Years of the Manhattan Quilters Guild 1980-2013

By Sandra Sider

The Manhattan Quilters Guild is a group of New York metro area fiber artists with very individual styles, who are committed to advancing the quilt as an art form. Our group’s name juxtaposes the sophistication of New York City with the time-honed craft of quilt making. We are very proud of our name, and in each group exhibition we try to fulfill its implications with our quilts.

show-n-tellLike many arts organizations, the Manhattan Quilters Guild began around a dining room table. The founding members shared an interest in the rich tradition and vital future of quilt making as an art form. In 1980 they met weekly to share information, resources, and inspiration. The ironic title “Manhattan Quilters” combined a craft that brings to mind homey needlework with a city that reflects the height of sophistication. Through the early 1980s, members accepted group projects for publications such as Family Circle and Country Living as well as commissions for public spaces. As our group expanded, we also mounted local regional exhibitions, such as The Quiltmaker as Artist at the Addison Ripply Gallery in Washington, DC, and Quilts for an Urban Landscape at the Arsenal Gallery in New York City. Today our meetings have become more structured as we address the creative and practical issues of what it means to be a fiber artist. Individually we are exhibiting nationally and internationally, completing commissions, teaching, curating art quilt exhibitions, publishing, and working in quilt-related businesses as well as acting as jurors for shows around the county including Quilt National.

Our first traveling exhibition was Broadway Haiku, in which each artist drew inspiration from traditional Japanese or original haiku. Just as the haiku was a very succinct form of poetry, these 21 quilts, each 36 inches square, conveyed a personal reflection or observation, sometimes about Broadway itself. This exhibition, which toured from 1995-1997, brought national recognition to the guild in the New York Newsday, Surface Design Journal and other publications. It was also well documented in Japan.

The 19 quilts in Yardworks, our second touring exhibition, focused on any aspect of “yard”-backyard, graveyard, prison yard or the measurement of 36 inches. The quilts reflected many aspects of nature as well as intellectual spaces. Yardworks traveled from 1998-2001, and was reviewed in Fiberarts magazine and American style.

Our third traveling exhibition, Time Squared, included 16 quilts designed with some reference to squares, time, or Times Square. As you might imagine, several quilts in Time Squared recalled the events in New York on September 11, 2001. Other designs included reference to the New York Times, the source of the name Time Squared some quilts depicted the passing of time, the measure of time, musical time, Times Square and square geometry. The exhibit traveled from 2002-2005 and it was reviewed in the New York Times.

Our fourth traveling exhibition MetroTextural reflects the texture of our urban environment and the individuality of our members. This touring exhibition of twenty-one quilts celebrated the visual feast of New York City, from serendipitous juxtapositions of signage and advertisements to the surface ornamentation of historic buildings. The works created specifically for this exhibition include vibrant abstractions, architectural details, witty interpretations of the grid and the visual rhythm of New York voices. The techniques range from scintillating piecework and illusionistic applique to painting and photo transfer. Diversity in the urban scene is a common thread that unifies the quilts in MetroTextural which toured from 2007 through 2009.

For the theme of its fifth traveling exhibit, The Manhattan Quilters Guild chose Material Witnesses, with its multi-layered references to the processes and medium of the fiber artist. The title plays with the legal concept of a “material witness”-someone whom the government feels has information about a crime significant enough to affect the outcome of a trial. Further, to bear witness suggests a direct connection to events. It can be a way of honoring by one’s presence. This show is touring from 2011-2013.

Our upcoming show is called Here and There: Work by the Manhattan Quilters Guild, and will be exhibited at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky from August 12-November 15, 2016.