Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters'S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Janet Ghio. Janet is in Columbia, Missouri, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is November 18, 2009. It's now 3:06 in the afternoon. Janet, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Please tell me about the quilt you selected for the interview.
Janet Ghio (JG): The quilt that I selected is called "Frida y sus pericos."That's Frida and her parrots and its Frida Kahlo. I've done many art quilts about Frida Kahlo. I really love her. Her story is so interesting and I love all the colors that she uses and the birds and the leaves and she is a very distinctive character. This was actually the second, first or the second Frida quilt that I ever made. I've probably made 12 or 13 quilts about her but I just really like this one. I haven't ever really made another one that was really just her head. I've done ones with more of her body in them but I just really particularly like this one.
KM: How did you find about Frida and when did your obsession with Frida begin?
JG: I went to New Mexico to Santa Fe with a friend of mine and everywhere Ilooked in New Mexico there were things about, pictures about Frida Kahlo, people were selling Frida Kahlo, just all different kinds of Frida Kahlo things. I really didn't know much at all about her. I knew her name and I knew that she was very popular there and at the time I went with my friend to Santa Fe I had made just a very few art quilts and so I had gone to Thirteen Moons Gallery to show them my work. Thirteen Moons Gallery had been open for one week and well, actually a month not a week. I went in there and they were interested in the pieces that I had made but they didn't have any openings for artists then. So when I was in Santa Fe [New Mexico.]--and I love the New Mexico area anyway, but I was kind of looking around for what are themes that are popular in New Mexico because maybe some time this gallery will invite me to show there. I got home and I started reading about her and I just became really interested.
KM: What year was this?
JG: This was in 1996 or '97. 1997.
KM: This quilt was made in 1999.
JG: Let me think. Okay, wait a minute let me back up here. Gosh maybe it was,I'm thinking I went. Oh you know, I don't remember.
KM: That is okay.
JG: Sorry. [laughs.] Maybe that was 1998 when I made the quilt. I truthfully Idon't remember. That was not in my first showing out there. 1999 is probably correct. I went to Santa Fe in--I moved here in 1996, 1997 is when I went to Santa Fe and so this quilt was made a little bit later than.
KM: How do you use this quilt?
JG: How do I use it? It's been sold. It was sold a long time ago. I did use it.I had postcards made up of that particular quilt and on my website for a long time it was kind of the header, I guess you would call it the header on that website. I used that image on my business cards. That's how I've used it.
KM: Do you miss it?
JG: I would like to see it again, but you know what if you don't let go of yourquilts. I mean what good are they doing in the closet? I like for them to be out there for people to enjoy them and if I move them on then I've got room for more stuff.
KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?
JG: Yes. Yes. All of my pieces are mostly figurative work so I've done a lot ofFrida Kahlo pieces. I've done Day of the Dead pieces. I've done goddesses. I've done mermaids. I did one of Vincent Van Gogh. I like doing people and I don't do many like nature kind of themes. A lot of mine are people.
KM: Tell me about the techniques you used to make this quilt.
JG: On that particular one I painted the face and then it's not reallyappliqud. I used fusing almost extensively so I fused the pieces down. I did make the birds. What I do is I start out with the background and then I'll lay all the pieces on it and I'll fuse all of those down. On that particular quilt that was all hand stitched. Now when I've, more recently when I've made things I use my sewing machine and hand stitching but back at that particular time I was doing all hand stitching and hand embroidery on it. So it's all hand stitched and embroidered and then beaded. Love the beads. Love doing the beads and I love doing the hand work.
KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.
JG: I made a quilt, a traditional quilt back oh maybe in the '70's, maybe in the'70's I'd say and I made a Bear Paw quilt and at that time you had to cut all those pieces out by hand. We didn't have those. I can't think what their called. I'm have a senior moment.
JG: You had to draw everything out by hand and you had to cut all the pieces outby hand so I made this one traditional big bed size quilt. Then I took a class where we made a wall hanging and everybody made the same picture, only made it at different times of the season and I think mine was a barn, but the most fun that I had with it was there was this fence that ran in front of the barn and I really liked doing embroidery. I embroidered Bitter Sweet all over that fence and which wasn't part of what we were supposed to be doing, but that was the part that I really liked about it. Then I didn't do anything like that for years. And then in 1996, I had been living in Arizona and I moved back to Missouri and I got acquainted with a group of women who were all fiber artists and they were all dyeing pieces of fabric and so I went to several workshops that they had and I dyed these pieces of fabric and I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I would get this fabric out periodically and look at it and there was this one piece of fabric I had that looked like, it was kind of purple and it had these kind of white streaks through it and I always thought it looked like the sky, this kind of magical sky and I wanted to make a picture with it. I didn't really even know I was making an art quilt. I was just making this little picture and then I was stitching on it and I didn't even know there was such a thing as art quilts at that time. I had made three or four of these little pictures I called them and that is when my friend said you want to go to Santa Fe with me. She was a card maker and I was making collaged boxes at that time and so she said, 'Bring those collaged boxes along, maybe we could find a place that you can sell those. And oh by the way, bring a couple of those little wall things that you're making.' That's when I found out that what I was making I guess an art quilt. [laughs.]
