Oklahoma artist collective Qu'aint Collaboration combines quilts and paint to create colorful 'Convergence'
A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Qu'aint Collaboration: Oklahoma quilters and painter band together to create 'Convergence' of colorful works
PAULS VALLEY - Agnes Stadler's carefully crafted gray quilt includes blue and crimson accents and compact zippered pockets, Ann Solinski's red, white and black fabric masterwork resembles a bold, oversized bandana, and Susan Michael's quilted showstopper relates the story of spidery aliens arriving in silvery UFO's.
The quilts on view this autumn at The Vault Art Space and Gathering Place probably don't look much like the ones grandma used to make, but Oklahoma City quilter Sarah Atlee knows that won't stop people who wouldn't otherwise consider themselves art fans from checking out the show.
"I focused on painting for about the first 20 years of my professional art career, before I transitioned into quilting - which has been a great decision and I'm really happy about that. But what I've noticed from audiences in galleries ... is that quilts are disarming. Everybody's familiar with them, because everybody's used to having a quilt or something like it in their home, even if they grew up without any paintings on the walls. So, people approach them in a very different way. People feel more comfortable, more familiar, and everybody has a story about a quilt, usually it's one their grandma made or something," Atlee said.
McAlester painter Jason Wilson is one of those people who has a story about a beloved quilt - and as the artist whose paintings inspired all the quilts in The Vault exhibit, he's finding more to tell. Titled "Convergence," it is the largest and most comprehensive exhibit to dates from Qu'aint, a collaboration of Oklahoma artists - Wilson and seven quilters - who are exploring new creative paths.
"I grew up around a grandma and three great-grandmas that quilted. So, my inspiration for my paintings are quilts. ... That's what initiated my whole journey," said Wilson, who is known for his paintings of richly colored, precisely rendered geometric designs.
"They get inspiration from my paintings for their quilts, and I get inspiration from their quilts from my paintings. So, it's just all kind of coming full circle together."
Recently extended through Nov. 30, "Convergence" features works from all eight collective members: Wilson and quilters Atlee, Stadler, Solinski, Michael, Mara Dearing, Brenda Esslinger and Elizabeth Richards.
Going by phases
A longtime public school art teacher, Wilson said he became a professional painter about six years ago, after teaching a Sunday school lesson on faith prompted him to take a chance on his talent. As he has become established for what he calls his "Perceptual Art," he has not lost sight of what originally inspired him.
"You can see the inspiration of quilting after you're told, but sometimes people just see it and when they see it, they just think it's real modern art," he said. "I had an older couple come up at the Festival of the Arts (in downtown OKC), and they looked at my art and I could see the dismissal. ... So, I walked up to them and introduced myself, and I said, 'I want y'all to know that these paintings are inspired by my grandma's quilts.'
"It was just like she had just seen it in a new way, and before they left, they had bought a painting. ... Sarah's right: Quilts resonate with people because everybody has a favorite quilt or their grandma made quilts or something along those lines. So, I've kind of made that connection with that quilting world through my style of art."
In the hopes of making even stronger connections, he put out a call on Facebook in 2018 for Oklahoma quilters who might be interested in forming a collective.
"I just kind of went in thinking, 'This is going to be a fun journey and I don't know where it's gonna go.' But I love making quilts and I love paintings," Atlee said.
The members combined the words "quilt" and "paint" to get the name Qu'aint, and they quickly began brainstorming and developing phases for their ongoing collaboration.
Phase 1 involves all of the quilters picking one of Wilson's paintings and creating quilts inspired by that single artwork. The fiber artists are working on their third round of Phase 1 quilts, and each time they reveal their variations on the selected painting, Atlee said "it's like Christmas and birthdays and everything all rolled into one. It's such a wonderful surprise."
For Phase 2, the quilters choose their own adventure, each selecting a different Wilson painting for a new project.
"I wanted it to be where we're taking each other down a path that we may not have taken if we weren't on this collaboration together. I like to be pushed. My style is very hard-edge, obviously, but I like to go and evolve other areas, take it somewhere it's not been. And this kind of pushes me," Wilson said.
Wilson is currently hard at work on Phase 3, in which he creates paintings inspired by his collaborators' quilts.
"I'm a little slower than they are. My paintings take a long time to paint," he said. "It's all hand-painted ... but I want it to almost look computer-generated. That perfect."
"Jason's been sharing some in-progress shots just in our private Facebook group, and it's amazing. I'm really excited - and I'm really excited for the public to see it, too," Atlee added.
The third phase of the project was delayed last October when Wilson was involved in head-on car collision that left him with a fractured sternum, a broken foot, three fractured ribs, a concussion, head lacerations and a painful four-month recovery.
"It's a miracle I'm alive," said Wilson, who retired from teaching after the wreck.
Shortly before the accident, Wilson brought his great-grandmother's bow-tie pattern quilt to one of the collective's meetings.
"After the wreck, they all got together and they did a quilt for me based off my grandma's quilt," he said. "They made a quilt with that pattern, and each of them did certain blocks. Then, they put a map on the back, so I can turn it over and I can see which blocks Sarah made and which blocks Brenda made. That is one of my most treasured things now."
"For quilters, that's the most natural thing in the world to do. If someone has a life event, you make 'em a quilt," Atlee added.
About 18 months after embarking on the collaboration, Qu'Aint has shown its work at Mainline Gallery in Tulsa, Paseo Gallery One in OKC and The Vault in Pauls Valley, with a February exhibit planned at Graceful Arts Center in Alva.
Atlee said the artists are continuing to explore possible new phases and venues for the collective, which will be featured in the Oct. 1 episode of OETA's "Gallery America" series.
"The future possibilities for this project are kind of limitless. ... I love the idea of more people out in the world making connections between these different art forms and seeing the connections that can be made and building more bridges there," Atlee said.
"It continues to be a source of excitement and energy, I think, for the entire group, including Jason. ... There's room for us to continue. We're constantly learning from each other. We all use different techniques, we all use different types of materials and different approaches to quilting. There's so much cross-pollination happening among all the members of the group that I think just the sky's the limit. It could go anywhere."
For Wilson, the collaboration has turned out even better than he could have imagined.
"I want to go as far as we can. I love the journey together. This was always a dream, to see quilts inspired from my paintings because my paintings were inspired by my grandma's quilts," Wilson said.
"This is something that I envisioned that I never knew could take place. And now that it's taken place, this is a dream come true."
Qu'aint Collaboration's "Convergence"
When: Through Nov. 30.
Where: The Vault Art Space and Gathering Place, 111 E Paul Ave., Pauls Valley.
The Qu'aint Collaboration will be featured on the series "Gallery America" at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 on OETA. For more information, go to www.oeta.tv.