Luke Haynes




Luke Haynes




Luke Haynes


Amy Milne

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Iris Karp


Houston, Texas


Sarah Godoshian


Amy Milne (AM): Hi, this is Amy Milne and I'm interviewing Luke Haynes for Quilters' S.O.S.--Save Our Stories a project of The Alliance for American Quilts and it is 1:32PM on November 4, 2010, and we're in Houston Texas and Luke, thanks for letting me interview you today.

Luke Haynes (LH): Sure.

[AM laughs.]

AM: The first question I want to ask you--this is the quilt that you chose as your touchstone quilt. Tell me about this quilt and why you chose it.

LH: I chose this quilt because [clears throat.] it's bringing in traditional quilting to the techniques that I've been making up by myself for the past 8 to10 years. So, I'm learning about quilting in so many different ways and it's also a big piece for an exhibition I'm working on, and I'm really excited about it. I think it's visually evocative text--texturally evocative and interesting from a conceptual art vantage point.

AM: And what's the title?

LH: It's called "The American Context Number One American Gothic."

[Pause for 2 seconds.]

AM: What about the series? Do you want to talk about the series a little bit?

LH: Sure.

AM: Yeah.

LH: The series is reclaimed textiles made into traditional quilt patterns and put on top of which are icons from famous American art. So reappropriated to a modern demographic. So, in this case a friend of mine in the sort of twenty something range depicting American Gothic but in a very modern context. Instead of a pitchfork they're holding a guitar so it's about the same posture but it's about bringing into a contemporary context so when people look at it, they're responding the kind of important demographic of the era now versus when the art was made. Because art is so driven by the context and some recontextualizing it allows people to reengage with it. And that's why it's called "The American Context" because it's about Americana in terms of quilting in terms of iconography in terms of you know just the process as well as the images.

[Pause for 3 seconds.]

AM: So, what are your plans for the series? For this quilt and for the series?

LH: I'm working on finding the venue to exhibit it. I've got some spots in New York in mind yeah, I mean it just is producing it and exhibiting it as many places as I can. I mean, in the interest of showing off quilts as a viable of form of modern art and showing my work in as many sort of venues as possible.

AM: Did you choose to base it on American Gothic, or you know a painting that's already accepted in fine art because of that goal of trying to get your quilts accepted as fine art?

LH: Not necessarily. Well, yes that I'm pulling from the language of fine art, right? So, in that case absolutely. Like I'm using the vernacular of fine art. In this case you know the language happens to be things that are already accepted so that people can kind of--you know, what's interesting about this is that paintings--people accept painting as media of fine art, right? And so that's the thing that they come in as a sort of datum--sort of given, 'Oh that's a painting it's fine art and now I can look at the image, the brush stroke, the technique, the artist.' And in this case, it's the image that becomes the thing that's a given. You know I've seen that image I don't have to process that. That's the place that I can jump off from and say, 'Oh it's a quilt that's--I don't know how to react to that. Oh, it's a modern adaptation of that, I don't know how to react to that.' So, they're processing things that are aimed typical to most artistic expositions. So, the thing that I'm jumping off of is a set of images that you already know as opposed to a medium that you already know that you can investigate.

[Pause for 2 seconds.]

AM: Tell us about your signature. The fact that most quilters put labels on their quilt is a given. But you put a label on the front of all your quilts.

LH: Well, I mean that--just, I mean again it's like being--my work is not even a crossover but a kind of you know, accordion of fine arts and quilting. I mean I'm trying to do both simultaneously. And pull one into the other and vice versa. And so, I sign it like a painting. I just do it with an embroidery machine. So, it's within the language of quilting.

AM: Uh huh. And it's a graphic image too. What part of that, you know, what about that interests you or why do you approach it that way rather than signing it?

