by Suzanne Labry
The overwhelming majority of human beings are trichromats, meaning we have three color-detecting cones (blue, green, and red) in our retinas.
Using those cones, the average person can distinguish about one million different hues. Scientists believe that 2% of the human female population are tetrachromats, which
means that these women potentially can see a fourth distinct color, somewhere in the orange range.
The genes for the pigments in green and red cones lie in the X chromosome, which makes tetrachromacy possible in only women, given that they have two X chromosomes. This creates the opportunity for one type of red cone to be activated on one X chromosome, and the other red cone activated on the other. In a few cases, women may have two distinct green cones on either X chromosome. That extra cone could mathematically increase their color range exponentially to 100 million different colors.
When looking at the gradations of color that Karla Overland designs for the line of hand-dyed quilting fabrics sold through her Brainerd, Minnesota-based Cherrywood Hand-
Dyed Fabrics, one wonders whether Karla’s retinas may have that extra color-detecting cone. Even if that’s not the case, her color sense is nevertheless extraordinary, and it
allows her to create beautiful palettes of tone-on-tone color in 8-step gradation bundles
of hand-dyed muslin.
The company dyes 25,000 yards of fabric and goes through 8 tons of salt every year, producing up to 800 yards of dyed fabric in one week. Karla maintains over 300 unique formulas using Procion fiber reactive dyes.
A graphic designer by training, Karla brings a strong visual sensibility to her work, and she is often inspired by the design elements she sees in logos. Such was the case when, while attending the Quilters Take Manhattan event in New York City in 2014, she went to see a Broadway production of the musical, Wicked. She fell in love with the show’s logo, which features the color lime green, Karla’s favorite.
The Lion King Marketing Department requested 20 of the quilts to display in the Minskoff Theater lobby overlooking Times Square in New York for the 20th anniversary celebration of The Lion King. Here, Karla poses with the character Mufasa from the musical. Photo courtesy of Karla Overland.
She had been thinking about different ways to market her fabrics, and when she saw the Wicked logo, she was inspired.
“The dramatic color, strong theme, and iconic global story really appealed to me. I thought that a quilting challenge inspired by the musical using the lime green and black color scheme would be a fun way to involve quilters,” she explains. She created rules: each original quilt had to be the same size (20” square), adhere to the Wicked theme, and use
the special packet Karla designed of lime green and black fabrics purchased from Cherrywood for the challenge.
Accent fabrics also had to be from the Cherrywood line. Beyond that, quilters could let
their imaginations run free. Hoping to receive 25 entries, Karla was thrilled when quilters responded with 114 quilts. The artistry of the entries inspired a traveling exhibit that went to numerous quilt shows around the United States and Cherrywood published a photo book to accompany the exhibit. The stage manager of the Wicked musical loved the quilts so much that 28 of them were displayed in the lobby of The Gershwin Theater on Broadway in New York City for two months.
Such a runaway success demanded a sequel, and in 2016, Karla announced Cherrywood’s second challenge based on the Disney musical, The Lion King. The basic rules were the same, only this time the prescribed color packet was made up of gold and black. A panel of three judges selected 138 finalists out of 304 entries, and 120 were ultimately selected for an 18-month long traveling exhibit and book.
The exhibit went to 24 different venues. Getting permission from Disney to do the challenge is a tribute to Karla’s ability to share her vision. Ultimately, the Lion King Marketing Department was so enthralled with the whole thing that they requested 20 of the quilts to display in the Minskoff Theater lobby overlooking Times Square in New York for the 20th anniversary celebration of The Lion King.
Karla’s attorney suggested that to avoid any copyright issues, she should pick her next challenge for 2017 from something in the public domain. She chose the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh and his storied blue palette as her inspiration. The response was worldwide
and overwhelming. From 465 entries, two traveling exhibits were created with the help
of Bohin France.
The challenge for 2017 featured the blue palette of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. The French Gallery exhibit was part of the Houston International Quilt Festival in 2017. Photo courtesy of Karla Overland.
“This allows more flexibility in scheduling, as well the opportunity to show off more of the fantastic submissions to the contest. To keep things straight, the larger exhibit is called The French Gallery and the smaller one is called The Dutch Gallery symbolizing the two equally important parts of Vincent van Gogh's life,” she says. “Because of the wonderful opportunity to send ‘The French Gallery’ to Bohin France for a few months in 2018, The Dutch Exhibit will cover the shows in the United States that would have been missed otherwise.”
Next up for 2018 is the Prince Challenge, inspired by the iconic musician from Karla’s home state of Minnesota (the Cherrywood studio is only 200 miles from Paisley Park, Prince’s home and recording studio). The prescribed color combination is, of course, purple and black. The color purple is so associated with Prince that the Pantone Company partnered with his estate to create a custom purple for its Color of the Year in 2017. On the Cherrywood website, quilters are challenged to “take inspiration from Prince’s music, style, movies, and distinct look” to create their entries.
While we may never know how many color-detecting cones Karla Overton’s retinas possess, one thing is certain: she has given the rest of us the ability to see fabric rainbows.