Interview with Judith Content, February 18, 2008

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:02 - Introduction / About the touchstone quilt

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Partial Transcript: This is Le Rowell, and today's date is February 18, 2008. It is 11:00 AM; and I am conducting an interview with Judith Content for the Quilter's S.O.S. project, and we are in Judith's home in Palo Alto, California. So, Judith, welcome and tell me about the quilt that you've selected for today.

Segment Synopsis: After being introduced by Rowell, Content explains why she chose to talk about her touchstone quilt. It is the most recent quilt she's made and has similarities to her previous work, but the quilt also has some different elements. Content is interested in discussing the similarities and differences, and the experimental techniques she used when making the quilt. The quilt is in a kimono form, which has been an inspiration for Content over the twenty-five years she has been making art quilts. Content also used the Arashi Shibori technique of dyeing and surface design for the quilt, as well as piecing, quilting, and applique. The use of stitching and quilting is the biggest difference from her previous work. This quilt uses more stitching than Content has ever used before, and she describes the technique as "essentially drawing with my sewing machine."

Keywords: Aesthetics; Art quiltmaking; California; Design process; Fabric dyeing; Fiber - Silk; Kimono; Meditative; Piecing; Professional artists; Quilt design; Studio quilt artists; Techniques; applique

Subjects: Art quilts; Machine quilting

00:03:54 - Touchstone quilt inspiration

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Partial Transcript: The inspiration behind this piece is looking through a glass window with water sheeting down the window in the winter. So you're looking through a window, and you're seeing the imagery beyond the window distorted and abstracted.

Segment Synopsis: Content explains her inspiration for the touchstone quilt as looking through a window with rain sheeting down it in the winter, and seeing what is beyond the window. She also describes normally finding inspiration in marsh grasses, leaves, and fog. However, because the inspiration in her work is abstracted, the imagery may be distorted for the viewer. Content considers this as metaphor for life, when people may find themselves in periods when they are not sure what might happen next, or if they are transitioning between difficult and joyous times.

Keywords: Quilt purpose - Art or personal expression; Quiltmaking inspiration; Quiltmaking style

00:06:31 - Current quilting series and techniques

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Partial Transcript: So I chose this piece because it's my newest, and because I was really excited by some new surface techniques of the stitching particularly, and right now I'm moving into a series of miniature kimonos where I can do a lot of stitching on a small surface.

Segment Synopsis: Content describes her recent process of working on a series of miniature silk kimonos. She dyes the silk and then does lots of stitching on a small surface using this new technique. Content is donating the first piece this series to a Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) auction, but she was inspired to continue making more from fabrics in her studio. She has made fifteen miniature kimonos in the series ranging from 12 to 24 inches.

Keywords: Embellishment techniques; Fabric - Hand-dyed; Fabric dyeing; Fiber - Silk; Silk quilts; Studio Art Quilt Associates; Studio Art Quilting Association (SAQA)

Subjects: Art quilts; Silk quilts

00:08:07 - Motivation for current quilting series / Quiltmaking process

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Partial Transcript: Should I talk about the reason why I'm making small kimonos?

Segment Synopsis: Content is currently volunteering as the president of the Studio Art Quilt Associates. She is trying to figure out how to work on her art while still being an efficient and effective president. Content describes her previous process of working modularly and organizing the quiltmaking process into smaller steps that take discrete periods of time. She is now also working on small pieces, to help manage her work-life balance, and to express her ideas in a smaller fomat.

Keywords: Professional artists; Quiltmaking process; Studio Art Quilt Associates; Time management; Work and life balance

00:10:02 - Name of the touchstone quilt: "Acqua Chiara"

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Partial Transcript: The name of this piece, I should go back to that, is called "Acqua Chiara." It's Italian for water clear or clear water.

Segment Synopsis: Content describes the name of the touchstone quilt, "Acqua Chiara," which is Italian for "clear water." The name is a reference to her inspiration of water sheeting down a window and illuminating what is behind the window. Her daughter helped her name the quilt after returning home from a trip to Italy.

Keywords: Family; Quiltmaking inspiration

00:11:10 - Inspiration from marshes and wetlands

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned the inspiration in the forests and the marsh leaves, any particular area that has inspired this?

