Art of Quilting column, Aug. 16, 2009

Cosmic spirals define artist’s creative journey

The career of fiber artist Barbara Olson has spiraled upward ever since she discovered circular graph paper and began to create dynamic coiled designs of black and white fabric.

This award-winning quilter from Billings, Mont., is enamored with the universal symbol of the spiral and is probably best known for her seemingly impossible rings of sharp points that radiate from a background of bright colors.

One of her spiral art quilts titled “In the Beginning” was chosen as one of the 100 Best American Quilts of the 20th Century.

Over the past two decades, Olson has developed lectures and workshops for others who want to develop their creative talents in this art form.

On Saturday, she will present “Quilting a Life — A Creative Journey” at a meeting of the Colorado Quilting Council in Grand Junction.

The council is a statewide organization that gathers each August on the Western Slope.

Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. at Country Inn, 718 Horizon Drive. Admission for nonmembers if $6.

Olson will show many of her quilts, which include her trademark geometric spirals, radiating spirals, organic and even cosmic spirals.

She will share her evolution as a fiber artist and many of the tools she uses in her process. Olson hopes to inspire others to follow their own creative style.

A book she authored, “Journey of an Art Quilter: Creative Strategies and Techniques” offers inspiration as well as detailed steps to achieve results similar to hers.

For example, she foundation-pieces her geometric spirals but machine appliques the organic or more free-form spirals.

But spirals are not the only designs in her extensive repertoire. Olson designed a series of mystical castles with a stained glass fusing effect and another series of prismatic flowers.

She also developed a machine method called air applique that works well for curved pieces.

Most recently, one of her recent quilts, “Life Unfolding” was accepted as a finalist in the Art Naturescapes category at the 2009 annual International Quilt Festival in Houston in mid-October.

While in Grand Junction, Olson will also teach a class on Sunday, Aug. 23, titled “Jump Start Your Creativity.” She’ll show how to take a simple flower pattern and bring it to life with an array of wild and playful novelty prints.

In her book, Olson writes that she is an alchemist at heart. Transforming an idea, fabric and thread into an art quilt is like turning iron into gold, she says.

    What a great image that conjures.

To see more of her amazing quilted images and some of her work in progress, check out Olson’s gallery at

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