Valerie Goodwin


AQATS19119_029 Valerie Goodwin.jpg


Valerie Goodwin




Valerie Goodwin


Bernie Herman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The National Quilting Association


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Kim Greene


Bernie Herman (BH): This is Bernie Herman with the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories on the 8th of April 2006 at the Art Quilts at Sedgwick Exhibition, and I am here with Valerie Goodwin, and we would like to talk to you about your quilt catharsis here.

Valerie Goodwin (VG): All right. Well, this quilt is representative of one of two series that I often times imaged working on. I have one series that relates to architecture. I teach architecture in Florida and the University of Tallahassee. And that series of quilts usually represents an aerial view of a map or landscape of often times an invented place. Sort of out of my head. That comes to fruition using fiber, paint, and various things. But also, I am also drawn to working very abstractly, and I usually do a piece or two within each of those series once a year. And so, I feel like they both sort of inform the other, but it's something that I just feel like. This series, I guess is something I really felt like I had to get out of me because it came about during a time period when I discovered that I had fibromyalgia. And it was a very emotional time for me. And, doing this piece was very cathartic, and it enabled me to sort of unleash some of the inner emotions of feelings of anger and fear and frustration; those sorts of things that I was experiencing. And also, coincidentally I had become interested in the work of Jackson Pollack, and I had also been wanting to get away from a design process where I would work like an architect does, where you have a concept, you develop that, and you have sort of blueprint, or something that is sort of engraved in stone, and then you have the product. And I wanted to try to focus on the materials and the process and feelings that I was having, and to see where that would take me. And so that is what this piece represents to me.

BH: Can you talk a little bit as an architect?

VG: Um, hum.

BH: How does your practice as an architect shape your approach to working in the fiber arts?

VG: Well, do you think it is rather unusual perhaps that I became interested in this? I am just curious.

BH: Well not at all.

VG: Not at all. Okay.

BH: I'm actually going to go down the line here.

VG: Okay. Just state the question again.

BH: Can you talk a bit about how your practice and training as an architect intersects or is it in forms, or is it formed by your work as a fiber artist or as a quilt artist?

VG: Well, certainly the subject matter informs my work. And the idea of using patterns and grids and shapes and depth, and some of the things that architects use as their tools to be creative and to, um, bring something to fruition. I think there are some corralled and some parallels between quilting and architecture that I was very interested in making people understand and appreciate. Actually, I came to quilting in kind of an odd way, in that I was reading an article in the Journal of Architectural Education written by an associate professor of architecture who asked her students to design a museum of quilts. And, so the strategy that she used was that she had the students study traditional patchwork designs and to look at design principals in that, and they would use that as a strategy or sort of a way of, of coming at the design of or the way to organization, I guess a piece of architecture. Something about that just like bells and whistles went off. And I teach first year design which deals with design fundamentals. And I was just curiously drawn to try to incorporate, experiment with some of the things that she used that related more with the design principles, not necessarily to do a complicated piece of architecture. The students she was focusing on were sort up a division students in architecture. And I experimented with that for a while, and it just became very important to me. And I did sort of variations on these design exercises for a while, and I decided to take a class in quilting. I said, 'Well there is something to this. I must be interested in it, let me just learn how to quilt.' So, I took a six week class at a community college once a week and from there on, I just knew I was headed in this new and exciting different direction. When I was taking the class, I was struck by the fact that I would ask the person questions about quilting patterns and design, and I would ask what if questions and she would just say, 'Well you are supposed to do. You have to do this, this and that.' She didn't really question anything, and I just knew there was more to it than what she was doing, and I didn't know anything about art quilts. And about a year later, a colleague of mine at the School of Architecture brought to work the Quilt National book, and so that was another sort of milestone. I said, 'Ah ha, I knew that there was something more to this.' And, so gradually I just started to experiment, and I took a class at Quilt Surface Design Symposium and my work sort of evolved as these new doors opened. And I guess I should also state that my grandmother was a home economics teacher, and she actually went to college for the twenty years off and on and she finally got her degree, and she would teach home ec. And we would go and visit her every summer. I grew up in Connecticut. We would go and visit her every summer. She lived in Alabama, and she would have all her students come to the house and they would always make stuff, sew stuff, and she was really into working with the girls and showing them things, and she took the time to show me how to sew.

