SAQA Conference “Fiberlandia”, Portland, OR


It was a great time of year to be in Oregon for the SAQA conference and to see the many beautiful waterfalls, the old-growth forests, walk on the beach, and sip some wonderful pinot noir. Rhododendrons and azaleas were everywhere and stunning in full bloom.

This was my first SAQA conference and I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were speakers, networking opportunities, classes, a vendors mall, a fundraising auction and an afternoon tour of Portland. We also got to play during a “Creative Collaborative Collage” and a “Maker Space” on two evenings. All were interesting and good fun. (For more info about Studio Art Quilt Associates, click here.)

My biggest takeaways came from some of the speakers:

Namita Gupta Wiggers, Director of Critical Craft Forum and former chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, talked about the many different ways of understanding the art quilt. How do we make sense of the artwork? From what aspect does the meaning or content of the work arise? Our understanding of the content can come from the same sources as for any artwork.

Borrowing from art critic, poet and educator Tom McEvilley and Wallace Steven’s poem “Thirteen ways of looking at a Blackbird”, her list included:

  • representation (recognition of objects)
  • word supported (abstract)
  • genre or medium (form and shape)
  • material (used in a different way)
  • scale
  • temporal duration (how time is communicated)
  • context (where does it move?)
  • relationship with art history
  • heritage and historical influences
  • persistence (personal stories passed through family)
  • iconography (particularly in the use of colour)
  • formal properties (e.g. stitching)
  • attitudinal gestures (humour)
  • biological or physiological response
  • process
  • community vs studio (collective vs individual practices)

Emily Nachison, Fiber Department Chair of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, moderated a panel of 4 students (2 graduating, 1 third-year, and 1 MFA candidate). I found that Namita Gupta Wiggers’ framework (above) provided an interesting way to understand the work of these exciting young fiber artists. Molly Eno creates soft sculptural forms of humans and animals often with cascading entrails. While representational, her work provokes a strong emotional (and perhaps biological/physiological) response. Melina Bishop creates white minimalist objects of the everyday in fiber. She uses material in a different way, i.e. a dress is implied but is not functional. Kaylin Francis makes quilts and does traditional needlework. Her work is based on heritage and historical influences and is enjoyed for its formal properties. Tyler Peterson explores his Japanese-American heritage with fiber portraits of family members which carry strong personal stories.

Sue Reno talked about developing and sustaining your daily creative practice and included videos and examples from a number of SAQA members. Setting your creative goals and defining success is the start, then understanding how you work, setting up systems and measuring your “to do” and “DONE” lists. What is the expected outcome of your creative practice? …satisfaction, skill sets, products, income, the unexpected?

Maria Shell explained why her writing skills are just as important as her stitching skills. Living in Anchorage Alaska, she is separated from the contiguous USA but that hasn’t stopped her from getting her work shown. She has organized systems “to document her creative madness”, has a web presence, and has her basic materials at the ready (artist statement, CV, bio, active application files, rejection files). She applies for at least 4 grant or exhibition opportunities per month with a goal of having at least 6 exhibitions per year. She doesn’t get them all, but she does get many. How many of us can claim that?

In addition to the speakers, we saw some real quilts. For the “Local Artist Panel”, Sidnee Snell, Bonnie Bucknam, Sheila Finzer and Jean Wells Keenan brought examples of their work.
Attendees view Red LacesAttendees view Sidnee Snell’s “Red Laces” 51” x 51”. To see more of her wonderful work, click here.

For the Wild About SAQA Spotlight Auction, bidding was active and competitive on the 5” x 7” quilts donated by members. I “won” pieces by Holly Altman of Santa Fe, NM and Erika Close of Salem, OR. The auction raised over US$14,000 for SAQA programs.Wild about SAQA Auction

Given the location, it’s not surprising that members from Oregon and Northern California were the best represented at this year’s conference. International attendees came from Australia, South Africa, Taiwan, France and the UK. There were 6 of us from Canada:Canadians at SAQA FiberlandiaLeft to right:  Margaret Blank (Mirror, AB), Ellen Bourassa (Saturna Island, BC), Tracey Lawko (Toronto, ON), Maggie Vanderweit (Fergus, ON), Andree Fredette (Saturna Island, BC), and Teri Springer (Nova Scotia).

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