Judith Content

Photos

CA94306-001_a.jpg
CA94306-001_b.jpg

Title

Judith Content

Identifier

CA94306-001

Interviewee

Judith Content

Interviewer

Le Rowell

Interview Date

2/28/08

Interview sponsor

Susan Salser

Location

Palo Alto, CA

Transcriber

Tina Gordon

Transcription

Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell and today's date is February 18, 2008. It is 11:00 a.m. in the morning and I'm conducting an interview with Judith Content for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project and we are in Judith's home in Palo Alto, California. Judith, welcome and tell me about the quilt that you selected for today.

Judith Content (JC): Thank you Le. I chose this quilt because it is my most recent quilt and I thought it would be interesting to see the piece that just came out of the studio. There are a lot of things in this quilt which are similar to my previous work, but there are also some elements of this quilt which are quite different and I thought it might be interesting to talk about where this quilt is charting new territory and trying new experimental techniques. As you can see, this piece is in a kimono form. The kimono form has been an inspiration for me for almost the [entire.] twenty-five years that I have been working on art quilts. There is something just very magical about the kimono shape. I find it very lyrical and very meditative, but there is also an energy that is created in the areas at the bottom where it is cut out. I will sometimes [even try.] to do a square or rectangular piece and the piece makes itself a kimono. When I say I find it [the kimono.] very meditative, I use that term deliberately because it deals a lot with horizon lines. When you have a line that goes across the center of the piece there's something very restful there in a design sense. A lot of my pieces use this horizon line. However, another similarity to my previous work is that this [piece.] uses the Arashi Shibori technique of dyeing and surface design. I would like to go into the surface design technique of Arashi Shibori, but perhaps at a later time when I could really focus on that particular technique since it is so important [and integral.] to my work. Again, this piece does utilize the Arashi Shibori as well as piecing and quilting and appliqué. However, the biggest difference of all for this particular piece is the use of stitching and quilting, and I have never used as much quilting as I have on this piece. Usually when you look at my work you will see these very soft expanses of pure silk with almost no quilting whatsoever at the top of the piece. Just pure dip dyeing, atmospheric colors, gradations of colors so they are very, very soft and pure with absolutely no stitching. This piece as you can see has lots and lots of stitching. I'm essentially drawing with my sewing machine. I'm using threads that are variegated in color and they are essentially drawing on the surface of the dyeing to accentuate areas and to make areas that are black blend into areas that are colored so they kind of bleed down. The inspiration behind this piece is looking through a glass window with water sheeting down the window in the winter. You're looking through a window and you're seeing the imagery beyond the window distorted and abstracted. You're seeing imagery behind the window but you are not quite sure what you are seeing. It could be trees, it could be a person passing by, it could be absolutely anything. I'm thinking of the sheets of rain falling down and probably looking at what is my normal inspiration which is the marsh grasses and marsh leaves and fog and that kind of imagery but you're not quite sure. One of the things that really intrigues me and that I draw on for inspiration is often the--I'm trying to think of the right word, the abstraction and diffusion of imagery. So image you are walking along the coast and fog descends in the afternoon and all of a sudden you're looking at a forest but pretty soon you're looking at the abstraction of the forest. The fog has descended and the images that you see become almost icons, iconography of what they used to be. You know they're there because you just saw them, but you can't see them anymore, so it is almost like dealing with memory. In this particular case I see the imagery distorted and abstracted and almost obliterated and erased or removed because of the [metaphor of.] water on the window. Maybe it will clear up and you can see things clearer. I do think of this as a metaphor for life. I think of the times of life where you don't know what is going to happen next [and who does know what is going to happen next?.] So it's the periods of life when you emerge out of the very difficult time and then you go back into a joyous time, or you go through a period where you know exactly what you think you should be doing and then through a period where it's all 'you don't know what you are going to be doing'. These are some of the personal meanings behind some of my pieces. I chose this piece because it's my newest and because I was really excited by some new surface techniques. The stitching particularly, and right now I'm moving into a series of miniature kimonos where I can do a lot of stitching on a small surface. [I was so excited about these pieces.] I couldn't stop last week. I had done the dyeing for maybe four days or so. I had my palette of silks and I did one [kimono.]. The first piece is a one foot square [kimono.] for the SAQA [Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc.] auction. I will donate it to SAQA, but then I have all this dyeing all over the studio and it's like this will make a great miniature kimono and this one will and this one will. Combining pieces, they're just tacked up on the design wall, torn up, reassembled and then I left them there overnight. Then I walked out to the studio the next morning and three of them were good enough to sew together and set aside and two of them weren't good at all. I trick my eyes when I walk into the studio. My eyes can tell me if it's going to be good or not, it's very interesting. I sneak up on the pieces and then it's like, oh no, you're not good, I thought you were good, then I get really disappointed. But anyway I set those fabrics aside and they get torn up or reassembled. I think I have maybe fifteen miniature kimonos and the one foot square is the smallest and the largest is up to about twenty-four inches. So I haven't started the quilting but I can hardly wait. Should I talk about the reason why I'm making small kimonos?