BH: What was her name?

VG: Her name was Larcie Steele [she was called Mama Steele.].

BH: And which college in Alabama?

VG: She went to Alabama A&M; and at the time you could actually teach in the segregated schools. You could teach while you were going to school. So, she would teach during the fall and the spring. And then in the summer she would leave her family and she would stay on campus, and she would work on her degree. So, she finally got her degree. And it was amazing that she did that, because she had five children. My mother was the youngest of five children. She was the only daughter that she had. And anyway, she really influenced me. Well, I really just sort of got away from the notion of sewing and making things, going to school in the seventies, and wanting to study architecture. And I just thought that was something that I had to put aside because architecture was men's work, and you have to sort of have to follow suit and do the things that were expected of you. And so, I didn't touch a sewing machine or needle or anything again until 1998. So, I would say a good twenty-five, twenty years passed between when she taught me to sew, and I would make clothes for my sisters. I put it down when I got into later years of high school and college and didn't pick it up again until 1998. And even when I started to sew again, I felt like I had to keep it under cover. Couldn't let my colleagues at work know that I was, that I was sewing anything. But, seeing the work I was doing with my students, they were intrigued by the projects and there was some curiosity about it, and I just boldly decided to bring some of my work to a faculty meeting, because they are so boring. It was really interesting that you felt at the same time looked down at you for doing that, but they were very curious about it, and they became more interested in me as a person and my interests at the same time. So that was sort of ironic to me and, so I felt like both things have come together really well. I am really fortunate that the work I do as an architect and as a teacher and as a quilt artist, that all inform with one another. I don't think I would be doing what I am doing right now unless I had all these different experiences and different things I had to juggle. I really feel very lucky.

BH: And, two very different questions I want to ask, but I will start with one that comes out of something you said a few minutes ago.

VG: Um, hum.

BH: And you talked about sort of architecture as kind of masculine enterprise, and then you talked about the reception of your work with the needle arts. What would you do with; I will just make a proposition here?

VG: Okay.

BH: It is quilts are the houses that women build. I am thinking historically.

VG: Quilts are the houses that women build. When I think of houses, I think of shelter and memory and, I can see that. It's not something that structural or, well it is textile. But I think there is some vitality to what you are saying.

BH: I would like you think about that aloud a little bit.

VG: Pardon me?

BH: I would like you to think about that aloud.

VG: Aloud.

BH: You know, please feel free to disagree with it as a proposition.

VG: Quilts are the houses that women built.

BH: And by building, I mean design. I am thinking about them as habitable. I'm thinking about all of these qualities of architecture in a dwelling.

VG: To tell you the truth, I don't think I agree with the dwelling part. But I do agree with them as being sort of repositories for memories.

BH: [inaudible.]

VG: Or I think. Well, I think some of the work obviously in a lot of the work done by traditional quilters and quilts that people relate to, people in your family or things that they may have worn, and all of those things. I think that to me it relates to sort of the feeling as inhabiting a space. Particularly something that is intimate like a house, in making a house your own, and the idea of shelter, intimacy and all those things, I think I see a correlation between it. But I'm not sure about the idea of shelter.

BH: The other part is that at the heart of architectural, architectural considerations, architectural design, there always is the problem with the question of spatiality and the nature of space.

VG: Um, hum.

BH: And I was wondering how you would characterize the idea of quilt spaces as architectural. The kind of spaces that quilts create.

VG: You mean like in a formal sense the idea of depth and, and, layering and creating a sense of something having three dimensional qualities of space, but yet being made of something that is inherently two dimensional. I think that is an important aspect of this form of art and using the materials. I think that architects naturally deal with more three-dimensional things, inhabiting things from the inside and also in terms of it creating form. Three-dimensional shape is form, is three-dimensional shape. And so I think that there are similarities between the two. I think those are important aspects, certainly to a lot of architects. Maybe not to a lot of quilters not necessarily. The idea of space. Some do, some don't. I think architecture has to deal with that.

BH: What about other kinds of spacers? Some people have described it as mental spaces, like narrative space, or memory space.

VG: In which one?

BH: Both of them. I sort; I'm really interested in exploring this intersection.

VG: Um, hum.

BH: And you in particular as an artist of two, these two very different fields. You know, you are in a position to talk about what you have described as sort of correlations.

