Joe Cunningham: Quilts From Life

American artist Joe Cunningham has been a professional quilter for 44 years and his quilts can be found in major museums in the US and in many private collections. 

We are delighted to announce that Joe will be bringing a collection of quilts to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this August, his first major exhibition in the UK. 

Over the years, Cunningham has written a dozen books, many magazine articles, museum catalogue essays and papers on the subject of quilts. He has lectured at museums, universities and for quilt guilds and conferences internationally. 

“After many years spent studying, copying and imitating 19th century quilts and quilt styles, I made the decision to create my own style. While these quilts seem to be foreign to the common ideas of the tradition, it was my studies of the tradition that showed me how to create freely and in my own abstract language. 

It was the creative freedom of the old-time quilters that inspired me most. I still use the standard techniques of piecing, appliqué and quilting that I learned from my teachers, still making quilts that can be used on a bed, using concepts of process and improvisation I learned from the 19th century quilters I revered. 

I approach a new project by considering an idea about which I have strong feelings. Then I select a group of fabrics that seem somehow to help me convey those feelings. From that beginning I start cutting and sewing without a fixed idea of what the final quilt will look like. As I work, the image starts to come into focus both in my mind and on the design wall. When the top is done, I design a quilting grid that will further expand my original theme, usually an unrelated image that has nothing visually to do with the colour design of the top. I sew and quilt by machine or by hand, whatever the project seems to require”.