LH: Branding icons. A lot of my work has to do with icons. So, I'm creating my own icon in--just to, you know, a piece of typography or something you know that you can respond to. And also, within the notions of quilting I mean, right, it becomes a square on a quilt as opposed to wholly different language. And since it's a square on top of a quilt it's the same language as a quilt embroidered on top of it. It's contextual as opposed to additive so it doesn't take away. It's not a big signature at the bottom sort of saying, you know, 'Look at this signature,' it becomes part of the piece.

AM: Yeah.

[pause for 4 seconds.]

AM: What do you think someone viewing your quilt--this quilt--might conclude about you?

[pause for 4 seconds.]

LH: Well, I guess it really depends on who's viewing it, right? I mean there's so many--and because I mean the quilting world viewing it would view it very differently than the fine art world because the quilting world and the fine art world look at things exactly backwards. Quilters start with their face up next to it looking at the stitch count looking at your seams and then they step back and they're like, 'Okay you know there's--here's sort of what we're all kind of you know, whatever.' Painters and artisans start from way back and come into it. They look for a way to engage it in terms of aesthetics or sort of notions, you know, or concept. And then from there they'll get in and, you know, start to investigate it more if they feel justified in that, you know. Or as quilters you know it's the opposite. They--if they don't feel like my technique is good at all they're not even gonna pay attention to the quilt. And artists are the same if they don't have any way to engage, they're gonna move on. So, it really depends on who's coming up at it you know. Or I mean and I'm really running the gallery in Seattle right now, so people coming through, I get the whole gambit of peoples' responses. [Pause for 2 seconds.] I mean, yeah, it's really hard to answer that question.

[pause for 5 seconds.]

AM: Let's move on to some sort of more broader questions about quiltmaking. What--[pause for 1 second.] --is your first quilt memory?

[pause for 3 seconds.]

[LH clears throat.]

LH: My first quilt memory was probably a quilt my mother made me a long time ago. It was neon green and purple. That's where I built my color schemes back in the day growing up in Mississippi. Probably in third grade or something Momma made this big zigzag, you know--[pause for 2 seconds.] --bright green and purple quilt that I had for a long time. Actually--that I'm being ten--no my first quilt memory probably would be purple. Purple was my blankie that I would drag around with me as a little you know--

AM: Uh huh.

LH: Knee high to a grasshopper.

AM: So, you said your mom made that quilt? So, who taught you to quilt?

LH: Nobody actually. I was in boarding school and I kind of made it up. [LH laughs.] My first quilt I had this box of squares, little, you know--about three-inch squares of polka dot fabric and I designed this big epic quilt out of it and just made it, you know, and it was sort of atrocious, but you know the--I learned to sew in an elective in middle school. So, I did have a little bit of topical knowledge of how to use a sewing machine. But in terms of quilting, I made it up--until later when people sort of [LH chuckles.] pushed me in the right direction after having done it for probably eight years or so.

AM: Wow. [pause for 3 seconds.] So, you were in middle school when you started--

LH: Uh huh.

AM: --sewing. And then later you started quiltmaking. So at this point--well let me ask you this-- are there other quiltmakers in your family besides your mom who--

LH: Yeah absolutely. Well so the thing about that, it's all my mom's side and they're all very matriarchal in terms of crafts and arts. And so, I came along and as a male they just sort of dismissed me out of hand. So my--I mean I--[clears throat.] inherited a couple years ago a couple quilts from my great-great-grandmother, you know, and took these amazing quilts, and then from my great-grandmother who finished a couple of them in the forties, you know, I got these boxes of quilts from, you know, every generation of my family's—on my mother's mother on that way. So, there's a big sort of tradition of quilting in my family but I only learned of it, oh when my great grandmother passed away and I inherited some projects. Because, you know, as a male they had no way of engaging with me in terms of artistry and craftsmanship and stuff because that's the way that they grew up in Texas.

AM: Uh huh. Do you feel like those quilts have entered your sort of visual consciousness and come out--

LH: Not yet.

AM: --in your work?

