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posted: 7/19/2012 2:44 PM

Exhibit features nature art quilts

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  • The summer flower "Iris" is featured in Maggie Weiss' quilt creation.

    The summer flower "Iris" is featured in Maggie Weiss' quilt creation.
    Courtesy of Maggie Weiss

  • "Turtle Crossing III" was made by Shelley Brucar.

    "Turtle Crossing III" was made by Shelley Brucar.
    Courtesy of Shelley Brucar

  • Clairan Ferrono combines traditional and whimsical in "Figure Study II."

    Clairan Ferrono combines traditional and whimsical in "Figure Study II."
    Courtesy of clairan ferrono

By Ruth Nelson
For the Bloomingdale Park District Museum

Quilts have been liberated -- or so one might think while visiting the quilt art exhibition titled "Conversations in Stitch on Nature," which runs through Aug. 25 at the Bloomingdale Park District Museum.

In the exhibition sponsored by Fiber Artists Coalition, a group of Midwest textile artists who have broken traditional quilting rules, these aren't quilts to cover beds but art to hang on walls.

Exhibition curator Gwyned Trefethen said when selecting works for the show, she looked at how two pieces can relate to each other and how two people can choose the same topic but interpret it so differently.

"Take a tree, for example," she said. "Someone can interpret a detail, others can see a forest."

Trefethen began her career by making bed quilts, but over time she became more fascinated by how one can "tweak colors and design."

"The accessibility of tools and material online allows for a much broader range of experimentation," she said.

She started quilting when the rotary cutter came on the market, replacing scissors and tracing patterns, the tools of more traditional quilt-making. Quilting is always evolving, Trefethen said.

The marketplace is still catching up with the evolution, as hand-stitched quilts sometimes are more highly valued. However, acceptance of nontraditional methods is growing, and sewing machines have been used for a long time.

"Machines have been used to make quilts for a hundred years. In the art world, the traditional vs. nontraditional divide is analogous to the divide between women who work outside the home and those who work at home. There's a struggle," Trefethen said.

Two of her works will be included in the show, "Balancing Act" and "Entwined," both crafted in bold designs against a gradually-shaded background.

Clairan Ferrono organized the Fiber Artists Coalition in 2007 to promote quilt art and artists in the Midwest. The group held its first exhibition in 2008. Today, membership includes roughly 20 members from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The coalition accepts artists whose work is compatible and who belong to the Studio Art Quilt Associates Inc., the international quilt art association.

Membership in the organization "stretches the members' professionalism in terms of technical skills, like Photoshop, the digital-imaging software, article writing and art quilt curating," Ferrono said.

She added that the coalition is "big on mentoring."

On display at the show are Ferrono's "Figure Study II," which plays with a mix of the traditional and whimsical, and "Fog," evoking the early morning mist.

Exhibitor Maggie Weiss of Evanston said she always has been artistic, although she did not study art formally. She learned to sew when she was 11 years old at the Notions Department at the downtown Marshall Field's.

"I'm captivated by the challenge of depicting the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface," she said.

Her show submissions, "Iris" and "Michigama," are constructed with an eye for depth and reflect the beauty of the summer flower and the cool serenity of Lake Michigan.

Shelley Brucar of Morton Grove continues the show's nature theme with "Turtle Crossing III" and "Leaves I." Trained as a clinical social worker, Brucar became interested in quilting when she was expecting her first child.

"I couldn't find a crib quilt that I liked," she recalled.

Brucar went to a quilt store and asked how to do it, then went home and did it. That was about 25 years ago. She started in traditional quilting, but didn't like using patterns and discovered art quilts about 10 years ago.

She begins each quilt with 100 percent white cotton cloth so the design is hers from the beginning.

"Textile art is so exciting because it brings warmth and texture to a room. It softens a room," she said.

Quilts and books featuring the artists and their work will be available for purchase.