A&E: Quilt show brings common threads to Iowa
Des Moines hosts national premiere of quilt show from ChinaBy Michael Morain
If you haven’t seen hordes of needle-wielding visitors around town, you will soon. They’re heading this way for the American Quilter’s Society’s largest QuiltWeek ever, which opens Wednesday at the Iowa Events Center with displays, demonstrations, gadget sales and more than $44,000 in cash prizes.
So yeah, it’s an invasion. But they’re pieceworkers. They come in peace.
On the same day the expo opens, in fact, the State Historical Museum of Iowa opens an exhibition of American quilts the U.S. Embassy in Beijing recently trotted around to five cities in China. Call it textile diplomacy.
The project celebrates “the common threads between our two countries,” Arts Midwest President and CEO David Fraher said. His Twin Cities nonprofit partnered with the U.S. State Department and a network of state arts councils to make the show happen.
Des Moines is the first stop on the show’s U.S. tour and the only city where all 25 quilts will be displayed together. The honor results from Iowa’s close ties to China through trade agreements, cultural exchanges and the friendship between Gov. Terry Branstad and Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Iowa Arts Council Administrator Matthew Harris.
Besides, two of the 25 quilts came from Iowa.
Caroline Trumpold, 81, of Middle Amana made a whole-cloth quilt — with a single piece of fabric on each side — like the pair she and her husband received from each of their families at their wedding. She stitched a beautiful feathery design into a panel of pumpkin-colored poly-cotton (on one side) and tiny gold flowers (on the other) over the course of three weeks in December 2011.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of time,” she said. “I wanted it done by January.”
The other Iowa quilt came from Erick Wolfmeyer, 46, who works as a school bus dispatcher in Iowa City. He colored a 1930s pattern called Arabic Lattice with the browns and blues you’d find in men’s suits and dress shirts.
“All it is is tile work. That’s really what it is,” he said. “I think of it as painting with fabric.”
Wolfmeyer has a fine arts degree but didn’t start quilting until he made a baby blanket for one of his friends. For the quilt he sent to China, he designed the pattern but hired out the actual stitching to an Amish cooperative in Indiana.
He went to Shanghai last year to help open the show. He visited Chinese schools and museums, talking to quilters and non-quilters alike.
“They understood that quilting was a traditioanl art form, but they always asked ‘Why are there no animals or people or plants or flowers?’ That’s what they think of as ‘traditional,’ ” Wolfmeyer said.
When the questions went the other direction, when he asked the Chinese what they knew about America, “the students always said ‘jazz’ and ‘Mickey Mouse.’ ”
Wolfmeyer will get his quilt back at the end of January, when he swaps in a different one for the rest of the show’s national tour.
Trumpold’s quilt is in it for the long haul, but she’s OK with that. She has others to keep her warm.
Besides, she said, “It doesn’t fit my decor.”