Art Quilting Growing Global: SAQA

An Interview with SAQA Executive Director, Martha Sielman

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How did you first get involved with SAQA?

I got involved with the organization around 1999/2000 because I was making my own quilts and moving more toward developing my own designs making art quilts. At that time, Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), which was founded in 1989, had about 800 members. They needed a volunteer to run the Connecticut region, so I volunteered.

We only had six members in Connecticut at the time, but when I heard about a local art show, I asked SAQA if we could exhibit, and they said yes. Sharon Heidingsfelder, SAQA’s executive director at that time, suggested I invite other members from the East Coast to participate. To my surprise, 50 people entered. I realized then that there was a need to find exhibit venues. Art quilters wanted to share what they had created.

That led to starting the “Fiber Revolution” group, made up of SAQA members in the northeastern U.S., which quickly began doing ten exhibits a year. I loved doing the organizing work for “Fiber Revolution” and found that I was spending more and more time on it and less time in my studio.

So when Sharon retired in 2004, I applied to be SAQA’s executive director. Since then the organization has quadrupled in size to over 3,200 members. We’re now international in more than thirty-one countries, and we see continued growth, including in Korea, Taiwan, Eastern Europe and Africa.

I’ve also been writing about the field in a number of books for Lark Publishing–Masters: Art Quilts, volumes 1 and 2; Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World, and Art Quilt Portfolio: People and Portraits, which was just published this past Spring.

What do you see as SAQA’s role as compared with other organizations in the field?

A number of organizations focus more on professional development. There are regional organizations around the country, like the Contemporary Quilt Association in Washington State, the Professional Art Quilt Alliance in the Chicago area, and Front Range Contemporary Quilters in Colorado.

There’s also the Surface Design Association, which has close to five thousand members and is also international. The difference is that they cover all types of surface design, while SAQA focuses just on art quilts.

How do you define an art quilt?

Definitions are tough, but I think the best is: A work of art created with fabric and thread. SAQA’s official definition is “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure.”

Is there a divide between this and traditional quilting?

I see it all on a continuum. I think of traditional quilting as using designs and patterns that have been used for hundreds of years; contemporary quilting as using similar patterns while playing with color and form; and art quilting as completely original in design. But, as I said, trying to set a particular definition is a slippery slope and there are many, many counter-examples.

What important strides have been made in establishing quilts in the art world – as compared with the past?

There has been a lot more interest from the art world – at museums, at galleries, and from collectors. There’s a lot of cross-over happening between the fine art and craft worlds.

Have you seen increased interest in art quilting?

Yes, there continues to be very strong growth, including internationally. We’re finding that people, especially women, around the world are interested in working in fiber arts, in part as a reaction to the electronic world. Art quilting offers a different, wonderfully tactile way to express oneself.

What new developments, products, and techniques are you most excited about?

The biggest development that I’ve seen is the increased interest in long arm quilting machines being owned privately. The machines are quite expensive and take up a lot of space, so they were originally designed for industrial use – where people who bought them intended to do quilting for others. Now, individuals and small groups are buying them for their own use. I often talk with people who say they’ve been thinking about the purchase for a while and are willing to devote a room in their house – sometimes even the living room – to set up a machine. I think that reflects a change in our society to being less formal, and using space in the house differently.

There have also been changes in sewing machines, where some are more of a hybrid that can offer more speed and cover a larger surface area than a standard machine, but which are less expensive than a traditional long-arm.

Other trends I’ve noticed are the use of recyclable material, use of sheer fabrics, and working in three dimensions. On the color side, there’s a lot of use of neutrals now, rather than jewel tones and saturated colors.

I see growing interest in quilting because people have a desire to make things, to express themselves creatively, and to connect. Art quilting offers a great way to immerse oneself in doing all of that.

Martha Sielman has been Executive Director of Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc. (SAQA) since 2004. Her career in art quilts began in 1988, when she learned to quilt, and has included more than 20 years of work as a professional artist, author, lecturer, curator, juror, and arts administrator.  She is the author of Art Quilt Portfolio: People & Portraits; Masters: Art QuiltsMasters: Art Quilts, Volume 2, and Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World.

