Meet Artist of the Month: Judy Coates Perez

Judy Coates Perez on the set of Quilting Arts TV

Sometimes, an artist’s work can stop you in your tracks. That has happened to me several times while working in the editorial offices of Quilting Arts. I’ll be researching a technique or maybe thumbing through a catalogue from a quilt exhibit, and BAM! It happens! A great quilt with balanced design, flawless composition, a strong message, and stunning quilting will jump out at me. More often than not, this art quilt will be made by Judy Coates Perez.

Judy is an award-winning artist whose work is prized for its beauty, intense use of color, variety of materials and techniques, and outstanding quality. She has the ability to elevate her subjects to a new level by rendering them in fabric, paint, ink, and thread. Her whole cloth quilts start out as a length of white cloth then are painted with fluidity and precision. The resulting quilts are truly masterpieces.

We’ve been so fortunate over the years to have Judy’s work grace the pages – and covers- of Quilting Arts Magazine. She’s one of our valued contributors who has earned her place as one of the top art quilters both in the US and abroad. She’s a familiar face to many in the art quilt community: Judy has appeared on multiple episodes of Quilting Arts TV, shared her talents in video workshops, and traveled the world as a sought-after teacher.

This full-time artist whose infectious passion for color, fabric, and thread has brightened so many lives with her artistry has had so much more to share with the art quilting community. Join me in congratulating Judy Coates Perez for being our Artist of the Month!

– Vivika


As a full-time artist and working quilt teacher, you have quite a bit of influence on other art quilters. How did you get into this field, and whose work influenced you in the beginning of your career?

“8 of Cups” by Judy Coates Perez

When I first began making art quilts in 1986, I was working as a graphic designer for an architecture firm in Los Angeles and had recently graduated from art school. After six years of college I wanted to start sewing again, so I just started making quilts the way that made sense to me with appliqué and simple piecing.

I was completely unaware of the quilt world when I began, but as a young teen I spent close to a year traveling and living in Mexico and Guatemala with my parents, and developed a love for Latin American culture and folk art. My first quilt had scorpions, rattlesnakes and cactus appliquéd in bright solid colors with contrasting satin stitching on muslin and tied with colorful yarn. You can still see that influence pop up in my work now and then.

Ten years later we moved to Austin, Texas and I joined my first quilt guild. That’s where I learned the most about how to properly put a quilt together and pay attention to the details.  It’s also where I learned about big quilt shows and what caliber of work it takes to get accepted and win an award.

Over the years, I have admired the work of many quilters, but I think I’d have to say one of my favorite designers in the art quilt world is Jane Sassaman. Her quilts were the first ones that I was truly in awe of; she has a fantastic design sensibility.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Laura Wasilowski and Frieda Anderson for taking me under their wings when I moved to Chicago in 2005. I was just dipping my toe in the water by teaching and giving lectures, and they gave me great advice about teaching venues, contracts, handling supplies and kits, and tips on how to make a viable living teaching, which is not easy.

Judy, your work is so varied. You incorporate many symbols and images in your quilts. Tell us about what inspires you to quilt.

I derive a lot of inspiration from life experiences; my kids, my fascination with different cultures and mythology, flora and fauna, as well as personal catharsis. I’ve processed a lot of grief, anger, frustration, and hope in quilts after my marriage broke up.

I also really look at things. I admit, I’m easily distracted by things in my visual periphery: the color of water, a beautiful bird, an interesting bug, unusual plants… you name it, I will suddenly lose focus on what I’m doing and zoom in on that shiny red ball. I’m the worst person to go on a walk with if you’re doing it for exercise or planning on get somewhere by a certain time.

By nature, I’m very curious and like to experiment, which has led me try different mixed-media techniques: I’ve tried drawing on tea bags then collaging them, along with using sewing patterns, dry cleaning tags, and any other interesting paper items on to quilts. I’ve painted cotton batting to see what would happen, sewed metal onto various things, made birdhouses and ornaments with fabric and heavy stabilizer, and I’ve also experimented significantly using traditional art media like acrylic inks on fabric.

The downside to teaching is that I don’t have as much time to create and play in the studio, so it’s harder for me to get in there and follow up on ideas that I have.