KM: Tell me about your creative process?
JG: How do I come up with my ideas?
KM: And how do you orchestrate them?
JG: And how do I orchestrate them? Usually I might get an idea from maybe itslooking through an art book, maybe its like I say when I went to Santa Fe I got a lot of ideas there because there were a lot of, I'm really interested in that whole culture there. Or it might be something imaginary. I might do some research on it. In fact like with the Frida Kahlo quilts I probably have every book that was ever written about Frida Kahlo and I've read all of those books and I've done pieces about Georgia O'Keefe and I've read a lot of things about Georgia O'Keefe, so then I would kind of take all the different ideas that I'd gotten about those people and I would decide that I was going to make a quilt about it. I don't normally draw something out ahead of time. Now if there is like a figure in the quilt. I mean most of my quilts would have a central figure; I might do kind of a rough sketch of what the body would be like, so if their arms are going to be doing a certain thing. But it's usually just kind of a rough sketch of just that particular piece. Then what I do I would just start. I think maybe I want the background to be a certain color, so I would go through, I have all of my fabric all arranged according to colors, so I would pull out this drawer that would have like all the yellow fabric in it if I wanted a yellow background and then I might pull ot two or three different pieces that I thought maybe might work so I would lay them out on the table and then I would think, 'Okay, I think she is going to be wearing a dress that is kind of going to look like this,' and so I just kind of pull out different pieces of fabric and just sort of fold them and kind of lay them together until I have the pieces out there that I think I want to use. Then I just take my scissors and start cutting pieces out. I iron the fusible stuff on the back and I just work as I go along. It's planned only to a certain extent in my head and then it evolves as I work on it.
KM: The Frida piece you selected is 24 [inches.] by 22 [inches.]. [JG agrees.]Is that a typical size for you?
JG: Yah, most of my pieces, I think the biggest piece I've ever made was about34 inches long and maybe 30 or 32 inches wide. I kind of had this; I had, I don't have the same table anymore but I had one of those folding tables like you would find in a cafeteria, that kind of long folding table and so kind of my rule of thumb was it couldn't be any bigger than the table. It couldn't be any; it had to be something that I could easily work with. I didn't want to do something really big because I really didn't have the space to make something big and I didn't want to be working on something for that long of a time as it would take to do a big piece.
KM: Do you work on more than one project at a time or are you somebody who doesjust one thing at a time.
JG: No I usually just do one at a time, from beginning to end. I don't know, Idon't like to work on more than one thing at a time.
KM: How many hours a week do you spend on quiltmaking?
JG: You know now I'm not doing as much as I did but at the time that I wasproducing a lot of quilts I would probably work say from 9:00 in the morning until about 3:00 in the afternoon.
KM: Why are you not making so many quilts?
JG: I was thinking about this the other day. I had been making those quilts forabout 12 years, so since 1996, about 12 years and I got really interested this past year in a lot of, kind of going back to, I started out kind of doing collage and I've kind of gotten back into doing a lot of things with paper and paint and collage and fabric paper, which is kind of a cross between art quilts and paper things. I've just gotten really, really interested in that. I just haven't been making as many as I had been.
KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?
JG: I do belong to; I belong to one group here in Columbia. It is called TheArt-rageous Group and they are all people who were or had made traditional quilts in the past but now they're all really interested in mix media and art quilts and so that group meets once a month and we usually have kind of a workshop and different members of the group will teach a workshop. We make a list at the beginning of the year of all the different things we might like to learn and then we'll do those in the workshop. I also belong to an art critique group that has six members in it. We're all different types of artists. One person is a glass artist. A couple of people are fiber artists, but they work primarily with sculpted paper. They're basket makers and paper makers in that way. Another person is a watercolor painter, watercolors and acrylics and another person makes cards and that kind of thing, so we're all from different disciplines. It's a really interesting group because when I would bring pieces in--in that group when we get together we might bring pieces that we're working on and get suggestions, maybe we have a problem with something, we want a suggestion about it. The interesting thing about it is with people from different disciplines they come at it from their discipline and so they suggest things that you might not, ideas that you might not get from another fiber artist or another quilt artists. It's interesting and that group has been together for maybe, might be 9, 8 or 9 years now, so we've all become, also become real good friends too. Even when I moved away. I moved away, I lived in Missouri before and I moved away to Texas, and even when I was in Texas, I would come back here to visit once a year and we would always have an art critique group meeting when [laughs.] I was home. That was always fun.
