The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Quilt Scout Tour: San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
Interview with Director Nancy Bavor
Beauty on view at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. Image: Wikipedia.Last month, I thought it would be fun to take you dear Quilt Scout readers on a virtual tour of some of our nation’s incredible quilt museums and talk to the folks who make these heavenly places possible. We visited the Iowa Quilt Museum and spoke to the Museum’s director Megan Barrett about the excitement of starting a new quilt museum in a small town.
Well, the tour bus has driven many hours to drop us off at our latest stop: The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in sunny California. Ready to stretch your legs? Ready to bask in quilt perfection? Then bring your fanny packs and your notepads—I’ve got mine—as we visit with the Museum’s former Curator of Collections and Exhibits Coordinator and current director, Nancy Bavor, a quilter, scholar, and all-around amazing lady.
Quilt Scout: Hi, Nancy! Before we “go into the Museum,” tell me a little about your rather impressive credentials.
Bavor: Sure. I hold a bachelor's degree in Art History from Northwestern University and a masters from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the History of Textiles with a Quilt Studies emphasis.
QS: My inner academic has to know: What was your thesis about?
Bavor: My thesis explored the origins and development of the art quilt in California.”
QS: That’s perfect for where you are now! I also happen to know you have served on the boards of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) and the Quilt Alliance. But let’s talk about the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. What do people see when they come into the Museum?
Bavor: As you enter, you will see a small alcove with a work by our current Artist
in Residence. This recently included a mutton-sleeved long dress in muslin, covered
with embroidery hoops, where visitors could embroider images of endangered plants
The hallway leading to our four galleries recently held some powerful group and individual quilts from the Social Justice Sewing Academy. The gallery off the hallway on the left,
named after long time Museum supporter, former Board member and artist Yvonne Porcella, frequently contains local artists. A recent exhibition of works by Thomas Knauer just closed. Knauer is not a California artist, but his work complemented the other exhibitions we had planned.
QS: How many galleries are in the museum?
Bavor: If you continue straight from the hallway, you will enter three large galleries. Sometimes one exhibit will fill all three galleries; sometimes we’ll have two separate
QS: About those shows: One of the things that strikes me is the Museum's specific focus on the Bay Area and the artwork coming out of the area and California at large. Other quilt museums don’t really do that, do they? Could you just talk about the Museum's position and why it's important?
Bavor: The Bay Area is rich with talent and we like to promote and support Bay Area
artists. This has been a particular focus of ours over the past year. It’s expensive to live
in Silicon Valley; without artists, it would be a much less interesting place to live. We
recently launched an artist in residence program offering a studio space, free materials,
and a stipend.
QS: That’s really, really great. It seems a lot of museums are really involving the local community, but it’s usually the patrons they focus on most. I love that you’re supporting the people who make the art, not just support it.
Bavor: Exactly. We have an artist benefit level where for $20, we add the artist’s URL to our website and they can enter our biennial members-only exhibition for free. We also promote artists and makers through our store, selling their work and sharing the profits.
QS: Of course, you’re not exclusively exhibiting California folks.
Bavor: Right. While Bay Area artists play a significant role in the exhibit program, we also exhibit national and international quiltmakers and artists. The Museum’s exhibitions, representing both world textiles and contemporary art works, appeal to the diversity of San Jose residents, as well as the broader Bay Area community. We exhibit historic and contemporary quilts, textiles from world cultures, costumes, and contemporary fiber art. We also have a permanent collection of about 1,500 objects; about half are quilts.
QS: Speaking of art and quilts, you’re going to kill me, but I have to do it to you, Nancy: Are quilts art?
Bavor: Since we exhibit all sorts of fiber and textile art, we just usually ask ourselves, “Is it art?” And with California being one of the epicenters of the emergence and development of the art quilt, our visitors are pretty sure that quilts are art—historic and contemporary. Although we are about “quilts and textiles,” I like to think of us as an art museum, with the medium we exhibit being quilts and textiles, or something that references them.
QS: Could you give me an example?
Bavor: “We currently have an exhibition called The Art of Labor in collaboration with the Surface Design Association. One of the works is made of differently colored metal screws, but they are arranged so that they create a detail of the Burberry plaid pattern. Are the nails fiber? No, but the artwork certainly references textiles!
