Deborah Schwartzman




Deborah Schwartzman


Schwartzman discusses her origins as a quilter, as well as her interest in flower quilts. She describes her work at the Sedgwick Cultural Center as director of the museum art guild, and her role in organizing quilt shows for the museum. She notes her opinions on quilt preservation and quilting's place in American life.




Quilting--United States--Patterns
Quilts--United States--History--20th century--Exhibitions
Quilts--United States--History--20th century.
Quilting--United States--Patterns.
Quilts--United States--History--20th century--Exhibitions.
Quilts in art
Craft and art
Craft festivals.
Art festivals.


Deborah Schwartzman


Megan Dwyre

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Le Rowell


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Megan Dwyre


Megan Dwyre (MD): This is Megan Dwyre. It's July 22, 2003 at five of four p.m. and I'm interviewing Deborah Schwartzman for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories oral history project. What I want to start out to talk about is, well the quilt you want to talk about today.

Deborah Schwartzman (DS): Well, can I go a little bit backwards before I talk about the quilt I want to talk about today?

MD: Sure.

DS: I started making quilts for function in 1978. I was a traditional quiltmaker. I made quilts for the bed, and as a result of wanting to challenge myself I started to think about quilts to go on the wall and to play with designs in a way that was not as traditional. I went through a series of doing that and working with a couple other women in a design group. Now fast forward to more current times, that was back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s and so my parents, who you met, were moving to Arizona and my mother's favorite flower is a gladiola and I decided I wanted to make her a quilt inspired by the gladiola. And in addition I am a gardener and I love flowers, and I've always wanted to create quilts that have a flower theme, but I had never really been able to figure out how to take that image and translate into piecing it into a picture so to speak. I'm not formally trained. I didn't go to art school, and I don't have drawing skills that one gets either by talent or by teaching, but I went and bought myself a bunch of gladiolas, and I brought them home, and I put them on my design table, and every day they opened, and every day I stared at them and I looked at them and I studied them, and I saw the shape of a hexagon on point in the shape of the gladiola blossom. And so I started to play with the design by putting the blossom inside one hexagon, an equilateral hexagon. The Gladiola grow up on a stalk, and I was playing with this concept and realized that I needed to make it more interesting so I started to incorporate some really gigantic gladiolas, but it was all based on the hexagon. And I then started to piece this and as it grew on my design wall something magical started to happen. I knew that I had tripped upon an interesting design possibility that I had never experienced before, and the quilt was extraordinarily successful, so much so that I entered it into a show at Houston and it won an award, which was the biggest surprise in the universe, but truly the shining moment in my entire career was I wrote an article about the process. I realized that I had discovered a technique that I could teach to other quilt makers using basically the theory of paper piecing, but it became more than just that. I finished this quilt and I called it "Feelin' Glad All Over" because of the gladiola. Oh I forgot, I skipped finishing my sentence. The biggest achievement was I wrote the article, and they chose the quilt to put on the cover of the magazine. So that was an incredible moment in my life. But more importantly, I looked at this quilt and I realized that I had discovered a design possibility for myself. And so I searched for another flower that grew up on a stalk like that and I discovered the hollyhock, and then when I did that one I discovered a way to integrate a curve into the piecing. That was a new element. And what happened was, over a period of years, and over a period of the months of that first year of making these flower quilts, with each new one that I made I discovered another possibility. So it became an evolutionary process, and it really launched me on this path of making these flower quilts.

MD: So before you made the flower quilts you made mostly traditional quilts?

DS: Well yes, in the seventies I made traditional quilts. I made baby quilts to give to my friends who were having babies. I made bed quilts for all of my friends who were getting married, etc. Then in the eighties I joined a design group and we played with the geometry of a traditional block. We took a traditional block like Ohio Star and we said to each other, let's skew this and see what we end up with. And so then I did a whole series of quilts based on design challenges and I actually wrote an article based on that and it got published too, on that experience. So then the next step of my design life was the flower quilts. So that was pretty much the different stages.

MD: And you're still making those?

DS: I am still making those, and I put that one up because that's the most current one .[quilt hanging on wall.]

MD: Did you want to talk about the materials you used in that quilt at all ["Feelin' Glad All Over."]?

