This past weekend, Tompkins Cortland Community College hosted the biannual Tompkins County Quilters Guild Show. The show featured over 250 quilts, as well as quilting workshops, demonstrations, silent auctions, local vendors, and a priced boutique-style booth. The Field House at TC3 was bursting with vibrant colors and patterns, full of beautifully handcrafted quilts in a variety of styles. Ranging from more traditional, to newer, more experimental patterns and styles, the most impressive feature of the show was how diverse every artist's perspective and approach was.
At every Quilter’s Guild Show, a show quilt for that year is won by a lucky participant in a raffle. This year’s quilt, Blue Mountain Laurel, was a gorgeous group effort by members of the guild. Involving lengthy preparation using a combination of several quilting techniques, the nearly 8-foot wide quilt was a source of great pride for the guild. Walking around the inside perimeter of the Field House, one could observe the evolution of quilt making, with antique quilts featured alongside modern machine-quilted pieces. Moreover, seeing all of these artists together offers a glimpse into the future of the art form. Speaking with Stefanie Green, the press representative for the show, the enthusiasm for quilting was palpable. She mentioned that, while this year’s 250 quilts is by no means small-scale, shows in the past have included as many as 600. As she showed me around, quilters gathered and dispersed as we went, eager to show their work.
This year’s featured artist, Tracy McLellan, showed off her impressive set of quilts depicting birds she photographed in Central America. These fabric portraits of exotic birds are so finely detailed that they look more like photographs than sewn fabric. I spoke with McLellan, and she described how the majority of the birds depicted in her quilts were photographed during her time in Honduras, and how one of her biggest challenges as an artist is simply finding the thread she needs to complete the color palette necessary for her hyper realistic work.
“Most thread is only very basic, bright colors, and I need more dark, earthy tones for the contrast you see here,” she said.
Many of McLellan’s quilts have three dimensional elements, with branches and foliage that seem to protrude outward toward the viewer. McLellan’s work is a fine example of modern quilting that pushes the boundaries of the art form.
Some of the most beautiful quilts on display at the show were in booths dedicated to members of the guild who have passed away recently. The respect that these artists have for each others work is a testimony to the passion they feel for their craft. Since 1974, the Guild has been a social hub, with over 100 members, for anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship and painstaking work required by the art of quilting. Furthermore, the quilters have continuously given back to the community since then as a nonprofit, producing quilted goods for teen mothers, newborn babies at risk and chemotherapy patients. Throughout their history, the Guild has continuously worked to preserve the art of quilting overall, researching and properly documenting each antique quilt in their collection, archiving them for future generations. They’ve also initiated several quilting projects at area schools, as well as lectures and workshops for adults.
The quilting show is not only an example of what is possible when like-minded people come together to work toward a common passion, it is also a reminder of what makes Ithaca so wonderfully unique. The support that the guild has received from and reciprocated to the local community is evidence of the goodwill and appreciation for local art. Furthermore, the quilts on display are also a celebration of the cultural diversity present in this area, enriching and setting apart the small city even further. While the art of quilting may have been a new experience for some at the show, there was a familiar beauty in the work that was enjoyed by all.