Making art is a very personal experience. It grows out of the artist’s thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, and is often hard to quantify. But that is exactly what artist Kathy Ford does in her new book, Adding Wood to the Fire: A Quiltmaker’s Way.
Each chapter tells the story behind a specific quilt: what she sought to accomplish with the piece and how her life experiences colored the result. Take, for instance, the story behind her quilt Sky Redux, which is included in the Schweinfurth Art Center’s Quilts=Art=Quilts 2018 exhibit on display through Jan. 6, 2019. The story behind this quilt, however, is not included in her book.
The initial inspiration was the view of the sky from the windows in her new home in western Massachusetts. “I was inspired to make four very large blocks that each embodied the drama I am witness to,” Ford said. “They came together around a center that I imagined to be the sun, in a pinwheel structure.”
She hung it in her studio, but started to feel uneasy about its design. “I didn't like how my eye was leading me to imagine how a swastika could easily live in the pinwheel design,” Ford explained. So one day, she took the completed quilt down and cut it into nine equal squares.
“It took just an hour or so of playing with them on my design wall to come to the balance I enjoy in this piece now,” she said. “I chose to bind each edge of the nine squares, in effect making nine small quilts that I then stitched back together to form the whole.”
Ford’s book is filled with stories behind her earlier quilts, as well as the story of how she became a quilter.
Her mother taught Ford to sew on their treadle Singer machine when she was very young, and she was making her own clothes by the time she was 10. Ford’s mother set up tables full of crafting items for Ford and her brother to make Christmas ornaments every year, which inspired Ford to make all her Christmas presents – a tradition she continues today.
One of the first major gifts she made was a quilt for her maternal grandmother. She was 11 years old. “No one in my family was a quilter,” she writes in her book. “Without a lineage or tradition to show me the way, I’m not sure what inspired me to make my first quilt.”
She didn’t make another quilt until 22 years later, when she was pregnant with her first child. After that, quilting became her passion.
One of her most memorable quilts was Energy Garden, which she made in 2002 during her first visit to Quilting by the Lake (QBL), a quilting conference run by the Schweinfurth. “I like to say it was the summer I discovered ‘going from horizontal to vertical’ in my quilt making,” Ford said. “It was while making this quilt that I became aware of quilt making as my ‘medium’ as an artist.”
Energy Garden incorporates raw edge appliqué, which features the organic shape of a piece of fabric applied without finished seams, and free-motion quilting, where quilting stitches are added by machine but with feed disabled and a special open foot that allows hand-guided sewing in any direction. The central images in the piece are detail from photos Ford took of her garden.
That quilt was a transition piece for Ford, leading her to reflection that enabled her to grow as an artist. “The experience at QBL wasn’t just about learning new techniques and making new friends,” she writes in her book. “By the end of the week, I realized that ‘quilt camp’ was a place where I could practice and devote an entire week of energy to the miracle of art inside me.”
After attending QBL, Ford changed her style of quilt making permanently. “There was no going back to the traditional techniques I began with,” she writes. “That way, which now felt too exact and finite, was dead.” And in the following three years, she produced more quilts than she had in the previous 10.
What: Quilts=Art=Quilts exhibition
Where: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn
When: Through Jan. 6, 2019. Art center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, but closed on Christmas and New Year's Day.
Cost: $10 per person; free for members, New York State teachers, and children 12 and under
Also on display: Member Show 2018, featuring artwork from 125 Schweinfurth members
Top: Detail from Sky Redux
Center: Kathy Ford gives a reading from her book, Adding Wood to the Fire: A Quiltmaker's Way, on Nov. 8, 2018, in New York City.
Bottom: Kathy Ford's 2002 quilt Energy Garden