Early Influencers

“My initial fascination with the form was deepened by awareness of the complete interdependence struck between good design and good workmanship in a successful final product.”

Michael James, The Quiltmaker’s Handbook, 1978

Surveys of studio quilt artiststhe term for studio artists working within the medium of quiltmakinghighlight the influence of particular people and events that laid the foundation for the movement.  Artists who experimented with quilts in the 1960s and 1970s often had some sewing experience, usually had degrees in fine art, and participated in the social movements of the eras.

Jean Ray Laury’s influence impacted every aspect of quiltmaking during the revival.  She was author, teacher, mentor, wife, and mother.  Through her writing and her quilts, she affirmed the multiplicity of women’s roles and gave them permission to be creative. She merged the visual elements of quilts (geometrics, applique) with new processes and social commentary.

Michael James moved to quiltmaking because of a fascination with the tactility of fabrics and the relationship between design and process. Building on the traditional geometric pieced quilt, James’s early work experimented with form and color. He encouraged quiltmakers at all levels to become serious designers. 

A key factor in the growth of the movement was the formation of artists’ communities. The workshops Nancy Crow created for artists were as influential as her quilts. Quilt National, the Art Quilt Network, and the Quilt Surface Design Symposium are among the organizations she helped build.  Quilt San Diego in California and the Studio Art Quilt Associates are organizations inspired by Crow’s work.

Penny McMorris became a benefactor of the quilt community in the 1970s.  She quickly became known for organizing Ohio Patchwork ’76 and her television series on PBS in the 1980s.  Ohio Patchwork ’76 opened her eyes to new work by artistsmany of whom she featured on her show a few years later.  During the 1980s and 1990s, she helped collectors John Walsh III and Robert and Ardis James expand their studio quilt collections.