Colleen Kole, a member of the West Michigan Quilters Guild, doesn't use patterns or templates for her quilts. Instead, she creates intuitively, using techniques she learned by taking classes that focus on art theory, color, shape, line, and design. "It's really freeing not to have to use a pattern and have specific rules on how it has to fit together. And it's freeing to be able to move things within the design in order to make it work or to make it more visually appealing," says Kole.
Kole is part of a growing faction of quilters who approach quilting as a fiber art. She's currently working on a quilt that you'll be able to see at Cathedral Square during Art Prize 2012. This particular quilt design is based on the tiny windows and many angles of the roofline of the Meijer Garden Conservatory, although Kole says its so abstract an observer would never know it. "It's representational of what I'm thinking", she explains, "kind of like an abstract painter." Also like a painter, Kole prefers to create her own color palette, which she does by hand-dying about 300 yards of fabric every summer.
Meijer Gardens isn't the only architecture that inspires Kole. She often draws inspiration for her quilts from barns, doors, and windows (she loves the curved window line of the GRid70 building downtown) and nature, specifically the mountains in Vermont and the colors of the wildflowers in her garden.
She entered another quilt inspired by nature, Winter Walk in the Woods, in the last West Michigan Quilters Guild Show. "The color palette I chose was exactly the colors of the Fraser furs and the crisp blue sky and the snow right after a snowstorm," she says. But it was also so abstract, she says, that onlookers wouldn't recognize the significance of the name unless she explained it.
Although Kole has focused on the artistic side of quilting for the past 5 years, she began by making baby quilts after her daughter was born. For the next 20 years she enjoyed hand-piecing and hand-quilting scraps of fabric she rescued from flea markets. "I really think the quilt--whether its traditional or non-traditional--is art. I just happen to take a non-traditional approach to my quilt making, which is an abstract, dye-your-own fabric, not use any templates approach," says Kole. "But I grew up as a traditional quilter. I still find beauty in that kind of quilt and have great respect for traditional quilters." You can read more about Kole's art and projects-in-process at her blog.
The American Quilt Society Show and Contest, which comes to the DeVos Center on August 22-25, is one more feather in the cap of Grand Rapids' burgeoning art scene. More than 20,000 art and quilting enthusiasts are expected to attend to see hundreds of traditional and non-traditional quilts on display. Attendees can also participate in classes taught by nationally recognized quilters, win prize money, and attend special events like an afternoon of fashion and tea at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.