As the autumn colors fall away, Alaskans looking to hang on to a bit of summer brilliance can visit the Pratt Museum’s new exhibit, “Shifting Tides: Convergence in Cloth.” The juried show of 45 quilts — with a bonus quilt by curator Ann Johnson — opened on Oct. 9 and continues through Nov. 28.
“It’s really quite extraordinary,” said Pratt Museum Executive Director Jennifer Gibbins. “… Visually, it’s gorgeous. … It’s vibrant. It’s colorful.”
Fiber artists from the Pacific Ocean regions were invited to submit entries in the show that were curated and selected by Johnson and sponsored by Studio Art Quilt Associates, an international organization promoting quilting as an art form. The show includes four Alaska artists, Nan Thompson, Maria Shell, Beth Blankenship and Cat Larrea, as well as artists from around the Pacific Rim, from California to Western Canada, and including Alaska and Hawaii. Through their work, the artists were asked to express their concerns and feelings about the Pacific.
In terms of quilting ability, the works show a level of craftsmanship Gibbins called “really extraordinary.” From the selection of fabric and media — including found marine debris — to the detail of stitching and quilting, the works go beyond traditional quilting designs and forms.
“This is fine arts quilting,” Gibbins said.
Blankenship’s “Nowhere to Run” even breaks out of the usual rectangular or square quilt form. Designs of fish and shrimp swim through a matrix of blue circles that could be ocean bubbles, a fishing net or plastic debris.
In a more traditional form, Shell’s “Break Up” has abstract shapes and colors, but their slight lack of symmetry teases the eye in a desire to create structure that’s illusive and at the same time pleasing.
Another depiction of fish, Nan Thompson’s quilt, “Copper River,” suggests salmon migrating.
“Her quilt is really focused on this epic journey these fish make and the encounters they have on the Copper River Flats coming up the stream,” Gibbins said.
Cat Larrea’s “Tidewater Glacier” shows how quilt piecing can be used like paint on a canvas, but with stitching emulating brush strokes.
Other quilts consider similar themes and show the same level of craft. They take approaches from illustrative to abstract, and few of them stint on using color to its maximum effect.
“It’s the kind of thing people will want to see in person,” Gibbins said — and to keep returning to look at. “… If you just want a beautiful, colorful experience, you’re going to get that. If you’re interested in quilting, this is extraordinary quilting.”
As an added feature, the exhibit includes audio descriptions by the artists of their work. Using a smart phone, visitors can call a number and then dial numbers listed on the label for each work and hear the artists speak.
After the lockdown last spring, the Pratt opened in the summer cautiously and with tight COVID-19 safety restrictions that include limited numbers of guests, shorter hours and days from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and a face mask requirement indoors. The museum also has increased ventilation, pumping the maximum amount of fresh air into the building to keep air circulating and minimize transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“We are trying to be cautious,” Gibbins said. “All things considered, it’s a relatively safe option for people.”
Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, visiting “Shifting Tides” offers a respite away from the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.
“It feels nice for us to have this gallery filled with this beautiful exhibit,” Gibbins said. “It does feel normal.”
In association with “Shifting Tides,” the Pratt will be offering several programs. The “Shifting Tides Scavenger Hunt Extravaganza” offers for purchase a scavenger hunt kit that has teams competing in adventures and searches related to the natural world.
From 2:30-5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, quilter Maria Shell will present “Circle and Curve Quilting Workshop” through Zoom. Attending the workshop costs $80. Another of the Alaska quilters in the show, Cat Larrea, will present “Tide Water Glacier: A Mini-class in Art Quilt Dye Painting” from 6-7:30 p.m. Nov. 6 through Zoom or Facebook Live. In that class she will show the techniques she used for her quilt in the show.
For more information, visit www.prattmuseum.org/shifting-tides-convergence-in-cloth/.