Petra Voegtle




Petra Voegtle




Petra Voegtle


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Munich, Germany


Karen Musgrave


Karen Musgrave (KM): I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Petra Voegtle whose work I have admired. Since Petra lives in Germany and I live in the United States, we are conducting this interview through e-mail. Our interview begins on April 21, 2007. Petra, thank you for taking your time to do this interview with me. Please tell me about the quilt you chose for this interview.

Petra Voegtle (PV): I thought quite a while about which work, I should choose but since you asked me for a piece that has a special personal meaning it is this one: "Vanity".

Originally, I made this piece for a competition. The competition's theme was requesting a self-portrait. I have used a lot of different motifs and themes for my work, but I never did a self-portrait. So, this was a challenge that intrigued me very much. I did not want to do something usual. I mean most people think of their real face when they are asked for a self-portrait, be it photographers or painters. I thought about what the face of a human is made of my face consists of. I thought about the physical part of a face, how it is built up on bones, muscles and nerves, blood vessels and finally skin. I thought about all the layers which are put on top of each other (isn't this wonderfully quilt related?). And then I thought about how faces carry different layers of meaning, one mask on top of another, mostly never revealing what's beneath the very last one, the one that shows your real self.

I think most people do not show their real face, they try to show only their superficial best. And this is how images are often done. Photographers use filters and a lot of technically sophisticated lenses, painters do not paint the wrinkles and scars that decorate a face - rather they try to show the very best of a person, the beauty or that what could be there and that what reflects a society's standards. I thought about a person that requires the self-portrait. What do you need a self-portrait for? Don't you know how you look like? Or is it something you would like to represent but never can? What is it what you see in the mirror? Your true self or something you would like to be? These were the questions I asked myself.

I personally hate to be photographed - many people do. The reason might be that someone could catch one of your masks you don't want to show. On the other hand, what is so important that you want to hide? Are self-portraits only another metaphor for self-importance? And when someone feels his/her own self-importance isn't this exactly what we call vanity?

There it was, that word "vanity." I immediately thought of the old biblical theme about the deadly sins, and I decided to work on a whole series about these. What could be better for this theme than represent each character through a face, distorting it into a grotesque not only to make it overly clear which character is reflected but also to show a certain satiric moment. So "Vanity" in fact was the first piece of this series, big drawings first, which have been executed on fine Chinese paper and backed with silk, then repeated as coloured stitched pieces, quilts. The second piece, "Greed", was exhibited at last year's biennial Art Quilt III at the Whistler Museum in Lowell and was chosen for the publicity campaign. Unfortunately, I never received any comments about it - maybe people were too irritated about it. But I received a nice little review in the Boston Globe.

But "Vanity" is even a bit more than that. Vanity for me is a reminder, a kind of mirror that keeps me on the ground that requests me to think about the true motivation of my actions. I think "vanity" is the most dangerous trap a human can fall into. Whenever I hear compliments, whenever I achieve success, my ego is flattered and fostered. This is not bad at first hand - it is human. Sometimes even I need that as a kind of motivation to be able to continue with what is hard and painful to achieve. But I also know that it is important to not overrate anything, neither the good nor the bad. Everything needs a balance. Honest compliments are motivation, but flattery often leads to overestimation.

In Buddhism one of the teachings requires to balance compassion and faith with rationale and logic i.e., balance of mind.

The series about the deadly sins will be continued. I am not through yet with this subject, but I also cannot work on this heavy theme continuously. Where would be the fun?

By the way, the piece was rejected at the competition. Apparently, it was too controversial and did not meet the expectations for a self-portrait!

KM: Tell me about the process and methods you used for "Vanity." Did you sketch it first? Is it typical of your work? It is 48" x 33". Is this a typical size for you?

PV: The process for most of my work starts with a sketch. I keep a sketchbook where all the ideas which come to my mind are noted and scribbled including colours and hues. Sometimes it is only a tiny moment, a flash in my mind but I need to write it down otherwise I would forget about it.

For the next step and especially for the "Deadly Sins" series, there was a drawing necessary, a detailed drawing, because I needed the features of the face I had in my head, clearly worked out before I started to paint. Btw - when I started to draw the next faces after "vanity" I sat in front of a mirror, making grimaces in order to see whether you would recognize a "greed" or "envy" face or not. It was quite funny and interesting to work this out.