LR: Sure.

JC: My job right now, although it is not a paid job, is a volunteer job as president of the Studio Art Quilt Associates. What I'm trying to do is figure out how I can work at my art and still be an efficient, effective president. One suggestion from a friend of mine was work modularly and I already work modularly. First I do the pleating, then I do the dyeing, creating a palette of silks. Then they're torn up and assembled into the piece, sewn together, quilted, appliquéd, and all these [steps.] breakdown into small periods of time. So it's easy to do one thing one day, one thing the next day, etc. and that way I can work as my presidential responsibilities are also broken up into the day. I thought it might be possible to do all my email in the morning and work all afternoon on my artwork and then do email in the afternoon, but it doesn't really work that way. It's like bouncing back and forth between my office and my artwork. So I'm trying to do rather than modular work small pieces. I think that they'll be so exciting they'll make me want to work on them. So it'll be easier to leave my email and my administrative job behind and go into the studio. I think it will be really exciting to work on small pieces and be able to express my ideas on a smaller format. For the time being, that is why I'm working on small pieces, so I can get lots done. The name of this piece--I should go back to that, is called "Acqua Chiara," Italian for water clear, or clear water. That again refers to the water sheeting down the window and illuminating what is behind the window. My daughter actually helped me title it. I was telling her about the inspiration behind it and she has just come home from three months in Italy. She is speaking fluent Italian and I love to use other languages for titling my work. I use a lot of Spanish. I think it is a very beautiful language and I think it is kind of interesting to make someone study a little bit harder about why I titled that, get out a dictionary and look it up. I use Japanese and now I'm using Italian since I have someone who speaks it in the house. Again, it is a beautiful language.

LR: You mentioned the inspiration in the forest and the marsh leaves, any particular area that has inspired this?

JC: I think that I was originally inspired by marshes because of the hiking that I do along the San Francisco Bay. Here in Palo Alto wetlands have been restored to their original estuaries and the tidal flats for bird migrations. We are very, very fortunate that people in Palo Alto have been foresighted enough to respect and honor these wetlands. I often go hiking for miles and miles along the trails that have been built through the marshes, as well as other marshes throughout the world. I laughingly say that my husband takes me to all the best marshes, but seriously whenever we travel if there is a marsh he's got it on our itinerary. Sometimes I will be surprised and [we will.] go places where you would never expect there to be a marsh. We spent the summer in Brittany a couple of summers ago when [my husband.] was on sabbatical. He surprised me by taking me to the most amazing marsh I had ever been to, it was called La Brière. It's at the base of the Loire River in Brittany. I believe it is one of the largest in the world, and it's vast, it's virtually impenetrable. There are no roads through it, you can only circumnavigate it or take boats through. It has its own language and its own architecture. Little houses called 'chaumières' are made out of the marsh grasses and the haunting beauty of that particular marsh led me to several pieces, including a piece that was accepted to Quilt National in '05, I believe, that I titled "La Brière." There's something beautiful about the marshes, but there is also something kind of mysterious and haunting and not exactly sinister, but not exactly peaceful either. "La Brière," if you look at the actual piece has very spiky appliqué pieces that are almost like a fence or a wall that you can't quite get beyond. I had finished the piece for Quilt National before I left for Brittany that summer, but when I came home and took one look at this piece I realized it wasn't finished. It demanded this appliqué, which is this almost fence-like structure. But since the piece was finished, I didn't really feel like taking the whole thing apart and sewing on the appliqué, which I would have done with my sewing machine. So I hand sewed like forty slender pencil thin reeds and grasses onto the surface of the piece and that took another two weeks, but it had to be done, it absolutely had to be done. I had never done any hand sewing or appliqué either and it was interesting because you get a completely different look. I really loved it. As you sew along the edge of the appliqué you do this stitch that kind of catches the edge of the reed or grass and then slips underneath and then catches it so you can get a [very.] regular tuck along there which I think looks almost more like the [real.] reeds and grasses would look. So it was a challenge, but it turned out successfully and I was thrilled when it was accepted. Marshes for me are inspiring all over the world. Up through the Pointe Reyes Estuary System, all through southern California, there are places that have been preserved and essentially it's my way of celebrating the beauty of these areas and celebrating their preservation. Because so often the tidal areas of marshlands were under appreciated, plowed under, developed and I hope through celebrating their beauty that people realize their beauty and perhaps respect them more and potentially save them for future generations.

