busy whirlwind that is next to impossible to stop. Sanity is precious.

I can sit at my sewing machine or I can sit in my favorite chair and hand quilt, quietly, meticulously, for hours. Quilting is my art, my stressbuster. The mad world goes away and I am at peace with myself and the world. I became a quilter quite by association. Twenty years ago, I began sewing clothes for myself and my children. I started sewing out of necessity. Money was tight and I saw a way to economize. My sewing adventure quickly turned into a passion. The real passion though, wasn’t about sewing but about fabric. Fabric excites me and turns on my creative psyche. I will never have enough fabric. Each trip to the fabric store, each catalog that comes in the mail, each fabric/quilt web site I locate, entices me unmercifully to add to my stash. And it is the stash that has led me to quilting.

As the fabric stash grew, I periodically would survey the overflowing boxes, shelves, shopping bags and closets with disheartening guilt. It became obvious to me that I was never going to get around to making that dress, skirt or blouse. Then I would chastise myself and make foolish promises not to buy any more fabric until I used up what I had. But like a New Year’s resolution that we almost always forget within a month’s time, I would find myself at the fabric store buying yet another yard of fabric that caught my eye. About five years ago, my aunt Theresa sent me a pile of quilt books that changed everything.

One day, as I was reading through the quilt books, I started to see my fabric stash in a whole new dimension. Suddenly, quilt designs were filling my brain and making my fingers itch. I bought more books (and of course more fabric) and I began making quilts. It has been a fascinating journey and one that has had many triumphs and many disappointments. At first, my quilting leaned toward traditional designs. I bought templates, patterns and I studied all the intricate possibilities. Each time I worked on a traditional quilt, I would become bored, put it aside and go back to sewing clothes. The quilts would nag at me from all corners of my sewing room to finish them but instead I would usually start yet another one. I was frustrated and had almost convinced myself to give up quilting and — perish the thought — give away my stash or worse yet, throw it away.

Somewhere between frustration and a stroke of genius, crazy quilting surfaced as the consummate solution to my creative need and the corralling of the fabric stash. Today, I spend my time reveling in each and every piece of fabric. Each piece is always the right amount, the right color, the right texture. The quilts virtually put themselves together and I am proud to give them as gifts or to display them in my home. I haven’t stopped buying fabric but I have learned to value my time piecing and hand quilting. Crazy quilts make me sane.

Not published but interesting...

"Idle Time is Advantageously Occupied"

Crazy quilts came into vogue during the last two decades of the 19th century. They were a departure from traditional geometric design and some believe a rebellious response to the rigid social standards of the time. Yet, history reflects that crazy quilts were borne out of the Decorative Arts Movement, started in England. The movement was inspired by the writing and works of William Morris and John Ruskin. William Morris believed that commercialism had subverted the work of the individual craftsman. The Decorative Arts Movement was formally introduced to America during the Centennial Exposition in 1876 by the Royal School of Art Needlework. This movement united domesticity, morality and art. Cassell’s Household Guide (1869-1872) published in London said the following about patchwork: "The advantages of making patchwork, besides the useful purpose it is put - and indeed, to be reckoned before those purposes - are its moral effects. Leisure must either be filled up by expensive amusements, ‘mischief’, or by listless idleness, unless some harmless useful occupation can be substituted. Patchwork is, moreover, useful as an encourager of perfection in plain work, because it must be neatly sewn with white sewing silk…patchwork often plays a noble part…and idle time is advantageously occupied."