What would be a great day for you? Painting a whole cloth quilt in your studio? Teaching? Hiking? Visiting a museum?

A great day would start with a hefty cup of dark roast coffee, followed by a walk in nature, then time in the studio painting, followed by a glass of wine, a good meal and then some live music and dancing!

Lastly, you’ve been working with other quilters on an important exhibit that is close to your heart. How did the Threads of Resistance show come together, and what was your roll in making it happen?

“Liberty Assaulted” by Judy Coates Perez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I belong to a small Facebook group of professional quilters and teachers called the Artist Circle Alliance. Not long after the inauguration, we were discussing how stressed out we were all feeling. Member Susan Brubaker Knapp asked if anyone was interested in making artwork about it. I responded that I had an image stuck in my head since the morning after the election that I kept hoping I wouldn’t have to make, but since nothing was changing I felt like I needed to make it for peace of mind.

Many of the others in the group also wanted to make work about what was happening. The more we talked about it we starting thinking we should consider having an exhibit. I think it may have occurred to several of us about the same time that we weren’t alone in how we were feeling and that we should open it up to other textile artists. It became really important to us as a group that we help give people a voice.

We originally thought it would just be an online exhibit because we didn’t think there would be any venues willing to take on such a potentially volatile topic as protesting the Trump administration’s actions and policies, but we were stunned when the New England Quilt Museum reached out to us shortly after we put out the call for entries asking to premiere the exhibit.

We were overwhelmed when we received more than 550 entries! There were submissions from 45 U.S. states and 7 other countries.  It took several days to jury it down to 60 final pieces for a traveling exhibit.

I have never been involved in organizing an exhibit before, so it was a real eye opening experience. It is astounding how much work is involved. Thank goodness we had a powerhouse team with an incredible skill set to pull it off. I designed large informational banners that would accompany the exhibit and my daughter Indigo and I designed the exhibit catalog. Sue Bleiweiss, the master of organization, handled a huge amount of the tasks from bookings to building the website and more. Jamie Fingal and Leslie Tucker Jenison contributed their wealth of knowledge from years of hosting exhibitions, and Lyric Montgomery Kinard and Susan Brubaker Knapp used their magical way with words to strike the right tone and message for the exhibit. It was truly a labor of love by this amazing group of women: Sue Bleiweiss, Susan Brubaker Knapp, Jane Dunnewold, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Jamie Fingal, Lyric Montgomery Kinard, Melanie Testa, Leslie Tucker Jenison, and Kathy York. I am so proud to call them my friends.

Discover more inspiration and information from Judy!

 

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63 thoughts on “Meet Artist of the Month: Judy Coates Perez

    1. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. There are lots of quilts and artists to view here. Perhaps this is not your cup of tea. I, personally find her work stunning and thoughtful. This artwork comes from a deep place inside the artist. And, by your comments, it has struck a chord with you, so it is a successful piece. Best to you as you scroll through. 😀

  1. You’re right—“Sometimes an artist’s work can stop you in your tracks”. Liberty Assaulted did that to me…. in a shocking (and I have to say-sad) way. Viewing the artistry of quilts made with love and connecting generations always made me feel good. This work does the opposite. Haven’t we had enough of this political divisiveness. Didn’t think I’d find it on a craft website. Very disappointing.

    1. If you look at the history of quilts – they have always been a vehicle for women to speak out in politics and civic matters when other public podiums were denied. Quilts were used to raise funds for the abolition of slavery, for the temperance movement, For AIDs awareness, and now to decry the rise of racism.
      Yes it is uncomfortable. Not nearly as uncomfortable as being a black person watching the KluKluxKlan openly march and spew their hatred with the tacit approval of our president.

    2. I find it hard to understand how people can defend that misogynistic, rude, crude person who represents the country I love. Do you want your sons and grandsons to grow up admiring such a vile human being? Judy’s work and all the Threads of Resisrance art quilters speak to my heart. We must not stand quietly by and let this administration ruin a country that was already great before he came along!

  2. Congratulations to the editorial staff of Quilting Arts! You have probably offended half of your readers.

    Quilters of all colors, faiths and political views join together to learn, share and grow as artists throughout America. Your publication has been helpful to so many of us.