LR: Would you like to talk about the Arashi Shibori?

JC: I would love to talk about Arashi Shibori. I never intended to be a textile artist, but I always intended to be an artist. My mother was an artist and I grew up at her side. One of her first studios that I remember anyway was in the basement in Massachusetts and she had a painting studio down there. I had my table with my pencils and my pens and my paints right next to her. I grew up with art and I grew up with the desire to be an artist, so that was a path. And then I eventually arrived at San Francisco State University, which had and still has an amazingly well respected Art Department. I worked my way through every art class they offered, including jewelry, sculpture, and ceramics. In fact I paid for a lot of my schooling through teaching ceramics, it was a love of mine; I still love ceramics and collect ceramics. [But.] I worked my way through the entire Art Department and took all their painting [classes.] and was almost ready to graduate and I needed some more units and I thought well I haven't taken textiles, why not. I had heard about a teacher called Candace Crockett and that she was doing some wonderful things and was a great teacher. So it was a very spur of the moment, last minute decision to take textiles, almost as a graduating senior. It was a life changing experience. I will never forget the first class. She came in, Candace Crockett, and she had a huge basket. You couldn't tell what was inside of it, but she poured it out onto the school table and what we were looking at were textiles from around the world, embroidery, dyeing, stitchery, braids of Afghanistan and Morocco and some Japanese [textiles.] and it was the most amazing experience. I have always loved textiles. My parents have paisley shawls and Navajo rugs and kimonos that they had collected, but I had never seriously considered them art or a means of expressing yourself. That's what that class did, was open my eyes to textiles as an expressive medium for art and it was exciting. I can't even begin to tell you how exciting that was. I took her first class which was Card Weaving and it opened up the world of thread and yarn and all of that. Then I took weaving and weaving was not my cup of tea. I don't have the patience to sit at a loom and I also like to work very spontaneously and I found that weaving took too much of a premeditated technique. You had to know what you were going to do before you did it in other words, and I would much rather work spontaneously. Luckily for me I took dyeing which was the next class offered. I'm almost ready to graduate at this point and I fell in love with all the different dye techniques that she could teach and I loved the spontaneity of the dye application, I love the quality of the color, it seemed deeper and richer, and a much deeper hue than anything you could possibly create with paint. I think possibly that is true on a physical level too because the dye molecules actually go within the fiber and attach to the molecules of the silk or the cotton, they are not just sitting on the surface. I was experimenting with dyeing and Candace actually had several artists come in to do guest lectures and one of these was Ana Lisa Hedstrom and she is the queen of Shibori. She did a [maybe.] one hour demonstration of Arashi Shibori on PVC pipe. She wrapped the silk and she did some dyeing and then she unwrapped it and it was one of those light bulb moments, I was absolutely mesmerized by this Arashi Shibori. Traditionally it was done on poles, which were the size of telephone poles and kimono fabric was wrapped around the pole and compressed and twisted and pleated and secured to the pole with threads and dyed indigo in a two person cottage industry kimono fabric dyeing procedure. Ana Lisa's interpretation of the huge wooden poles was these lightweight PVC pipes. I went home that afternoon and I didn't have any PVC pipe but she had told me where she had purchased her dyes. It was in this little tiny Japanese antique store, framing store, art store on Clement Street [in San Francisco, California.]. They sold [shoji.] screens and all kinds of Japanese paraphernalia for all kinds of art [including.] this wonderful dye called "miyako zome" dye in little tiny glass jars. I bought a few colors and I came home and I didn't have PVC pipe, as I mentioned, but I did have broom handles. So my first experiments with Arashi Shibori were taking little tiny pieces of silk, which I just happened to have, because all fiber artists have silk laying around, and pleated them up and wrapped them on broom handles and stuck them in the dye and the results were really amazingly good considering what I was using and it was my first time. So I explored broom handles. My roommates at the time thought I was totally crazy, and graduated to the next form of a tube, which I had in the house, which wouldn't break in boiling water, because it is a boiling water process, which were jug wine bottles. I used jug wine bottles from that day on until about a year ago. I just used the same bottles. I actually had about fourteen bottles, they never broke and I moved them from house to house, and they served me beautifully for my dyeing until about a year ago. I wanted to work a little larger and I wanted more surface area then the jug wine could provide. I finally found a plastic pole, lightweight plastic pole that does not melt in boiling water. PVC pipe will not exactly melt, but it gets very soft and it was just unusable in boiling water. Now I use ABS pipes and you can buy them in twelve inch lengths at the hardware store and it's great, it has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me for dyeing. Just enough more surface design to use, but not enough to lose the delicacy and the intricacy of the dyeing technique. I started to explore the Arashi Shibori on the wine bottles and the broom handles and that was in 1979. Next year I will be celebrating my thirtieth year doing this technique. Exploring one technique for thirty years! It's never bored me, it has never failed to amaze me. I have explored the results, surprises are still revealed, things occur to me to do new and different. You would think you would use up all the techniques, but it seems to be an infinite source of inspiration. One of the things that I discovered almost twenty years ago, rather than actually just simply dyeing color onto the surface of the wrapped silk on the pole, is to use a discharging technique. So I usually start with black. I take black silk and I cut it into panels which are about a foot wide by maybe five feet tall, and I intricately pleat them with a hot iron and a plant mister.