When the drawing was finished, I transferred it 1:1 to the prepared silk with a very soft pencil using a light table. The latter consists of a square meter acrylic plate placed on 4 tins and beneath that I place two neon lights. This is enough light for a transfer. You have to be smart if the financial resources are tight! The prepared silk, I was talking about, is usually a very thin pongé silk, backed with a light polyester batting so that it gives me the stiffness I need for painting on the silk without stretching it on a frame. I hate to paint on stretcher frames because this is very inconvenient for my small working place and relatively small table. A frame is always in the way somewhere; a piece of cloth can be folded and stored away easily.

After the transfer I started painting, even with silk painting I always do a kind of under painting, which means I cover the whole painting with a light colour wet in wet.

This needs to dry out completely. Only then depending on the motif, I sometimes use gutta to guarantee sharp lines (and absolutely no flowing colour) but not very often. In the meanwhile, I have enough practice to be able to paint sharp lines with a dry brush without any gutta.

The next step, after the painting is completed, depends on whether the final piece is going to end up on a stretcher frame or is mounted as a scroll (removable handmade bars on top and on the bottom). If I choose the first, I can back the piece now with some (mostly) black strong fabric, which functions as a kind of protection for the silk towards the wooden frame and start stitching it. There will be no binding of course because the fabric gets cleanly stapled (gallery wrapped) on the back of the frame. If I choose to create a scroll the work will also be backed with fabric but a softer one in order to be able to show some relief after the stitching. Stitching on silk always creates some nice textures which look different depending on the incidence of light. My scrolls are always finished with a turned over finish (as a pillow) not with a binding. After that they are stitched which can be quite tricky because the work is easily distorted if you are not careful.

The size of "Vanity" is not really typical. That kind of work, scrolls, is normally much longer and a bit narrower. Unfortunately, my work on frames is constrained to a size that is still shippable with the post office. So, it is between 13" and 22" inches wide and about 40" inches long. It is kind of annoying to be forced to make your work dependent on a shippable size but to ship anything larger is simply too expensive. That's why I had the idea with the scrolls. I love to work large; I mean really large. I would love to cover whole walls but that is not practical for me at the moment. At least the scrolls can be rolled and easily shipped through the world. I have become a true expert in packing and shipping in the meanwhile and how to handle customs! But who says life is easy?

KM: When and why did you start making quilts?

PV: I started to make quilts in 2001. The "why" is quite a funny story.

I have no traditional background with quilting as so many Americans have. It is simply not very common in Europe as an old craft. In 1998 I started my art career with woodcarving. Naturally I went to some craft fairs and came across an exhibition of the IHK, an association for industry and crafts, in Munich where I saw some Amish quilts for the first time in my life and was amazed by the meticulous craftsmanship of the pieces. This was the first time too when I learned what a "quilt" is. I have never heard the word before. I knew immediately that I had found another medium to work with - in the evenings when I was tired from all that hard woodwork which was quite strenuous for the body.

I bought 2 books about the basics of quilting, learned "what you need to know" to construct a quilt. The very first one was made entirely from silk, top and back with a light polyester batting and went straight away on the new bed - the one I had carved in a Javanese style, a whole cloth piece, hand quilted with some classical feather patterns etc.

The next one was a classical patchwork quilt. Here I realized that I did not like to sit at the machine all the time, sewing all those bits and pieces together - I preferred the work by hand where you could sit comfortably on the bed and just listen to the TV. A few others followed, but in the meanwhile with my own patterns and motifs which mainly came from the same source as for my carvings: the wonderful ornamentation from Southeast Asian countries where I had traveled to so often. But soon I moved away from the bedspread into the art quilt category, using additional paints and other embellishments, because here I had much more freedom in regard of size and shapes.

The next challenge was to create something new. I was not very much interested in following the usual paths of piecing, appliquéing and all the other known techniques but I wanted to experiment. Like a painting, a piece of fiber art such as a wall hanging or gobelin is a 2-dimensional object living from colours, texture, patterns, with a pure visual impact. But it lacks the deeper form, the form you can find in a sculpture - I wanted a unification.

