Many quilts in Schweinfurth’s new exhibit tell stories

Many artworks in this year’s Quilts=Art=Quilts exhibition at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn tell a story. The story that Lena Meszaros tells in her piece, “Heritage,” is intensely personal.

Her quilt shows someone in a coat moving swiftly, one arm holding a suitcase. The coat is covered with small patches of different materials, some drawn on and others showing advertisements and canceled stamps. Tiny bags, boxes, and suitcases dangle from an arm and the back of the coat. One small box lies on the ground beneath.

The suitcases and boxes represent the nomadic life of Meszaros’ family throughout Europe. Her father, a Jew whose family is of Polish origin, survived World War II in the ghetto of Budapest, Hungary. Her Russian mother had lived in Siberia before marrying him and moving to Hungary. Meszaros moved to France after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and two of her three daughters have moved to Belgium.

Why a coat? “A coat is the most practical item when you have to leave your house, much more than a suitcase,” Meszaros said in an interview. “You wear it on yourself. It can protect you from the cold. It can serve as a blanket. In the inside pockets, you can bring some food.

“You can hide valuable things in the lining: papers, photos, money or precious stones,” she continued. “These objects are to be sewn inside at the level of the chest, possibly protecting you from bullets when you get shot. A coat like this represents all your history and experience.”

“Quilts=Art=Quilts” is the Schweinfurth’s annual art quilt exhibition, which draws entries from around the world and from Central New York. This year, the 40th anniversary juried show includes 71 quilts from 61 artists, including three from Australia, three from Canada, and one each from France, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.

The exhibit opens Oct. 23, 2021, with free admission from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. that day. The Schweinfurth is expanding its opening to avoid hosting large crowds during a short window of time. All attendees are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The exhibit runs through Jan. 9, 2022.

In year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disease is still having an impact on people’s lives and influencing their art. So it’s no surprise that the virus shows up in at least 11 pieces selected for this year’s show.

Among them is “CELL-fie,” a 2021 quilt that Kathy Suprenant of Lawrence, KS, made from a lab coat she wore when conducting research as a cellular and molecular biologist at the University of Kansas.

Suprenant grew up in Hudson Falls, NY, near the Adirondacks and became a first-generation college graduate. She began making traditional quilts for friends and family as a hobby while teaching and researching at the University of Kansas.

“Most of my research, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, involved the study of how normal cells divide in order to understand what goes wrong during abnormal cell division, such as cancer,” she said. “In addition to research, I taught around 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and was the chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences for several years.”

After taking classes with Alice Kettle, Jane Sassaman, Ruth McDowell, and Sian Martin, Suprenant began making art quilts. In 2016, she retired early to begin a new career as a full-time artist.

“I left academia simply because I wanted and needed to make art full time,” she said. “Now my art studio is my place of thinking and making. It is where I ask open-ended questions, ponder the big picture, and learn from failure and celebrate success. I am very happy with this new career path.”

Suprenant’s piece is made from three lab coats with different textures. It features drawn and stitched cells and DNA strands in shades of blue. “Months of COVID-19 isolation led to a disorienting array of drawing, painting and stitching directly onto the quilt surface,” she said in her artist statement.

Kevin Womack of Forest, VA, makes broader social commentary in his piece, “Lament.” It’s his version of a storm flag, which are hung at military bases facing a major storm. “In 2020, the USA saw constant strife, inequality, increasing sickness and death,” he said in his artist statement. “We were mired in misinformation and bombarded by hateful rhetoric in the midst of a storm brewing for more than four years.

“The stoking of discord, lack of empathy and promotion of division during that time may have left deep wounds to our union,” he continued. “‘Lament’ is my 2020 storm flag — my cry for help and expression of grief at what we have become. Its mourning veil attempts to conceal the damage done, but contains stains, which I fear are permanent.”

Some quilts offer uplifting messages. Canadian Bill Stearman of Picton, Ontario, began working on his quilt, “Finding Comfort in the Unknown,” in the two weeks before his liver transplant.

“I was filled with so many thoughts, feelings, emotions, scenarios and I just decided that I needed to find a way to be rid of all of that, and to focus on finding comfort,” he said in his statement. “Making this piece brought comfort, and it continues to bring me comfort as I settle in with its softness.”

The quilt is now a pleasant reminder that he is cancer free.

“Quilts=Art=Quilts” runs from Oct. 23, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022. The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays from Oct. 23, 2021, to Jan. 9, 2022. Admission is $10 per person; members, participating artists, and children 12 and under are free. For those who cannot visit the exhibit, a virtual tour will be available on our website on Oct. 28, 2021.

Artist Talks Online

The Schweinfurth Art Center is offering online trunk shows by artists in “Quilts=Art=Quilts 2021.” The video series will be released on our website, YouTube channel, and social media on the following Sundays:
Nov. 20, 2021: Fuzzy Mall
Nov. 27, 2021: Helen Geglio
Dec. 4, 2021: Kevin Womack
Dec. 11, 2021: Irene Roderick

See a list of all artists in the show