Gabrielle Swain

Photos

AQATS19119-003_a.jpg
AQATS19119-003_b.jpg

Title

Gabrielle Swain

Description

Gabrielle Swain talks about her quilt, "Maple Breaks," including its appearance and the techniques she used to create it, and the special meaning of the quilt and her focus on nature. She talks about how she began quilting, using quilting to survive through difficult times, and how her own quilting skills and techniques have changed since she first began in 1983. She talks about what makes a great quilt and what makes a great quilter. Swain talks about the book she wrote in 1994, which led to her teaching classes around the country. She talks about how quilting has impacted her family, American life, and women's history.

Identifier

2019oh0245_qsosart0003
AQATS19119-003

Subject

Arts and crafts.
Quilting.
Quilts.
Quilts--Design.
Artists
Decorative arts
Textile artists
Textiles
Families.

Interviewee

Gabrielle Swain

Interviewer

Amy Henderson

Interview Date

2003-04-05

Interview sponsor

Le Rowell

Location

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Transcription

Amy Henderson (AH): This is Amy Henderson. Today's date is April 5, 2003. It is 2:06 p.m. in the afternoon. I am interviewing Gabrielle Swain for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project, at the Sedgwick Cultural Arts Center in Philadelphia. Thank you very much for meeting me today.

Gabrielle Swain (GS): Thank you. My pleasure.

AH: We're going to be talking about your quilt today. Can you tell me the title and a little bit about the object?

GS: The title of the quilt is "Maple Breaks." It is designed around a 36" square maple leaf that had been cut into a grid. And I made three of these large 36" panels. One I cut into three fairly equal rectangles. The other two I cut into two, four, or six inch blocks, and then repieced them with the impression that you had stepped on leaves and broken them or even as leaves fall, they sometimes fall apart and what you see on the ground are just portions instead of the whole leaf. So, the grid really provided a great framework for that concept. And this is the eighth in a series of leaf quilts that I've made with a variety of oak leaves or palm leaves, maple leaves. So far, I'm still intrigued with this and will be continuing some of this series. And this is just the latest in that series.

AH: The first leaf that you make--so you create this leaf and then you cut it up?

GS: Correct.

AH: And is it painted or is it piecework?

GS: No, actually, it's all hand appliqué, reverse and direct, and then the piecing's done once the appliqué is finished. That's when I lay it on the cutting board just like a piece of cloth and cut it up into the grid pieces after that. But it starts as a 36" square of just regular hand dyed fabrics, and then I reverse appliqué the vein lines into that. And once that's done, when I cut them up and sew them back together, I apply colored pencil to the surface to heighten the shadows of the colors in the hand dyed work.

AH: How do you use this quilt?

GS: This was specifically designed for the wall. And I am a working artist. I sell through galleries and museums. It's a little small to sleep under, maybe a baby [laughs.], but most of my work is specifically for the wall.

AH: What year did you make this quilt?

GS: Last year, 2002.

AH: Okay. What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

GS: Most of my current work, I would say for the past five years, has been centered on my relationship to nature, how separate we are from the thing that we are. And I'm not only dealing with my personal issues of constantly living inside, separate from this, not touching the ground, not seeing trees, but also globally how we are not paying attention, of course, to the environment, what is happening, how we're losing species, and just the idea that this is just as magical and as spiritual as any church, to walk outside and stand in the trees. So, those are kind of the issues that I've been dealing with.

AH: And have the color schemes changed from quilt to quilt?

GS: I have dealt with autumn for a long time because I see fall as the beginning of the year. I don't see spring as the beginning. To me, fall is like a woman who is pregnant and everything's kind of in waiting, everything's still there growing but it's quiet. And then spring would be - summer would be the birth. So, I've been very fascinated with that fall palette for a long time because of that, but I also enjoy winter and the idea of the temperature of the quilt conveying the season, maybe not just the colors but the temperature of the colors. So I've done all of them, winter, summer, all of them.

AH: [inaudible.]

GS: Right.

AH: Tell me about the colors in this quilt.

GS: This is basically an autumn palette. It has lots of golds and reds. But I felt like the larger leaves needed to convey more of the autumn feeling, so even a blue/gray/green with a really sharp white/yellow vein line to kind of combine both seasons as they start, one to change from the other, in this quilt.

AH: And did you dye the fabrics yourself?