Although touching a smooth well worked surface of wood is a sensual feeling it lacks softness. Wood can be very smooth and cool or sometimes even warm. It can be shiny and soothing to the eye, but it cannot be fondled, moved between the fingers, it cannot be touched and bent - silk can. Silk is a medium which combines two major values: it captures light and colour as hardly any other material can and at the same time it is incredibly sensuous towards the touch of a human hand. The feel of silk, its softness and smoothness cannot be compared with anything else. I realized that silk is extremely flexible. I manipulated silk in a way you could not with other natural fibers such as cottons or rayons. Silk forgives nearly everything in regard of physical manipulation. Silk can be shaped, it can be twisted, it can be sculptured. No, not with a knife but rather vice versa instead of cutting away material to work out a face, a figure, a landscape or some abstract scenery I worked secretly "from behind." Adding layers, one by one, pushing the silk surface into a 3-dimensional plane. Silk allowed me to do that. It had to be gentle but still firm. I had to keep everything in place; I did not allow the form to be distorted. It's like the secret of a good education - you give a form, but you don't destroy the content, you help to build up a personality, but you don't break the will.

Staying by these rules allowed me to do nearly everything to my work. In the end I could manipulate my work even further by using additional paints, pigments, depending on the result I wanted to achieve. I added more depth using the traditional techniques of painting, light versus dark which add the visual impression of distance. There is no limit besides the ones you create in your head. Whether I create representational or abstract work the final result will be a piece of artwork which incorporates stunning paradox - a stone or metal like surface will have the feel of soft fiber, a relief made from silk will allow the viewer to virtually step into a different world - like the trompe d'oeil murals resurfaced during the Renaissance and Baroque eras in Europe. My work appeared different from any angle, changing again depending on the incidence of light. I had a sculpture, a painting and a piece of fiber art in one work. But now it was called a "SILK CARVING©" although it still incorporated the basic techniques of quilting: sewing several layers together.

But this is not the end yet. Always on the lookout for new experiments again I re-discovered the old Japanese or Chinese medium of painted scrolls. This seemed for me another perfect playground for my love for painting. While I was using mainly silk (not paper) for my work I added the quilting component again: stitching several layers. These silk scrolls were finished with some nicely made dowels and finally called "SILK PAINTED SCROLLS."

Currently I am working on paintings rather than quilts. These paintings are all mounted on stretcher bars. The three classical layers and the quilting component are still there but latter has disappeared a bit into the background, being only one technical attribute in order to add texture and depth to the painting which is specifically valuable working on silk. It adds a kind of 3-dimensional effect to the work.

KM: Very cool. Which artists have influenced you? And in the quilt world, whose works are you drawn to and why?

PV: I knew this question was coming somehow.

For me this one is quite difficult to answer because I really cannot say whether there is an influence from someone else. I can say whose works I am drawn to and which epoch I feel a certain affinity to (probably because of my literature studies) but I don't think that there is a special influence on my own work besides through my travels to Asia. I am always fascinated by a vivid and opulent ornamentation (because it seems to move, wiggle and twist) although my personal taste in regard of furnishing and decorating a room or house prefers a kind of Japanese simplicity in style.

Nevertheless, I feel very much drawn to the great French impressionists such as Monet and Manet, of course, Renoir for his vivid landscape sceneries and stills, and I even have a couple of favourite painters from the romantic era such as Caspar David Friedrich. I love works from Boticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Holbein, Rembrandt, Turner, some of the Hudson Valley painters and humorists and social critic such as Spitzweg, a Munich painter from the early last century and many others. Some of these works I have seen in the original in Florence, Berlin, London and other cities. I have a foible for the surrealists such as Dali and Max Ernst, whose works I have seen in Stuttgart, Chagall I have seen in

Basel. The list is endless and there is no real "sympathy" for just one.

I think it depends on the mood I am in but I always cherish good work that talks to me, be it someone unknown or famous. I really don't care about names. I even try to "step into" contemporary work, work that is completely abstract but offers some value in colour, texture, pattern. I try to feel the mood the artist was in when he/she was creating it although this is sometimes really very difficult. What I do not like at all is obscene, aggressive and "dirty" work, work that offends and attacks and nothing else, work that simply has a bad taste, work that might be called art but just mocks the viewer in a very negative way. I also do not really like work that offers nothing but platitudes, superficial motifs, things that we would call kitsch or saccharine.