Segment Synopsis: Content describes originally being inspired by marshes while hiking along the San Francisco Bay and in restored wetlands near Palo Alto. She also travels to marshes around the world, including a notable marsh in Brittany, La Grande Briere. Content's trip to Brittany inspired several of her pieces, including a piece that was accepted to Quilt National in 2005 that she titled "La Briere." The piece features spiky hand applique pieces that were inspired by the contrast between the beauty and haunted elements of the marsh. That was the first time Content had done hand applique work on one of her quilts.

Keywords: Hand applique; Quilt purpose - Exhibition; Quiltmaking inspiration; Techniques; quiltmaking process

Subjects: Quilt National

00:15:54 - Exposure to textile arts / Arashi Shibori dyeing techniques

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Partial Transcript: Would you like to talk about the Arashi Shibori?

Segment Synopsis: Content explains that she always planned to be an artist, but never intended to become a textile artist. Her mother was a painter, and she grew up pursuing art, including attending the art program at San Francisco State University. She was originally a ceramicist, but took textiles classes with Candace Crockett as a senior, which altered the course of her life. Content fell in love with dyeing fabric and learned about the Arashi Shibori technique when Ana Lisa Hedstrom gave a demonstration to her class. Content discusses how her dyeing process and tools have evolved while practicing the Arashi Shibori technique for almost thirty years.

Keywords: Ana Lisa Hedstrom; Arashi Shibori; Art quiltmaking; Candace Crockett; Fabric dyeing; Family; Female artists; Fiber - Silk; San Francisco State University; Techniques

Subjects: Art quilts; Silk quilts

00:32:06 - Quiltmaking process after dyeing

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Partial Transcript: Then I do the dyeing, and that is essentially like a painter creating their palettes of silks; and I have this huge pile of silks before I start any piece, so that I have all kinds of fabrics and colors to work with. Then I start to put them together to create exciting relationships in the silks.

Segment Synopsis: Content discusses her process for starting and continuing to work on a new quilt after dyeing her fabric. She usually works on two pieces at once, so she can move back and forth between different stages of the pieces. Content explains that her touchstone quilt, "Acqua Chiara," is different from her previous quilts, because she used colorful gradations of silk thread for the quilting instead of only black thread.

Keywords: Fiber - Silk; Quilt design; Quiltmaking process

Subjects: Art quilts

00:37:01 - Teaching surface design classes

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Partial Transcript: Talk a minute about your own personal involvement in the world of quilts. You teach?

Segment Synopsis: Content discusses her experiences teaching design classes. She does not teach Arashi Shibori dyeing or quilting, but she has taught other design classes for paper works, collage, and haiku. One of her favorite conferences where Content taught was the Design With Heart conference, which was created by Jill Heppenheimer and Barbara Lanning, owners of the Santa Fe Weaving Gallery.

Keywords: Barbara Lanning; Design With Heart; Jill Heppenheimer; Santa Fe Weaving Gallery; Teaching quiltmaking

00:39:08 - Volunteering for arts organizations

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Partial Transcript: Besides teaching, I've always been an active volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: Content discusses her history of volunteering on the Board of Directors for the Palo Alto Art Center and the Board of Directors of the Textile Arts Counsel for the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Volunteering for the de Young Museum exposed Content more to textiles and allowed her to meet and interact with textile artists throughout the Bay Area. She was also invited to join the board of the Studio Art Quilt Associates by Katie Pasquini.

Keywords: Katie Pasquini; Palo Alto Art Center; Studio Art Quilt Associates; de Young Museum

Subjects: Textile artists

00:40:45 - Discovering art quilts

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Partial Transcript: I didn't know I was doing art quilts until a friend of mine told me "you're doing art quilts."

Segment Synopsis: Content explains how she first found out about art quilts through a friend. She was excited that other artists were using similar techniques to create their own works. Content realized that she was accidentally making art quilts by dyeing smaller pieces of fabric and sewing them together into larger installations.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Fabric dyeing; Studio quilt artists

Subjects: Art quilts; Textile artists

00:42:22 - Involvement with the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA)

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Partial Transcript: We were talking about all of your involvement and your volunteer work.

Segment Synopsis: Content served on the Board of Directors of the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) for three years and was then asked to consider becoming the president of SAQA. Content was at first overwhelmed by the opportunity to become president. She became the vice president and was mentored by Katie Pasquini and Martha Sielman for a year. Content then became the president of SAQA on September 31, 2007. She explains her roles as president to promote the organization and art quilts to the rest of the art world.

