For those who may not be aware, one of SAQA’s (Studio Art Quilts Associates) traveling exhibits is entitled “People and Portraits.” Here is SAQA’s narrative and overview of the exhibit:

This exhibition celebrates the expressiveness of the human face. The diverse designs focus on a variety of both emotional states and the ways in which people interact: contemplation, joy, community, work and play.  Based on the companion book, Art Quilt Portfolio: People and Portraits, the exhibition shows two works by each of the book’s 20 Featured Artists.

Two of Kathy Nida’s quilts were juried into this exhibit, which has traveled a number of places, including previous Quilt Week ® (AQS) venues.

Kathy’s inspiration and narrative for her quilt that caused quite the commotion in Grand Rapids last week reads as such:

“This quilt is I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket, completed in September 2010, touring with the People and Portraits exhibit since October 2013. The title comes from a radio ad I was listening to while pondering the meaning of this quilt, which came almost entirely out of a running nightmare I had for over a week, where I was losing things in the water and people were standing around not helping, and I was diving down and trying to find the things I lost, which ranged from my phone to babies, actual babies, and I’d wake up panicked and breathing fast. Here’s the official statement (which I found very difficult to write…almost as difficult to explain the piece)…”

Two sisters in a strange land. A lost life jacket.
 A nasty oil spill.
 No explanation needed.

My dream inhabited by strangers.


Circling back to the purpose and narrative of the exhibit as a whole, I can certainly appreciate why this quilt was included. It’s about human emotion–panic. It’s not comfortable to look at. It is a nightmare; it’s about fear, about sisterhood and motherhood, about our future, the future of our children. It’s not meant to be a pleasant quilt. Let’s remember the context of where this quilt was placed: in an art quilt exhibit, with the specific title “People and Portraits.”

This quilt–after being shown at other Quilt Week® venues–was pulled after the Grand Rapids show opened, allegedly because one or more attendees complained about it (and allegedly because one or more persons saw a penis in it).

From what I have read, the response from the show producers was to take it down. Kathy Nida, understandably, has been very upset. When I asked Kathy, she told me AQS did not reach out to her directly. In all my experience in this industry over the last nearly 20 years, this takes the cake.

And I know this whole issue brings up the debate of censorship. I think we have to be careful about that term: it’s a show produced by a private, for-profit company, not the government censoring per se. But in my opinion, pulling the quilt after the show opened (knowing this quilt was a part of the exhibit and had been shown in previous venues) it was an ill-thought, knee-jerk response to an attendee or group of attendees. Given my experience both as a founder and editorial director of an international publishing company and also former executive of an international events company in the quilt industry, if you, as a quilt venue hung the quilt already (or published a quilt), and the show is open (or the magazine or publication is printed), stand by it. You knew it was going to be included.

What is most problematic in my mind, is AQS has not addressed this issue yet (anywhere I can see). Many people have posted online, including me, writing them directly on Twitter, asking for clarification. No response, just more requests to sign up for their e-newsletter, etc. on Facebook and Twitter.

I am not a contentious person, I don’t normally post such grievances (this is the first), but for this…I just don’t get it, and as an advocate for quilt artists, I can’t be quiet on the sidelines.

AQS, if you are reading this, please address this issue. And if I am wrong on anything on the above, just please correct me.

UPDATE: AQS issued a statement. (And I wonder how this statement resolves anything.):

American Quilter’s Society released a statement. “After receiving numerous complaints from attendees about a quilt in the SAQA exhibit, AQS removed the quilt from the People & Portraits exhibit at the Grand Rapids QuiltWeek event.

Prior to removing the quilt, the feedback AQS received was not limited to one isolated comment. Attendees reached out to AQS staff at the show and via emails and phone calls to our office.

Despite the removal of this quilt, AQS was able to display more than 700 other quilts at the show for viewing by the general public in Grand Rapids.