LR: A what?

JC: A plant mister. I dampen the silk and then I work intricate pleats into the silk with the iron. It's a lot like origami, so it's a folding technique. I never write anything down. I never journal, so every single time I dye it's fresh and new. Of course I'm working off of the experiments and the experience I've had dyeing, but I also like to almost, if I can say this, forget what I've done before so that I can try something new. So I work these pleats into the silk and in this way subtract or reduce the size of the original piece of silk until sometimes it just looks like a little package of silk. It's layers and layers and layers [demonstrates with her hands.] upon silk all pleated together. It's laid on the glass bottle or the plastic tube and then secured with fine threads. Then it is dipped into a discharge or bleaching solution which is a sodium hydrosulfite product, which removes the color from the silk but does not harm the silk as a chlorine product would. Only the outer edges, the outer perimeters of the silk, are where the color is removed. As you work your way through those layers inner pleats stay black. So it's white or almost white on the surface and then it goes into gradations of gray and pewter and various colors until you reach pure black. Then those fabrics are taken off the pole and opened up and then re-pleated and rewrapped and re-discharged until I feel that the appropriate complexity of pattern and design has been achieved. I never know exactly what I'm going to get, as I said there is a surprise element definitely involved, but it also seems like a lot of it is completely out of my control. There are atmospheric changes and there are things that I never can quite tell.

LR: [there is a slight pause.] Someone is coming in the front door. Go ahead please.