The works from the quilt world I am drawn to are those which apparently offer something new, something that is not derivative but reflect own ideas, own images, be it traditional or contemporary/modern. I need to be very careful here and do not want to be misunderstood because it is really not up to me to recognize derivative work unless it is "copied" from classical paintings and photographic work simply because I have not seen any of these quilts in reality. So, I can only speak about the work I have come across through the Internet. I pick just a few of these deliberately - I have seen so many works that are of interest, but I cannot remember all the names.

First of all, I love to see quilts from the traditional section. I admire the endless hours quilters put into their work. I absolutely admire excellent craftsmanship and the commitment that is necessary to finish a piece that requires hundreds of hours. I know what I am talking about - one of my wood carvings took me 8 months to finish. And one of my huge bed quilts, a whole cloth piece in a pastel red silk with Indian motifs such as a Ganesha figure and other ornaments, entirely hand quilted, took me nearly 500 hours to finish.

I find works from Paula Nadelstern fascinating, simply because I am a person of colour and pattern. I love to photograph patterns wherever I can find them. Nadelstern's works seem to spread just a firework of colours. I have seen images of Velda Newman's work and that of Hollis Chatelain that stayed in my mind. I came across Jane Sassaman's work and that of Jane Dunnewold and Jean Ray Laury, from the latter two I own some books. Those works reflect some painterly qualities, which is probably why I feel drawn to them. They are a kind of paintings with thread and fabric instead of brush and paint.

KM: You mentioned that quilt making isn't an old tradition in Germany. What do people in Germany think of your quilts? In what way, if any, do you think your quilts reflect your country?

PV: It is extremely difficult to get into an exhibition here. Germany is a very small country, overcrowded and the art market is small and very bitchy. When I started to quilt, I tried to open up similar contacts as in the US where it was so easy to make contacts even if it was only via the internet. I looked for quilt groups in my city - well there are some but not that kind I was interested in. I do not want to sound pretentious, but I was interested in learning about techniques and things like that, wanted to really work on projects, how to prepare for exhibitions etc. - I was not interested in discussions about kids and housework and furnishing and stuff like that. I just had completely different goals.

Then I became a member of a quilt guild in Germany - I left after a few weeks - I was hoping to get to learn about exhibition opportunities, projects you could participate etc.

I was totally baffled when I realized that the whole apparatus was mainly bureaucracy as if this was the most important thing in the world, a typical quilt police issue. Nothing for me!

Then I tried a German Yahoo Quilting Group. I left after a few days when I realized that their main subject again was not quilting but household stuff again and all kinds of typical female bitching. Oh, how I have learned to stay out of this completely!

Until today I have not managed yet to get into an exhibition here in Munich. There are some textile art and quilt shows here (in Germany) but either you have to be a member of a quilt guild to be able to participate or it is just that kind of show I am really not interested in, kind of farmer's market or flea market where I definitely cannot find my clientele for the kind of work I am doing. Art competitions in Germany are very rare. It is extremely difficult to get accepted especially when you are not following the trends. The only other opportunity is exhibiting in a gallery but that costs real money, money I would not even waste if I had it. All vanity stuff and rip off. But I am stubborn; I am trying it again and again. Oh, another problem here is that most of the art exhibition opportunities are constrained to age, if you are beyond the magic 35, you are not accepted any more. As if artists may be young only. Can a real artist be young at all? How can s/he create real art without any life experience which I find is an essential part of serious art making? This is truly paradox.

So, I already had to virtually (until I finally) leave my country in order to be able to start an artist's career. You really have no idea what kind of paradise - art wise at least - you are living in, what incredible amount of opportunities you are offered if you work hard and with perseverance even in these tough times.

In addition to the second answer, I have never thought about this until you asked me. Yes, I am born in Germany. But that's all. I don't really feel German. I am a citizen of the world. I can be happy at any place I like in this world and feel at home. This is completely independent from the country or nationality. I have traveled far, have seen many places and met many people, people I would like to meet again and people I don't want to see again. I think my artwork reflects mood and emotions, fauna and flora, culture of a geographic location I have visited or am living at for a time rather than a political or an administrative section, as you would say "ah - this is typical German". I don't feel that I have my roots here in Germany although I was born and have grown up here. Maybe it's because I don't like the way of life here, how people behave.