GS: No, I did not. I buy commercially hand dyed fabrics from lots of different artists. I teach nationally on the circuit, so I travel about eighteen to twenty-three weeks out of the year. The last thing I want to do is come home and dye fabric. So I'm very happy to pay anything that they ask. But what I add to it later then is surface design, colored pencil, pen and ink, stitching, grid, so I use their hand dyed fabrics as a base for where I want to go with it then.

AH: Tell me about the quilting in this particular piece?

GS: Well, I'm a hand quilter still. There is something about hand quilting that is very evocative to me. When I'm doing it, my mind is always filled with new projects because you're kind of disengaged from everything else. And I was explaining to someone, and I know this sounds kind of funny, but there's a Zen quality to hand quilting for me. I feel like I'm imparting something of myself into the work that, when I'm sitting at a machine, I'm distanced from that. And so even though it's very simple hand quilting basically, these are straight lines that were all hand drawn, not drawn with a ruler, just a chalk line and drew these lines equidistant going different directions and then quilted them. So it has, to me, more of a hand drawn quality than that rulered straight line. But there's still something about hand quilting, the way it shadows the work. It's a soft line as opposed to a hard line or a machine quilting line, not a derogatory term, just a difference in the way the line reads. So, I'm still a hand quilter and probably always will be.

AH: Is there a particular emotion you're trying to impart into the quilts?

GS: In this particular quilt, it's - because of the grid work in it, there's lots and lots of movement going on. So, I'm just trying to emphasize the line of that movement with the hand quilting. And to me, while color is very, very important, line is also--well, probably one of the things I work the hardest to convey, where your eye is going, where the movement is coming from. And I think the hand quilting actually enhances that. [inaudible due to background noise.]

AH: Where are you trying to direct the viewer's gaze throughout this quilt?

GS: I try to get you to never go off the edges. I want you to go from the top left to the bottom right, back to the middle. I want you to find something different at every distance. My goal is to grab you at six feet with the overall visual impact, at three feet for you to see something that you didn't see at six feet, and when your nose is right down on the quilt, to find another little surprise. So that's my hope.

AH: What are your plans for this quilt?

GS: My plans for this quilt? Well, I would like to sell it. I do sell a lot of my work, but if I don't, I would continue to show it and if it didn't sell after a period of showing, maybe a couple of years, then I would use it to teach with, because I do teach hand appliqué and quilting techniques, and then I would take it with me to use as a sample for teaching. But after awhile, it gets to be-- you're carrying more quilts than you really need to. Some of your work is, to me, very fulfilling, the aspect of the work, that people enjoy the work [inaudible.] And because I work by hand, I don't make as many production quilts as other people do.

AH: How many quilts do you think you make a year?

GS: I make about five quilts a year.

AH: It's a long process [inaudible.]

GS: About six to nine months.

AH: Do you use sketches or drawings before you--

GS: Full size cartoons. For this one, the only cartoon I made was of the big leaf, and the grid work just happens when you cut it up and tweak it and see where it looks best. But indeed, I do full size cartoons of most things and work from that cartoon using a light box to transfer the image to the fabric. So, yeah, I enjoy drawing.

AH: Tell me about your interest in quilting.

GS: Could you explain?

AH: When did you start quilting, why do you like to quilt?

GS: I started quilting in 1983. I had done regional theater from the time I was about eighteen until I was thirty, and I got kind of tired of team creativity. There's not much you can do in the theater without a lot of people around. So, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I had, like a lot of people, done calligraphy and needlepoint and knitting, and I still knit for fun, but I just didn't know where I wanted to go so I wasn't doing anything. And my mother-in-law came over and said, ‘I want to learn how to make quilts,' because they have quiltmaking in their family. I don't have quiltmaking in my family. And I said, ‘Well, sure. That sounds like great fun and we'll have something for the beds,' you know. Well, that never happened. It immediately became my passion, just immediately. I did like a two year apprenticeship, if you will, learning how to piece and learning how to appliqué and learning how to quilt. So I always tell my husband that he can't say anything about me quilting because it was his mother's fault.

AH: Did you guys finish that first quilt?

GS: She ended up finishing her first quilt when my second book was published.

AH: So what year was that?

GS: That would be 1997.

AH: That was progress.

GS: Yes, she got it done and she loved it, and she still quilts. That's the reason I answered the question. She's working on appliqué blocks now. I'm teaching my future daughter-in-law how to appliqué now. So, hopefully, we'll have some quiltmakers in the family pretty soon.

AH: Sounds great. So you didn't--you grew up sewing a little bit?

GS: Barely.