JC: If I just stopped there with the black and the white discharge technique, that actually has an amazingly beautiful result all of its own. When the black is removed, it doesn't exactly go to white, it goes into beautiful shades of cream, or pewter, or silver, almost some gold, metallic hints and I love using those subtle gradations of color to create very atmospheric pieces, in a sepia tone, monochromatic palette. However, if I want to I can add color at this point as well and I can rewrap it onto the pole and then I can apply dye with three colors. I use magenta, lemon yellow and turquoise to achieve all of the colors in all of my pieces. I apply the dye by holding the bottle or the pole over a dye pot and I use a little pitcher to pour the dye over the surface of the pole. This takes a great deal of time to build up the color to the desired intensity because I use very thin dye baths, very diluted is a better word. So very diluted that there is not much color, so in other words the colors from each dye pot are poured over [and over,.] one after the other [as they intensify.]. I move from my yellow to the magenta to the turquoise and back again to build up the color very slowly to create the intensity that I want. Underneath it's not pure white, there is a residue color that bleeds through or glows through and that comes from my training as a painter. I learned that you don't just paint orange, you paint a little bit of turquoise, a little magenta, and then a little yellow and you build a richer orange that way. You don't know it when you look at it, but your eye can tell, it is a subtle result. Usually the origami pleating can take several days to a week and then the actual bleaching or discharging can take up to a week for a normal wall piece. It takes a long time to actually remove the dye from the pieces [of silk.]. If I just use a very strong solution of the discharge, it will just discharge right through all the layers right down to the bottom and you will have nothing but white. So you have to do it really, really slowly so that it very slowly saturates and removes the color. I learned that the hard way. One day I was trying to hurry things and I thought I will just add more discharge. Why I hadn't done that for twenty-five years and then all of a sudden I did that about a year ago? I thought why haven't I tried this before, it must have been because it wouldn't work. It completely discharged everything. I had white silk. It was just terrible. So I do it very slowly. If some of the gradations of color that are usually in the atmospheric parts of the top of my pieces, those are actually dipped by hand into the discharge pot. I actually keep the silk in constant motion, dipping it in and out of the discharge pot for up to an hour. Just image that. That's for each piece [of silk.] that I discharge. Often times I will be reading a paperback book with one hand and dipping with my right hand, switch the book to my right hand and dip with my left hand, and it just keeps me occupied. I do all my discharging outside, wind or weather, whatever, [it doesn't make any difference.]. I have huge market umbrellas and I have my discharge pots on hot plates out there. I just enjoy being in the back yard and I stand under my five hundred year old oak tree and I watch the squirrels play in the trees and time flies and if I'm lucky I get really good results. Then I do the dyeing and that is essentially like a painter recreating their palettes of silks. I have this huge pile of silks before I start any piece so that I have all kinds of fabrics and colors to work with. Then I start to put them together to create exciting relationships in the silks. It is almost like a friendship, some kind of exciting something happens when you put this silk next to this silk, there's some kind of energy that happens. When that happens then I know that piece has started, that's the beginning of the piece. That can take a couple of days to find. If I have enough silks, I'm confident that that will happen. Sometimes that relationship is in the middle of a piece of silk, so I fold under the edges and then I fold under some other edges, and then I put those two pieces together, so I am usually reducing the size of the panels of silk until that amazing relationship starts and that's usually the center of the piece. I'm working on my floor at this point, so I have lots of flexibility. It's very spontaneous and very active and I mean if you were making a tape of me working it would probably look like it was almost in fast forward, because I'm throwing silks and I'm putting them down, and throwing silks and then gathering them all up and throwing them over my shoulder, starting over again, putting them down, looking for that wonderful something. Then when that is found things slow down a little and I usually work out from the middle adding more and more panels as I work towards the edges of the kimono, what essentially would become the arms of the kimono. Usually after about two or three days of piecing, which is almost like a collage technique, usually I have to go back to the dye pot because I will need to dye more fabrics to exactly get what I'm looking for, and that's fine. After that, I go and work again on the floor to look for these relationships. When things are more refined and I'm really happy with what I've got but I know that it's no where near done, that's when the wall piece goes up on the design wall. I have a wall, maybe twelve feet wide, your typical ceiling height and I use push pins and I just push pin the fabrics up on the wall. Then I usually go back to the dye pot and start a new piece because I need to rest, I need that piece to rest and my favorite thing of all is to just come into the studio and look and see if it's right or it's wrong. Usually just microscopic changes can change the whole piece. Like just taking a quarter of an inch off two of the panels and reducing them makes it work, or you add something, or you take a piece out of the middle. Even though it looks in the end like there is almost no piecing at all, there can be maybe five hundred seams in a piece. [Sometimes.] I draw a little line across with a ruler and then cut it and then sew it back together. You're just eliminating maybe half an inch of silk, those changes make a huge difference. What I like to do is go back to the dye pot and start a whole new wall piece while the first piece is in the piecing stage. I usually like to have two pieces going on at once. Usually I start moving back and forth between the pieces and they both get done, and usually but not always they are similar to each other, they're almost related in some way even though they are completely different. Usually you can tell that those two pieces were partners in their creation. When they are all pieced together, they are sewn together and then quilted. The quilting refines areas, it outlines areas in the silk. Like the marsh grasses I would usually outline them. Until this most recent piece "Acqua Chiara" I almost only used black thread [to quilt.]. I pretty much drew with the black thread and used it as a very fine pen line to outline areas. So to use colorful gradations of silk in this piece is completely new and different too, it is very exciting and very fun.