KM: Describe your studio.
JG: I have a great studio. We live in a condominium now but my studio is tomatored. It's just a fabulous color. I have all my books and all my beads and I have three different tables in there. Its not a really, it's not a big room, it's like an extra bedroom is what it is. I have a window that faces out into the woods and I have one table where I have all my beads and all that stuff. I have another table where I have my sewing machine and I have another table where I have all my mixed media, all my paints and pens and glue and all that kind of thing and I have a great walk-in closet and I store all of my fabric in those plastic pull out drawers. It's a great set up. I have a lot of bookcases in there and lots of art on the walls.
KM: Is it your art?
JG: No I have, well some of it is mine. I have some art quilts. I have art thatI've gotten from other artist friends. I have a folding screen in there that I put postcards and all kinds of things like that on. I did, the folding screen, the panels in the folding screen are kind of this heavy cardboard kind of stuff I guess so you can pin things into it. I took one section of that screen and I made a kind of like a mosaic, a paper mosaic of Frida Kahlo, it takes up the whole screen. Her skirt, the skirt on it I cut little pieces of probably one by one inch squares about that size and I cut any pieces of magazine paper that were red or had red designs on them, so I used a lot of Burpee Seed catalogues that had flowers and tomatoes and things like that. Her skirt is those solid little squares. I mean it is all made of solid little squares, little mosaic squares of paper glued on piece by piece. [laughs.]
KM: You mentioned Frida Kahlo and you mentioned Georgia O'Keefe. What otherartists have influenced you?
JG: I've done several pieces that I've gotten ideas from Gustav Klimt is anotherone. I love his work. Who else? I did one about Vincent Van Gogh. Kind of based on "Starry, Starry Night" but it had Vincent, it had my version of Vincent Van Gogh in it and sunflowers in it. I've done a lot of; I did one kind of that was influenced by Henri Matisse. I'm trying to think who else in that artist series. I did one that was based on the Davinci Code so it had a lot of Leonardo Davinci kind of inspired things in it. That's all I'm thinking of right now.
KM: Let's take this one step further. Whose works are you drawn to and why?
JG: It would probably really be the same, the same kinds of people.
KM: Are there any quiltmakers' works that you're drawn to?
JG: I love Pamela Allen.
KM: Why do you love Pamela Allen's work?
JG: She does figurative pieces for one thing and they're just magical pieces andthe textures, the fabric she uses, the images she uses, and they are very kind of Picassoesque. I guess that is what you call them. I really like her things. I like Susan Shie's pieces. Again it's that whole; they are kind of magical for a lack of a better word. They are kind of; they are more sort of made up. They're not realistic as she would say.
KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?
JG: Color, the colors that are chosen. To me the subject matter of it. Theembellishments that are on it. I don't have any; it just has to speak to me in some way.
KM: Why is embellishing so important to you?
JG: I have always liked little, little things. I think that's why I like thebeading so much and embroidery and I'm just really drawn to those. I enjoy doing those things myself and so I always like looking at things that have a lot of color, texture, design, those kind of elements in them.
KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?
JG: To do what you, subjects that you really like to do, not what you think iseither in style or what you think somebody might want to buy if your goal was to sell things. When I started out making the pieces that I make, as I said before I had no idea that what I was even doing was making an art quilt and when I went to Santa Fe and I showed them my work at the gallery and then they called me two months later and they said, 'We have somebody who canceled their show in August. Can you do a show in August?' And this was April [laughs.]. 'We want you to have fifteen pieces.' And I said, 'Well okay.' So then hurriedly I went on the computer and I looked to see exactly what were all these art quilts that people were talking about and nothing that I made looked like anything that I was seeing on the computer. I think you just have to do what you love and not try and be like somebody else. Find your own unique kind of style.
KM: How was your show at the Thirteen Moons?