AH: Just the knitting?

GS: I did home ec, and my garments were horrible. I learned how to cook, though, so that was good. But, yes, I always did hand work and I think that's why I'm still really fascinated with hand work. My mother taught me how to crochet. She taught me how to smock. What a useful skill that was. I don't know what she was thinking of but she did teach me how to smock. She taught me how to embroider. And I taught myself how to knit right after that. So handwork, to me, has always been such a comfortable thing, so familiar. Her sewing machine, she was always afraid I was going to do something to it, you know like ruin the bobbin or something like that. So I was just never comfortable at a machine. And even to this day, I swear, I am lacking in two skills that you need to have as a quiltmaker. I cannot cut a straight line and I cannot sew a straight line, it's just the hardest thing for me to do. So I think that's where I got the love for the hand work, from that age but no quiltmaking on my side of the family.

AH: What were you doing in the theater?

GS: I was in arts management, I was managing director. I directed and acted in regional theaters like The Guthrie, if you're familiar with that. I worked at Virginia Stage in Norfolk, at the Alley in Houston. I did my internship at Actor's Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. So, I did a lot of that kind of thing. It was fun. I enjoyed it.

AH: Not costuming, so the quilting--

GS: No, I designed lights--

AH: Came as a real switch?

GS: Yes. I designed lights, I designed sets, I directed, but never--we had lots of discussions about costuming, how the visual was supposed to look. And actually, about five years ago, I guess, it dawned on me that blocking a play is composition, making sure those people end up in this spot, in this light, where you want to see them, it's all composition. So, I think it's all related, but maybe you don't see the relationship for a little while.

AH: It's an interesting connection between the two creative forms.

GS: All this creativity, I've never done--I was editor of a magazine, I worked for an advertising agency, and my whole life has been centered around some sort of creative and very low paying, may I add jobs.

AH: The arts were?

GS: Yeah.

AH: What is your first quilt memory?

GS: I guess the first memory that I have of any quilt was when I was a teenager, my great aunt was a doctor in a little, tiny, tiny town in Texas, maybe about 600 people. And she was elderly at this time, so she was a doctor when women really weren't doctors. And I can remember that someone gave her a quilt top in exchange for their care. It was not quilted, it was just the top, and it was a very typical thirties, Depression-era top, had all this great red stuff shot through it. And I think that's probably the only time, even as a child, that I remember seeing a quilt. And she was very proud that she had gotten it.

AH: She liked having received the quilt--

GS: Yes--

AH: In exchange for her--

GS: She did, yes. And I can remember people bringing her jars of jelly and jam and all kinds of things, but the quilt meant something to her, obviously, because I got to see it, and I was a young girl.

AH: Is the quilt still in your family?

GS: No.

AH: Have you ever used quilting to help you get through a difficult time in your life?

GS: Many times, many times. The two that I can really recall, I was working on a quilt when my mother was ill and dying, and always, I was just frenetic about it. I would just work and work and work and go to the hospital and come back home, and it really was a very relaxful, restful kind of thing. The quilt that I'm working on right now and just finished--my son is in the Army, and he's stationed in Germany. He was attached to the 4th Infantry that was supposed to be going through Turkey. I'm really high on Turkey right now, but anyway [laughs.] he did not go, but he still had the deployment. So this quilt that I've been working on now at home--which isn't here, of course has just been the same thing for me. I've been so anxious, and when I would sit down to quilt on it or to appliqué on it, I would just feel all of that strain go away from me. The good news is he's not going to have to go. But I will always recall that when I look at this quilt, forever. So, those were two times times that I did.

AH: The one you made for your mother, while your mother was ill, and now your son, are these quilts that you'll part with, or do you think you'll--

GS: The quilt that I made for my mother, or I mean not for her but while she was ill, no, I will not ever sell that one. This one, for my son, yes, I probably will sell it because everything is a little bit different in that situation. So, I would not be opposed to selling it. And he doesn't know what I'm working on, so it wouldn't be meaningful for him to own it. But I have given my--I have four sons, and I have given my three older sons art quilts, so they all have a piece of mine that they can say is theirs. And he has [inaudible.]

AH: That's great. What aspects of quilting do you enjoy?