LH: Not yet. I mean I--yeah. No. No. Well. No. I say, 'Well,' because there's technique in them that's starting to come out of my work, but I don't think it's because of inheriting those. I think it's just in terms of engaging the quilt community that I was starting to do.

AM: Uh huh. So, what's a typical day like--in your studio? Describe--well first of all, describe your studio and then tell us what a typical day for you is like.

LH: Sure. [clears throat.] My studio right now is a huge gallery in downtown Seattle. Two--it's a two room--there's 2,500 square feet. So, it's just a big thing, 18-foot ceilings in the front of it my studio. So, I've got a huge Handi Quilter big, long arm machine and a table where I do all my piecing and sewing. So, I kinda come in and depending on where I am in the project there's a pile of fabric in every corner or it's really clean. Every time between projects I'll clean it you know meticulously. [pause for 2 seconds.] In an average day now, I'll get there around noon, open up the gallery, sort of get situated and work until eight to three in the morning depending on, you know, what kind of project I'm working on. Yeah, it's just sort of sit down and go. [LH chuckles.] Until, you know, I stop and have lunch and watch a TV show or something and then just keep going.

AM: So how many hours do you think you quilt a day?

LH: A day? Well, I mean, it depends. I would say between, I mean, 4 and 20 hours a day. You know, I mean, it's arranged depending on different projects but the way I like to do it is work a good solid 10-hour day for, you know, 2 to 3 months and then take a month off and travel. And with my schedule being an artist I can do that. I can just go to an exhibition and, you know, travel and this--as long as I'm gone from the city I can, you know, take a break from them. But if I'm in the same city as my studio then [LH chuckles.] I just feel like I should be working.

AM: So, you exhibit your quilts?

LH: Uh huh.

AM: Do you sell your quilts as well?

LH: Uh huh. Mostly I sell commissioned works. So mostly I get bed quilts or portrait quilts that people have asked me to make of them or their family or you know bed quilts for use. My quilts are all for sale but with the intention more often of exhibiting, you know, sort of ideas and concepts, you know, versus honing the--quilt itself toward a more marketable audience, you know, because I'm more interested in making engaging work than I am in making salable work in my larger projects--

AM: Uh huh.

LH: --than the projects I'm more interested in.

AM: Have you done any teaching?

LH: Very, very topically. Not much. I mean I've taught people -- you know, sew this seam, you know, like here's some techniques with the iron and here's how you use a long arm, you know, little bits and pieces but I haven't done much in the way of run classes and stuff. I've actually been asked to by a number of establishments in New York and different places so that might come up soonish.

AM: Uh huh. [pause for 4 seconds.] Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time in your life?

[LH clears throat. Pause for 5 seconds.]

LH: I did. I processed a breakup through making a big quilt. [LH chuckles.] I did. It was a huge quilt of her you know. Just one of my early quilts and so the early quilts when you're learning the technique-- it takes a really long time--months and months and months. And whereas now it still takes a long time but I kind of have the skill set, you know, and a method and a way of sort of, you know, activating it, you know. But it's just like these months of catharsis working through kind of little pieces of fabric and sewing them all down and sort of by the time you're done you've invested all of that energy into a place that can--you can become removed from.

AM: Is there any aspect of quilting that you do not enjoy?

[LH laughs.]

LH: Binding the quilts. I hate binding. I'd say that the little--the--finishing bits. You know the binding and the loop on the back where you hang them from. I have the hardest time [LH laughs] doing that. It just seems so like--I just--I'm so done with it by that point because I've worked on it for you know-- A quilt I just finished a couple months ago took me over 300 hours to, you know, like--just--and that's a long period of time to be staring at these pieces of this grayscale of fabric. And you know then I have to put this binding on the end, you know, and then I have to put a loop on the back and just this kind of like, 'Uhh I want to be done,' yeah.

AM: Well, what's the happiest, funnest part of making a quilt for you?

[LH clears throat.]

LH: Probably the step directly before the binding it, when I get to hold it up and it's like I get to engage with the quilt in its finality. It's when my idea and the process has come to fruition.