Keywords: Art education; Art quiltmaking; Quilt conferences; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Studio Art Quilt Associates; Studio quilt artists

Subjects: Art quilts

00:46:02 - Being asked to jury a quilt exhibition

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Partial Transcript: This is Le Rowell, and I'm interviewing Judith Content, and this is a continuation of our original conversation. Three minutes have elapsed, which gave me time to change the tape. So Judith, you were talking about SAQA and your role, your quiltmaking role, and your role as president of SAQA, and you mentioned that you have also been a juror.

Segment Synopsis: Content tells about being asked to be a juror for the Visions Exhibition, an art quilt bi-annual exhibition in San Diego, California. Visions was also the first major exhibition that Content's work was accepted into. Content was encouraged to jury for this exhibition by Kathleen Sharp, the same friend who originally told her that she was creating art quilts. She explains the design elements that she plans to look for in the quilts including composition, light, shadow, contrast, color, form, and texture.

Keywords: Kathleen Sharp; Quilt design; Quilt purpose - Exhibition; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Studio quilt artists; Visions Exhibition

Subjects: Art quilts; Quilts--United States--Exhibitions

00:48:12 - What makes a great quilt?

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Partial Transcript: So what do you think makes a great quilt?

Segment Synopsis: Content explains that a great quilt is one with a strong image. She says that it should capture your eye, have an image that remains with you, and be full of surprises. Content also considers the quilting of a piece to be an additional element that refines a work of textile art that is already strong before the quilting is done.

Keywords: Quilt design; Techniques

Subjects: Art quilts

00:49:23 - What makes a great quiltmaker?

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Partial Transcript: What makes a great quiltmaker?

Segment Synopsis: Content explains that a great quiltmaker is someone who is committed to their work, who works through the challenges of quilting, and who is passionate about the fabric. She emphasizes that fabric is what differentiates quiltmaking from other art forms and the best art quilters enhance the fabric they use.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Quilt purpose - Art or personal expression

Subjects: Art quilts

00:50:23 - Preserving art quilts

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Partial Transcript: So how do we preserve these quilt works of art?

Segment Synopsis: Content explains that the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) are helping to preserve art quilts by organizing exhibitions and documenting quilts. However, she emphasizes the best way to see and experience an art quilt is in person. Content describes the importance of documenting quilts as a secondary way of experiencing them. She mentions photographing quilts and creating digital repositories, such as SAQA University. Content also talks about installing quilts in environments that are adequate for preservation and discusses her experiences selling art quilts and working with clients to ensure that they are displaying in an adequate environment.

Keywords: Archive; Digital archiving; Quilt documentation; Quilt preservation; Studio Art Quilt Associates

Subjects: Quilts--United States--Exhibitions

00:53:40 - What is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

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Partial Transcript: One last question, what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

Segment Synopsis: Content explains that it's a challenge to have the medium of art quilts respected by the greater art world. It's difficult to get pieces exhibited in mainstream museums, but she has seen some progress with art quilts starting to be taken more seriously. Content explains that art quilts are still a relatively new form of art form that have been developing over the last thirty years. She explains that the art form is still continuing to evolve, and she's excited to be a part of it.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Published work - Articles; Quilt purpose - Art or personal expression; Quilt purpose - Artistic expression

Subjects: Art quilts; Textile artists

00:56:03 - Enjoyment of quiltmaking

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Partial Transcript: We have just a couple of minutes left, is there anything else that you would like to add before we finish? This has been an interesting conversation. Thank you. [There is a long pause while Content reviews the questions to refresh her memory.]

Segment Synopsis: Content explains that she loves to build things, which is why she loves making art quilts. There are so many techniques involved in making an art quilt that she is never bored with the process. She also explains that color is therapeutic and essential to her well-being. Content enjoys surrounding herself with color in her quilting work and at home.

Keywords: Art quiltmaking; Professional artists; Quilt purpose - Personal enjoyment

Subjects: Art quilts; Textile artists

00:58:58 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Thank you, Judith. This has been a great pleasure, but thank you for allowing me to interview you for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are in Palo Alto, California. Our interview was concluded at 12:00 noon, and it is February 18, 2008.

Segment Synopsis: Le Rowell concludes her interview with Judith Content.