They Made Art Quilts In The 1990s?

King-of-Hearts-by-Diane-HerbortKing of Hearts by Diane Herbort

At a recent quilt book sale I snagged a copy of Art Quilts: Playing With A Full Deck for 25 cents. I had never heard of this book before. It was published in 1994 to accompany a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition of the same name.  Sue Pierce dreamed up the project and solicited pieces from art quilters to illustrate the 52 cards of the standard deck plus 2 jokers.  Each piece was to be 18 by 28 inches and have rounded corners, but other than that, the quilters could illustrate their assigned card ( 10 of clubs, 2 of hearts, etc.) any way they pleased.

Well, the contributors’ list reads like a who’s who of the art quilting pantheon – Caryl Bryer Fallert, Libby Lehman, Susan Shie, Patty Hawkins, Jeanne Williamson, and so forth. There are lots of artists I hadn’t heard of before as well.

Fulldeck1 Caryl Bryer FallertThree of Diamonds by Caryl Bryer Fallert

As you can see below, each card is unique.  The style of some artists like Susan Shie (fifth card from the left) is instantly recognizable. For others, like Libby Lehman, you get hints of what their style developed into. And every blessed card uses techniques that today’s art quilters seem to think they invented.


In fact, the major difference in technique I can see is that today’s art quilters quilt their pieces more intensely.  I know free motion quilting was used in 1994 but I don’t think the style then was for closely spaced quilting.  Libby Lehman’s quilt displays the thread painting for which she is now known, but that piece looks bare compared with her later work. The club is done in reverse applique.


Here’s some other cards that caught my eye.

Three_of_Clubs_Dee_Danley-BrownThree of Clubs by Dee Danley-Brown makes a pun on clubs as she has these identical men march off to their clubs.

Seven_of_Clubs_Linda_McDonaldThis card by Linda Macdonald representing the 7 of clubs seems so mysterious to me.  I gather airbrush painting with stencils was used.

Red_King_in_a_Black_Suit_Joyce_Marquess_CareyRed King in a Black Suit by Joyce Marquess Carey also uses wordplay, but in a more serious context.

In_the_Garden_Natasha_Kempers-CullenNatasha Kempers-Cullen’s In The Garden (7 of spades) is a whole cloth quilt that’s been decorated to a fare-thee-well with charms, stitching, embroidery, button, beads, etc.  Again, the artist used wordplay with those spades, which were custom cut for this piece.

As with many prominent modern quilting practitioners, several of the artists in this book have art/design training.  In fact, the forward and introduction to the book make the point that the softer, tactile medium of a quilt has become a recognized art form.

This collection was purchased by Warren and Nancy Brakensiek, who donated it to the San Diego Visions Art Museum in 2012.


Filed under Art quilts, Books

7 responses to “They Made Art Quilts In The 1990s?

  1. Ann

    I have the deck of cards (somewhere), but not the book. they were a present from a friend, way back then.

    • I find it strange that the book doesn’t seem to reference the deck anywhere. But the copy I bought was donated to the selling organization, so the original owner may have kept the deck.

  2. I bought that book when it first came out and also have the deck of playing cards that went with it. I missed the exhibit when it was traveling though.

  3. What a treasure. I love finding things like this! Some of my favorite books were serendipitous finds.

    Art quilting, modern quilting, even traditional quilting… people who don’t know the history often believe it is brand new. As you know, no one ever machine-quilted before the last 20 years, either… 😉

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