In the Summer issue of The Professional Quilter, Eileen Doughty wrote a profile on Linda Beach, a quilt artist from Alaska. Linda specializes in landscape quilts and she is quite successful in the competitive field of public art. I’ve admired Linda’s work for some time. Here’s a portion of Eileen’s profile:
How did you then become a professional art quilter?
After I had been quilting for several years, I realized that my fabric addiction was way beyond any reasonable “hobby” budget. I was also making more pieces than I could ever hope to give away. I was in a local coffeehouse one day, looking at the monthly display of art for sale, and I thought, “Why couldn’t I do that?” I spoke to the owner, scheduled a show and that was the start of my art career. After that, I sought out other spaces that featured art on a monthly basis — different coffee shops, a restaurant and a hotel lobby. Each one exposed me to a different audience and most resulted in a sale, giving me more confidence. Always, though, I was the one doing the approaching. I also tried showing my quilts in a local high-end craft fair for a few years. While ultimately not a good fit for my art, it did get my work noticed by a local gallery that decided to show my work.
That first gallery was a learning experience, with both good and bad aspects. I was very flattered that they wanted to show my work, and I eventually sold several quilts through them on a consignment basis. The gallery was one of the larger ones in Alaska, showcasing oils and watercolors with Alaskan subjects. I was featured in two shows so the exposure was great, but they made it plain that I was the first fiber artist they had ever worked with. I don’t think they ever really had an appreciation for or an understanding of art quilts. Needless to say, I lost all confidence in them and ended my association with that particular gallery.
Through my Web site, I was contacted by a local organization and invited to submit a proposal for an art quilt for their conference room. This resulted in my first big public commission. The project involved two very large quilts, and I was thrilled at the chance to work in such a large scale. In the meantime, I started to enter my quilts in juried shows, meeting with some successes and some rejections. My résumé was small but growing, and the success of my first public commission gave me enough confidence to apply for other projects. One call for art for a local hospital put me in touch with a national art-consulting firm. Not only did I get that commission, but the firm subsequently contacted me for commissions for several other projects.
What were your experiences with private vs. public commissions?
When first starting out, one private commission I did ended up being so micro-managed by the customer that by the end of the project the whole quilt seemed totally foreign to me. I have learned from that experience and am much more careful about which commissions I accept. For a private commission, I talk to the prospective customer about the quilt and their expectations in detail. If I feel that we are not “in sync” and that I cannot create a quilt that will make both of us happy, I will not take the commission. My experience with private commissions is that most people have too many restrictions and preconceived ideas to allow the freedom I need to work.
However, my experiences with public commissions have been totally different. Those seem easier in the sense that there are rarely preconceived design ideas involved. The committees involved in the selection process approach the project in a more professional manner and tend to have more respect for your choices as an artist. In public commissions you are either submitting your own proposal or responding to a general guideline or theme, so the committee decides if you will be the right “fit” before you ever get directly involved with the project. I only submit a bid if I’m a good match for the project and the design idea excites me. That way, if I’m chosen, I can put my whole heart into the project. Art consultants have been very receptive to my ideas, so the quilt that I ultimately create is still true to me.
You have many quilts in medical buildings. Are there any special concerns about either the design of the pieces or the materials you use?
Since the majority of my subjects are images inspired by nature, there usually isn’t a problem with the subject of my quilts. I did work on one project for a children’s psychiatric facility where they wanted quilts that featured animals found in Alaska, including bears. The only stipulation was that the bears not have long claws or visible teeth, so I depicted them fishing for salmon and foraging in a blueberry patch.
To read more of Eileen’s article with Linda Beach, you can purchase Issue 103 or can start a subscription here.