    But this….To applaud the depiction of a quilt illustrating a bare breasted Statue of Liberty crucified on a cross and our president and his policies depicted as KKK. I think you forgot a burning US flag.

    You have taken a wonderful publication and use it to promote your own “important” political beliefs. I think this is very disrespectful to your diverse population of readers. I will not be renewing my subscription to Quilting Arts magazine. In protest, others might consider doing the same.

    1. This is an interesting comment since Judy’s quilt does not name any names and I don’t see America’s president (present or past) named on this quilt. Political art is intended to evoke emotions and comments because it is to make the viewer think. I see Judy was successful because you immediately assumed who the person in the KKK cloak is meant to be!

  3. I am sad as well that a few artists I have enjoyed over the past years would join in the “tear the country apart bashing.” As a proud republican, I felt disappointed about the election of Obama, but i would never have made such trash for an exhibit. Not much of a fan of Quilting Arts or these women anymore. I will think twice before purchasing from these contributors or Quilting Arts in the future.

    1. The reason there was not a similar outcry towards Obama is because there was no reason to. He is a gentleman and represented our country with grace and integrity. The Threads of Resistance artists are representing a large portion of the country’s fears and anxieties. If the republicans had put up practically anyone else, you would not see this pouring out of concern. I applaud Judy and her marvelous talent to be able to express what I feel in my heart!

    2. “Disappointment” falls far short of the feelings I have toward a man, now President who so gleefully displays complete disdain for others. I hope you are reconsidering your “proud republican” attitude after this morning’s juvenile Tweet of hitting a woman with a golf ball to knock her down.

  4. To Judy Perez, I have never been more honored to know you! Your work is relevant and evocative, which is so appropriate for the times we live in. To Quilting Daily, thank you so much for featuring Judy’s work. She is an amazing artist, a great teacher, and a compassionate person! It has been a visual feast seeing her work grace your covers and be featured in Quilting Arts.

  5. This art quilt does exactly what it is supposed to do, express an artist’s viewpoint. I am really proud that Quilting Arts has the guts to display some of their most favored artists’ works that have some real viewpoints.
    It can’t all be sunbonnet sue and flowers. This is real. Someone, many people, feel this way about the country. The folks in White House have created the sense of division between citizens and this is how it feels. Not comfortable, but real. Thank you Judy Coates Perez and Quilting Arts for being real.

  6. So glad to see the tradition of political commentary in quilts continuing. It’s a proud tradition. And art has never been about making people comfortable. Well done, Quilting Arts. Hope to see more powerful art like this on across the political spectrum.

  7. Wonderful article. I love Judy Coates Perez’s work and have learned a lot from her. Thanks, also, for highlight the threads of resistance show. I hope it comes close enough to my area so I can see it in person. In the meantime, I’m enjoying it online.

  8. I am very proud to know and support the exceptional women artists who founded this group and developed the Threads of Resistance project. To all the quilters who answered the call, and submitted art quilts for the world to see… Bravo…for your courage and your spirit of justice. To all the quilters whose work was juried into this exhibit…Congratulations and grateful thanks…from many of us who have neither the talent, nor the elegance of words to capture all that you did in these 60 quilts.

  9. Thank you for the article. I for one am pleased to see that possibly you are going back to what made the magazine great in the first place… art quilting….not sweet pastel traditional quilts. This was/is an important art exhibition for America’s women and women around the world.

  10. I was able to view this art quilt and the exhibit at the venerable New England Quilt Museum. The exhibit generated conversations and contemplation. Judy Coates Perez’s quilt is beautifully executed and show her feelings about the state of our country. Why censor art? We don’t have to agree with an artist to respect their right to expression. I applaud QA for posting about an exhibit that had hundreds of entries and has 13 venues lined up.

  11. Thank you so very much for publishing this article and have the backbone to include controversial subjects in this issue. Keep up the good work of making other quilters THINK. Artwork doesn’t have to be popular, pretty, or pleasing to all viewers. It should, however, carry the artist’s passion, message, and concept. This is ART. It is nice to see Quilting Arts living up to its own title.
    Susan Lenz, someone who didn’t enter this exhibition, doesn’t generally create politically driven artwork, and hasn’t subscribed to Quilting Arts in a long time because the content frequently lacks content that aspires to the level that this article achieved. I might subscribe if Quilting Arts continues in this vain.