DS: Well that's also evolved too. When you're making traditional quilts of course you're working mostly with cottons because it's functional and you want to be able to wash it, but what's been wonderful about these wall quilts is being able to play with all different kinds of fabrics, and the more I've done them, the more I've become really focused and passionate about fabrics that reflect the light, that pick up the light., and cotton just stops the light flat, but something like a silk, or a rayon, or a taffeta, the light bounces back off of it. So my fabric collection has completely changed. I could show you in that closet, from floor to ceiling, all my cottons, and they're not diminishing very much these days because instead I'm obsessively collecting silks. And because it doesn't have to be washed you don't have to worry about what's the consequence. It does have to be treated, handled differently, and it needs to be stabilized to work with it, but I've learned those things as I've worked with the fabric.

MD: And where is the quilt today?

DS: That quilt is now hanging in my parents' home in Arizona, but it did travel to many shows prior to ending up there.

MD: Do you know what will happen to it in the future? Do you have any plans for it?

DS: Well I would imagine that it will end up back to me once my parents are no longer on this earth, and it will make me sad that that will be what it's end destiny will be because that means my parents will be gone, but that's where it will probably end up.
MD: Would you want it to stay in the family after that?

DS: Well that particular quilt I think that I would because it's significant.

MD: It has a special meaning.

DS: Yes, I mean it has so much meaning because not only does it represent a real change in the direction of my work, but it was a gift to my parents and marked a time in their lives where they were making a significant change, leaving where we've all lived in Philadelphia and moving far away. And I always look at that quilt as having been kind of magical because it really was a gift of love. It just evolved on the wall and it was an amazing creation for me.

MD: How did you learn how to quilt, no one in your family quilts right?

DS: No one in my family quilts. I started out back in the ‘70s with books, like a lot of people did. There were not that many, but there were the basics. I was pregnant with my daughter and I wanted to make a baby quilt. Well actually that's not true. The very first quilt that I made was from a picture in the Family Circle magazine, and it was Drunkard's Path, which is not a simple traditional block. It's a square with a semicircle cut out, and I completely pieced 220 of these and put them together, and I made the quilt that was to be my wedding quilt. That was my first quilt and it took two years and it's amazing that I kept making quilts after that. [laughs.] And so after that the next quilt, there were probably--I don't know specifically the next quilt, but the next one that I remember deciding to make that wasn't from a picture in a book or something, was the one that I made for my daughter when I was going to have my first child. And I truly did not know what I was doing. When I looked at these books and I saw a block, I didn't realize you were supposed to take that block and repeat it, three by four times. I took the block and I blew it up to the entire size of the baby quilt [laughs.]. So the triangles are really big [laughs]. And back then I was doing very traditional quilting, I was just echoing the seam line a quarter of an inch in, and it took a healthy amount of wear and tear and it's practically in shreds at this point, but again it whet my appetite enough that I realized there was more that I needed to learn. I did take a couple beginning classes. It was very hard to find classes around here and back in those days-- in the seventies I was pretty isolated. I didn't even realize there was a world of quilting out there. It wasn't particularly predominant on the east coast and I didn't even know there were things called guilds. So really I was isolated for a long time before I discovered the world out there. I started making them in '78, so probably by the mid-eighties I had realized that there was this thing called Quilter's [Newsletter.] Magazine and that there were guilds, etc. And so I'd stumble upon a class every once in awhile and eventually there were some conferences that I learned about, like up in Lancaster [Pennsylvania.] and I took some classes up there, so the initial stages of me making a quilt were totally self taught, and then I enhanced it by taking some classes.

MD: How does quilting impact your family?

DS: My family is incredibly supportive and excited about the work that I do. They see it as work, they don't see it as a hobby, just this little fun thing that I do. They recognize this medium as art, but prior to that they were the recipients and appreciators of quilts that were on their beds, because they all got quilts for their beds too. So I think there's something wonderful about having started in the tradition and giving them that experience, and then it evolving to art quilts and sharing that experience with them.

MD: It's got a history that's present.

DS: Right, there's definitely a history in this family and I've started it because there was not quiltmaking history in my extended family.

MD: How many hours a week do you quilt?