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Glass Art and Business: Artist Martin Kremer

13 Martin Kremer art

Martin Kremer discovered glass art at college, though not through an art program or formal lessons, but because one of his housemates got bored with the glass class he was taking and Martin took his friend’s scraps and his hobby and began to learn about glass on his own.

He bought a book on the topic and also began learning from others who worked in the field, one was a third generation glass artist, another taught him soldering, and other artists provided gentle corrections along the way. His experience taught him you can learn a lot when you’re not “spoon-fed,” but have the chance to struggle through the artistic roadblocks and learn what does and doesn’t work.

Kremer’s work began as a hobby, and then grew over time. He had additional good fortune when his wife got a great job offer in the early 80’s, which allowed him time to pursue his art seriously. Shortly afterwards, he started picking up wholesale accounts for his stained glass jewelry boxes, and he got involved with a craft co-op where he learned the arts business, including how to work with galleries. It took time to build, with places ordering 4 to 6 pieces at a time.

“Working with the craft co-op was helpful, and it was also important to get out to smaller retail shows” says Kremer. “But if I were starting today, I’d try to work with Buyer’s Market of American Craft and the American Craft Council Shows which both have mentor programs, since the major gift shows are harder to get into. It’s also good to connect with galleries and catalogue producers.

“Really, you need to get one good client to give you an economic base,” explains Kremer, “though you have to be careful with that because it can be a trap. There are two reasons: the first is that they often want you to do the same things again and again because that’s what they’ve found will sell; and secondly if you come to rely on that income, it’s easy to get lazy and to not explore new things. I advise people not to get in too deep with any one customer, so you can afford to leave when you’re tired of producing the same thing.”

“In my case with the jewelry boxes, I eventually turned the work over to one of my subcontractors, which worked out well. I also found over time that I’ve priced myself out of some markets – so you might find that you move from selling to craft shops to selling through galleries up to selling more expensive commissioned work.

“These days, the economy has made it more difficult for artists, from what I’m hearing from my peers. There’s a shift in the market because of the aging of the craft buyer. A lot of collectors are aging, and people are downsizing, which means they don’t have as much space for art as they used to. Also, kids are not buying big things to live with – so the demand is for more functional things that can sell in the $50, $60, $130 range.

“So, you can plan to cater to that audience, or choose to go the high-end, specialty route, though that’s a difficult market to crack. In my case, I’m doing furniture that combines steel and wood bases with glass on top. These can sell in the $5000-$8000 range for a console or occasional table. I’m finding with these that I enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with other artists on some of the pieces.

“My advice to beginning artists is to make the art that resonates with you. If you try to create for the market, it’s very hit or miss. Then take samples or models of your work around to decorators, architects and others who can recommend you to show what you can do. It may not be easy to do the legwork, but good work does come out in the long run.

“Local art centers can be a good place to start educating yourself because they’ll have beginner classes where you can learn – often how to fuse glass, because that’s easier, but also how to blow glass. Stained glass used to be in vogue, since it’s an easy entry point, but it can be limiting.

“There are also a handful of good schools that specialize in this area: Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Arrowmont in Tennessee, and the Pilchuck glass school in Washington State. Another good place to learn more is on the Warm Glass website, which is also connected to a studio that offers classes.

Martin Kremer is an award-winning artist who has studied blown and fused glass at the Penland School of Crafts, at Urbanglass in Brooklyn, NY and at the Corning Museum of Glass Studio in Corning, New York.

He started fusing by translating pattern to glass, with inspiration from Native American fabrics, Venetian tiles and marquetry patterns. That work led to the Ventana series of vessels, studies in contrasts: opacity/transparency, matte/glossy, all played out on a vividly colored palette. That series has recently taken a sculptural turn in the direction of walls, Paredes, and other structures incorporating fused glass with the same contrasts but with the addition of an architectural tension between free-standing pieces. They might be seen as models for large public monuments.

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I majored in art and minored in juggling!

Scott Barnett, Artist
Scott Barnett art
From Dead Man’s Party
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When Susan and I first talked about my writing an entry for her blog, I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to write about, since I was currently juggling different specialties in the graphics industry. Then it dawned on me. THAT’S what I should write about- the necessary ability to reinvent yourself as an artist when need be, as well as juggling those different skills to continue to get work and stay relevant in today’s market.