LR: It is very inspiring. Very Inspiring.

JC: Thank you.

LR: Talk a bit about your own personal involvement in the world of quilts. You teach?

JC: I do not teach dyeing like Arashi Shibori, and I do not teach quilting, but I do teach other forms of surface design which might awaken a student's interest in textiles or in color or in design or in composition, and I like to teach paper classes. I like to teach collage classes. I have taught classes on Haiku and collage. I have studied Haiku very seriously. I teach a lot of different classes and usually just once. So I put this huge amount of energy into this one class and it will be completely new to me, I will never have done it before and almost never do it again. I love teaching but because it's such a creation of something completely new, I only do it once or twice a year for very special events. For instance, one of my favorite conferences that I taught for was the "Design with Heart" conference that was sponsored and created by Jill Heppenheimer and Barbara Manning who are the owners of the Santa Fe Weaving Gallery. This was a conference designed for mid-level textile artists who were looking for a new direction in their work. They were established artists who were doing a mid-career change or looking for new inspiration. Jill and Barb always inspired me to create a class that I had never done before, and I think it was because of my love and respect for them that I would come up with something really unique, something special for them. Unfortunately that conference has been ended so it is not going to be anymore. Now I'm taking the opportunity to do that kind of class for other special things. Besides teaching I have always been an active volunteer. The minute I graduated from college I started volunteering at the Palo Alto Art Center and that lead to being on their Board of Directors and I served two full terms on their Board of Directors, separated by about five years when I had my daughter and lived a few towns away. I decided I didn't have enough time to drive up to Palo Alto, but when she was a little older and we actually moved to Palo Alto I served again. Then I was on the Board of Directors of the Textile Arts Counsel for the De Young Museum here in San Francisco. I really enjoyed that. That opened up my whole world of textiles and opened up the opportunity to meet and interact with textile artists throughout the Bay Area. The one thing that I do notice that this job of mine is a very solo job, very isolating to work in a studio 24/7 because I do work 24/7 it seems like. I'm very much of a people person so the volunteer opportunities were a way to get out and be with people. When I was invited to join the board of the Studio Art Quilt Associates five years ago by Katie Pasquini, the previous president, I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to be a volunteer in an organization that was directly involved with the kind of work that I was doing. I didn't know I was doing art quilts until a friend of mine told me you're doing art quilts. I said, 'What's an art quilt?' And she says, 'An art quilt is a contemporary quilting technique where you are expressing your ideas and inspiration and your thoughts on the world, your inner thoughts through the medium of quilts.' This was news to me, [laughs.] and I was very excited that there were other artists that were doing this kind of work. Then I started reading about the amazing work that was being done, and I realized yes, my work was quilted. It was accidental that it was quilting, because I dye relatively small pieces of fabric, and yet I like to work big, so you have to sew them together and create something bigger than what can come off of the wine bottle. In fact there was a period in my career in the mid-eighties and early nineties I was working really big. I was working on multi-story installations that were two and three stories in size for corporate; these were all corporate commissions working through galleries and working through art brokers, and these were not just one big huge quilt on the wall, they were multiple panels and installations. That was very exciting, brought out the engineer in me. Anyway, I lost my train of thought.

LR: It's perfectly okay. [laughs.] We are talking about all your involvement, your volunteer work.