  12. Thank you for this great article featuring Judy Coates Perez; her work has always spoken to me. Judy truly is a master of color and composition, an extraordinary artist, and she obviously cares deeply about our country, as is evident via her work with Threads if Resistance. What a beatiful and powerful piece she created! And 550 entries is very impressive, too! I am happy that QA does not censor artist’s work due to political content. Our First Amendment rights are something to be treasured.

  13. Judy Coats Perez piece clearly depicts what most people living outside of the USA see. As a Canadian, is is frightening to see the erosion of democracy that is happening in America. I am a senior and I have never seen any US party treat the citizens of the country with such disregard as now. Well done Judy. Your piece is well made and evokes the emotional response I think you intended. Please know that many people around the world are looking forward when the USA is sane again.

  14. I have to say that most of the art quilts that I create invoke some sort of emotion in people. Happiness, sadness and even anger. I invite people into my heart and soul with fabric and thread. Similar to Judy’s work in that we both have a passion for what we create and often our quilts tell the story for us. We all need to broaden our horizons just a bit to open our minds to ‘art’ even if we don’t agree with it or even like it. Judy has shared her amazing work with us and her words about it. I think it’s important that my favorite magazine ‘Quilting Arts’ shares all textile work, so I can see all of the possibilities. I want to see what people create out of their emotions, because it has such power to open us up, to think, to cry, to be joyful and have admiration for the artists struggle.

  15. Judy Coates Perez always puts her heart into her artwork as this piece illustrates. I have been a subscriber of Quilting Arts since the beginning and I am hoping you feature more artists like Judy. As to the people who are offended by this article, read some quilting history. Quilters and other needle artists have been using their talents to as their voice. Faith Reinggold is one. Judy Chicago shook the art world with her Dinner Party exhibit. Some make quilts for comfort, others to share their voice to a cause dear to them. It does not matter what party you prefer, what quilting style you embrace, we live in the United States in which we are all free to voice our opinion, yes even with a quilt.

  16. I have always admired and been inspired by Judy Coates-Perez’s articles and creations. The work of art she has exhibited is so appropriate for today and I commend her for it. WOW, it actually is making people THINK!!! Isn’t that a test of real art? Whether it is loved or criticized, the fact that people have an opinion is the most important issue. AND isn’t it wonderful that we live in a country that upholds the First Amendment ~ maybe some of us should review that one. 🙂

  17. First of all, let me explain that at 67 years of age, nothing much can shock me. I visited the Lowell Quilt Museum on two occasions to view the Threads of Resistance. What did I see? Talent! I encouraged many people to visit the exhibit, regardless of their political views. The photos of the quilts do the cloth no justice. Some of the displays brought tears to my eyes because they spoke volumes. I may be a Democrat, but I call myself a conservative Democrat. I loved the quilts-every one of them. For the past few years, I have been teaching my granddaughter quilting and will include some of her friends in the coming months. Rule 1: There are no mistakes in art. These quilts are art made my people who care about our country and our planet. There are no mistakes in these quilts-just beauty.

  18. I’ve been a great fan of Judy’s work over the years. That includes her work for the “Threads of Resistance” exhibit, in which hundreds of artists expressed their concerns over issues that affect all of us, regardless of political party.

    Her powerful, sorrowful work is not an effort to tear the country apart, nor is it trash. It’s the expression of a deeply concerned citizen who is exercising her right to free speech. She is trying to draw attention to some very serious issues. That is why she has used imagery that some will find shocking or disturbing.

    I appreciate Quilting Daily profiling Judy and not censoring her mentioning the exhibit. I don’t regard their publishing the article as either an endorsement or a criticism of the exhibit. They are acting as neutral parties, supporting citizens’ right to free speech.

  19. Congratulations on profiling Judy Coates Perez and her wonderful work! I am intensely proud to be receiving a publication (Quilting Arts) that is bold enough to publish some very polarizing work even though it may not score “points” with everyone. Judy’s work has always inspired me – none more so than her current “Liberty Assaulted”. Bravo to Quilting Arts for getting out on that limb and bravo to Judy and the other artists who had their work selected for this very inspiring show.

