Creative force at work in ‘power suit’ challenge
Leftover swatches of men’s suiting fabrics from a tailor in the Washington, D.C., area became the basis for a creative sewing exercise called “Power Suits: An Art Quilt Challenge.”
Because the co-founders live in the Beltway, where the sartorial uniform is de rigueur for the political workforce, the theme was an obvious choice, Cyndi Souder says.
Her residence is Annandale, Va., and her colleague, Judy Gula, owns Artistic Artifacts in Alexandria, Va. Both are fiber artists.
They assembled packets with suiting swatches, shirting, a necktie and a few random buttons, then distributed them for free through quilt shows, lectures and online via blogs and websites.
They posed the questions: What does power suit mean to you?
Is it a smoke-filled room where deals are made, a person or a garment? Do you plug in a power suit? What if a power suit gave you super powers?”
Directions were: Create an art quilt that expresses your point of view on this theme.
The women were amazed when a total of 108 art quilts, each 18 inches square, were returned from 21 states and Canada.
“We could not have predicted the number, variety or quality of quilts that were sent to us,” Souder says.
Interpretations of “Power Suits” included politics, family, work, playing cards and superheroes.
Mary Ellen Simmons of Fairfax, Va., made her quilt in memory of her father, a portrait of a young man on the brink of his future, wearing a new suit and standing beside a new car.
Simmons titled it “Make Way for the Great,” because those words were written under her father’s senior picture in his high school yearbook. During his 95 years, she says, her father lived up to that bold inscription.
She remembers his kindness, love and devotion, service, with great generosity, patience, humor and dignity, Simmons writes in her artist’s statement. “Hey, Dad, you were the greatest!”
Souder also chose to honor her father with her challenge quilt titled “Power Suited Him.” The only son of farmers who owned a tomato cannery, her father was the first generation of the family to attend college. He operated two small businesses, was a long-term school board president and part of a volunteer fire company.
Sadly, Souder’s father died when she was 10 years old.
“I wish I’d known him better,” she says.
Souder created the portrait quilt from a photograph of her father.
When she and Gula unveiled the challenge pieces last fall with an artists’ reception at Artistic Artifacts, they handed out ballots and asked viewers to vote for their favorites.
“Power Suited Him” was the hands-down viewers’ choice.
Another favorite won the made-me-laugh award for “Power in Any Suit” by Marilyn Owendoff of Annandale.
It features a mature woman, rather than a businessman, in a bikini talking on a smartphone while soaking up rays at a beach.
Owendoff first thought how a business suit gives the impression of power in the corporate world and also covers a woman’s “figure lumps and imperfections.”
“But real power would be to wear a swimsuit at the beach and be actively involved in business,” she says.
Owendoff’s light-hearted imagery, far from the exclusive tailoring of, say, London’s masculine Savile Row, made the crowd howl with delight and vote her way for humor.
So far this year, the challenge quilts have traveled to an exhibit in Lancaster, Pa., and are being shown through July 20 at The Arts Center in Orange, Va.
They’ll be in Oconomowoc, Wis., (near Milwaukee) on Aug. 1–4 and will be featured at the annual Road to California quilt show in January 2013 in Ontario, Calif.