DS: When I'm working on a quilt I will work eight hours a day, five to six days a week usually, and I'm one of the few people who are making art quilts that are still hand quilting. I do do some machine quilting in places where it's so intricate that it would not be worth the time of my hand stitches. So in those days that I might work eight hours behind a sewing machine, I'll then at nighttime sit down with it in my lap if I'm on that stage of the quilt, and do the hand quilting.

MD: And just to clarify, this is your job right? This is your profession.

DS: This is my work, yes. I teach, I lecture, I do workshops, I'm now the director of Art Quilts at the Sedgwick, which I know you know about, and I make these quilts on commission and when I don't have a commission I just make one that is in me to make.

MD: Do you sell most of them?

DS: I would have to say when the economy was better I was doing better. Recently, I would say in the last couple of years that I'm building a body of work [laughs.] more than I'm selling them.

MD: Since you brought up Art Quilts at the Sedgwick, I was wondering if you wanted to talk about that a little bit more.

DS: Sure, well how detailed do you want me to get about that story? The shortened version?

MD: Sure the shortened version would be good.

DS: The short version is I was affiliated with the Sedgwick Cultural Center. It was an organization that I wanted to give more of my time to and they were organizing a festival with their neighbors at the time, which was called New Threads, and because New Threads was about fabric, they decided the theme would be fabric, and it would celebrate the fabric of community. And I was on that committee from the very beginning and we knew we wanted a visual centerpiece for the festival, because the festival was going to be theater and music and dance, and eventually it just fell on my lap. They just all looked at me and said, ‘Oh you make quilts, why don't you just do a quilt show?' And that's basically how it started. I called all the people that I knew and found eighteen people to loan us quilts, and our very first year I think we had something like twenty-two quilts. And the first two years was invitational in that way. We grew up overnight really fast because we attempted to satisfy the requirements for a grant, and we had to fulfill it. We had to advertise and go through the process not knowing whether we were going to get the money or not because of the way that the timing worked. Because you can't put on a show in April and wait until February to hear if you get the money, you have to advertise in September to get the artists. So we went ahead, optimistic, no, but hopeful that we would get the money, and we invented ourselves, supported by phenomenal volunteers. I had a contractor who put in this incredible installation that we came up with the idea of, and really turned overnight from a very makeshift kind of a thing to a very professional, grownup show. What fueled that all along was truly a desire to educate an audience about art quilts because it's really, really deficient, the representation in galleries specifically and even museums. They have a couple quilts and every once in awhile they'll have a show, but there is no place to see a collection like you can now come and see at the quilt show at the Sedgwick, and we get more and more feedback about that. People walk in and they say, ‘I've never seen anything like this before.'

MD: Actually that's sort of how I got involved in this. As a person who is not a quilter, doesn't have any family who quilts, and then when I saw these quilts I was totally blown away, like no ones knows [DS: That's right.] what's going on out there. So what do you think could be done?

DS: Well what we're doing is what could be done.

MD: I mean how do you advertise the show?

DS: Well first of all you're dealing with an organization that has no money and so when you have money you have the ability to do much more ambitious advertising than we're able to do. One thing that's happening is word of mouth, for sure. But we post first of all in all different kinds of fiber related magazines, just first of all to advertise to get the artists, and second of all to tell people about the dates of the show. We now have a website and that's been very valuable. We're cultivating a relationship with the hospitality department at Philadelphia and that's been great. Having somebody like Ed Sozanski come and review your show is invaluable and being in The Inquirer [newspaper.] as many times as possible and just by really pushing yourself on every publication that will write about you because you have no money. We do pay for an ad in Art Matters, which is an important publication for art in Philadelphia, so we do pay for an ad there, but it's just a relentless effort of putting ourselves everywhere we possibly can put ourselves so people know about us.

MD: It definitely seems successful judging by how it seems to have grown.

DS: Well yes, it is astounding and it's growing, and growing, and growing, and more and more people are coming, but there's still a lot that could be done. We really think it's important to document the show and because we didn't have the kind of money you need to do a catalog we came up with the idea of a CD-ROM and thanks to the talent of Cindy [Friedman.] and her son Steven, we have this incredible documentation, which ends up being cutting edge technology. Not to say that people still wouldn't rather pick up that catalog and page through it, and it is a dream of ours that we could have a hard copy catalog. And we've been contacting corporations. We've got money this year to do the calendar. Did anybody show you the calendar?

MD: I don't think so.