  20. Thank you for the great coverage of Threads of Resistance. We should all be more aware of the diversity in ideas and embrace the ways they are expressed. You dont have to agree,just be aware.

  21. I’ve always admired Quilting Arts for pushing the envelope. As a longtime subscriber there are some articles, techniques, etc. that just aren’t for me. Nevertheless it has never crossed my mind to suggest that other readers boycott the publication when it doesn’t meet my expectations.

    In my opinion, the story of Threads of Resistance honors the history of quilting by honoring the ability and talent of quilters speaking out in their own way. May I suggest that those who are offended begin designing their response in fabric? After all, that’s what we do. We quilt.

  22. Judy Coates Perez is a talented artist. Thank you for featuring her work. I applaud Judy Coates Perez for contributing her voice to the Threads of Resistance exhibit and I applaud quilting Arts for sharing.

  23. I am surprised that so many artists would take offense to this article or the work of the artist presented. After all, isn’t that what art is meant to do? Express a unique point of view from a personal place as an expression of one’s being-ness? And so yes, if it is in the artist’s being-ness to question a political state, or a religious concept or a scientific experiment or a color scheme or what they even ate for breakfast, then surely that dialogue has merit without being seen as cause for offense. Is it not the purpose of art to make us question and think about our own responses to another perspective? I applaud Quilting Arts for representing all points of view from all walks, because to me that is what art is meant for, to reflect the human condition in all its states. And if we start censoring that which offends us, surely that will ultimately be the death of all artistic expression everywhere.

  24. Thank you for featuring Judy’s work. I took a class with her last winter on stamp making that has continued to influence my work. I am new to quilting but have been quite happy to discover how approachable most quilting artists are and how willing to share their knowledge with beginners. Judy is such a person; do take a class with her if you have the opportunity.

  25. Judy’s work is stunning, whether it is her political work or not. I’m glad to see Quilting Arts reporting on important work and artists, even when the content is political. I would love to see more work like this profiled online and in the magazine.

  26. Art is meant to elicit a reaction from viewers. You may not agree with Judy’s position but you ought to support her right to speak. The greatest thing about the United States is our freedom to disagree. If you want Judy to be silenced you are championing the death of freedom.

  27. I love Judy’s beautiful quilts and admire her strength and courage. We must stand together if our beautiful country is to survive! We must stand together if our basic human rights are to survive!

  28. Thank you so much for honoring a talented quilter who has the courage to take a stand by expressing herself through her art. And thank you to all who have championed freedom of speech and a platform for presenting art that challenges.

  29. This blog is part of the Quilting Arts franchise. Art has for centuries been a realm in which freedom of expression is celebrated even if you don’t agree with the expression. I am grateful to live in a country in which freedom of expression is one of the rights we’re given by our Constitution and the Threads of Resistance exhibit is part of a larger group of art over the centuries that depicts a point of view that all may not share. I would encourage all who are offended by this post and these quilts organize their own show to express their beliefs and values because artistic expressions, even though we don’t agree with, make our community richer and more diverse. Rather than seeing this as a divisive post and show, why not see it as an opportunity to make quilts that YOU think express YOUR thoughts or frustrations with our political climate? We’re all adults here and can handle disagreeing with each other without losing sight of our love for quilting.

  30. Judy Perez ( and all the Threads of Resistance artists) you are my heroes and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! I cannot wait to see the exhibit when it comes to Texas next year!

  31. I have a bit more to say regarding the objections expressed above to the political context of some of Judy’s work. Textile artists have been involved in making political and social statements for years. Think of Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party”. Annabel Rainbow’s “Hello Dear, What Did You Do Today?”. Quilts that show a fragile earth spinning in space. Quilts that feature endangered species and pleas for policy changes so they can be saved. Quilts with hands in many shades of pale tan to deepest brown, clasped together in support. US flag themes and colors. War heroes. Famous scenes from the Bible illustrating how we should live. Quilts in sympathy with disaster victims. The aids memorial quilt. The quilt that was created for victims of the Oklahoma City bombing (coordinated online in the Usenet era, with people working on squares and mailing them to people who assembled and quilted them all).

