Master Pieces

The art of the Texas quilt.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am

Pamela Studstill of Pipe Creek, Texas, 20 miles outside of San Antonio, is a nationally acclaimed artist. Maybe you’ve never heard of her, but her work has been exhibited far and wide—from the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. to the American Craft Museum in New York City to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. She has won two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, one of which, at $15,000, is among the highest possible awards. Museums, galleries, and corporations across America have collected this native Texan’s art, which is now sold almost exclusively through an Atlanta gallery located in the swank neighborhood of Buckhead. And though Studstill was trained as a painter, you won’t see oils or watercolors in these halls of prestige and power. Her masterpieces are all quilts.

Although bearing scant resemblance to what most of us grew up with—homey, patchwork crazy quilts or symmetrically-patterned blankets with quaint names like Double Wedding Ring and Log Cabin—Studstill’s works do have roots in old-fashioned quiltmaking. In fact, her first quilt was a traditional Nine Patch she made under her grandmother’s tutelage when she was 16. Studstill is now known for her art quilts, but her inspiration remains a fundamental passion for cloth, pattern, and color.

That passion is shared by thousands of other Texans who make quilts for a hobby, a profession, or even from a self-confessed obsession. Many of these devotees who love quilts for being so much more than the sum of their pieces, will converge in Houston starting October 29 for the International Quilt Festival, the largest annual quilt show in the world. Last year the festival drew 51,000 afficionados who attended how-to classes, shopped for supplies, and visited more than 30 specialty exhibits. Of all those exhibits, serious quiltmakers will be focused on the one hosted by the International Quilt Association. The IQA show will give out $67,500 in prize money for the top quilts in 16 categories, including $10,000 awarded to the Best of Show quilt.

Along with other quilt exhibitions such as Visions in San Diego, California, Quilt National in Athens, Ohio, and the annual American Quilter’s Society show in Paducah, Kentucky, the Houston expo is a competitive international showcase. But whatever the venue, quilts by Texas artists can always be counted on to rank among the best. In this issue, we’ll introduce you to some of these homegrown textile treasures and the artists behind them. We’ll also point you in the direction of quilt shows in your area, explain how you can appraise the value of quilts you might own, and provide information on how to have a quilt custom-made for you.

Textile Treasures

I was going to be a painter,” says Studstill, “but the first thing I did after I got my BFA—it was really odd—was make a quilt.” Perhaps it was in her genes. Studstill, who grew up in San Antonio, is the granddaughter of a quiltmaker whom she visited often as a child. At her grandmother’s side, she learned quilting techniques by the age of 7. Now in her mid-40s, Studstill ranks among the top art-quilters in America. Museums that have collected her work include the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, the American Craft Museum in New York City, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. Studstill colors almost all of her fabric by hand with acrylic paint. Combined with her intricate patterning, the results, as shown by #44 Quilt, can resemble pointillist paintings. This one, she says, “was inspired by seeing the wind whip through waving grasses probably seen on the side of the road in Texas or New Mexico.”

Studstill says she gives her quilts numbers rather than names so that people will feel free to see different things in them. She is now working on #135. Of all of her works, she has kept only two. That’s because she enjoys the process even more than the finished product. “I’m perfectly happy to have them floating around out there in the world,” she says.

Crewell Swirl

Traditional Quilt: Six Times Six Comes Up Roses (front), Kathleen McCrady

While Studstill was stitching her way into the art-quilt spotlight, Kathleen McCrady of Austin was developing a reputation around the state as a maker of exquisite traditional quilts. One of her most noted works is the hand-pieced, hand-quilted Six Times Six Comes Up Roses. She recreated the central pattern of six-pointed stars from a photograph of an unusual 19th-century quilt owned by the Long Island Historical Society. She based the rest of the design on patterns from quilts of the same period. Six Times Six took First Place in a master’s division at the 1990 IQA show and a Second Place award in 1992 at the American Quilter’s Society annual show. McCrady says that only after she started Six Times Six did she realize why the star-and-grid pattern is so rare: “It’s a very intricate thing to piece. Nine or 10 points come together in some places. Anyone who quilts knows it’s a tedious thing to get that many pieces to come together right.” Four months of labor resulted in a finished quilt that has been published in at least three national quilting magazines, including on the cover of the industry’s bible, Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine.

Crewell Swirl

Traditional Quilt: Six Times Six Comes Up Roses (back), Kathleen McCrady

McCrady was born in Marysville, and has lived in Texas for most of her 73 years. She learned to quilt as a teenager from her mother and mother-in-law who were taught by their mothers. During the sesquicentennial, the McCrady women’s work appeared in an exclusive exhibit at Austin’s Dougherty Arts Center. McCrady was invited to present 36 pieces, some dating back to the 1930s, all made by McCrady and her foremothers. McCrady says quiltmaking gives her a sense of connection “with every woman who has ever had a needle in her hand to create something beautiful.”

Crewell Swirl

Traditional Quilt: Painted Pineapple, Mary Ann Herndon

Unlike McCrady, Mary Ann Herndon was in her 40s before she started quilting.

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