DS: Well we wanted to mark our fifth year, which we've considered to be a milestone and so we contacted many corporations. We contacted many corporations, but ultimately Fairfield and Bernina came through and we created this calendar, which basically we put four images, we made it start during the month right after our show ends and it goes for two years so that it has longevity, but what's wonderful about this is we tell the story on the other side of each of the different members of the committee, and the Sedgwick, and how the art quilt show started, and we have the images of the artists' quilts on the other side. It's a wonderful way to acknowledge the committee and our jurors for that particular year, and also to acknowledge our artists. So that was a milestone for us and at least it is some kind of hard copy documentation. People can really learn about each member of the committee because this exhibit only happens because of a concerted effort by a small group of incredibly talented committee people who volunteer an extraordinary amount of time.

MD: OK, I'm going to switch a little, but not too much. Since you've seen a lot of quilts I was wondering what you think makes a great quilt great?

DS: Well clearly design. When you look at a quilt the most important thing I think is that it makes your eye keep moving, that you want to just keep looking, your eye doesn't stop in one place. Color, for me, is definitely an issue. Not that I don't appreciate subtlety or neutral tones, etc., but I tend to think color and that's why my quilts are so saturated with color. I'd say basically that's it: design and color.

MD: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

DS: I think it's the same thing.

MD: What do you think makes a great quilter?

DS: What makes a great quilter? That's an interesting question. I just think that if they're true to themselves and to the passion that they feel that they're not trying to make something that looks like this person because everybody likes that person's work, that they find their own voice and they stay true to that. I remember when I first started this path I always thought, I'll never find my voice, because I'm constantly looking in books and magazines and other people's work, and taking this idea from this and this idea from that, and I thought I'll never find my own voice. And that's I think another reason why the flower thing was so significant because it did send me on a path where one day I stood back and I said, ‘I found my voice. I'm doing it, it's happened.' And then you struggle with ‘Okay, now I have to evolve to something else', and maybe that's something else that makes a quilter great is that they don't stop in that one place but that they evolve into other places. And I personally am struggling with that myself right now. I feel like, ‘Okay Debbie you've made enough flower quilts it's time to move on,' and yet something else still compels me and I think, why shouldn't I give myself permission to, if I'm still fascinated by it or intrigued, then why do I have to move on to something else. So it's a struggle. I think a good artist is always questioning themselves and struggling.

MD: If you look at the first flower quilt that you did compared to the most recent one, do you see changes? Do you think that you've gotten--

DS: It's interesting because in some ways I feel like I was freer in the beginning when I didn't have so many standards that I wanted to fulfill. I think I abstracted it more and I was less obsessed with it being perfect. I'll look at things I did before and I'll go, ‘Oh my God I can't believe I let that seam not touch that,' that it didn't fit perfectly because that would not be acceptable now. What's happened is, is as I've made these I've started out with all straight lines because it's the only way I could figure out how to do it, and once I figured out how to integrate a curve, to piece a curve, then I became more obsessed with botany, with botanical correctness of a flower. It's still abstracted, but I became bogged down almost in the complexity and I look back at some of the older quilts and I liked my simplicity. So I want to learn from that. Every time I make a quilt and it's more simple than it was complicated I feel like I accomplished something more. I want that simplicity.

MD: That's interesting.

DS: Yes it is, because for me it is really easier to do something super, super complicated and drive myself crazy. It's harder to come up with a really good quilt design that's clean and simple and effective.

MD: Let's see. Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

DS: You know I've often gone to shows and read stories about people using quilts for healing and I can't specifically say to you that I have. In fact, when I am overwhelmed with something that's just emotionally challenging, I don't work particularly well at that, I can't focus. So, no, I'm not one of those people who do that.

