Twenty Years of AQuA: Looking Back and Moving Forward
In September of 1996 a small group of adventurous quilters from the Grand Valley met in Sherwood Park looking to collectively explore new artistic expressions in fabric. These women were acquainted through an informal monthly gathering which had convened a couple of years earlier, or were members of the Colorado West Quilters evening guild. From a picnic table that evening twenty years ago the Art Quilt Association was formed; the name was immediately shortened to AQuA. The group is based in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Their first meeting was at the Unity Church (where a large group quilt still hangs) and later in the Kiva Room at the Mesa County Library as well as the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Meeting notices were mailed on postcards. AQuA participants eschewed creating a formal board, and each month a member was responsible for a project or design exercises to expand the members’ horizons.
These ground breaking members were focused on quality creations; not quantity. AQuA however, quickly started supporting the community that nurtured them, and donated four major works which remain on display in the Mesa County Department of Human Services building on 29 ½ road. Smaller art quilts created by members are seen throughout the building.
With no formal archives, and the passage of two decades, the memories of who participated are imprecise but the AQuA founders and early members included:
Tommy Lou Flynn
*Current AQuA members
As the reputation of AQuA grew, membership increased rapidly. These fabric art pioneers wanted to break rules, not make rules to govern their creative meetings, so for many years the limit was set at 25 members. Eventually, this number was quickly changed to accept any all people who wanted to become members.
Current AQuA members with a tenure of ten years or more include:
Christie Barton, Emily Buchanan, Marla, Ferguson, Kari Harvey, Sandra Hoefner, Gjeneve Hopkinson, Angela Kenley, Tana LaDuke, Terry Lee, Jan Rickman, Kathy Schattleitner, Eldrid Schafer, Pat Sprague, Jan Warren, and Nancy Vanaken.
AQuA blossomed, and by January 2005 there were 47 members and the membership cap was lifted. A larger group necessitated some organizational framework, and a steering committee was formed in 2004 and continues today.
Exhibiting . . . From Local Shows to Juried National Shows
Soon after the local United Way hosted an exhibit in the US Bank Building in 2005, other venues opened up and soon nationally recognized jurors were enlisted to assess the pieces for regional and national shows and to expand the audience of this talented Western Slope group.
AQuA’s first juried show “Fibers of the Purple Sage” was hung at Grand Junction’s City Hall. The show was juried by Allison Goss of Durango. The winning piece was a beautiful work of art by Tana LaDuke and titled “A Thin Line Between Dusk and Dawn”. AQuA’s Marge Fox forged a relationship with Mancuso Show Management to display a unique juried and themed collection from AQuA at their major venues once or twice a year. A Front Range trailblazer, Fay Anderson, juried the first Mancuso show for AQuA in 2000. This jury process continues today, with Estes Park’s Patty Hawkins (also an early-years lecturer) evaluating the 2016 submissions for the upcoming Pacific International Quilt Festival exhibition.
In addition to providing exhibits to state and local shows, works by the AQuA members are now seen by thousands when displayed in nationally advertised shows in large cities including Denver, Santa Clara CA, Savannah GA, and Philadelphia PA.
A website was developed in 2006 to publicize the group. In addition to highlighting member activities, juried shows, and monthly meetings, the site features members’ works in the “Galleries” section. It serves as a showcase for their art. Many members have sold works and obtained commissions through this gallery. “Virtual” visitors enjoy viewing AQuA’s art worldwide, and some have become members. AQuA also has a Facebook page.
Continuing Creative Education
To push their creative boundaries, the women pooled their resources to bring in notable art quilters from outside the Grand Valley. The first workshop topic was abstraction, lead by esteemed Boulder artist Judith Trager. Canadian crazy quilter Judith Baker Montano soon visited, and the AQuA members often shared lecturer expenses with the Colorado West Group for the benefit of all.
Though books, videos, and online classes abound, fabric is a tactile medium and nothing replaces being able to enjoy art quilts and their makers in person. AQuA annually hosts a 2-3 day members-only workshop taught by a national or international quilt innovators. Betty Busby of Albuquerque was hosted twice as well as Rosalie Dace of Durban, South Africa and Sue Benner who was also enticed to teach twice in Grand Junction. Many other well-known quilt artists have juried our workshops.
Celebrating Art Quilts as a Category
Because of their quality work, and success, AQuA was featured in “Quilters Newsletter” magazine in the December 2007 issue. Fourteen art quilts by members appeared in the magazine, the best known quilting magazine in the United States. As art quilting gained recognition, other publications and newspapers nationwide featured members’ work.
Much has changed in the art quilt discipline in twenty years, from the variety and personal nature of subject matter; common use of paint, ink and multi-media materials; use of found objects; and the proliferation of surface designed fabrics.
Art Quilts now span the globe. The breadth of creativity and the talent of the members also evolved. Though the methodology is different than painters, contemporary quilters have no limits to what they can express with fabric. The debate over quilts-as-art is long resolved, as witnessed by extraordinary pieces hung in the juried shows and museums around the world as well as the sale prices they receive.
Locally, the top Viewer Choice Award in the 2016 Art Museum of Western Colorado’s Members Show went to an art quilt by Susan Strickland – “Doorway to Ancient Art”. She is an AQuA founder. The “fabric art” category appealed to attendees over painting, pottery, collage and sculpture.
Quilt art remains a lively medium of self expression and, based on its history, the future of AQuA will be equally vibrant.
Happy 21st Birthday to you AQuA….and many more!
Written and researched by Mary Grande with the assistance of Jean Roesler and Susan Van Voorhees and a tiny bit of assistance by