Studio Quilts

In the 1960s and '70s, a new generation of artists, many of whom saw Abstract Design in American Quilts and New York's other important fiber art and textile exhibitions, were developing a new genre of quilt—a style characterized by the artists’ intention to remove any semblance of utility. They were following in the footsteps of earlier artists like Jean Ray Laury and Radka Donnell. Laury began making quilts as a graduate student at Stanford University in the 1950s and her innovative, stylized approach to quiltmaking enabled her to begin writing columns for a host of popular magazines. She also authored more than twenty books, including 1970's widely read Quilts and Coverlets: A Contemporary Approach. Feminist, painter, and poet Donnell began to explore quiltmaking in the mid-1960s. She saw quilts as an expressive art form that links physical and symbolic meaning in their functional nature. Both artists influenced new quiltmakers and remained actively involved in what came to be called the "studio quilt" or "art quilt" movement. 

The vanguard of the 1970s studio quilt movement included such formally trained artists such as Nancy Crow, M. Joan Lintault, and Michael James in the U.S. and Pauline Burbidge in the U.K. They chose textiles as their primary medium, appreciating that fabric gave them greater freedom to manipulate form as compared to painting or sculpture. They incorporated a variety of materials and techniques, including surface embellishment and textural stitching, and explored optical elements of light, dimension, and scale. Art curator and author Penny McMorris summed up the shift in quiltmaking approaches this way: “ . . . quiltmaking [had been], for the most part, dependent upon a catalogue of established geometric and appliqué patterns. Now, however, trained artists are making one original design after another and . . . manipulating the traditional geometric plan with a new vivacity.” Trails blazed by the success of Abstract Design in American Quilts and by pioneering artists such as Jean Ray Laury and Radka Donnell led to a whole new form and mode of art-making.