KM: How has your art impacted your family and friends? And how much involvement do you have with quilt making in the US?

PV: The impact on my family and friends was such that they did not understand at all what I was up to. Especially my mother was disappointed although she did not say it. But I knew it from all those little comments and remarks and simply from ignoring totally what I was doing. She did not ask me for details when I had an exhibition, nor what I was working on, so I stopped entirely to talk about my new tasks, ideas and goals.

I worked in the computer industry for 15 years and 10 years ago I lost my job because they thought they don't need me anymore. Well, this is so common here. To find another decent job at my age, I was a 46 old woman then, and despite my good education and experience it was impossible. That kind of discrimination is common here in Germany including that you are usually paid less 30 %, doing the same job as a man. So, I gave up on the idea finding another job. Instead, my partner and I discussed the idea becoming self-employed, to start our own business, writing technical documentations and stuff like that (what I have done for years) for other small businesses.

To make it short, I needed a computer. So far, I had none at home because I always worked at the company at a computer and for that one, I needed a steady desk - mine was falling apart. I did not want to spend too much money, so I decided to make one by myself. I have made small tables and stuff like that before. I spent some nights on constructing and drawing, bought some wood from a DIY store nearby and built a nice steady desk. Now this was not enough for an art and crafts person such as me - I wanted to cut some ornaments into the wood, found some electric chisel and there it was - the start of my woodcarving career.

Now I was hooked. I learned how to carve wood with "real" chisels, how to handle surfaces and things like that. All from books again - I have never been in a workshop. After the desk I carved a new "Indonesian" style bed with 2 dragons on the head piece and after that came other pieces, Chinese style chairs, table and finally I changed into the realm of sculpturing. Until our little 2 room apartment could not take any more, I had to stop with carving simply because there was no space anymore. By the way, that's another reason why I started with quilting - you can store your work away much easier.

I decided to make my art a business with the support and help of my dear partner who was still the only one who really believed in me and was ready to go that difficult path together with me. Today it is different. After a bunch of exhibitions, sales and the recognition I received through the media my mother is accepting now that I am serious with my art and tells me that she is proud of me. I am sure she would prefer me working as usual in an office, but this is how it goes.

Although I am working now even much harder than before, and weekends are gone now I am so much happier than before. And although our life has become very simple in order to cut down all unnecessary expenses it is the freedom I enjoy so much. No stupid boss, no envious colleagues, no strenuous work anymore that sucks out all of your life energy and leaves you dead in the evenings.

In the end my art has made me much more relaxed and tolerant towards other people including my own family. I don't see things so tight anymore. Problems are still there - they are different now - but I have learned to solve them in a much more relaxed way.

My involvement with quilting and art is 100 % in the US. My "quilting career" started with an invitation from Dottie Moore to participate in a project she called "Piecing a Quilt of Life." In 2002 I came across her website where she was looking for women from all over the world for a grass roots project that was "documenting the stories of women quilt artists over the age of fifty. Exhibits, articles, a book, video, website and newsletters are showcasing these women's works and wisdom to stimulate possibilities for our culture as we search for deeper meaning in our lives and alternative ways of aging" (from her website "Creative Traces").

The quilt Dottie chose for exhibition was "Swans". It was shown for more than 8 months in the Rockhill County Museum in South Carolina. It even appeared in those famous quilt episodes in HGTV and was part of my solo exhibition this year in Pittsburgh. You see - it had an impact on my further life as it could not have been more important. It was the first time that I had the idea that my art could be of value for someone else, it was the first time that I had the idea to participate in competitions and continue with it in the United States. If people of my own country did not want what I had to offer, then why do I want to stay here?

My whole art career is built up in the US and my main contacts are in the US, friends and business. I am very grateful for the openness, generosity and trust I have found here. Other than in Germany I feel appreciated for what I am doing, that much that my partner and I decided to move to the United States as soon as an opportunity is opening up. Other than in Germany the American Dream does still exist, even if the times have become very tough and despite all the problems the country has. We do not expect to find a land of milk and honey, we are both realists, but I think there is a big difference in being offered opportunities or not getting any at all! I still believe that good education and experience can open many doors - only not in Germany. It is a shame and the reason why so many people leave the country here.

