Make Practice Craft Art

I have always been a maker. I like to make things, especially with a sewing machine.

I think of a maker as an individual who enjoys the process of thinking through a plan and then manifesting that plan with her own hands. In the end, there is tangible evidence of her making–it could be a dress, or a fruit salad, a wooden foot stool, or a garden.

Often times, these makers make something only once and then move on. A maker likes to try new things and experiment with new techniques. A maker often sees something and wants to make one for herself. It can also be a very social thing–a maker takes classes and enjoys the act of making with others.

I believe this act of making can be very good for the soul. There is something wonderful about creating and then using the object that you have created. It is a deeply satisfying experience. If you are sad or lonely or bored, the act of making can make those feelings go away. It is therapeutic for many people.

Sometimes a maker finds a particular object that they love to make again and again. For me, this object is the quilt.

These makers move into the next phase of making–practice. They learn everything they can about making a particular object by making it  over and over again. They make a decision–consciously or not– to go deep instead of wide. They fill their lives with the materials and knowledge necessary to hone their skills.

Spinda by Maria Shell

Years later, they become fine crafts people in their area of making. When others see their work often times the first thing they say is, “How LONG did it take you to make THAT?” I eventually wrote a blog post called “All of My Life” which explains my response to that question.

Albert Hofmann's Obit by Maria Shell

The hours of practice is evident in the final product of their work. Some marvel at and some question the number of hours such a skilled crafts person has dedicated to her work.  A dedicated crafts person accepts, even enjoys, the repetition and difficulty of creating her work. It is part of the process. They experience deep satisfaction from this.

A fine craftsperson may some day wish to not only make something that is not only deeply beautiful and finely crafted, but also never been seen or done before. They begin to experiment with their craft and move it beyond its tradition. These crafts people have moved into the realm of art. They are working to transform their medium into unique creations that can only have come from their hands.

I know that is where I am at with my work. It has been a long but fast moving journey for me–hours at a cutting table, sewing machine, and an ironing board.

The real challenge for me has been my desire to continue to use traditional patchwork–the humble quilt block–as the foundation for my work. I do not want my quilts to look like landscape paintings, or photographs, or even abstract art. I want them to be firmly grounded in the tradition I come from.

I want to claim the quilt block as a legitimate path to making art. As I wrote in a recent residency application–I want to claim the quilt block in the way that Don Chihuly claimed glass, Anne Sexton claimed the personal, and Banksy claimed the wall. Is it possible to do this? I don’t know yet.

I have been called stubborn for wanting this. Many quilt artists actively avoid the word quilt when describing their work. They do this because the word quilt is charged with many connotations that are anti-art. Instead of claiming the word, they decide to rename themselves. That is okay. I get why they do it. I understand. But I, okay, maybe I am being stubborn, want to say that being a quilt maker grounded in tradition–whose quilts celebrate the geometric potential inherent in the traditional quilt block–can also mean being an artist.

Some times there are people out there who agree with me. This is always a good feeling.

Last week, I got news that Mark’s Garden has been invited to be part of the Quilts=Art=Quilts exhibit at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, New York.

Mark's Garden by Maria ShellAnd SHAZAM! will be traveling to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sebastopol, California as part of Innovations in Fiber Art VI.

SHAZAM! by Maria ShellI am very grateful for these opportunities to share my work. The days of affirmation are always good ones, but they are frequently followed by days of doubt. And in all the days between, I will stitch and stitch and stitch.

This post was modified and updated on September 29, 2017.

This entry was published on September 22, 2013 at 1:01 PM. It’s filed under Thoughts and Opinions and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

15 thoughts on “Make Practice Craft Art

  1. I like your sense of color – very pleasing and interesting!


  2. I like this essay! Keep stitching.

  3. Well said! And congratulations on your new exhibits!

  4. on said:

    Keep announcing that you have claimed it — cause you have, not will or hope. Have accomplished! Getting others to recognize — that is the challenge now! Congratulations on sticking it out and getting it for yourself!

  5. I, too, am a maker. Thank you for putting a name to it. And Like Arizona Gold will be joining your work at Schweinfurth. I love piecing!

  6. Of course this speaks to me too–thanks for putting it into words so well!

  7. I love this post, Maria. I have reread it 3 times because I can relate. I too am a life-long maker. I built a career around making -writing books, creating projects for manufacturers, designing original products, making things for myself and my family and friends. Now I am at the point where that is no longer satisfying. I suppose I am entering the practice faze. The art part scares me. I have never considered myself an artist. I call myself a designer, a maker, and now I see that working on my practice is the next step. I too keep coming back to the traditional quilt block and I’m eager to explore where it will lead. Thank you for the inspiration – not only with your techniques but with your words. Looking forward to the exploration!

  8. Elaine- thank you for your great comments! I hope you have had time to work on your pieces from Paducah!

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