VG: I guess I'm more interested in sort of the formal language of both, and not necessarily what you described as sort of a memory, and I don't know. You are asking me some very hard questions. Things that I would have to think about, I think before I could just answer you off the cuff.

BH: Well, we are just having a conversation.

VG: We are having a conversation that is going to.

BH: That you get to edit.

VG: It is going to be put out there somewhere. I don't know. Let me think about that one.

BH: All right.

VG: Yes.

BH: I really would be interested in what you think along these lines.

VG: Okay.

BH: In terms of--I was going to ask you about architectural influences.

VG: Um, hum.

BH: You talked about the work of Jackson Pollack, in particular catharsis here.

VG: Right.

BH: But what about in your training in terms of as an architect? Are there architectural idioms that have been a particular note to you, particularly influential?

VG: When I was in architectural school it was during the eighties and that was in post modernism. And I sort of look back on that and think of it as being kind of very. There is some innovative things that went on in terms of reinterpreting some of the formal aspects of architecture and being a response reaction to modernism and the way it sort of dehumanized architecture and so on so I guess my influences were related to the work that was done back during the eighties by people like Michael Graves and Robert Venturi and some of those architects. But really, now I think that I appreciate the work of just a lot of different architects. I do like some of the work of Alvar Aalto. Sort of the organic, the way he uses materials, and sort of the more relaxed approach he takes to sort of the formal ideas of arranging spaces. And spaces sort of slide one into the other, and they are not. So, I guess separated or segmented. The way, sort of postmodern architecture approach to design. Who else do I like? I used to like the work of Frank Gary. Maybe I shouldn't even say this, since it is going to be out there on the Internet. But to me, Frank Gary's work is more like. Some people say it is an inhabitable sculpture. And I think it is just sculpture that has been enlarged to scale. So, I am not so enamored of his work. I like the work of Gerritt Rietveld. I like the Schroeder House. Who else's work do I like? I like the work of Renzo Piano. I like that and I like the work of Santiago Calatrava. Do you teach history of architecture, somebody said--

BH: Vernacular architecture. Traditional buildings and stuff.

VG: Vernacular. Okay.

BH: But I'm with you here.

VG: Okay.

BH: I am following along.

VG: Okay. I mean I just have a smattering of, I guess different architecture that I appreciate, and that I am influenced by.

BH: When you chose Jackson Pollack--

VG: Yes.

BH: Is it--you have engaged abstract expressionism.

VG: Yes.

BH: And you have also engaged in modernism.

VG: Right.

BH: In a sense, so I was wondering. And, then what you talked about the influence about postmodern architects. What about modernism in your work as a quiltmaker?

VG: Well, do you see it? It's hard for me to be reflective with my own work in sort of a category. It is really hard to get outside of my own head and my own self to be objective and to objectify sort of what I do.

BH: I appreciate that problem. As people, when people ask me about things I do. So, let me phrase it differently.

VG: Okay.

BH: Is--why Jackson Pollack?

VG: I guess because I don't have art training. I have taken a few art history classes, but I just know intuitively I'm drawn to certain things. And I think the thing I like about his work is I like the use of the line. I'm just drawn to shapes that are very linear and very organic, and shapes that sometimes seem they are calligraphic, like it could be part of an alphabet, could come together to form some that are not.

BH: A suggestion of writing.

VG: Suggestion of writing. And I also like the sense of depth and the layered aspect of his work. And really for me, understanding his work helped me to try and deal with material and the process, and to give myself, get myself I guess out of the straight jacket of the way I was trained to approach architecture. And so, to me I guess it was, sort of the visual aspects of his work and also starting to understand or wanting to work much like with the freedom and abandonment that he works. I think that is why I was drawn to his work.

BH: When I look at Pollack's work--

VG: Um, hum.

BH: I'm also drawn by the energy and the emotion of it, and I come back to your earlier commentary on this piece situated with him, your own dealing with fibromyalgia, which I know from my own family is, is, how hard and how frustrating and how angry that is. And so, I think about that aspect of Pollack.

