A Las Vegas Venue for Art Quilts

28 May 2010

Of the many types of shows you might expect to see in Las Vegas, an art quilt show isn’t the first that comes to mind. But if you happen to be in Sin City before June 12th, stop by the Reed Whipple Cultural Center to view the exhibit, “Double Vision: Two Unique Insights in Fabric & Thread,” featuring a selection of work by fiber artists Jean McLaughlin Cowie (shown at left) and Patricia Gould (shown at right). While most things that happen in Vegas, stay in Vegas, Patricia and Jean freely discussed their work, their collaboration, and the process of creating this exhibit.

PE: Both of your quilts seem to be primarily nature-inspired. Are they a reflection of the area where you live, New Mexico?

JMC: Yes, my most recent work is inspired by my home in New Mexico and the western US in general. I call my style ‘contemporary realism’ as I like, for the most part, to use rich, vibrant colors.

PG: I have always loved landscapes and wildlife. Even as a young child, I took lots of photos with a Brownie camera. Although I spent the first 39 years of my life living on the ocean, both East and West coasts, I feel very much at home in the mountains and high desert of New Mexico. Because I have traveled to so many exotic places and captured thousands of images, I have more inspirational ideas than I can ever use in a lifetime.

PE: What is your typical art-making process?

JMC: My ideas usually come from something I’ve seen, though they can be a blending of many things. Often the ideas come to me in my sleep and stay with me until I put them on my fabric canvas. I don’t use photographs and I don’t draw before I begin to create, but go straight to designing with fabric. I paint many of my background/sky fabrics, which is usually my starting place. Then I just start playing with fabrics to begin creating my mental image. Each piece is an evolution as changes occur from my original vision due to technical difficulties in construction or because things just look better another way. I am able to trust my visual sense to get a finished product that I (usually!) love.

PG: I generally work from photographs, but I don’t try to create a literal reproduction of the scene. I try to imbue my landscapes with the qualities that make each so unique; light, color, energy, time, and the qualities that talked to me when I experienced that place and time. I often combine several photographs into one work. My processes have changed over the last 15 years and my current approach is to utilize whatever method best defines what my intent is. My works can be created with a collage technique, collage plus various paints, or whole cloth painted. While I work from photographs, I don’t draw any kind of pattern or templates. I work spontaneously on whatever foundation (cotton or silk) I’ve chosen. I don’t have a set way of creating the works, I let the process evolve and sometimes a certain technique isn’t working and I will try something else.  The painting is done at all stages of the process, even after the piece is all quilted and ‘finished,’ I will go back in and add paint to areas I feel need editing.

PE: Why did you decide to collaborate on this exhibit? Is your work affiliated in some way?

JMC: I met Pat through the New Mexico regional SAQA group. I had wanted to submit my portfolio of work to potential exhibition venues, but was hesitant to stick my neck out, having never promoted myself like that before. After discussing the possibility with Pat, we agreed to join forces to that end, giving each other the courage and moral support to go for it. I had admired Pat’s beautiful art quilts and I certainly recognized that she was a go-getter and someone I could rely on to follow through. It made it easier throughout the whole process to have a partner since we each managed different aspects of the process. And I have learned a lot. I think we make a great team! 

PG: Jean and I have worked together on curating group exhibitions for several years. So when Jean approached me with the idea of curating a two-person exhibition, I was thrilled. We studied our different approaches to landscape and “Double Vision” was born.

PE:  What has the reaction to an art quilt show in Las Vegas been like? It seems like an unusual location!

JMC: I actually just viewed the exhibit a couple of weeks ago myself. Everyone I talked to there seemed to have heard nothing but positive feedback from viewers. And the comments in the guest book reflected that as well. I was told by more than one person that people would look into the gallery thinking they were viewing paintings, and then be amazed that the images were created from fabric and thread. That’s a very nice complement, I think!

PG: The Las Vegas location is just one of the dozens of opportunities that presented itself when we were submitting our combined portfolio around the country. We were happy to be accepted to do an exhibit in this unexpected location—what a chance to inform people in a unique venue about art quilts! The Las Vegas Weekly exhibition review was excited to see that the quilting medium has become a true fine art form. As it turns out, ours will be the last display at the Reed Whipple as that facility is being closed at the end of our exhibit due to the economy.

PE: How did you select the pieces for this exhibit? What was the curatorial process like?

JMC: Knowing the start date of the exhibit, we had both kept many of our best show pieces available. The gallery program coordinator sent us a floor plan with dimensions of the gallery with her preferred spacing for the display. With that information, we were able to figure out the approximate number of linear feet that would be available to each of us. We each chose what work we most wanted to submit and then put our images of the pieces together to see if it would make a cohesive show. Once we were satisfied, we sent our images to the coordinator for approval. There was some question about us suggesting too many pieces for the gallery, but we sent them all with the understanding they would be shipped right back if they were not needed. As it turned out, they were all hung and look like they belong together there!

PG: Once we had decided on the theme “Double Vision,” we carefully chose works that highlight our different aesthetic approaches to the landscape. Unlike many traveling exhibitions, we didn’t restrict ourselves to the same works for each venue. We tailored the exhibited works to fit the specific floor plans and configurations of each venue, and we also got to include newer works with each showing (this exhibit was shown at venues in New Mexico and Virginia beforehand). The Reed Whipple Cultural Center in Las Vegas is a large space with high ceilings and great lighting, allowing us to exhibit larger works than in previous venues.


Images, from top to bottom

  • Jean McLaughlin Cowie, “Juniper at Dawn”  • 42" x 30"
  • Patricia Gould, “Coastal Symphony” • 51" x 37"
  • Jean McLaughlin Cowie, “Juniper in Technicolor” • 39" x 36"
  • Patricia Gould, “Deep Woods Reflection” • 42" x 42"

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