MD: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

DS: Everything. It's so totally satisfying because there's so many different elements. A painting is almost to me like one dimensional. You pick up the paint and you're working with your canvas and you're done, but with me, first of all I have an endless variety of fabrics. I like to work with commercial fabric whereas I know Lonni [Rossi], she paints her fabric and it's amazing. If I had to add one more element I think I would just be overwhelmed, but here I have this rich, unbelievable collection of fabric that's like my paint and I get to do so many different stages to it between designing and cutting it apart and piecing it together and then the best part is once it's a top it becomes a quilt when this textile sandwich happens and I do the machine and hand quilting and I add texture to it. [break to answer phone.] So then you get this whole other element of texture and transcending the lines of the piecing and introducing something that gives movement and shape and just makes it come alive basically. I can't think of any other medium that has that many different opportunities. I mean maybe sculpture or something. I don't know since I've only ever explored this one. But it's so satisfying at every different level. I love every different stage. I guess the only stage that I don't love is putting the binding on, but I should love that too because it means it's over, it's done. And I do something else that's really fun that could only happen in a quilt. I piece my backs as an abstracted version of the front.

MD: Wow.

DS: So that there's this surprise on the back. Some people just put muslin on the back, but I actually make another quilt on the back that's an exercise for me because abstract is really a challenge for me. A more pictorial image is what I'm more comfortable with. I give myself that little exercise challenge and I should show you one of them, to see what I'm talking about. So that's my little surprise for people that they get two quilts.

MD: Would you ever think about displaying it so you could see the front and the back?

DS: I would love to be able to do that. I've never been in a show that's afforded me that opportunity, but I think the backs are good enough that that could happen.

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

DS: You mean the history or currently?

MD: Either or or both [laughs.]

DS: Well I think it's equally important to maintain the history of making quilts for use for the bed, I think that's really critical, as much as I also believe that it's important to make people understand that there's this thing that lives on the wall and its art, and it's made out of fabric. And it's interesting, there's been a lot of talk among people who do this work that it's the word quilt that hangs people up, that they get an image in their head of something that's on their bed and to them that's as far as their imagination can take them. So when you talk about re-education like we were talking about a little bit before, it's to make people realize that a quilt can be so much more. I don't know that we should necessarily find a different word for this. I mean I could call this fiber art, but I think it's important to link it to that history because that is where it started, it is that same textile sandwich, it's just evolved to another place. And I think we should be as passionate about collecting, I used to collect, I still do, I have old quilts, and I still make functional quilts for the bed if there's one that's needed. So I think all of those elements are important to maintain.

MD: How do you think quilts have a special meaning in women's history?

DS: Women were the quiltmakers. Women were the homemakers, and they were making these for function, and so I guess evolution, if you evolve that over the decades, the women were the ones who first started to explore this as another kind of medium for art, and I don't know if I should even be putting this on the tape, but I feel really almost protective about wanting this to stay women's art because I feel that men have so many opportunities, with so many mediums, and it's kind of reverse discrimination because why shouldn't a man want to make a quilt? But I do kind of love the idea that this is something that has an identification with women.

MD: [inaudible.] it's like--

DS: Well, it really annoys me and there's like four men quiltmakers and they're super duper famous and everybody knows who they are, and there are equally hundreds or thousands of women making quilts who are just as talented and you don't know any of their names, so why do these men have this kind of name recognition? That really annoys me, so that's what I mean.

MD: Yes, somehow it seems like it's not just that a quilt is associated with being a craft or associated with [inaudible.] but it's also associated with women, so it's doubly looked down upon.

DS: Exactly, right. So we have to struggle in two different ways and that's another interesting thing you mentioned is, as an artist trying to sell her work, who really wants to embrace this as art? Galleries see it as craft, craft has an interpretation of quilts that are far more generic, so if you walk into a craft gallery they'll say, ‘Well, this doesn't belong here,' they were looking for something more traditional, and if you walk into a gallery the curator will say, ‘Well, this isn't fine art.' And so where do we live? Where do we belong? Another reason why you have to have shows like Art Quilts at the Sedgwick because we can't find a home for our work.

MD: Do you think eventually it will come to that, to something more accepted?

DS: Of course I'd like to say I would like to believe that and it's only going to happen with more education, so maybe. I would hope so, that would be nice. When you think of how many galleries in Philadelphia dedicate a period of their schedule to quilts, in the ratio of the number that there are, it's pretty disappointing. We're talking two galleries that have quilts in their galleries every year, and there must be hundreds of galleries in Philadelphia.

MD: Well it looks like we've covered most of the questions. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

DS: What do you mean by preserved?

MD: Do you think they should be used? Do you think they should be used on beds? Do you think they should be shown? I think that you think that, but some people might just say, have a quilt that they keep in the closet all the time and they only bring it out when people come over so they can show them because they don't want anything to happen to it.

