Why Quilts Matter –
Question and Answer with with Valerie White
Freshly inspired from her recent trip to Italy, Valerie White joins us to continue the conversation about Why Quilts Matter. Prior to becoming a full time artist, Valerie took her Howard University degree in general art and ceramics and spent over 20 years working as an art educator, retiring from the District of Columbia Public Schools in 1999.
“I can not remember a time when I did not have a needle in my hand. I have always loved the feel of fabric. I enjoy the tactile experience afforded by working with all kinds of textures.” Valerie began as a “traditional” quilter, but soon felt the approach limited her from creating more expressive works. She then submerged herself into art quilts. “I am drawn to, and inspired by, African symbols and masks and have developed a stylized approach to include them in my work.”
Demonstrating its popularity as an educational and programming tool, Why Quilts Matter was featured in a discussion panel showcase at Spalding University. Given Valerie’s strong background as an art educator, we sat down with her and talked about how the Why Quilts Matter Discussion Guide has been used by academics, libraries, quilters and quilt guilds alike.
Quilters employ a wide variety of tools and notions. More recently, “digital” tools have come into play, including the WQM Discussion Guide, which has been downloaded and used by quilters, guilds and museums. Can you share with us how people you know have used the Discussion Guide?
Although the Guide is advantageous in an academic setting, quilters in small quilting circles or bees are expressing strong opinions about the topics as well. The Guide serves both audiences, and many guilds plan their programs to watch the Why Quilts Matter DVD and then have a follow up discussion. It’s not surprising to learn those discussion can become very lively!
What kinds of emotional connections do you have, or you find others have, with quilts?
For me it’s important to have some emotional connection to the work. I’m at my best and often more successful when my passion and skills connect.
About 5 years ago I began a series of work that explored roots. I completed 14 quilts that were about the root systems of vegetables and weeds. At the time I was only interested in the beauty and mystery of the roots; I was fascinated with their physical mass. As I began to dig deeper within myself I discovered that it was more than the size and formation of the roots that I loved – it was also about my own roots and issues of spiritual connectedness and faith.
I have since completed 12 pieces in the Roots and Refuge series. I would never have imagined I would have this much to say about roots!
As an artist, what are the aspects of quilt making with which you most identify?
First and foremost are the aspects of good craftsmanship. I take issue with sloppy work. As textile artists we should hold ourselves accountable to creating good work, in the same way other artists do. If we are to be respected within the broad art community we must evaluate the work in realistic terms.
Are you really happy with work that is not your best? I have heard quilters say, “I just wanted to get this exhibited, although it’s not my best work.” Well then, why show it? Our work is a reflection of our commitment to our art. I believe we should strive to do it well.
What is next for you?
I am preparing for two online demonstrations, one with Quilters Newsletter (free on YouTube in October) and one on The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, airing in November. Check my website for details and specific dates.
The studio is my favorite place to be and mine has been tweaked to finally provide my optimum working environment. My studio will be featured in Creative Spaces Magazine, December 2013.
Finally, please see the new exhibit, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi. I have a work in this wonderful show currently on display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
More About Valerie
See more of the spectacular quilts in the Roots and Refuge series on Valerie’s website gallery. For more information about Paintstiks or using disperse dyes to transfer image to fabric, explore her page on Workshop Opportunities.
Take a moment and make an online visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and learn more about And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations.
Photos courtesy Valerie White. Photographer: Mellisa Karlin Mahoney.