Visual arts

Set of quilts on display at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery.

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented many people from visiting the ‘Quilt National ’21’ exhibit at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens. Now much of this biennial exhibit can be seen in Columbus at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery.

Thirty works on display from the more than 80 works in the original exhibit include a lovely mix of abstract and figurative quilts, a number of pieces by Ohio artists, and the winner of “best show” from the full exhibit.

Holly Ittel, National Director of Quilt, said the 42nd biennial exhibition reflects the year 2020, with many artists addressing themes of the pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I see artists using this medium to express the isolation of 2020, to address grief and fear, and to shed light on the tragedies occurring in our society and the world,” Ittel wrote in his curatorial statement. “I also see artists using this medium to celebrate life, in its joy, complexity and simplicity.”

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At the beginning of Riffe Gallery’s beautifully set up exhibition are two quilts that demonstrate the contrasts of form and style found in all quilts.

In “Brittle Crazie Glasse”, Anne Smith from Great Britain refers to George Herbert’s poem “The Windows” about a preacher’s feelings of inadequacy which are mitigated by the beauty of stained glass.

Using recycled cotton, denim and other materials, Smith created a poignant scene of two homeless people she helped bring food near New York’s Grand Central Terminal – shedding light on the problem and, as the poem says, “to be a window through your grace.”

"Fight" by Kit Vincent

Next to Smith’s quilt is “Smash,” the show’s top winner by Kit Vincent of Ottawa, Ontario. In this spectacularly colored quilt, hundreds of shapes and lines converge with layers and layers of reds, oranges, golds, pinks, blues and more. The quilt both captures the frenzy of modern times and celebrates color.

In her beautiful “Summer Inferno #7,” Sandra Champion from Tasmania, Australia uses fiery-colored kimono silks along with excerpts from newspaper clippings and velvety black bands to mourn the losses of the 2019 Australian wildfires. -2020.

She writes: “A huge wave of orange came down from the mountain. The cataclysmic bushfire in World Heritage Forests has left trees blackened and millions of animals dead. It’s impossible to understand.”

Swiss artist Judith Mundwiler took used parking cards and shimmering aluminum foil to produce “May 2020”, a large shimmering royal blue field created by the cards that symbolizes how “our mobility is becoming a major burden on our planet “.

Among the figurative quilts is “Sun on My Patio Chair 2020 Isolation” by Medina, Ohio, artist Jean M. Evans. The large empty chair is the centerpiece of this all-black-and-white quilt, except for a cluster of pale yellow daffodils in the background.

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Leann Hileman from Glendale, Arizona sets up a windmill on a desert landscape in “Where Once a Tree Was Standing”. Kestrel Michaud of West Melbourne, Florida put a man in a Da Vinci-style kite hovering over a stone bridge in his clever and impressive “Morning Commute”.

"Morning ride" by Kestrel Michaud

In “Annie and John: 7 of Paring Knives (Swords) in the Kitchen Tarot,” Wooster, Ohio, artist Susan Shie honors those lost during the pandemic, especially Annie Glenn and John Prine, who both died of COVID -19. . The figures in his elaborate and intricate scene bear printed phrases that describe their lives. The tarot card mentioned in the title of the quilt refers to communication, ideas and spiritualism.

Clearly, the artists of Quilt National ’21 thought deeply and broadly when creating these works. Each of the 30 quilts is accompanied by a list of its materials and a few sentences that reveal the artist’s intention and process. Every quilt deserves to be inspected in order to fully appreciate its meaning and enjoy its beauty.

Quilt National, which began in the late 1970s, is the largest contemporary art quilt competition. “Quilt National ’23” will open May 27, 2023 in Athens at the Diary Barn Arts Center, a building that from 1914 until the late 1970s was filled with cows, not quilts.

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In one look

“Quilt National ’21” continues through April 8 at The Ohio Arts Council‘s Riffe Gallery, 77 S. High St. Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. Free entry. Call 614-644-9624 or visit