Congratulations San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles on your 40th anniversary! Image courtesy SJMQT/Facebook.QS: To me, this makes perfect sense. It’s all connected. I heard about a rather amazing gift that was bestowed on the Museum for the 40th anniversary recently!
Bavor: A generous gift of 87 art quilts was donated by Marvin Fletcher and his late wife, Hilary. Known internationally as the Marbaum Collection, the donation enhances the Museum’s permanent collection to an extraordinary degree. Some of the artists represented include Michael James, Sue Benner, Miriam Nathan-Roberts, Yvonne Porcella, and Laura Wasilowski.
QS: I want to go back to something we touched on about your Museum engaging the community of San Jose and the Bay. Can you tell me about what’s going on right now in that regard?
Bavor: Absolutely. We have adopted some new initiatives in the past year to engage the community in several ways, both inside our walls and outside.
We host three to four free community open houses a year with art-making activities for all ages. We have been doing this for about a year and they have been very popular. Our admission fees can be a barrier for some and this makes our Museum accessible to all on these days and free “First Fridays.”
We also actively seek community partnerships with other nonprofits. We recently partnered with History San Jose who lent wedding dresses from San Jose residents that were included in an exhibit on wedding dress from many world cultures. The dresses dated from 1840-1870. We recently exhibited costumes from the Cambodian Dance Troupe of San Jose, and they performed in our galleries. In 2019, we will collaborate with Opera San Jose for a costume exhibit and performance.
QS: I am suddenly compelled to move to San Jose and live next door to your Museum. That’s amazing programming. Can I be part of your community?
Bavor: “Community” is a word that relates to the ‘outside our walls’ outreach, actually. We feel that SJMQT, as an art museum, has an opportunity and obligation to make a positive impact in the larger community. We are looking for ways to do this with some of our exhibitions, like the recent Guns: Loaded Conversations, which was a collaboration with SAQA. We’re partnering with San Jose Police Department, the Police Foundation, and the Mayor’s office to support a citywide gun buy-back.
QS: Woah. Seriously?
Bavor: Yes, we are reaching out to the quiltmaking community, asking for donations of new quilts and have committed to raising $20,000 for the buy-back. Each person bringing in a gun to the buy-back in December of this year will get cash and a quilt. There are people in our community who have guns they don’t want—and don’t want them returned to the general population. We look at a gun buy back as a service to the community.
Director Nancy Bavor delivers a lecture at this year’s QuiltCon. (The crowd went wild!) Image courtesy SJMQT/Facebook.QS: It’s remarkable, but the issue is so divisive…have you found this to be a controversial initiative?
Bavor: The Museum does not take a stand on the issue. Quiltmakers and artists have always used their art to express their opinions, social and political, and today’s artists are no exception. Our goal was to provide a place for discussion, civil discourse, and hopefully understanding of other points of view. This exhibit gave us an opportunity to also help educate our visitors about the various points of view in this country—through education comes understanding.
With education and discussion, we’re hoping to make it easier to come to common ground. We had a mini “gun summit” where community members came together for meaningful discussions and attended lectures and could get apps and take-away cards with a list of responsible websites that promote gun safety, responsible gun ownership, as well as those favoring both more and less-restrictive gun rights, and a range of points of view. Plus, info about how to get involved politically, write your congress representative—get active beyond the time of the exhibit.
QS: We’re almost done, but I have to ask you kind of a broad question: Why is
it important to have museums just for quilts? There aren't many "just ceramics" museums or "just sculpture" museums, after all. Why do we need museums
Bavor: I am of two minds on this, Mary. Quilts, underrepresented in general art museums, historically represent women’s work often underappreciated or disregarded. Quilts still need powerful advocacy. I hope the day will come when we don’t need museums “just for quilts” or “art quilts” but that they will be incorporated into the mainstream, and not called “art quilts.” Just art.
QS: Okay, last question for my “tour group:” What's a show coming up in the fall or in 2019 that everyone should come see?
Bavor: Part of our new strategy is to partner with international organizations like Studio Art Quilt Associates, Surface Design Association, and for the exhibit in the fall, with Fiber Art Now magazine. These partnerships give us access to a wide range of artists and creative visions. We will have an exhibition Excellence in Fibers that contains a variety of fiber art—yes, some quilts. You can see the exhibition in the winter 2017 edition of Fiber Art Now.
The second stop on the Quilt Scout Summer Tour! Image: SJMQT.
For more on the Museum, visit www.sjquiltmuseum.org/