[pause for 4 seconds.]

AM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

LH: I'm on the board for The American Alliance for Quilts. And--

[pause for 4 seconds.]

AM: Do you belong to any guilds or crit groups or anything like that?

LH: No. I move so much. I move all the time so it's really hard for me to engage in any local groups.

AM: Do you do that informally with other artists?

LH: Uhhh--

AM: You know, get together critique each other's work?

LH: No. But I've tried, but I mean--since I moved to Seattle, I've tried a lot. But people in Seattle are not happy to leave their studio. So of course, I ask other peoples' opinions and kind of run it by and--but not on any sort of regular basis. It's really important to get input from your peers but--

AM: Logistically.

LH: Yeah.

[pause for 3 seconds.]

AM: How have advances in technology influenced your work? Or have they influenced your work and if so, how?

LH: Well sure. Well, I'm a modernist I would say. My background is architecture and within that I'm really excited about modern notions of design. And so, machines that can do parts of my work for me I'm wholly behind. I'm really excited to work with machines that can take some of the load off you know. Like if a machine can do what I can do but faster then I'll let the machine do that and then spend my time working on engaging ideas or pushing what the machine can do. Or you know like it becomes a dialogue between me and the process and I find that really interesting. And so just recently I've gotten a longarm machine so having that longarm machine has changed the way that I do everything because I got a new technique or a new method for mark making on the quilt. Whereas before my quilting was almost solely functional. It was about keeping all the pieces down and then, you know, making it stay together. But now that I have the ability to draw with thread across the whole quilt I've got--I mean, a whole new way of engaging the viewer, engaging with the fabric, engaging with methods of constructing the quilt. Whereas before everything was based on the throat space of my small machine. And my ability to do any kind of intricate work was truncated by that. Or you know, just being able to, you know, roll and shove some of these huge quilts through it was just very difficult. So now because of the advancement of this longarm machine and these different ways of engaging with the mill of large quilts I'm able to push my work a lot further in a lot more dynamic way.

[pause for 6 seconds.]

AM: Let's move on to sort of design and aesthetics of quilts. What do you think makes a great quilt?

[pause for 12 seconds.]

LH: What makes a great quilt is-- [clears throat.] Again, my background in architecture and design, so what I'm engaged by is people's conscious design right. Or their intentions behind making a project that I find to be great. So, it doesn't necessarily have to be something where somebody starts with this very intricate, you know, like amazingly detailed something that they make and finish, you know, to kind of showmanship quality. I mean you know the [inaudible.] quilts are really dynamic, and I think those are great quilts. The intention of them are to use fabric and make quilts that keep you warm right. And I think that them sticking to their intention through the whole project really makes it dynamic. And so, someone to create a quilt that's great really is invested in the initial conception of the quilt versus, you know, versus the way they can go on top of it with some filigree or you know some embellishment. I think that actually gets between them and making a good product. I mean it's, you know, shiny things are pretty, and I really appreciate that if that's part of the concept driving the project. I'd say it's concept and process and intention of the quiltmaker.

AM: Uh huh.

[pause for 2 seconds.]

AM: Sort of along those lines--what makes a great quiltmaker?

LH: What makes a great quiltmaker? It's someone who's willing to engage the project. Take the quilt that they're making, engage with it and make it to the best possible standards of that project versus, you know, take the easy route or just, you know, make one thing and do it hundreds of times you know. I mean I think a great quiltmaker is someone who engages at the process level where they make something consciously and it pushes them more, it pushes the medium, or it pushes the materials or, I just--something where they're engaged and you can really see that in the product of any good quiltmaker because you learn something new about [clears throat.] the material or them or their images or their methods or something like that along with them.

AM: What artists or quiltmakers have influenced you?

