Learn the Rules before You Break Them
Sesquicentennial Star, by Beth Thomas Kennedy. This quilt was made for Texas's 150th birthday celebration. Photo courtesy of Beth Kennedy.
Sisters Past and Present, Far and Near, by Beth Thomas Kennedy. A traditional six-pointed star pattern in an nontraditional setting. Photo courtesy of Beth Kennedy.
Details from 80's Ladies, A Baltimore Album Quilt for the 20th Century, by Beth Thomas Kennedy. Photos courtesy of Beth Kennedy.
The Texas Memorial Museum Anniversary Quilt, Beth Thomas Kennedy, Austin, Texas, 1986; collection of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin (TMM2511.1)
Beth Thomas Kennedy is known to most people in the quilting community as an acclaimed art quilter and textile artist. Noted for her strong color sense and trademark embellishment, her art cloth, wearable art, and series quilts—exploring such topics as female imagery, goddesses, and matriarchal rituals—have been exhibited and collected throughout the world. While it is true that Beth’s professional career leans toward the avant-garde, her foundation in quilting is anchored solidly on traditional ground.
Although Beth has sewn and done needlework for most of her life, she did not start out as a quilter. In fact, she came to quilting in a rather unusual way: as a businesswoman. In 1978, she was invited by a friend to go into partnership in a natural-fiber fabric store called High Cotton. The partners determined that it would be a good idea to offer classes geared toward using their fabrics, so Beth joined the Austin Stitchery Guild Austin Stitchery Guild and the Austin Area Quilt Guild to meet needle people. From those groups, Beth and her co-owner invited the best quilters to teach classes at their shop. Beth took the quilting classes herself, and that’s how she learned to quilt.
After a couple of years, Beth’s partner wanted out of the store, so the women sold it and Beth found herself looking for a new source of income. She began teaching quilt lessons herself and entering her quilts in shows, all while avidly pursuing her own education in the art form. She especially loved traditional appliqué and folk art quilts. The dramatic, intricate work of Rose Kretsinger, as well as quilts in the Baltimore album style—with their inscriptions of dedication and poetry—were special inspirations.
While serving as Program Chair for the Austin Area Quilt Guild in the mid-1980s, Beth invited the well-known quilter Roberta Horton to present a program and teach a workshop for the guild. At the workshop, Roberta had the students work with non-traditional Japanese fabrics to make traditional quilt patterns. This blending of traditional and non-traditional was a watershed event in Beth’s quilting career.
“When I started to enter the professional side of quilting, I discovered that it is important to have a personal style,” Beth explains. “While I was drawn toward the innovation expressed in art quilts, the ones that influenced me most were those that had a connection with traditional quilts. My style has evolved through the years, but I’ve always tried to maintain that connection in my work.”
The kinship with the rich heritage of quilts and their makers can be found in all of Beth’s quilted pieces, many of which incorporate a traditional block or pattern as a theme or underlying element. A good example of this can be found in (A Nuestra Señora, La Virgen de Guadalupe . Beth based it on a traditional appliquéd medallion pattern, but embellished it heavily with embroidery, yarn dolls, and milagro charms. This quilt was selected for exhibition at Quilt National in 1991 and is featured in The New Quilt l, Catalogue, Quilt National, Taunton Press, CT, 1991.
“I believe that if you’re going to break the rules in making an art quilt, you first need to know what the rules are,” says Beth. “I learned to quilt from quilters. They taught me the rules and that has been invaluable to me. No matter what style of quilts you make, workmanship is primary. Sometimes with art quilts, that is forgotten. People with an art background but no quilting experience don’t know the rules, and so when they break them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Beth’s artist’s statement sums up her philosophy: “Working with cloth is comforting and challenging at the same time. It is tactile evidence that we were here and left something of value—a mirror of ourselves and our accomplishments. My quilts are a natural continuation of the tradition of contributions that women bring to their cultures, although I admit to a preference for breaking the rules.”
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Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here