GS: I can tell you what I don't enjoy. That would be much easier. I enjoy everything but putting on the sleeve. I don't know what it is about that but it's just that I'm over the quilt by that time; I'm through with all the design on it. I mean, to me, the binding is a design element, so I'm still very engaged up until that point, but when it comes to putting the sleeve on and the label, I don't like to label things, I've taken to just signing all of my stuff in the binding, right on the very edge of the binding. But still quilt shows need the label, so even then, I have to go back and do it.
[AH brief comment. inaudible due to loud background noise.] If I can hire somebody to do something, sleeve and label.

AH: Why do you think that is?

GS: I think it's because I'm not engaged with the quilt anymore. All of the choices, the options, the design work, everything is finished at that point, and this, to me, is just sort of an adjunct. You've got to have it to hang it, but other than that--so I think it's because I'm not engaged at that, for me, it's a process. It's all about the process, not the product. I have very, very little emotion tied up in the finished product, but during the process, for me, it's a very private time with the work. I don't like to show my work to people until it's at a certain stage because I haven't finished, if you will, the dialogue with it and maybe we're going to say something different, maybe it's going to change. So, after that's over with, it's a finished thing. I like the things that I make, I love them, but at that point I'm less engaged.

AH: In this quilt, what was the process you were working through?

GS: I like the idea of taking a single image, which would be this maple leaf, and exploring it over and over in different ways every time, pushing the image as far as you can, pushing your idea as far as you can. And so those ideas are what started this series. This particular grid work piece, I really became fascinated with a lot of [Dutch painter.] Piet Mondrian's very abstract grid work. And I think that for quiltmakers, traditional or nontraditional, grid is a very familiar setup, they understand the framework. A block, this is a block, ‘Oh, look, there's a block.' And so I'm kind of returning to that, along with the abstract work of Mondrian idea, and I have a couple of others that I want to pursue, as well. I really like that idea, of taking a singular image and seeing just how much you can do with it.

AH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

GS: [inaudible.] Overall impact, first, visual impact. It has to be, you know, stop you in your tracks. If it doesn't make me stop then something's gone wrong. Great color, great design, evocative of something, somehow evocative. And, unlike a lot of other people, right after that comes craftsmanship. It has to be well made to satisfy me. We are still, no matter how artistic it is, craftsmen, and, for my money, good art can be ruined by bad technique. Now, great technique is never going to save bad art and vice versa. But I like to see something well crafted with all of the visual design components, and to me, that is what we're all trying to do and working towards. Painters don't paint badly, sculptors don't sculpt badly. The idea that technique is secondary and not integral is very alien to me. So, I guess that would be my great quilt.

AH: What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum collection?

GH: That would be difficult for me to say because each curator has a different goal in what they're trying to acquire and a look. For my money, almost any quilt is going to look great in a museum. And there are certain examples of different periods that should be held in museums in order to document from the very beginning to the very end. But certainly, it would be about the pieces that they already have in their collection and how they're trying to make a whole out of that, so that's a hard question to answer.

AH: What makes a great quilter?

GS: There's a huge, huge disparity in quiltmakers in the United States or diversity is a better word, not disparity, diversity from people who just want to make something for their bed, a baby gift, they just like to play with the fabric, lots of quilters just like having some fabric, they never make quilts. And then there is the other end of that spectrum to the extreme, those of us who are constantly making quilts, it's our obsession, our passion, we are professionals. And even in that, there's a big diversity. There are people who just travel and teach and never sew, or show rather. There are people who just write books and never show their work. And then there are people who show their work and don't do any of those things. So, it's kind of hard again to say that but in my circle, it's about discipline and culture. It's going to take discipline to produce and grow and change your style or what interests you, and to let that work be reflected in your personal change, whatever. So, that's who I admire, those people who continue to show growth, not only personally but in their work and also visually in their work. But I love them all, and everyone that is a quiltmaker has something to offer to this, just in a very different way.

AH: How has your work changed since 1983, with that first quilt?

GS: Immensely, immensely. I remember clearly, I went to Cloth World and bought maroon solid, blue-gray solid, a floral print that had pink flowers on a maroon background, and made something like Castle Wall, which is apparently a very difficult.I was too stupid to know that I didn't know how to do this. I discovered really early on that piecing was not my forté. I can do it, it just doesn't convey what I want to say. And in 1985, I took Michael James's color class. It was a very, very good experience for me. He was very professorial, which I was used to. I mean, I have a degree, so I'm, ‘This doesn't bother me, that he's being professorial.' But it made me see color in a completely different way than what I had before, and it also made me understand that to accomplish the painterly look that I wanted, I was going to have to learn how to appliqué. And so, that really was the biggest change. Once I discovered that I can sew anything that I can draw, that was the real eye opener for me. And even at that time, I mean up until maybe like 1990, it was very exciting to me for my technical skills as a quiltmaker to be right at the edge of my drawing skills, because I could, at that point, draw things that I couldn't sew, maybe, or figure out how to do it. Now it's all about the imagery because I can just about sew anything at this point, you know, it's twenty years later, and hopefully--

AH: Besides a straight line?

