Have Quilt Shows Become Elitists? by Beverly Hicks Burch

Have Quilt Shows Become Elitists?

By Beverly Hicks Burch

I have attended quilt shows for close to 25 years or more now. Over that time I have seen changes take place in how shows are staged and presented. Heck, I helped spear-head a few shows when I was president of a local guild and when I sat on the board of the state-at-large guild.

Some of the changes I’ve seen have been great and a leap forward in the little shows that were held in the church fellowship halls on a lazy fall afternoon. But, I’m beginning to wonder about a recent change I’ve seen of late. Let me explain…

When we’re talking about the local level or even the state level quilt show, I love the fact vendors have become a fixture of quilt shows. This was one feature I was adamant about when the guild I was president went into the planning stages of its first show back in the early 1990s. At that time I had the advantage of having attended some regional and national shows and saw what a boon, draw and additional inspiration the vendor booths could be. My fellow guild mates were skeptical at first, but after the show, they realized where I had been coming from…especially after the rave reviews started rolling in.

I also realized there are certain guidelines that need to be laid down for entering quilts. If not, there’ll always be the little granny who wants to enter the same quilt she won a blue ribbon with at the state fair 50 years ago…and she’ll want it entered every year…into the judged category. The problem is remedied by allowing a quilt to be entered to be judged one time and one time only. Any other time may be by request or special exhibit such as a one person show…say for example the body of work of an outstanding or inspiring quilter… So, this problem is fixed with one simple question, “Have you ever exhibited this quilt in this show for judging before?” As the country song goes, check yes or no…

I do have a bit of a problem with shows that put date completion limits on entered quilts. Why? Well, they could be doing the show, the public and the quilter a big injustice. There are times when a quilter due to circumstances in life may not have the opportunity to enter a particular show during a particular year say due to a death in the family, being in the hospital or any other unforeseeable reasons. With some guilds staging shows only every two years now, that just about cuts off the completion date for some quilts to be entered. Another reason a quilter may miss the cutoff date could be because the quilter is a new resident to the area and some of her/his best work has never been shown in the area. It would be a shame to have that quilt disqualified because of a “date”. After all, a classic is a classic whether it is a piece of music, an elaborate oil painting or a piece of textile art such as a quilt.

I think one trend I most recently saw that disappointed me is guilds only taking entries for their show from the people who sign up to take one of the classes being taught during the show. That might work locally, but I can’t see that working regionally or nationally. Why? Well, for one reason, the larger mega show depends on receiving a large number and variety of quilts to please the variety of taste of the attending public. Another they are just seeking good quilts…period…

To achieve that large intake they must receive quilts from around the world…quite literally. Many of these quilts are mailed and shipped to the committees responsible for staging the show. Not everyone from far away countries or even across our own country can afford the expense of an airline ticket, room and board and food plus the cost of expensive workshops and an entry fee to enter their quilt into one of these shows.

On the local level I find this even more disheartening, especially given the hard economic times this nation has gone through over the last several years. Unemployment is at record highs and millions of people are out of work…people are losing their homes. Yet, just like in the days of the Great Depression, there are quilters out there who are still “quilting on” through their struggles, finding pieces of “normal” and beauty in their work…and they would love to share that and show it to the world.

How disheartening and humiliating to not be able to enter your quilt into a show because you can’t afford to attend a class that you may not even be interested in or necessarily need. As quilters we should be more supportive or each other…at least we used to be…

As harsh as it may sound, and I do apologize if it sounds that way, but I do feel strongly about this…this seems like so much an elitists move. It seems like a sure way of determining who you have in a show (only “our” kind of people) and what kind of quilts there will be…almost a sure way to stack the deck so to speak…a discrete way to practice selective monitoring of the “right” kind of quilts by the “right” people. Is this the elitists’ path to creating the “super quilt show” with quilts that are “super quilts” by “super quilters”?

Unfortunately, that reminds me of the days of eugenics. All they wanted to do was practice selective breeding by breeding out and eliminating the poor, the minorities and the “undesirables” to create a super race…

God help us all…and God help quilting…

© 2010 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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