KM: It is sad that your country does not embrace you and your work. I'm curious. Where in the US would you like to live?

PV: You are probably screaming now and telling me that this is not really America when I tell you that we want to live on the Hawaiian Islands - especially on Maui and you are right in some way. But it is still and officially part of the United States - isn't it? We have had long discussions about this; have been throwing the pros and contras against each other but our future home will be there. The Hawaiian Islands are part of America - so guarantee a certain freedom which you would not have in Asia for example but are far enough away from all these politics we are so fed up about in the meanwhile. We both know that the islands are a paradise with some spots - nothing on this earth is immaculate - but we know life there. We have been there twice for about a quarter of a year, but we lived on our own. So, we know the people, we know the essentials and we know that the island would be perfect for our needs. Everything is there and with the new ferry traveling between the islands from July on this year, this will add another plus point to the infrastructure.

We love the Hawaiian way of life very much, the climate is perfect - especially for me as I am suffering from rheumatic plagues and of course what is another important part, the Pacific Ocean. We both love the sea more than I can say. We learned to dive there with a former navy diver - that's a whole other story - and we love nature - especially the whales and vegetation and very much hope that we can join in an environmental project in one way or another. This is another reason why the islands are so perfect for us - Hawaii is doing a lot for its environment in the meanwhile. Maui also has a large art community which is of great interest for me of course. Maui's unemployment shows a figure of only 1.5 % which is truly unbelievable. So, finding a job should be possible - don't you think?

We consider the islands as a wonderful base for all sorts of traveling - be it to Asia or to America's wonderful national parks. I want to see every single one of them. So much to do and so many plans and everything needs to be transformed into art! Oh my - I think I will need another incarnation.

KM: While Hawaii was not at all what I was expecting, I can relate. While I have never been to the Hawaii, I did live in Aruba for three years. I understand the lifestyle. It is slower yet more deliberate. I also loved, loved the weather. Chicago winters are getting tougher and tougher for me--too long and too grey. I do hope you make it to Hawaii soon. Now I would like to move a little more into the aesthetics and design aspects of quilt making. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

PV: I think what makes a quilt artistically powerful is the same that applies for any piece of 2-dimensional art. First you need something that simply attracts your attention and that makes you look at least a second time. I also think you need to make a difference here whether you are talking about an abstract piece and some representational work. Let's talk about something abstract. Abstract art generally lacks a recognizable motif. So, an abstract piece can live through colour, pattern or texture or all 3 together etc.

An abstract work that would draw my attention would be something that makes me want to touch and feel, something that has an exciting texture, a texture that feels very soft and educing, or something that is prickly - everything that makes you react. An example: I have a couple of silk pieces which are quite heavily quilted. You know silk is very smooth and soft and if you have a relief and close your eyes you could move your fingers over the piece endlessly. Trapunto work for example can evoke that feeling very well. This even applies for a traditional piece. Also, when you look at this kind of work there are always shadows depending on which side of the piece you are standing. So, you have a lot to explore.

Other artistically powerful abstract work lives through colour. Here again it could be different colour hues of one colour or unusual colour combinations which go beyond complimentary colours. Both can create movements that keep your eye wandering over the piece, can create shadows so that you believe you could "see" something. It is that kind of work that sucks you up, creates moods and emotions. If it leaves you unimpressed it has failed its purpose.

The last one could be exciting through pattern. An example would be the op-art of the 60's - that was powerful work because it led you into some trancelike feeling, simply through optical illusion. I have always admired that kind of work that works with optical illusions as f.e. the classical trompe d'oeil paintings of the 18th century - although that is mostly pure decorative (and nearly always kitsch) but nevertheless fascinating and artistically powerful meant in a literal way. The point here is that you find too much derivative work, too many repetitions. This makes an originally powerful work boring and uninteresting. F.e. the Bargello patterns - the first quilt pieces that picked up that old Florentine embroidery pattern as patchwork must have been very exciting, but the multiplication of these patterns is simply boring whatever colours you use. Other exciting patterns are coming from the computer era - fractals. Here you really can have an endless choice of combinations, but it also can be very sterile and boring.