[LH clears throat]

LH: Certainly, a gauntlet of that. I would say Chuck Close taught me to make my first quilt. You know, using some of his methods I really learned how to deconstruct an image so that I can reconstruct it in fabric. You know and that was one of the hardest parts was really working with an image to get to its core so that I can then reinvision it in layers of fabric. And there's a lot of architects as well who've really influenced me just not necessarily directly in terms of like methods or images but in--and again the process driven material driven product right. I mean people today all know who makes these amazing architectural works out of concrete, you know, and just concrete and glass and steel but he uses the concrete as the ornamentation instead of making the concrete building that he scans with something supposedly pretty, he makes a building that's concrete and makes the concrete pretty. And so, for me I use material and engage with the beauty inherent in the material as opposed to you know trying to cover it up. So, I'm engaged with the materiality of it. So, I mean there's a number of architects and artists and, you know, people like that whose method I really bring in and admire.

AM: Do you do any hand quilting or hand piecing in your work or is it all machine done?

LH: It's all machine done.

AM: Why is quiltmaking important to you right now?

LH: Quilt making is important to me because it really--it calls in to question a lot of--sort of contemporary dialogues about reuse--actual function. I mean, you know, we're so removed from constructing things and also from elements and from, you know, like being cold and warm and hungry and, you know, like our scale of, you know, reacting on a visceral animal level to anything is so much more diminished. And I think quilts really--they talk to a history where you needed a quilt to stay warm, you know, as you're in your covered wagon, right. And then they talk about, you know, reusing cloth and a lot of the work I'm doing now is about reusing these clothes and constructing from it something again functional. And kind of this cycle of textiles and also again, just engaging with function is I think really important and interesting. So, I mean I'm really excited about that. My background being architecture--and I don't think quilts are very dissimilar from architecture in the sense that it's about layering and it's about space and it's about function driven aesthetic. It's about, you know, something that comes from--its roots are an inherited function and then you create a project and then from these functional notations, these foundations, you pull up a project based on the result. I mean in my case I'm doing exhibitions and so it's not necessarily hyper functional in that it's about sleeping under, but it's still based in this function that then becomes transitioned through the sort of scrim of program into whatever it wants to be. And in the case of the quilt, we're talking about--part of this exhibition. So, you know, the quilt basis is literally a traditional quilt pattern made of used clothes and then on top of that I've put on, you know, these people that you engage with.

AM: Uh huh.

[pause for 11 seconds.]

AM: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life either today or in history?

LH: I don't know.

[AM chuckles.]

LH: I don't know that it's--I don't know. I don't know that it's vastly important other than something is a kind of functional piece of peoples' household. I don't know that it's, you know, seminal in terms of you know governmental structures or anything like that. I just think, you know, it's almost just a piece of what we have. You know it's a table, it's a--you know tables are important because we eat off them, but I don't know that it's necessarily a generative piece of American lore.

AM: Do you--what happens to your quilts? You said you sell some of them--

LH: I sell some of them--

AM: Do you give them away? Do you--

LH: I donate some of them. I have a big roll of them in my closet. I use them on my bed. You know Momma's got one up in her house. You know, I mean I exhibit all over the country so I--you know the last three months I probably have seven to ten exhibitions around the country. So, I mean they're just all over the place. I mean, you know, being shown as a general rule but with the intent to sell at some galleries and the intent to show at some, you know, quilt festivals and you know then just some exhibition halls and different kind of places like that.

AM: So, you talked about the label on the front of your quilts. Do you label the back? Do you add any other information other than your logo to the quilts? Not a date or anything?

LH: Probably should.

[AM and LH both laugh.]

LH: I mean I realize there's a lot of importance to yeah, like putting a good label on your quilt. Again, it's after it's already done, it's in the same binding and loop category for me. I'm just like, 'Uhhh, write it with a Sharpie I don't care.'

[LH laughs.]

AM: I think unless you want to add something, I think that's probably about it for my questions. I'd like to thank Luke Haynes for allowing me to interview him for the Quilters' S.O.S. Save our Stories project of The Alliance for American Quilts. It is still November 4th and its 2PM and thanks a lot.


“Luke Haynes,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,