JC: That is really my passion. I would say at this point equal to my passion in my own art. I served on the Board of Directors of SAQA for three years, and then at the request of several board members I began to consider the possibility of being SAQA's president and this seemed to be quite an overwhelming possibility for me, but the more I thought about it the more I decided that I was ready for this challenge and that my years of volunteer work would add to what I could offer to this organization, so I became the vice-president, the first vice-president SAQA ever had and I considered this my training year. It was great because Katie Pasquini, the second president was still president, so I had her to mentor me. We had a wonderful executive directory, Martha Sielman who I adore working with to also train me, so that was last year, that was my training year and then September 31 [2007.] I assumed the presidency of the Studio Art Quilt Associates and I'm having the time of my life. I just love it. It's not every day that is wonderful. I mean there are definitely problems and challenges, but essentially my role is ambassador for this organization, and I see my role as promoting the art quilt and promoting the organization SAQA to the wider art world. Introducing art quilting to this audience which in many cases has never heard of it before, not unlike myself twenty years ago. On top of that mission is to provide the resources for other art quilters to explore and be superb at their chosen art form. As an organization, we are avidly working to improve what we offer to our members. We have an amazing website and we are working to make it more user friendly by introducing in March of this year a SAQA University and a Wiki site which will be where artists can come in and do everything from mentoring other artists to reading all the resources that we have ever complied on our journals or our conferences, everything will be there. It will be like a mini university and I think it will be really interesting. We also support our members through conferences, exhibition catalogues, and not to mention exhibitions and we are working on exhibitions literally world-wide. We will be showing our members work this year in Oceania, Japan, England, Europe and throughout the United States, so we are in an amazing growth period.

LR: Very exciting. We have just one minute left on this tape, would you mind if I stopped this tape and put in a new tape. Would you mind talking just a few minutes longer?

JC: Not at all.

LR: This is Le Rowell and I'm interviewing Judith Content and this is a continuation of our original conversation, three minutes have elapsed which gave me time to change the tape. Judith, you were talking about SAQA and your role, your quiltmaking role and as president of SAQA and you mentioned that you have also been a juror.

JC: Yes Le, about six months ago I was invited to jury the VISIONS exhibition, which is an art quilt bi-annual exhibition that takes place in San Diego, California. What is interesting to me when I received this invitation was my very first major exhibition that I was accepted to was VISIONS and it was exactly ten years ago. I guess that is right, ten years ago, and I was encouraged to jury for this exhibition by a friend of mine, Kathleen Sharp who is an art quilter and she was the one that told me that what I was doing was the art quilt and I just think it's absolutely very exciting that here I am now ten years later going down to be the juror. I am extremely excited by this opportunity. I have heard that the entries are just amazingly wonderful, so I feel I am going to have the most exciting opportunity to see some beautiful work and I know it will be a hard choice, but I hope that I will do my best in choosing pieces. I'm very much a trained artist and I work very hard to achieve the major design elements in my work, such as composition and light and shadow and contrast of color and form and texture and design, and that's what I will be looking for in work in San Diego, work that speaks beyond the quilt into fine and complete art.

LR: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JC: I think a great quilt is one that captures your eye and that you see when you have closed your eyes, it remains with you. It is such a strong image and that can be achieved through composition or through color or form, but essentially when you close your eyes you still see that piece, it's that strong. However, every time you look at the piece you see something new so it is full of surprises as well. I would like to say in addition to that, that the quilting of the piece, I see it as the refinement of the piece. I definitely see the quilting as an inner world. The closer you look, the nuances and the beauty and the exquisiteness of the stitching is like an added beauty to the original piece, but the original design has to be strong, strong enough to create what I consider to be a really strong art quilt.

LR: What makes a great quiltmaker?

JC: Someone who is committed to their work, someone who works through the challenges of quilting, someone who is passionate about the fabric, because if we didn't love the fabric we would be painters and if we did love the fabric we would be sculptures and work with marble or bronze or glass, but we love fabric, there's something about it that is addictive in a way. The best art quilters will bring that fabric out and enhance its quality to make it more than just fabric.

LR: How do we preserve these quilt works of art?

