Birdworks Fiber Arts

Blanket Statement

San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles | Art & Artists, November 2010
Q&A with Charlotte Bird - by Mark Hiss

Taking inspiration in everything from Mother Goose to Mother Nature, Charlotte Bird creates a range of distinctive quilts, including story-telling pieces designed to comfort and amuse children, and meditative, evocative works of fine art. Her art quilts, which often feature ovoid shapes that resemble microscopic, cellular formations, have been exhibited throughout the country, as well as internationally. Bird, 63, also is president of Quilt Visions, which promotes and supports the art-quilt movement with exhibitions, lectures and workshops from its home base at Liberty Station’s NTC Promenade.
Q: Do you come from a traditional quilt-making background?
No, not really. I’d been sewing since I was a little girl; my mother taught me to sew when I was quite small and we made my school clothes through high school.
Q: Were they fashionable?
It would be sort of on the edge of fashionable, but my own take on stuff. I was never outrageous; I just wanted to be individual. I always sort of marched to a slightly eccentric drummer.
Q: Do you ever have a desire to do more traditional kinds of quilts?
No, and as a matter of fact I’ve never been able to do really traditional things. I am congenitally unable to cut a straight line, draw a straight line, walk a straight line. I did a few fairly traditional things and never finished any of them. I’m also not able to hand quilt in any regular way. So all of those traditional things have never worked, so I just moved on to doing whatever I do.
Q: Is there a tension between the traditional quilt-making and art quilt-making camps?
We could talk probably for hours on that particular subject — and I advocate to you to, at some point, make a date to go to the Visions Art Quilt Gallery in Liberty Station and look at the art quilts that are hanging in the gallery. It will give you some idea of how broad the concept and definition of quilt has become. And there is a tension sometimes between traditional quilting and more contemporary artwork, because I struggle with “what do you call it?” Frankly when you say, “I make quilts,” more often than not, the next words out of whoever you’re talking to are, “Gosh, my grandma quilted.” And that’s not where I’m going. It’s where I come from, but only because what I do fits the definition of a quilt. They’re not for warmth and they’re not for on the bed and they’re not for wrapping up. They’re for hanging on the wall as artwork.
Q: Does the contemporary art world know what to do with you?
They’re learning. But often they don’t because quilts have been a traditional women’s “craft.” There’s a hurdle you have to get over sometimes, but it’s changing and it’s changing quickly because, among other things, quilting is a huge segment of the craft world and what did I read the other day? Three-and-a-half billion dollars is spent on quilt stuff a year. It’s huge; 17 million quilters (from do-it-yourselfers to artists) in the United States.
Q: And what about the artist vs. craftsperson argument?
I’ve thought a lot about this. I am both, because you have to have a level of craftsmanship to be any kind of an artist. And I am a craftsman. It’s important to me that my work be finished and clean and precise in those kinds of ways. So I’m both a craftsman and an artist.
Q: So how is the gallery doing at NTC Promenade?
We had 14,000 visitors last year. We’re really pleased, on two levels — both that the gallery and Quilt Visions have grown and thrived, and that the entire arts community there is growing. It’s really sort of on the cusp of being something really important, competing in some ways with Balboa Park for visitorship. It just keeps on growing; it’s really fun to be there.
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