Art Quilt Elements

History of Art Quilt Elements

Art Quilts at the Sedgwick, as Art Quilt Elements was originally known, began as a double dare by Betty Ann Fellner to Deborah Schwartzman. As Executive Director of the Sedgwick Cultural Center, Betty Ann challenged herself to create a series of events to bring the Mount Airy community of Philadelphia together via the arts. Her vision of the Piecework Festival was a celebration of fiber art and the “fabric of community.” As the centerpiece for the annual art program, she asked Deborah to install an art quilt show.

For the 1999 exhibit, Deborah turned to local quilt artists Cindy Friedman and Leslie Pontz, and graphic artist and fiber artist Lonni Rossi, to help her with the enormous task of converting an aging 1920s art deco movie theater lobby into an elegant exhibition space. It required a large amount of begging, borrowing and bartering of necessary items to prepare the lofty room for an invitational exhibit of 16 local quilt artists. In the end, special lighting and black draperies lined the walls of the grand lobby, where the 18 art quilts seemed to float from the support system.

In year two, Art Quilts at the Sedgwick (AQATS) 2000 increased to 26 quilt artists and a 25-day exhibition with a clear mission to educate the audience to the fine art of art quilts, but it was in 2001 when a series of important steps moved AQATS forward. It started with a prospectus, a national call for entries, and a renowned juror and quilt artist, Judy Warren Blaydon of Minnesota, who reviewed 350 quilts submitted by 156 applicants. She had the daunting task of whittling them down to 46 quilts. Additionally, Cindy Friedman, her computer whiz 13-year-old son Steven, and Lonni Rossi introduced the innovative CD-ROM catalog of all juried quilts, including quilts by the committee members.

In 2003, AQATS expanded by inviting three jurors and increasing the committee, including Carolyn Vehslage, who handled website development and national marketing; Shawn Towey, who focused on corporate fundraising; Suzan Hirsch who oversaw publications and coordinated reception; and Kay Haerland, who volunteered many hours doing countless tasks.

When the Sedgwick closed in 2005, the 2006 art quilt exhibit temporarily moved to the Philadelphia Art Alliance. Positive publicity about the growing exhibition brought an offer from Nancy Campbell, Executive Director of the Wayne Art Center, to house the exhibition on a permanent basis. In 2008, Art Quilts at the Sedgwick became Art Quilt Elements (AQE). The exhibitions’ new name called to mind the main aspects of the show itself: the elements necessary to create an art quilt —technique, materials, execution and vision—and the elements necessary to host this exhibition—passion, flexibility and patience. Wayne Art Center’s first exhibition included nearly 70 quilts and welcomed hundreds of visitors to the only East Coast biennial exhibition devoted exclusively to art quilts.  In 2008, a full-color hard copy catalog was also produced, magnificently documenting every quilt and aspect of the exhibit.

Now in its 16th year, the internationally acclaimed exhibition has been widely praised by reviewers and artists, not only for the professional presentation of the contemporary fine art quilts, but also for the commitment to promoting the fine art of art quilts. We are proud that what Edward Sozanski, the former art critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 2001 still holds true… “Art quilts have evolved to the point where it no longer seems appropriate to call them by that name which subtly denies them the status of fine art,” said Sozanski. “The insight comes courtesy of the “exhibition at the Sedgwick in Mount Airy.”

From that humble beginning we have continued to evolve as Art Quilt Elements and honor our artists and their work with a magnificent display in the two galleries at the Wayne Art Center.