JC: I think SAQA is a good example there of preserving the art quilt. One of the ways that we preserve the art quilt is through exhibitions that people can come and see the work and hopefully remember it, but also further than that, documentation through exhibition catalogues. I say that with a hesitation too, because I feel that going back to the beauty of the fabric, there is no substitute to seeing an art quilt in person, there is just no substitute, no photograph will ever capture the beauty of just walking up to that quilt and seeing it in person. However, the next best thing would be documenting it through exhibition catalogues or through archival means of slides and photographs through slide or digital repositories of work where you could go and see the work. That's what we will be doing on our SAQA University. Lets see, how else to actually preserve the work.

LR: Your piece for example. How would you preserve your piece?

JC: To create the longevity of the piece itself would be to install it under correct circumstances. In other words in circumstances that will prolong the life of the actual fabric, because fabric has a limited life, it isn't stone and it isn't glass unfortunately, but that means you need to install it away from direct light and heat sources and take care of it and respect it for that. I had a piece sold, a lot of my pieces used to go to corporations and I was always very careful to work with an art broker so the light on the piece was UV filtered. The windows would be treated. The lights would be treated, and now I don't do as many corporate commissions but I have work that goes into people's homes. Now I work with those people to have the pieces installed where they will be protected. A recent piece was sold to a couple in Alaska in Anchorage and they asked if I had any recommendations on how it should be installed, and I said you should definitely not install it in bright direct light. I asked, 'What about the place where you are thinking of?' and she said, 'In my front hallway'. Okay great, thinking that the hallway wouldn't get much light, and she goes actually it does get a lot of light, for ten months of the year it gets twenty-four hours a day of light until winter and then it doesn't get anything. You know you should probably take that piece down during the couple of months, June, July and August, with absolute twenty-four hours a day and put up something that doesn't fade and take care of it. I was glad that she brought that up.

LR: One last question, what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

JC: I think it's really a challenge to have this medium respected by the greater art world as an art form. I try not to think about it in terms of my own work. I just keep on doing it and I don't really care what anybody thinks in the greater art world, I'm going to do my artwork and hopefully it will be perceived someday through the records of the work as a real form of art. I'm expressing important issues, exploring important issues in my pieces. It's a hard time to get these pieces exhibited in a mainstream museum, and so that's what we are trying for is to help artists to develop the very finest artwork that they can in their lifetime and then to give them the success of having their work exhibited in the mainstream art world and it is an uphill battle, but I do think we are making strides there. I'm seeing changes happen and I'm seeing work being reviewed in more mainstream art journals and taken more seriously and I think that as the art quilt matures that it will be taken more seriously, those two things will go hand and hand. It's really a very youthful medium. If you think about it, the art quilt didn't really exist much more than thirty years ago, and that's really kind of exciting to think about, to see where it has come in a mere thirty years. Before that time, it was the traditional quilt, so I would like to see where it goes and see the definition of the art quilt expand to include new mediums within the art quilt too, and it's an evolving, changing, exciting field to be part of. I'm just really excited to be one small part of it.

LR: We have just a couple of minutes left, is there anything else that you would like to add before we finish? This has been an interesting conversation.

JC: Thank you. [there is a pause while Judith reviews the questions to refresh her memory.] There is a question here and it's like what do you find pleasing about quiltmaking and what aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy, and I thought I might end with that. I'm a builder by nature. I like to build walls. I like to build gardens. I love to make things and I think that's why I love the art quilt. I think if I loved to wield a brush I would be a painter and I actually do like to wield a brush if you look around my house. I have orange walls and turquoise walls and blue walls, so I do love to create color in my environment, but there is something about building the art quilt that really feeds my passion. It's always changing, it's always evolving, I never have a chance to be bored with any technique. By the time I may be a little tired of the dyeing, well it's time to do the piecing, and when that is over it's time to do the quilting and then the sewing together and then I have this piece that is almost like a friend to me that I have built. I think it's that process and it's color. There is no doubt in my mind that color is a therapy for me. It is essential to my well-being and so to surround myself with color in my work, in my house, in my garden is the most important thing of all and it's a privilege to do it. I think that is all I would have to say today.

LR: Thank you Judith. This has been a great pleasure, and thank you for allowing me to interview you for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. We are in Palo Alto, California and our interview was concluded at 12:00 noon and it is February 18, 2008.

Collection



Citation

“Judith Content,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed September 27, 2023, http://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1509.