DS: Right. No I definitely think that they should be used, totally I think that they should be used.

MD: How do you think they can be used?

DS: Well like I said before, I think, and I do this myself, I think that quilts should have function, they should continue to be on the bed, and I think that people should be using quilts in their home as part of their collections.

MD: I'm going to skip back a little bit to quilters. How do you think great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design a pattern or choose patterns and colors?

DS: It's interesting because since I've been the director of the show and I've been reading the bios of these people who've applied to the show, I wouldn't say it's split down the middle, but there is clearly this division between people who come to this medium having started with a formal art training and going to art school and somehow navigating their way to fiber and discovering quiltmaking versus people who start like I did, as traditional quiltmakers, and want to do, and be playful, and experiment, and evolve into making quilts for the wall. So I think that the paths are both equally acceptable ways to get to this place and perhaps the advantage for the people who have gone to art school is that they've had more formal training in color and other theories, so that they have a sense that maybe somebody coming at it from a more traditional place would struggle with more, unless they have an innate sense of color, and I was fortunate enough to have an innate sense of color. One of the most valuable lessons that I learned in taking a class with another quiltmaker was, her advice to look to nature, which I ended up doing for more than one reason, but if it works in nature it's going to work in your quilt. When I grew up back in the sixties they actually had a word called ‘clashing.' You never put purple with orange, those colors clashed. Well those in fact are two of the most powerful colors you can put together in art, they pop, they're exciting. And I remember when I was first making traditional quilts, I would go into the quilt shop and I would stack all the bolts up to build this quilt because I'd already have my design plan, and I'd look at it and I'd think, ‘I have to go find something really weird and ugly, a color I'd never think about putting in there,' and nine times out of ten it ended up being something like mustard, something really that twisted it in another direction, and it always then suddenly went ‘boom' when I did that. So somebody in art school would already have figured that out because they had been formally playing with color and understanding primary and secondary and complimentary colors. So, I forget the original question [laughs.].

MD: How can you learn those?

DS: Right. So I think that if you find yourself where you've hit a wall and you're struggling, then you seek out an answer by taking a class. I definitely think that you should give yourself that opportunity. Are we running out?

MD: No, we have about ten minutes.

DS: Okay.

MD: Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven't talked about yet?

MD: Well, just in line about what you were talking about, there's this whole other path that people are taking which is the surface design possibility, which is taking plain fabric and playing with the surface and creating your own fabric like Lonni [Rossi.] does and it's another choice. And I think that what's important when you find yourself doing this is that you have to figure out which things you want to focus on because I think if you try to do everything or be everything, like Lonni has become passionate about the surface and the threadwork, and she's figured out that that's where she wants to put her energy, and I'm passionate about finding a flower, and how can I abstract it, and how can I design it, and how can I make it move and take shape out of the commercial fabrics that I use. So, you have so many choices and you have to kind of focus in on what the things are that work for you.

MD: We have a couple minutes. How did you get started designing flower quilts. Is it something you've always been into your whole life?

DS: Well I was a gardener--

MD: Right.

DS: And I wanted to bring that element of what I loved in the summertime into my room in the winter, but it was the story of that first quilt that I told you about that first quilt "Feelin' Glad All Over." It really was wanting to make this quilt for my parents, inspired by--that was truly the first flower quilt I ever did and I knew I always wanted to do flower quilts, I just didn't know how to do them. So it was just accidental.

MD: Have you ever thought about putting actual flower petals into the quilt or anything like that?

DS: No, no, first of all it may be really hard to preserve that. As a person working with fabric I think about things like that, you do worry about quilts that go on the wall because they are light sensitive and they could fade, and I do worry about what are they going to look like ten and twenty years from now. So I don't think you'd want to do anything else that would compromise the longevity of that piece.

MD: There's one last question here, and that's something that we've talked about a little bit already, but what do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or special collection?

DS: I think clearly the quality of the workmanship. You can go into a show and in two seconds the quilt of a certain quality, which you even call ‘museum quality', just pops out whether it's traditional or contemporary, just the workmanship will speak for itself. And there are people who's workmanship is just so precise and so exquisite that it elevates it to a level of what would be called museum quality, I think it's really important that museums dedicate money to building a collection that really represents the diversity of what's happening out there now in the quilt world, basically.