VG: Yes, exactly. Exactly. My students look at my work and say, 'oh my God, is all that inside of you?' Because they won't. A lot of people said that what they know of me sort of superficially, they would have no clue that something would come out of me. I guess it is just sort of deeply buried inside of me. And I won't, if this were something that I were to do in public, I don't think I could do this. But as this being a solitary activity, it's just me and it just sort of comes out. And so, this was just really an eventful and important stage in my life as a person who needed an outlet and who was wanting to work in this medium.

BH: How then do you think that this particular work or other works like it mediate the kind of tension between outburst on the one hand, emotional outcry on one hand, and meditation on the other.

VG: Mediate. It is an odd combination isn't it, to think of the two. At some point they are one of the same when you are in the zone, it's just whatever is coming out, it's just emotional but it's a very meditative kind of thing. So, it's sort of two opposing, I think, ways of feeling or ways of operating that come together at the same time, which I think makes it an interesting kind of ironic creative process. I think you also have to be a very organized and very patient, but at the same time a very fluid person to do this in that way. Jackson Pollack just had to paint the canvass and sort of just move it around. I'm not trying to denigrate what he is saying, but this you have to think about the process, and you have to do the stitching and you have to--it's not quite as fluid at all, as the way I image that Jackson Pollack works. But it is freeing because you are letting it, to me, I'm just letting it take me in whatever direction that it was leading me to.

BH: I was interested in the senses that it has, that the work possesses both energy and stillness in the same way that emotion has its moment and meditation, or contemplation has a kind of extended moment.

VG: Yes. You are making me think too much.

BH: That is what I do. [laughs.]

VG: [laughs.]

BH: I'm in the same business as you are. [laughs.]

VG: I need to do this. I have to do this.

BH: As in make the work?

VG: I have to make the work, and I feel grateful that I want to make it work and I can make it work. As an architect, I felt like I was a much better designer on paper than I was at getting the thing actually built and out there. Because there are so many things, so many people you have to sell things to, so many balls you have to juggle. You have to deal with codes. Once I got to the point when I was working in practice where I had been promoted enough and I was a project manager, but I was also a project designer, I think my work suffered. So, I appreciate the fact that this is a lonely art, a solitary art and I have [coughs.], and I have more control over it.

BH: Actually, what you identified to me is one of the key differences between architecture as building and architecture as quilt. And it is the degree that at some point architecture is broadly and publicly collaborative.

VG: It is.

BH: And that the quilt, even though it may be collaborative in certain ways is ultimately far more private than it is making.

VG: It is, and it's very introspective. And I find it interesting also the statement that you just made, because I'm remembering when I was in grad school and there was a student who was double majoring in something else, physiology or whatever, and he did a little study, a survey, and he found that there was a correlation between people who were introverted and their design and abilities versus those who were extroverted. And those who were introverted tended to be considered the better designers in school, but once they got out into the public realm working in practice, the people who were more extroverted, who might have had a more limited design ability were the ones who were more successful.

BH: That's because the one thing that is not in school is the client.

VG: That's right. And you are not really taught to sell yourself. You are not taught how to deal with people. You are not. You sit at it. I went to an Ivy league school, and it was very heavily design oriented and--

BH: Which one did you go to?

VG: I went to Yale University.

BH: Sure, they have a great school.

VG: And I went to Washington University in St. Louis and that is where I got my master's degree. So.

BH: [background noise – inaudible.]

VG: Yes, I think I might have got a fair; I got a great art education as far as design is concerned. But once I got out in the work a day world, I just didn't realize that your main education is, is what you get in the [inaudible.] and what the principal where I was working around was willing to expose you to. If they were going to take you under their wing. There are all those variables that architectures do that meant a lot. They are still out there, but you just don't realize that there is so much more to architecture. [inaudible, skip in tape.] things you do in school.

BH: Where does a quiltmaker get there, get their lessons?

VG: Well, handed down. There is really no one way. You can see here; I am sure you have talked with a lot of the women; people have come at this from all different walks of life and traveled different roads to get here.

BH: I have asked all of these questions, what have I not asked that I should be asking?

VG: I can't answer that, I don't know.

BH: Is there something that you would like to add, some avenue of our conversation that we have not pursued?

VG: I am a very introverted person. I might teach. I'm not that vocal. I really don't enjoy talking to groups or talking to people that I'm not that familiar with and I want to edit out what I just said in whole.

BH: You will have the opportunity. [laughs.]

