ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Combine the rectilinear geometry of Mondrian with Matisse cut-outs for a glimpse of the contemporary innovation that is modern quilting.
These fiber artists stray well beyond the confines of the stars, rings and log cabins of traditional quilting to improvise contemporary designs in bold colors that startle and intrigue.
This week the Albuquerque Fiber Arts Fiesta will display 18 mostly award-winning quilts from QuiltCon2015, an annual national event gathering modern quilters from across the globe.
“Modern quilters are picking up where Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian left off to create thrilling works in fabric and thread rather than paint, paper and canvas,” said Amanda Ruden, president of the Albuquerque Modern Quilt Guild, the exhibition sponsor.
Eight members formed the local chapter four years ago, Ruden said. Today the group boasts 40 quilters who have outgrown their meeting space.
Today’s modern quilters are meeting online to share patterns and techniques. The online presence is luring younger quilters as well as men, she added.
These are not the quilts on grandma’s beds, guild member Linda Hamlin said.
“I want to do something fresh and exciting and something that pops off my wall. I hang all my quilts. I’m not good at matching points and matching seams,” she continued. “Modern quilting is a much more forgiving mindset.”
Contemporary designs feature strong, mostly solid colors sans flowers or calico. The piecing favors improvisation over the scaffolding of patterns, leaving plenty of breathable negative space. Some designs mirror architecture in their straight lines and minimalist approach. Others take an organic theme, mimicking nature in curved shapes and vines.
Best of show winner “iQuilt” by Austin’s Kathy York is a green-splashed palette with a jumble of “i”s sprouting like stylized figures.
“At the time she was alone, but she realized she was surrounded by friends and family,” Hamlin said. “She also dyes her own fabric.”
Stitched by North Carolina’s Emily and Miriam Coffey as a memorial for a friend who died of cancer, “For Tanya” won a judge’s choice award. The artists were inspired by their friend’s love of ocean sunrises sparkling across water waves.
Carolyn Friedlander’s “Catenary” is a series of appliqued arch shapes known to architects as “catenaries.” In fiber, it refers to the natural arch created by a thread hanging from two points. Now living in Florida, Friedlander said when she lived in St. Louis she learned its Gateway Arch was inspired by this type of curve.
“She cut all of those arches and pieced them down by hand,” Hamlin said. “Her education is in architecture.”
In “Diving Geese,” Seattle quilter Katie Pederson pared tumbling wings into appliqued triangles shadowed by white ghosts in the negative space. It won the award for best machine quilting.
“She created all her triangular geese with scrapped fabric,” Hamlin said.
Natalie Sabik’s “Improv Double Wedding Ring” is a contemporary take on a traditional pattern. Although the arcs in the ring remain disconnected, the viewer’s eye fills in the breaks.
“In the traditional format, the rings are interlocked,” Hamlin said. “She broke those rings apart. The emphasis is on the negative space. It’s a beautiful homage.”
The 20-year-old Albuquerque Fiber Arts Fiesta attracts between 4,000 and 5,000 biennually, educational director Carol Ellis said. This year’s event features 209 quilts in addition to the traveling exhibition.
“We want to attract younger people,” Ellis explained. “We’ve got to educate the community about what’s current in the fiber arts community.”
Ellis said she hopes the exhibit encourages local artists to create their own modernist quilts.