    The article above mainly deals with an individual artist and how she came to be a quilter. Included in this article is something that is significant to her, how she, along with others, conceived of an idea for a quilt exhibit that grew from an online venue to a series of exhibits across the US. One could be interested in this and choose to read it…..or not. As an agnostic I have certainly read hundreds of articles about people who have put the symbols of their Christian or Jewish faith into their work. It is their right to explain what motivates them to make art, and if I don’t relate to it, I can choose not to read it, just as I might skip over an article about some aspect of quilting that I have no personal interest in. Or I can choose to appreciate the colors and textures used, the techniques mastered, and know that other people have different views of life from mine, different experiences from mine, and this is OK.

    If this had been an article teaching a quilting technique, and the featured project was how to make protest banners critical of the current president, then I would say that objectors have a valid point to be made, showing something that wouldn’t appeal to maximum readers might not be the best idea if you want them to become enthusiastic about the project. But this is not the case. The article dealt with what makes a particular quilting artist tick, what subjects have recently resonated with her and others. This means that one day, perhaps, supporters of the current president can also create quilts showing their support of his policies and also create a travelling exhibit that gets featured in quilting and art magazines. If the techniques and colors and textures are interesting, I will be reading it, even if I don’t share the sentiments.

  32. “Threads of Resistance” offered artists a nonviolent way to process their feelings and take a stand on issues they disagreed with. These quilts are examples of artistic expression and perhaps should be looked at from that viewpoint, rather than from one’s own particular political stance.
    I’m guessing that Quilting Arts chose to feature this exhibit simply because the pieces clearly illustrate the passionate beliefs of their makers, and that’s what constitutes meaningful art. We can agree or disagree with the message, but still appreciate the artistry.

  33. Great article, Quilting Arts! Judy is a wonderful artist with a strong voice that shines through in her work. It is nice to see publications who supports freedom of speech – especially when the subject is highly controversial. Congratulations Judy and Quilting Arts!

  34. Thank you, Quilting Arts, for taking the IMPORTANT stand to showcase Judy’s work & Threads of Resistance. It is important to the art world, our society, & women who have not had a voice. It saddens me that so many are “offended” by these honest expressions of despair. That reminds me of women’s complicity in their own suppression during earlier points in history.

  35. As a long time subscriber to Quilting Arts, frequent contributor, and as a former moderator of the forums on this page, I applaud QA for their continuing efforts to bring this type of work to the quilting community. This is exactly what I want to see from Quilting Arts, which is about art quilting and the thought provoking work it can sometimes entail. Judy Coates Perez’s work has always been a part of Quilting Arts for as long as it’s been in print, and the Threads of Resistance exhibit is no different than the many other exhibits QA has covered over the years.

    I plan to continue writing for them, and I also plan to continue to support them the best way I can, with my purchases of their magazines and by purchasing from their advertisers.

  36. Art often provokes controversy and Quilting Arts has lived up to their name by being at the vanguard of bringing ART to the quilting community. I find it ironic (and offensive) that those who are expressing outrage and shock would be the first to claim “American values” and spew make America great again rhetoric, the very values this powerful textile art is defending is what once made America great.

  37. Art is a means of communication and expression. History is full of art which expresses a political point of view, and quilting as an art form should be no different. I applaud Quilting Arts for including this work by a quilt artist and mentioning the larger exhibition as well. I have often seens quilts that express religious concepts and traditional patriotic and political ideas. We live in a time when we should use our right of free speech and express ourselves, and Judy Coates Perez and others in the exhibition have done so.
    Now, I am going to go subscribe to Quilting Arts again.

  38. I am gobsmacked at the expression of belief and feeling in these art quilts. I have not seen them in person, but I would love to as I am sure they invoke a deep caring of our country and government. I don’t recall seeing a call for only people who were concerned about the negativity and erosion of rights we see. Did anyone who supports the ideals and programs of the new administration submit an artquilt for the jury?
    I have admired Judy’s work for quite a long time. It is always complex in subject and composition. In my heart I wish I were an artist and could express myself in a like manner.
    Thank you QA and all the members who brought about an exhibit to admire.

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