MD: Definitely. I've visited a lot of big museum web sites and it seems like they don't even have anything. It's like ‘Search for a medium', sculpture, painting--

DS: Right, quilting isn't there. The Renwick has made an effort to built a quilt collection. I know that the Philadelphia Art Museum have some quilts but it's limited—we went to a really interesting conference down in Washington and heard a lecture by the director of the textile museum Rebecca Stevens, and she started to show slides of some of the quilts that are in the collections of museums and it's really disappointing. The American Craft Museum or the American Museum of Art and Design [checking tape.] they have quilts in them, but there we are again. It's OK to be in a museum that's called craft or art and design but the Philadelphia Art Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art you're not going to find a lot of contemporary quilts there. There's a lot of controversy in the world of educators and museum curators if this is really art, and a passionate argument continues.

MD: Well do you think traditional quilts belong in museums, maybe other types of museums, like history?

DS: I do, I do, because it represents the whole spectrum of where the art form started. I still feel a connection, I feel like there's a connection from this to what people were doing. Of course they were doing it for function, but a lot of them were artists, they were amazing artists. They had elements of color and design that were just spectacular.

MD: And stories.

DS: Absolutely, definitely stories.

MD: I'm trying to think.

DS: Well what I wanted to share if we do take this picture of me in front other quilt was one of the other turning points for me when I started making these flower quilts is I had an opportunity to go to Paris. I had been to Paris in 1977 and I go to go back in 1996, with a woman friend of mine, and I had never gone to the Picasso museum before. We stumbled upon it; it was a tiny little museum, and I was really struck. Everybody knows about Cubism, but I in a joking way, said that I felt that Picasso was a quilter in a former life because I could look at his paintings and break them down into something that was very piecable to me. I bought a bunch of images on postcards of his and ended up coming home and doing a series of four different quilts using his images. So that was very influential for me too, and I often look to artists like Van Gogh and Monet and people of that time to get inspiration for color because as I've said I wasn't trained so I have to get it from whatever source I can get it from. I look to those people, I collect those kinds of books and just page through them because those images help inspire me and give me ideas too.

MD: Okay, we're almost out of time but I was just wondering, you mentioned you had gone to Paris, the question that I was going to ask you is if you've wanted to talk at all about your travels, people you've met?

DS: Traveling like quilt-related or traveling in my life?

MD: Quilt related.

DS: I've never had the opportunity to go really far away. One of my quilts got accepted in an international exhibit. This is one of the Picasso quilts. [shows quilt.] A child is picking up a boat in a garden and I ended up putting her in this hollyhock garden, and in fact this was the second quilt that I did based on that whole idea of a flower that grows up a stalk. That quilt got selected for a show in Lyons, France.

MD: What was the name of it?

DS: This quilt? I call this quilt "Secret Garden." As far as traveling, I've had wonderful experiences going to places like Houston and to Paducah, Kentucky, and met other quilters, and been exposed to incredible collections of quilts that I would never get to see, and I've gone to Quilt National in Athens, Ohio, so that's about as elaborately as I've traveled in terms of the quilt world.

MD: I think a lot of people have to say that quilters are really friendly people and really open, do you feel like that's true?

DS: I do, I do. There's such a spectrum of people who are involved in this medium and you'll find a microcosm of it in your guilds; there are people who are still making very traditional quilts and there are people who are experimenting and doing more contemporary, and we all seem to live together in this space because we are still all passionate about the same basic thing. So, yes, I do feel that it's a really positive and inclusive community.

MD: Sort of a mutual respect between different groups?

DS: Right, yes, I think that's true.

MD: Okay, well if you don't have anything else to add I guess we can finish up. It's been almost exactly 45 minutes.

DS: Okay, does that mean I'm boring because I didn't go over my tape and didn't go rattling on and on and on?

MD: [laughs.] No, of course not, I think you just had your ideas ready, ready to say.

DS: I've been interviewed a lot [laughs.] for the show. [signing paperwork.]

MD: I'd like to thank Deborah Schwartzman for participating in the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. Again it's July 22, 2003 and we're concluding this interview at 5:50.

Interview Keyword

Deborah Schwartzman
Flower quilts
Sedgwick Cultural Center


“Deborah Schwartzman,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,