Caleb Coaplen




Caleb Coaplen




Caleb Coaplen


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Louisville, Kentucky


Karen Musgrave


[Due to a bad tape the original interview, which took place in Louisville, Kentucky on August 29, 2001, was done a second time through a series of e-mails.]

Karen Musgrave (KM): I want to thank Caleb Coaplen for agreeing to take the time to recreate his Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview. Caleb, let's start by telling me about the quilt you choose for the interview.

Caleb Coaplen (CC): Okay, the quilt I chose for the interview is called "Holly." It is a close-up image of someone that has played a very important role in much of my life. It was the second "quilt" that I made in this style, mosaics based on my photography, but it was much larger and more ambitious than the first. I was happy enough with this piece that I decided to make several more and do a small series for my BFA exhibition. However, it was this quilt that remained one of my favorites.

KM: Tell me about the process for making this quilt.

CC: The process: I start with a picture that is strong in both composition and color contrast. The picture is manipulated digitally and turned into a mosaic in Photoshop. I experimented with different mosaic sizes. "Holly," for example, is a 5' x 6' quilt and each of the 30 square feet is divided into 64 (8x8) 1.5"x1.5" smaller squares. I then figure out how many different color shades are in the picture and acquire fabric in the same colors. I think "Holly" required about 15 different colors. The fabric is cut and then pieced to create a finished project.

KM: In the first, interview you shared how you came to consider your work a quilt, can you please share that with me again?

CC: I was hesitant at first about calling these pieces quilts. In my mind, they were an alternative photographic process. However, whenever anyone saw them, they complimented me on my quilts. After some talks with several people, including Shelley Zegart, I too began to realize that maybe calling them quilts wasn't so bad. At first, I was going to leave them just as pieced top pieces to ensure that they didn't look too much like quilts but eventually I quilted and finished all of them. Now I am very comfortable calling them quilts.

KM: How do you quilt them? Do you do them by machine or hand?

CC: The quilting is all on the machine. I kept the actual quilting very simple in order to keep the focus on the piecing.

KM: Can you give me little more detail? Is it a grid? Or what?

CC: Yes, the quilting follows the same seams as the piecing. There is a quilting line every 6 inches, and I used clear thread, so it is really just functional, not decorative.

KM: So how many quilts have you made?

CC: I made 5 in this style, and I have probably made about 4 more traditional quilts.

KM: Tell me about the traditional quilts you have made.

CC: I think the first one I made was a "log cabin" style. It was actually a present for Holly, the subject of the quilt we were discussing earlier. I also made a quilt out of old t-shirts for one of my stepsisters. I then made a quilt from a block that I designed; it was supposed to have a woven look to it. My color choice was bad on that one. Most recently I made a fleece quilt, nothing fancy just a bunch of squares. I was working as a designer in a sewing factory, and we had a bunch of fleece scraps. It is nice. I slept under it last night.

KM: Getting back to the quilt "Holly." Tell me how Holly reacted to the quilt.

CC: From what I remember she was very flattered. She liked it a lot. It has been shown in a corporate setting for the last few years and I think I will probably give it to her once I get it back. She still asks me about it. She was around a lot when I was making the quilt, so it wasn't a complete surprise when she saw it. I have some great pictures of her and the quilt from the first time it was shown. It is really neat seeing the two together.

KM: You talk about the quilt being in a corporate setting and as I recall you also had your quilts in a gallery. Please share more about this. And are you still exhibiting your quilts?

CC: The quilts were first made for my Senior BFA show at the University of Louisville. I exhibited with 8 of my classmates. It was a great show with some very talented students. One of the quilts was accepted into a fiber show in St Louis and I won a quilting award for excellence in that show. "Holly" was also shown in a group show at Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, KY and when that show was done, they took it into their corporate collection. It was shown until just recently. I am currently not exhibiting anything mostly because I feel like I need to make some new work. I have been throwing around some ideas and I hope to be able to exhibit some new pieces sometime soon.

KM: Are there other quiltmakers in your family? From whom did you learn to quilt?

CC: My grandmother and my mom both quilted. There was also a family friend/neighbor named Denise Furnish who was a fiber artist/quilter. I remember being around quilts when I was growing up. There were quilts hanging on a lot of walls in our house. I still have one that was in my room as a child. I learned to sew from my mom and grandmother but the little quilting instruction I received came from a friend I lived with in Montana when I started college. She took a quilting class, and I was intrigued by what she was doing. I thought a quilt would make a great gift, so I decided to make one. It turned out to be much harder than I thought but I really enjoyed the process.

KM: So, what about quilt making do you like?

CC: I really like the sense of accomplishment. The cutting and piecing sometimes seem tedious but as soon as it all comes together all the hard work pays off. With my photographic quilts I really couldn't get a good idea of how they were going to come out until everything was pieced. I would stay up all night cutting and sewing just so I could get it all together and make sure it looked alright. Every time I finished one, I was amazed. I would step back from it and look for a long time. I really felt like I had done something, much more than with other art I had made.

KM: What other kind of art have you made? Do you continue to explore other things, or have you settled on quilts?

CC: Since I went through an art program in college I got to work in a lot of different mediums. Photography was my focus, so I have done a lot in that field. I also spent some time screen printing. Recently I have been trying some wood working. However, when I think about really spending time making art, quilt making is the first thing that comes to mind.

KM: What in your mind makes a quilt artistically powerful?

CC: The questions are getting harder. The things that I am most drawn to in quilts are composition, color and craftsmanship. There are so many different styles of quilts out there. I have never been very drawn to narrative quilts, but I have seen some very powerful ones. Let's move on, I could think about this question all night. Maybe I will come back to it later.

KM: Okay, I'll give you an easier question. What is your first quilt memory?

CC: My first quilt memory: It was of a quilt that hung on my wall as a child. Blue, gold, red and orange. I can't really remember the pattern, but the colors were so vivid. I still have the quilt. I remember thinking it was weird that it was on the wall, now I understand why. I also remember another quilt that was hanging in a different room. It was a bunch of diamonds. I would look at it for a long time thinking I saw a pattern but there wasn't one, at least that I could see. I worked on a quilt once that had a very complex pattern, almost mathematical. It would be very hard to find if you didn't know about it. Maybe I was inspired by the quilt I stared at as a kid.

KM: Who made the quilt?

CC: I would like to think that my mom or grandmother made it, but I am really not sure. I'll have to figure that one out sometime.

KM: One last question, what are your quilt making plans for the future?

CC: I have been working on something similar to the quilts I was making before but without the pixilated look. I think they will be a little bit smaller as well. There are also a few very traditional quilts that I have always wanted to make. I would also like to exhibit on a more consistent basis. I guess there are a lot of things I would like to do in the future related to quilt making. Revisiting this interview will hopefully give me the motivation I have been looking for. Thank you.

KM: I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me again. This will conclude my Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Caleb Coaplen. I wish you all the best.



“Caleb Coaplen,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,