SPOTLIGHT ON NANCY CROW
With just 2 weeks to go until The Festival of Quilts returns to the NEC, Birmingham we have teamed up with Artist Nancy Crow for a exclusive interview. Nancy tells us about her quilting journey and what her gallery will be bringing to you at this year’s Festival!
1.Can you tell us how long has your art practice involved quilt making?
I started making quilts in 1970 when I lived in Porto Alegre, Brazil. I made the first one for my new son, Nathaniel, who was born there.
2. How did you get into quilt making in the first place?
I have a Masters of Fine Arts in Ceramics and a minor in tapestry weaving. When I moved to Brazil in 1969, I could not take my potters’ wheel but I could take a loom. And there I wove enough work to have a solo show in Porto Alegre, Brazil, one of the southern most cities. I was 27 years old at the time. When I returned to the USA, I continued to weave. By 1974 I had moved to Athens, Ohio, where I met other weavers. By 1975 I began to make simple quilts as I found weaving increasingly frustrating. At the time, there was a “force of energy interested in contemporary quilt-making” moving across the USA and I got swept up in it. I come from a family of painters and working on the wall really appealed to me. When I sat at a loom I looked down all the time. But working on a wall I stepped back which allowed me to see what I was creating from a distance. I liked that immensely. I was able to think about what worked and what did not and then was able to quickly change out parts. At that point I realized that quilt-making was akin to painting but slower. I didn’t care about the slowness since I love color and I love fabric and I love machine-piecing. From that point I surged ahead, giving up my weaving and putting away my looms, all of which I still have!
3. You’re bringing the largest exhibition of your work ever to be staged in the UK to The Festival of Quilts in August. Tell us why 75 DRAWINGS: EXPLORATIONS IN MONO-PRINTING is so important to you and what visitors to The Festival of Quilts can expect from your exhibition?
Mono-printing is a form of drawing. I like that! But learning to mono-print on fabric with thickened dyes takes a lot, a lot of practice, an enormous number of hours of practice. The dye can be very tricky to control in terms of its thickness as it wants to flow back into a solid surface almost as soon as one makes the marks in it. So one has to work rapidly which means making markings over and over and over until one has something that appears to be worth printing. And then print it immediately or all of the markings are lost. Hence the name mono-print or one-of-a kind.
I wanted to see the progression from Day 1 all the way to the last 4 tall mono-prints, work made over a two year period. I wanted to see how much I improved in technique and control. I have never, never had a chance to do this. So this exhibition means so much to me because of this opportunity.
4. You abstained from screens/technology while working on 75 DRAWINGS to immerse yourself fully in mono-printing. What was that experience like and what did it bring to the work?
“As an artist I absolutely believe one must, one has to be in the moment! Being on a phone. Being on a computer. These activities are not being in the moment. Both keep the brain on the surface—shallow! They interrupt focus horridly. No! No! NO! Art—creating art—needs total focus and attention and daydreaming—not phones and computers. They are energy draining and a super form of procrastination. They have their role in life but not in my art. Think I feel strongly here? That is why everything is in bold and in larger size!!!!! “
5. You’re well-known for the size and scale of your work. What are the pleasures and challenges involved in working on such large pieces?
I am very short. 5 feet tall. So being able to create something large is quite a feat for me! I like large but I also think some of my small studies are beauts! In mono-printing, it would be super helpful to be 6 feet tall in terms of being able to lean over the print table further. Alas!
6. As well as bringing 75 DRAWINGS to The Festival of Quilts, you’ll also be taking part in the Festival’s Quilt Academy lecture programme (Hodgepodge: Making it Happen!, Thurs 9th August at 10:30, Festival Theatre). Can you tell us a little more about what you’ll be sharing?
I will focus on my life as an artist and how that has meant so much to me. One of those things is the building of my “dream studio.” I began saving for this new space when I was 50 years old. Saved my teaching money and money from sales. I was religious about it. I wanted to have a serious space. By the time I was 68 I told myself, it is now or never. All the gods agreed and everything fell into place for my new studio to be built. But this will be covered in my talk with lots of photos.
I will also include coverage of my machine piecing and other topics.
7. Do you think that textile art – and specifically quilt art – is undervalued as an art form?
YES! YES! YES! In fact quilts are simply often dismissed.Strange when you realize that paintings are fabric with paint on them. By the way I do not use the term “quilt art” as I think it very derogatory. After all, do we ever say “painting art” or “sculpture art?” If you want to insult me, call me a quilt artist…..horrid! I am artist or quilt maker who makes quilts (my medium).
8. You’re the originator of Quilt National at The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Ohio. What’s the significance of this major event in the quilting calendar and how influential is The Dairy Barn to US – and even worldwide – quilting?
It has become one of the major platforms for showing a broad range of what is happening in contemporary quilt making today. I believe it has more and more cachet in that museums and collectors come looking to see what is happening and to buy.
9. For those who have never been, can you give us a favour of Quilt National and share some of the highlights of next year’s 21st Biennial?
The exhibition is installed on the lower floor of a huge renovated 100 year + old barn in Athens, Ohio, about 45 minutes from my farm. The jurors are usually comprised of a well-known contemporary quilt maker, a museum curator, and another artist (perhaps from a different medium) or a museum director. I think the variety shown (80+ works) gives the audience a wonderful understanding of the breath of work being created today.
10. What projects are you working on currently and what’s next for you after The Festival of Quilts?
I am back to machine-piecing. When the weather gets just right, I hope to mono-print again working in color directly.
But meantime, I am working on a large solo show for The University of Nebraska that will open in August 2019. This exhibition will cover the last 10 years of my work.