If we talk about representational pieces - I am no longer able to see the 1234th version of a sunflower. Even in an unusual view or detail I just cannot take any more. Gee - there a millions of motifs out there, you just need to look beneath your table and beyond the 4 corners of your desk and open your eyes. What's so difficult? Nature delivers us millions of exciting motifs - why doing another view of our garden?

I expect a powerful piece to be unusual, original, moving, provoking, a piece that puts something in motion inside yourself, a piece that makes you want to explore a theme, a piece that pushes your own creativity and that seduces you to experiment and try new ground. And this all does not apply to quilting only but to all art.

KM: What do you think is your greatest artistic accomplishment?

PV: My greatest artistic accomplishment so far was my solo exhibition this year which I won last year as the first prize in a juried group exhibition. I think this is not bad for someone who started to exhibit in September 2003 for the first time.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

PV: My advice for someone to start completely new is never to give up on a dream but be realistic about your true intentions and goals. If you want to achieve something that goes beyond having a hobby, be absolutely sure that you have a long breath, an iron patience and someone who really stands behind you and supports you in every respect. You cannot make it alone unless you have unlimited financial resources. I would never have dreamt that it is SO difficult to become a professional artist and that you have to work that hard.

Another important thing is that you have to be aware that art to support yourself is nothing but a business with everything that comes with it: bookkeeping, organizing, promotion and sales, mailing, advertising. All that sweet talking about art being something for your heart is unprofessional nonsense. Of course, art can be a healing element for your soul (it has been to me) but this is something that has nothing to do with your business. This is private and would never be sold!

Another point is that you have to decide which kind of art you want to make and who your clientele would be. Your art becomes a product, and you cannot switch from commodity products and cheap small sizes to original, expensive art and vice versa. The biggest car companies have made this mistake and fully failed. This is a rule that applies to any product on the market and is called image. Uniqueness is the key issue here. Commodity products have to be handled totally different.

If you decide to be original and unique be sure that you master your techniques -
amateurish work will be recognized. This does not mean that you must run from workshop to the next. Quantity does not help. Try to find your niche, your technique you like most and try to be the very best with it.

Do research - lots of research. The Internet is full of information that is really useful - including tutorials about the "how to's". It is not always necessary to spend money on expensive workshops. I have made it entirely without a single one. But if you need help and don't feel confident enough to go all alone then choose carefully. Too many will destroy the cake.

Enter competitions and start building up a very thick skin against all the rejections you will receive. Don't let yourself be discouraged in any way. Rejections are always subjective. Jurors are also human and have their likes and dislikes. If you fail for one show you might win in the next. In order to increase your chances, check out past exhibitions of an event, check out who the jurors and what their favourites are and things like that, ask fellow artists about events and their experience - there is a lot of crap out there too. Be aware that there are lots of vultures who just rely on your ego and vanity in order to strip you off your resources. To pay for an online competition for one month when you have a good website is really not a good idea! Check out galleries for their event calendars - if they are changing every month with several group exhibitions and competitions, they probably live from the entry fees and won't do a single thing for you. Check the Internet for other frauds. Nothing can be hidden. If you want to start, slowly try with shows in your neighbourhood first to get to learn how this all works. Talk to fellow artists and don't be shy to ask for help. But be aware that your work needs to be seen if you want to make a living from it one day.

A friend of mine (Susan Shie) said in her interview that the best would be that you marry a rich partner. That would probably be the best situation. For me personally I think this would not have worked at all and I am quite sure that I would not be there where I am now. Isn't it sometimes that you deliver the best work in times which are the worst and where you are under immense pressure? What kind of motivation would it be to give the best of yourself if you have nothing to fight for? How sweet are the moments of success when you know you made it DESPITE all obstacles and problems? This is what makes life so unpredictable, sometimes painful and so enjoyable on the other hand when you conquered your fears and stepped out with courage and belief in yourself. Believe in yourself!

KM: Petra, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I truly enjoyed our time together and I'm sad that it is ending. Our interview concluded on April 25, 2007



“Petra Voegtle,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,