Review - Art Quilt Maps

by - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Valerie Goodwin

On Monday September 8, the Maiwa Textile Symposium welcomed Valerie Goodwin to Vancouver. Valerie is best known for transforming the medium of quilting into a powerful artistic statement that combines the historic, political, aesthetic, and most importantly, the cartographic. Valerie spoke to a capacity audience about her personal development, her teaching, and her artistic practice.

A detail from the display present at
Valerie Goodwin's lecture.

The feeling of the evening might be best caught by Toby Smith's excellent introduction. We are happy to reprint that here in full:

Art Quilt vs Bed Quilt.

A distinction is often made between art quilts and bed quilts. This distinction, some say, has to do with placement. Art quilts hang on walls; bed quilts lie on beds. Others might say it has to do with pattern and composition. Bed quilters are precise with their points, meticulous in their stitching, and symmetrical of pattern. Art quilters are not concerned with the rules of quilting at all. This distinction between art quilts and bed quilts usually has unfortunate hierarchic consequences. Unfortunate for bed quilts.

Toby Smith introducing Valerie Goodwin.

But after thinking about art for a lifetime I’ll argue that the difference between a bed coverlet and a piece of serious fine art, is that art inhabits the realm of ideas. While a traditional pieced and stitched coverlet is not meaningless, an art work in the modern western convention intentionally enters a dialogue that challenges both the artist and the viewer. The best textile artists in modern art practice push the horizons of imagination, and materials. An art work that takes fibre as its medium is not substantially different from an art work that uses paint or clay or marble or steel as its vehicle. Art in this modern sense is an on-going conversation about the world and about art itself. In the wonderful world of traditional quilting, it is a great accomplishment to reproduce faithfully a traditional design using traditional hand techniques. Indeed it is important to do this work as it brings forward women’s social and material history. But the worst thing you can say to a modern textile artist is the worst thing you can say to any other modern artist, “It’s been done”. The cutting edge artist has to say something new, preferably something smart. They need to enter the dialogue of interpretation, either engaging materials in a new way or bringing challenges to accepted ideas.

Valerie’s Contribution

Valerie Goodwin’s work does both. Her art makes an insightful contribution to this conversation. And the voice of this dialogue is fibre. When she confronts high art with craft, she makes us reconsider both the smug elitism of modern art and the homey, domestic character of cloth. She takes architectural design principles out of their comfort zone, putting them in conversation with the symbolic universe of maps. She uses painterly techniques as well as the precision of architectural drafting. Valerie’s unique compositions engage the traditional, single point perspective of art with the multiple points of view of architecture. This constant confusing of the eye and perspective draws attention to itself, always provoking the viewer to try to make sense of what she sees. Valerie Goodwin intends to communicate and she forces us to think about our relationship to the land, to history, to design.  For example, she throws together images of a modern city with the brutal memory of slavery, reminding us that history is never over. Again architecture, fibre technique and maps combine.

Valerie’s Bio

Valerie Goodwin has a Bachelor’s degree from Yale and a Masters in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis. She has been a professor of architecture for many years. Valerie is amazingly prolific for someone with a day job. Her work has been accepted into countless juried and invitational exhibitions, many times winning Honourable Mention or Best in Show. She exhibits sometimes five times a year. So how is it that Valerie Goodwin has had time to write all those articles and now a book, called Art Quilt Maps: Capture a Sense of Place with Fiber Collage? As well, Valerie maintains a busy teaching schedule all over the US. We are fortunate to have her here for the Maiwa Symposium. She has won awards as an artist, as a quilt maker, and as a teacher.

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  1. Thank you, thank you!! For posting this piece by Toby. It is just perfect, something I've always wanted said so well and so precisely. Well done.

    Rose in Point Roberts


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