JG: This is kind of a great story because I love to tell this story. Like I say,I went to Santa Fe in April. They said, 'We really like what you're doing but we don't have any openings. This is a new gallery but we're booked up.' They said, 'Go home. Just keep working on things. Take some slides, send them to us.' I did that and then they called me a month later and they said, 'We've had a cancellation in August and we would like for you to send us some pieces. Can you do it?' And so I said, 'Of course.' Even though I only had like four pieces [laughs.] or something like that so I worked like a crazy person. I sent the pieces to them. I went to Santa Fe for the opening and I thought I'll just go in the gallery the day of the show. The reception was that evening. I went into the gallery and I was with a friend of mine and we went back. I just kind of walked in and we went back to where my quilts were hanging and we looked up at the wall and there were little red dots next to almost all the pieces. My friend said to me, 'I think that means those pieces are sold.' I didn't even know that. I went back out to the desk where the person. It wasn't the same person I had talked to when I was there, but it was their gallery manager. She was there so I went up to her and I said, 'Hi, I'm Janet Ghio.' Well, immediately all of these people came around me and they went, 'You almost have a sold out show.' When I went back that night for the reception I had sold all the pieces except one before the show had even opened.
KM: Which one hadn't sold? Do you remember?
JG: Excuse me.
KM: Which one hadn't sold? Do you remember?
JG: No, you know I don't remember which one but it did sell after that.
KM: How did you feel?
JG: It was the most exciting thing. It was like a fairy tale. It was the mostthrilling thing that had ever happened to me. It was just very exciting. The fact that they were all so excited and here it was Santa Fe, New Mexico and it was Canyon Road and who would think that somebody who went to Santa Fe four months earlier carrying a duffle bag and had no resume that this would happen, but it did. I was with that gallery for about four and a half years and then the woman who was the original owner of the gallery, Mary Anhaltzer, she died and the gallery changed ownership two or three different times after she died. I'm not with them anymore but it was a great ride while I was there. It was a really exciting time because there were several people who became collectors of mine and I sold just about anything I would ever make to send there I sold it. It was very thrilling. [laughs.]
KM: Where do you see your quiltmaking going?
JG: Quite frankly like I said, I really have, really kind of backed away from itsomewhat at this point. I've really gotten immersed in a lot of art journaling and painting and mixed media things. I am doing some paper fabric things that are stitched and beaded and I also do some stitched and beaded figures so that's really more where my sewing kinds of things are going. I'm just not doing as much as I once was.
KM: Think you'll go back to it or have you moved on?
JG: You know I don't know. I still have all my fabric. I haven't given it upyet. It may be that it's kind of like I've done that and now I'm ready to move on to something else.
KM: Do you think of yourself as an artist?
KM: How do you describe yourself?
JG: If somebody asked me what I do I say, 'I'm an artist.' I say, 'I'm a fiberartist.' And then you have to explain that whole thing about what an art quilt is and what a fiber artist is and how an art quilt is not the same as the quilt that your grandma made. Yes I do think of myself as an artist. I think it's something that you kind of grown into. Because I was in this art critique group and I was around people that were artists, or what I would consider to be artists and they would say, 'Well you work in a studio and you do this and you do that.' So yes that is the way I think of myself now. My mother was an artist, my grandfather was an artist. There are a lot of artists in my family.
KM: Do you have quiltmakers in your family?
JG: No. No, no quilts passed down from one person to another, other than a Crazyquilt, but it was not made by anyone in my family. It's not a family kind of tradition of having those quilts that are passed down.
KM: Why were you drawn into making quilts?
JG: I think because of those pieces of fabric that I had dyed with a group ofwomen and I always liked to do things with my hands. I mean I always liked, I liked doing embroidery, I liked doing needlepoint, I liked doing cross-stitch. I like doing all the hand stitching things and I had made dolls at one point in time and so I had worked with fabric. Some how making those art quilts it combined all of those things. Instead of making a doll, you were making a flat figure that went onto a background. I always liked making paper dolls when I was a kid, so it just kind of combined all of those things.
KM: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?
JG: I never truthfully really liked making traditional quilts at all. I just,because everything had to, all of the pieces had to match and the corners had to match. My husband, even when I make art quilts, my husband is the straight line person. He cuts any of the pieces that have to go on the borders because I'm terrible at measuring. [laughs.] I would say that's probably really the only thing that I really didn't like about it is having to be precise.
KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?
JG: Trying to explain to people that what they, for people who make art quilts,trying to explain when you talk to somebody who doesn't know what an art quilt is, trying to explain what it is because in many places where people aren't familiar with it, if you would say, 'I make art quilts.' Immediately they're eyes glaze over and they will say, they just kind of dismiss you because it's not considered to be art or they start telling you about how their grandma made quilts, bed quilts and they just don't, they just don't get it. You can even show them a photograph or try to explain it, but they've already got it so in their mind what they think you're talking about that they don't get it.
