13 November 2012

SAQA/SDA 2012 Conference - Philadelphia

by Laurie Swim

Shortly after moving to Nova Scotia from downtown Toronto to Blue Rocks in 2004, I felt the need to join SAQA to broaden my horizons and observe the rising tide of interest in fibre art in general and specifically quilt art which has been my creative pursuit with my art making since the early seventies.

I have only attended one other SAQA conference and it was in 2005 in Athens, Ohio shortly after joining. SAQA conferences took place then in Athens annually and still do to coincide with the opening of Quilt National at the Dairy Barn in which many SAQA members participate.

As well as seeing and meeting many of the well known quilters in the field, one of the most important things I came away with is when I sat in on a  round table discussion with Jane Sauer, then manager of Thirteen Moons Gallery, now owner of The Jane Sauer Gallery in Sante Fe. At that time, I had just attained representation by del Mano Fine Craft Gallery in Los Angeles and my husband and I were about to open our own establishment, The Art Quilt Gallery of the Atlantic here in Lunenburg, NS. I was wearing two hats and it was very interesting to me to hear Jane speak to why loyalty to your gallery is important not only to the gallery’s existence but also ethically to the reputation and promotion of the artist.

After the conference, I volunteered to represent SAQA in the Atlantic region and due to the fact that the one Canadian rep wanted to retire, I took over as the Canada wide rep, not exactly my comfort zone and I was able to split off that responsibility to the able hands of Karen Goetzinger in central Canada and Anna Hergart in the West. Since my retirement from that mantle, I have not only seen the Atlantic region membership grow but the rise of the interest of other individual artists in the art quilt in our area.

This past March, with the assistance of a professional development grant from the Dept. of Nova Scotia Communities, Culture and Heritage, I was able to attend the Studio Art Quilt Associates/ Surface Design Association Conference in Philadelphia, March 29 - April 1, 2012.

The conference was all and more than expected - a very satisfying and successful experience. From the very start, serendipity was on my side. First of all, the direct flight from Halifax to Philadelphia was a big plus. In today’s travel, catching connecter flights is a growing hassle. After arrival in the Philadelphia airport I located the info desk for the shuttle to the conference hotel and there was one other person waiting. It turned out to be Marianne R. Williamson from Florida.

Marianne comes from a painting background like I do and she approaches her work as if she is painting in fabric. This is not to be confused with painting on fabric because that is not what she does. I later got a chance to see her work during the conference in the prestigious Art Quilt Elements show and observe her textural stitch technique. I found it inspiring and have since explored it in my own work.  Coincidently, Marianne was the last person I spoke with on the last day of the conference as well.

Over the weekend, I met many of the 250 members of the two associations participating in attendance and to my pleasant surprise many of them knew of my art. Since the conference was scheduled at the same time as the Fiber Philadelphia Festival, participants attended the opening of Art Quilt Elements, an important showcase of textile art from around the world at the Wayne Art Center. An acquaintance, Mary Pal from Ottawa, was awarded an Honourable Mention for her work portraying Jane Goodall. Anyone interested in portraiture in fibre should Google her work. Mary is also now on the board of SAQA.

On Saturday, there were shuttles arranged to take us to the different fibre shows in downtown Philly. One of these was the Snyderman-Works Gallery, a very well known and long standing fibre art institution, one in which I wish I was represented but I fear my work is not ‘edgy’ enough for them. There were other galleries and shows featuring fibre works in the same district. At the Liao Collections, I was able to view the woven work of my old friend and fellow Nova Scotian, Sandra Brownlee. I also took in the show Outside/Inside the Box and studios at the Crane Arts Bldg.

During the conference, I met Marcia Young, Editor in Chief of Fiber Art Now Magazine based in East Freetown, MA. I gave her the catalog from my 2010 show at the Mary E Black Gallery and invited her to visit Nova Scotia to see the varied artists working in fibre here.

Both the Opening and Closing Keynote speakers were very informative, Bruce Pepich, Exec. Director and Curator of Collections at the Racine Art Museum spoke about museums and contemporary fiber art collections; Bruce Hoffman, an independent curator and writer spoke about the Venice Biennale and that there appears to be more focus on fibre art than there has been in the past. This is very good news for both us as artists and confirming to collectors of our art form.

My last afternoon at the conference was spent sitting in on a critique session with Sandra Sider, art history professor, studio quilt artist, curator, critic and the present President of SAQA. She had critiqued a piece of my own work in 2009 on line and it was of interest to me to see her in action with others. Earlier the same day, she had pulled me up along with three others from the audience to role play for her lecture on how to respond to situations when asked, “And what do you do?” My role was as an artist at an exhibit of my work being asked why a piece of the same size as another in the show was priced higher.  I responded that my husband did the pricing and she would have to speak to him about it. That brought the house down.

Next year’s conference is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place I long to see, as it is where many galleries, particularly those of the Fine Craft nature are located. I am looking at the possibility of attending. Anyone interested in accompanying me? It promises to be an exhilarating experience!

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