by Suzanne Labry
While it is true that any quilt, no matter how humble or quickly made, reflects something of its maker, it is also true that some quilts reflect much more of their maker than others.
The reasons for this vary, of course, but when the quiltmaker is using the quilt as a medium for expressing a deeply held conviction or an impassioned feeling, the creation may convey meaning beyond its surface appearance. When coupled with the quiltmaker’s words describing the impetus for the quilt, the end result is one that can deliver a powerful emotional impact.
That ability to create a bond of understanding between the viewer and the quiltmaker is the purview of the biennial Sacred Threads Exhibition.
According to the group’s website, “Sacred Threads is an exhibition of quilts exploring themes of spirituality, joy, inspiration, peace/brotherhood, grief and healing. This biennial exhibition was established to provide a safe venue for quilters who see their work as a connection to the sacred and/or as an expression of their spiritual journey. The objective is to create a dignified exhibition of artwork that touches on both spiritual and personal levels all those who view it. We want to share with others the experiences of quilters whose stories may be a source of healing and strength.”
Sacred Threads is the brainchild of lecturer, teacher and author Vikki Pignatelli. In 1999, Vikki, an accomplished, award-winning quilter, received a devastating critique of a quilt she had entered in a show from a judge who totally missed the intent of the piece.
Of course, she understood that all judging is subjective, and ordinarily she would have viewed a negative review in that light. But this particular quilt had special meaning for her, and by dismissing the spiritual nature of the piece and focusing solely on such “merit”-based measures as workmanship, composition, and technique, the judge really struck a nerve, so to speak.
With the help of Wendy Brynner and other friends, Vikki set about creating a different sort of quilt show: a “safe place” to exhibit works that are not about workmanship and technique, but rather about the emotional and intangible aspects that the quilter wants to communicate through the quilt. In the Sacred Threads exhibit, the story behind the quilt is an integral, inextricable part of the whole.
The first Sacred Threads exhibit was held in 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio and featured 147 quilts from all over the U.S. The show’s focus resonated with artists and viewers alike. Clearly, Vikki was onto something. Sacred Threads has been held every other year since then, and it has continued to grow, the number of entries outpacing the ability to display them. The entries are not judged, but they are juried because of space limitations.
Since 2011, when art quilter Lisa Ellis took over the helm, the exhibit has been held in the Washington, D.C. area. Lisa, who also serves as president of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) and treasurer of Quilt Alliance, finds that Sacred Threads uniquely combines her passion for art quilts with her love of the stories behind the quilts and their makers.
“This exhibit really is about the stories that the artists tell in their own words,” she says. “I wish we could admit every quilt that is entered, but because we are limited by space, the process of jurying often comes down to the story that accompanies a quilt and how that fits in with one of our set themes.”
“The quilts are not displayed in a linear way, as is the case with most quilt shows,” Lisa continues. “Instead, our curator, Barbara Hollinger, places the quilts in a labyrinth, so that viewers find themselves discovering the pieces from different paths. There is no ‘husband’s lounge’ at this exhibit, and it is always the case that the men end up still looking at the quilts and reading the stories after the women are finished. They are so moved by it all. Their response is one of the things I enjoy most. I love it when people come to view quilts in a different way after they come to Sacred Threads.”
The 2017 Sacred Threads Exhibition will be held July 7-23 at Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia. The deadline for entries is December 31, 2016.
A 40-piece Sacred Threads traveling exhibit can be seen at the following locations:
o November-December 2016
The Rectory, 17 College Street, Norcross GA 30072, Cultural Arts Center, 678.421.2025,
o January-March 2017
Texas Quilt Museum, 140 W. Colorado Street, La Grange TX, 979.968.3104,
o April 2017
Best of the Valley Quilt Show, McDermont Field House, 365 N. Sweet Brier Street,
Lindsay CA, 559.625.5430, botvquilts.com