KM: Do you think we will be able to overcome that?
JG: I think more and more. I think its changing, but I just think it's going totake a while. I do think that definitely like I went up to St. Louis to Quilt National a couple of months ago and the difference in the quilts. The last time I saw Quilt National was probably six or seven years ago maybe and it was much different now than it was six or seven years ago. Much more painterly pieces. Yah, and I know that there, I really do think that Studio Art Quilt Associates has done a lot for promoting, for trying to educate the public about what art quilts are.
KM: How do you want to be remembered?
JG: Oh wow [laughs.]. As somebody who did what they loved to do. I don't haveany big things about having to be remembered. As somebody who loved their life and who had the opportunity to be creative.
KM: What do you think is your biggest accomplishment?
JG: Wow. As far as art quilting, really I've had the opportunity to be a galleryartist in two or three different galleries. I've gotten to write articles for magazines. I've gotten to meet a lot of people. I've gotten to teach workshops. I think each one of those is a unique kind of experience. I don't know if you can say one is greater than another.
KM: Share with me about teaching.
JG: I've taught a few workshops. Not a lot. What I found was I love theinteraction with people but I really didn't like traveling and I really, I have given lectures and slideshows and talked about my quilts and my work and that's fun. But I really don't, I'm really not that interested in teaching. If people contact me and they want to come to my house or they ask me for advice or that kind of thing, I'm always happy to do that, but I just don't particular like teaching workshops.
KM: What about lecturing?
JG: I like doing that alright, but I'm not doing much of that anymore either.
KM: Why was quiltmaking important to you?
JG: I think it gave me a way to express myself. I just really enjoyed the wholeprocess of it. I liked putting the colors. I love, love looking at all the fabrics. I like coming up with the ideas. I liked all the beads. I liked all the people that I got to meet through doing that.
KM: Who is your most memorable person you got to meet?
JG: My most memorable person.
KM: Who comes to mind when you think about quiltmaking?
JG: What comes to mind?
KM: Who comes to mind?
JG: Oh who, gosh nobody, I mean lots of people. There's not really any kind ofstandout person. I just don't really have an answer for that.
KM: That's okay. Is there anything else you would like to share before weconclude that we haven't touched upon?
JG: No. I don't think so.
KM: How has writing Artist Statements been for you?
JG: I don't really particularly like to write them. I can write, if you wantedme to tell you about Frida Kahlo. For example in the Frida Kahlo quilt I can tell you about her, I can tell you about different things about quilts but I always envy those people who wrote those really deep introspective statements about their quilts. [laughs.]
KM: I agree, I agree.
JG: My Artist Statement would usually be more about who I was and kind of thesubject of my quilts. I don't think my quilts have any great deep meaning to them. They are what they are. Although I have had people, I've had friends who look at them and they go, 'Oh I see that, or you must have meant that, or look how this goes with that.' I don't realize it at the time that I'm doing it, but if somebody comes and points it out I'll go, 'Oh yay that works.' [both laugh.]
KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to me.
JG: You're welcome. [laughs.]
KM: You were wonderful. [JG laughs.] One last question. Do you think that yourquilts reflect your region at all?
JG: My region?
JG: Where I live now?
JG: No. [laughs.]
KM: How has that been for you?
JG: It's fine. Its just that around, to show things around here I don't thinkthey have, I think they have appeal to people as far as looking at them but because I did do a lot of things related to New Mexico and the southwest and cowgirls and all that kind of thing, they just didn't have as much appeal here as in those areas.
KM: Why do you think that region had such an appeal for you?
JG: I don't know really. I don't know. I think somehow that whole New Mexicothing is somehow in my genes. Even though my mother grew up in Kansas, her father was a lithographer and he traveled to New Mexico in the 1920's and he did many, many lithographs and prints that took place in house in the Santa Fe area. We always had those prints in our house and my mother always loved the southwest and we took several trips there when I was a kid and I don't know I've always had this kind of affinity for that area. I don't really know exactly where that comes from.
KM: Of course, Frida was Mexican. She was from Mexico not from Santa Fe, weshould point that out.
JG: Yay, I love the colors. I love the, I just love everything from thesouthwest and from Mexico. I'm not sure why. Maybe I lived there in a former life who knows. [laughs.]
KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to me. It isreally appreciated. We are going to conclude our Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview at 3:49.