I majored in illustration when I was in college and planned on being an illustrator in the workforce. After school, I looked to an industry that had provided me so much entertainment in my youth- comic books. So I focused mostly on comic book illustration and was making a reputation for myself when that industry suddenly had a major downturn in the ‘90s. It was a shock to me that after all my hard work (preparing samples for editors, meeting with them for feedback and advice, finally receiving work from some of them), I’d find myself in an industry that could barely keep the veterans employed, much less an up-and-comer like myself. I was naive then, what can I tell you? It took a while to figure out that I needed to go in another direction with my graphics career. Eventually, I settled into web design because it seemed like there was tons of work in that field. I bet you know where this is going, don’t you…

So, I switched gears and was hired by an internet company as part of their graphics department. It was a good company, with management that actually cared about their employees and rewarded them whenever they could. So what could possibly go wrong, you ask? Remember the timing- this was the year 2000. Remember what happened to all those internet companies back then? A ton of them went out of business during the dot com crash. I actually came back from a vacation, only to find my company gone. I mean, actually ‘gone’.  No lights on, no people…

As you can guess, I had difficulty finding work in web design after that gig dried up, due to the circumstances. So, I was forced to reinvent myself yet again, this time being introduced to the world of 3D modeling and rendering. An old friend and colleague showed me the software he was working in and I fell in love with it. I would never have thought I’d take to something where I’d be creating art entirely on the computer, since virtually all my education in school took place before computers took over. Yeah, I’m old- want to make something of it? I loved it so much, it wasn’t long before I was able to start using it professionally, even given the extensive learning curve involved in that type of software. I started bringing in freelance work from companies who needed photorealistic renderings of products that either didn’t yet exist or were too expensive to photograph. After several years of working in that industry, the economy tanked in 2008 (I’m sure you all heard something about that!) and most of my 3D clients dried up. So I turned to storyboarding, logo design and private commissions to bring in work. Essentially, nothing was off-limits, as long as it was related to the graphic arts and I could deliver to the client.

Point is, I’ve had to wear a lot of different hats to stay in the graphics industry, and in doing so, I’ve greatly diversified my skill set. These days, most of my work comes from 3D graphics and illustration (mostly comic book work), so I’ve come full circle, I suppose. Of all the disciplines I worked in, those two are my favorites, so I’m a pretty happy duck right now. I’m still always learning new skills and tricks, even after more than 20 years in the field. In fact, I’ve recently taken the leap into self-publishing; I teamed up with an old friend to create a crime fiction comic mini-series called Dead Man’s Party. Here’s how we describe it:

It’s called a Dead Man’s Party: an assassin puts a contract out on his own head and a select group of peers have thirty days to fulfill it. For the world-renowned hitman known only as ‘Ghost,’ ordering a Party is a last resort, a way to go out on his terms, at the top of his game. The invitations are sent, the killers are coming… And that’s when things go horribly wrong.

Publishing my own book and getting to illustrate my own creative property has long been a dream of mine, and I’m very excited about the press we’ve been getting about it. Don’t believe me? Check it out at www.DeadMansParty.org, where we post previews of the books, as well as reviews from critics. So if you’re looking for any type of advice regarding a career in graphics, I’d say this: It’s extremely rewarding being able to utilize your creativity (whether that’s in drawing, painting, web design, basket weaving, etc.), but it’s a career you REALLY have to want, because it can sometimes be a rough road, I’m not going to lie. But I’ll also say this- there is nothing else I’d rather do in this world than create. I’m happiest when I’m drawing, painting or modeling something in 3D. As for artistic techniques I use in, say, creating my comic book work, I’m not afraid to do a ton of research and find reference material to work from, and I’ve developed my painting style from a classic graphic arts education. What I mean by that is, if you want to draw comic books, learn to draw the real world first. Don’t just look at comic books to learn how to draw them.

In his professional career, Scott Barnett has been an illustrator, designer, storyboard artist and 3D modeler/animator. He and his wife live in New Jersey. His work can be viewed at the above mentioned www.DeadMansParty.org and www.ScottBarnettGraphics.com, as well as on Facebook and deviantArt.

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