VG: I don't know, I don't know.

BH: Well, I want to tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you participated and that we had this conversation. I have learned a lot from it.

VG: Okay.

BH: And the questions I asked may have pushed, or been difficult or whatever, I am very interested in. These are things that I wrestle with and I'm sure glad nobody is asking me those questions.

VG: [laughs.]

BH: [laughs.]

VG: I sort of wished that you were asking me questions I guess about my other types of work, stuff that is more directly architectural. But we were really talking about what is here.

BH: For example. When I ask you about your other types of work. You mean your architectural practice?

VG: Yes.

BH: [changed side of tape – have missing comments] "Unknown Regions."

VG: "Unknown Regions." And to me, this represents kind of an approach to working that combines the spontaneity of this piece versus the need to plan and sort of know what direction one wants to go in. So, it combines the idea of being able to be spontaneous and to improvise and to be fluid but also to represent sort of some of the abstract maps or places that I sort of envision in my head, sort of abstract maps of places that don't exist. But to me, this is a small piece that I did, it is like nine by, it is nine inches by twelve inches. And my goal is to do a piece more like this on a larger scale and sort of explore that approach.

BH: It is interesting down in the lower part of "Unknown Regions" is a grid. The idea of the urban grid.

VG: Right.

BH: And then rising out of that is there are grid elements to this really shattered.

VG: Yes. And it's not something I planned. As a matter of fact, I did do a sketch of this and it was more cohesive and it did have an underlying grid, but as I worked with it, I allowed myself to kind of leave some of it behind. But I felt like at the bottom I needed to keep that to kind of anchor it so that it wouldn't totally shatter and come apart. But this is just like I started this by starting at the base and then I paint on it and then I had shear, paint, and then start to add fabric, and I stitch over it, and it is just like a continual kind of a process of layering and looking at it and deciding what it needs.

BH: A building?

VG: [inaudible.] Right.

BH: Would you describe yourself as a quilt builder?

VG: No. Quilt artist.

BH: Quilt artist.

VG: Yes.

BH: Well, I think we have covered the waterfront here.

VG: Okay.

BH: And I know that I would like to scan this tape and look over the interview.

VG: Okay.

BH: I want to really tell you again how much we appreciate that you have allowed us, especially given your comments on interviews. [laughs.]

VG: Okay. Well thanks for hanging in there and listening to me.

BH: Well, no, I found it to be a really fascinating conversation and I have to impose on you for one final insult, which is to take a photograph of you.

VG: Okay.

BH: But, with your number, interview number. But you will be getting the typed script. And we can also correspond by email if there are parts of this that you.

VG: And actually this quilt is on my website. You can get a better image of it.

BH: Oh, great.

VG: And you can just copy and paste it if you would like to.

BH: Okay.

VG: Or any of the other quilts.

BH: Well, I am definitely going to go to your website.

VG: Okay.

BH: And look at this. I do have one final question that is more for my own interest than for the interview. Can you define architecture?

VG: Architecture is--first and foremost, architecture is art. Secondly, architecture must work. Thirdly, architecture is, well I wouldn't even say thirdly, maybe we should even rank it. But architecture has to be a place where people live and exist and work and play, sleep and have to be safe and just a myriad of things. But first and foremost, I know, and I instill this in my students' architecture, it has to be art. But it does have to be a delicate balance between art and some of the more practical concerns.

BH: Right. Let me ask then, what are quilts? Can you define quilts?

VG: What kind of quilts?

BH: Your quilts.

VG: Quilts are art. Quilts are expressions of the self, of the person, and of their needs and their inner feelings and emotions. And things that they want to express. But it is just a different medium of expression.

BH: I like that. I may end up quoting you on this.

VG: That's fine. That sounded intelligent.

BH: Well, actually I have to, I have been asked, I have written this essay on the quilts of Gee's Bend the "Architecture of Gee's Bend Quilts."

VG: Yes, you did say that.

BH: And one of the things that the editor wrote back was can you define architecture. So, I wrote out a definition of architecture. But it was not nearly as wonderful and to the point as this. And it is far better to have this definition from an architect than from a person whose ability resides only in looking at architecture. [laughs.]

VG: Okay. All right.

BH: So, thanks again.

VG: Well, thank you. All right.


“Valerie Goodwin,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,