LS: Art of Quilting Column October 19, 2008

Contemporary quilters show their horse sense

I’ve had a fascination with horses since I was a child, and my family always had horses as I was growing up.

    My dad taught me to ride at an early age, and I quickly learned to appreciate the aroma of tack room leather, saddle soap and liniment oil. It’s a fragrance that appeals to horse lovers the same way a gardenia makes a master gardener swoon.

When I wasn’t riding, I was reading about horses. All 21 titles of the “Black Stallion” books written by Walter Farley lined my bedroom bookshelves.

I lost track of how many times I cried through the pages of  “Black Beauty,” that famous autobiography of a horse. What a concept by author Anne Sewell, who told the story in first person, actually in first horse.

I’ll never forget my 10th summer. My mother made me a white Western outfit trimmed in black, and I proudly rode my black-and-white Shetland pony named Lady Anne in the annual rodeo parade in Phillips County, Kan. To my delight, Lady Anne and I won a first-prize ribbon together.

As a I grew older, I graduated to quarter horses and Western pleasure show classes. As a teen, I dreamed of one day owning a horse ranch.

I never realized that particular dream, but I still have an affinity for all things equine. That’s why I’ve begun to take notice of the number of quilters who bring that noble animal to life in fabric.

Quilt artist Patt Blair of Mount Baldy, Calif., says horses are themselves “artwork of nature.”

“I don’t own a horse, but I love painting all animals as they so easily and readily reveal their souls to us,” she says.

Blair’s first equestrian art quilt, titled “Watching,” won first place in the professional category at a Glenwood, Calif., show. I saw it recently in a Loveland exhibit. Blair’s technique was pigment ink and heliographic paint on cotton with the eye of the horse enlarged for effect. She machine quilted the piece.

Blair also has an entry in the International Quilt Festival later this month in Houston. She’s been notified that it has won a prize, and she’s waiting for the details.

Another quilter, Ruth Powers, lives on 30 acres outside Carbondale, Kan., where rural scenes often inspire her art.

“Horses are among my favorite subjects,“ she says.

Her quilt titled “Lady Godiva” was on exhibit in May at the Denver National Quilt Festival.

Powers says she prefers to work with commercially printed fabrics and designs her pieces from photos or sketches. She sketched “Lady Godiva” from her imagination.

“I decided to portray her at sunset because I wanted to use those vivid colors in the piece,” she says of the background fabrics.

Powers and her art quilts were featured in the May issue of Quilters Newsletter magazine.

A rural setting also inspires contemporary fiber artist Jan Rickman of Whitewater.

Her horse quilts are made in blazing colors from fabric she dyes herself. Next, she “texturizes” the images with free-motion stitching techniques and multicolored threads.

Rickman often teaches her methods through classes at The Art Center in Grand Junction.

Pure white silk is the fabric on which Linda Hibbert of Loveland draws her images of horses. She uses a resist process similar to batik wax. The dyes become permanently infused into the silk; the front and the back are the same, she explains. Finally, she “illustrates” them with thread.

One of these is “Spirit Me Away,” which won prizes at this year’s Machine Quilting Showcase, the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in Hampton, Va., and the Denver festival.

A new piece she debuted at a Loveland show is called “Phantom Valley.”

After quilting, she divided it in a triptych format (a set of three panels). This quilt is destined for future exhibits and contests, she says.

I admire all of these artists and others who draw upon their equine inspiration. To me, it makes good horse sense.

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