GS: Yeah, besides a straight line. So, hopefully, if I can't figure it out now, I should maybe change careers. But now it's all about what kind of imagery can I accomplish, so it's a huge difference, huge difference.

AH: Tell me a little bit more about piecing versus appliqué and what you can--how the appliqué helps you.

GS: Well, piecing is a very straight line. I mean, you can piece curves but it's much more mathematical, I guess. To me, it's linear. And appliqué is very fluid. It moves and if something doesn't work, you can just sew something else over it, you know, nothing's lost, nothing's gained. And also you get a different kind of line in appliqué than you do in piecing and it's much more portable than piecing. You don't have to have a sewing machine with you. Traveling and teaching, I take a lot of my hand appliqué, lots of my quilting with me on the road. But really, it's the painterliness of it; it can look like a brush stroke. It can look like a painted line that I can't accomplish in piecing. Other people can, but it's just my own inability to--I don't think in that way, I don't think in a geometric, linear manner. I think much more in an organic, fluid kind of manner.

AH: Interesting. Why is quilting important to your life?

GS: We were just discussing this, how one-dimensional we've all gotten. It is the way that I express myself artistically. It is something that I continue to be fascinated and seduced by almost daily. I have never even thought about going back to theater or painting or any of those things because this is such a warm, feeding. I mean, I can paint, lots of people don't know how to paint. I can draw. But fabric is such an important part of our lives and we're surrounded by it all the time, and the idea of taking that and letting it be the message, letting it speak through your imagery, something we are so close to all the time, still fascinates me. I can't imagine not--I can't imagine a day that I wouldn't want to make quilts. What it does for me is almost indescribable, it's almost --I can't quite get to the core of what that really is because it's so much to me, and I'm very glad I discovered it.

AH: How many hours a week would you say you quilt?

GS: I work about ten or twelve hours a day, when I'm at home. So I'm spending a good eight hours in the studio, either design time or actual working on a design wall, and maybe that much sewing, just depending on what part of the process it is. I usually have more than one project going at a time. I'm not quite as focused as a lot of people can be. If I try and just work on one quilt at a time, I get really sick of it before it's finished because I'm so slow. So, I would have something maybe that I'm appliquéing on, something I'm quilting, and something I'm designing, in various stages but if you're not going to work that long, you can't get anything done.

AH: Tell me more about your teaching and your writing.

GS: I wrote two books, 1994 and 1997, "Appliqué in Bloom" and "From a Quilter's Garden," which were both purely traditional appliqué work. They were published by Martingale & Company. And "Appliqué in Bloom" just went out of print, so it was in print almost ten years. Floral, almost like, arrangements. The book came out of a class that I was teaching. I had worked in a local quilt shop for about ten years and had lots of appliqué students, so they were kind of getting tired of the patterns and asked me if I would design something, because they knew even at that time, I was still showing, still doing my work. So, I started designing these blocks to teach and the book grew out of that class. And it premiered at Houston Market, Fall 1994. I stayed for Festival. When I got home from Festival, I had teaching requests waiting for me, and I've been on the road ever since. So, people ask me, ‘How do you get on the road?' I don't know if it's the combination of having shown for a long time and the book, or just the book, or the designs in the book, or what. I really can't answer that question. But I've been traveling since then and I really enjoy the teaching. There's always someone in the class, you can just see them go over the edge and they're ready to absorb anything that you have to say and it's very rewarding.

AH: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region, or do they?

GS: This particular quilt doesn't, but I've done a series of oak leaf quilts that are based on post oak leaves that grow only in Texas--well, the Southwest, not only Texas. And they're the trees that they use to make the fence posts out of. So, in that sense, I have done a series of work about that. I've also done a Johnson grass quilt, this wild stuff that grows in Texas, that cattle used to eat. And it's just, it's ubiquitous and you can't get it out of your flower beds and all, so I did a quilt about that. But other than that, it's not so much about Texas, but about nature, and sometimes images that are directly in my own view creep into that, but not specifically about that.

AH: How does quilting impact your family?

GS: All of my children have grown up with threads on everything. We used to have to check them as they walked through the door. My two middle sons are very artistic, very talented themselves, but they've always grown up around this. So, to them, it is art, it is not--well, we've gone to museums, we've gone to quilt museums, to painting, and they have a great appreciation for what I do. My oldest son--this is a really interesting story, he was looking for me to call me about something, and so he went to my website and it has on there where I was teaching. So he clicked on the link and called the hotel--this is how your sons find you now but while he was there, I think he did a Google search or something like that, he saw all the things about me. And he started reading them and this was--he's 35 years old, ‘This is the most amazing experience, reading what other people think of my mother. Mom, they just think you're like wonderful.' And I said, ‘What, you don't?' [laughter.] He says, ‘No, it's not that, it's just such a--you're my mom, and to these people, you are like a rock star.' And I said, ‘Well, no, no, not quite rock star,' I said. But you don't realize the impact that you have on someone's life if you give them one little thing that they can take and use in their own world. That's where it all comes from. So, it had a huge impact on them in ways that I didn't even probably realize. My youngest son has no idea, doesn't care, he's going to be a lawyer, just like, ‘Okay, fine, this is just what Mom does.' So, it's very interesting the difference in their feelings about it.

AH: But they've all been supportive?

GS: Oh, sure, sure. There would be times when I would shut the door and they'd know not to come into the studio, and we used to have, ‘You have to go play at someone else's house today. Mother's really busy.' But in a way, it really didn't impact their lives all that much because I didn't start traveling until my youngest son was 15, so I'd taught at quilt shops and regionally, locally.

AH: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

GH: Well, I think that patchwork, specifically, is uniquely American, and that is a tradition that will probably always be ours. I also think that for some reason, revival of quiltmaking started here in the United States, and we are--not that earlier countries aren't interested, but we seem to be the driving force behind quiltmaking right now. And it's very exciting to see that of course Asian work, Korean work, German, Italian, that quiltmaking really is gaining popularity, not like it hadn't been popular there for awhile, but it's really spreading all over the globe. And in a way, we're still the leaders, I guess, if you will, in that movement. I think that it's always been considered domestic, yet there was such artistry in it that it almost took hold on its own. You could not deny the beauty in quilts. So, I think it's fascinating, to me, that this has been so American in a lot of ways, not only just the patchwork but then the revival, as well.

AH: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history?

GH: I think it is the history of women in America. I think it shows how we left our homes and traveled across the prairie and only had scraps to patch. I think it shows how much quiltmaking helped the grieving process for many, many women. And I think it was always the way that a woman was allowed to be creative. She could do anything with the fabric before she could do anything with a paint brush.

AH: What has happened to the quilts you've made for friends or family?

GH: Most of them still own them. I can't think of anyone right now that--we were talking about this the other day with my sons--I think there's only one of the quilts that were made that we don't know where it was, as a gift. And it was given to one of my son's ex-girlfriends as a graduation gift, but it wasn't--you know, it was just a fun sort of lap quilt thing. Other than that, all the ones I haven't sold, of course, we still have. And I never handle them.

AH: Is there anything I haven't asked you today that you would like future readers and people interested in quilt history to know about you or your work?

GS: Yeah, I think that it would be very important for people to know that you don't have to have an MFA. I started out with a degree in English and Philosophy. I don't know what I was going to do with it, you know, it was the 1960s, so that's my only excuse. But if you are interested in visual art, you can acquire the knowledge that is necessary to do whatever work you want to. Don't ever say it's too late. There's lots of conferences now, who knows how long that will last, but certainly there's local community colleges, you can take local--even university classes on audit level and forget whether you make a grade or not, just go learn. It is absolutely a never ending process of learning about what you want to do visually. Techniques. Anybody can become a technician, just do it over and over and over, don't give up, find what works for you, keep on going. But don't be deterred because all of these people who are painters and sculptors and have these MFAs are making quilts. Don't ever think that that makes their work something that yours isn't. Your work should reflect your voice and your vision. And so I would say to them, ‘Keep on trying, always keep on working.'

AH: With that wonderful advice, I'd like to thank Gabrielle Swain for allowing us to interview her today. This interview is concluding at 2:43 p.m. This is Amy Henderson for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Thank you.

GS: Oh, thank you.

[tape ends.]

Interview Keyword

Maple Breaks
Techniques
Teaching quiltmaking
Quiltmaking process
Appliqué


Citation

“Gabrielle Swain,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2454.