by Suzanne Labry
Studio Art Quilt Associates
The late Yvonne Porcella, founder of SAQAIn 1989, when Yvonne Porcella (1936-2016) founded the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) organization, she had two goals in mind: 1) to document what was happening in the art quilt movement at that time with a view toward changing the terminology so that when quilt artists said they made art quilts, people would not automatically assume it was the kind of quilt their grandmother had made; and 2) to educate the quilters themselves about professionalism so that they would be taken seriously as artists beyond the quilt world.
Twenty-eight years later, those goals have not only been met, but surpassed to the point that it is difficult to remember there was a time when the term art quilt was considered an oxymoron in many circles and the quilters making those works were deemed outliers.
The addition of the word “studio” as a modifier was a calculated effort to blur the lines between art and craft and high and low art, distinguishing those quilts deliberately created with emphasis on form from those more rooted in traditional function. A studio quilt artist is now defined as a studio artist working within the medium of quiltmaking, and SAQA has expanded the definition of an art quilt to mean “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure.”.
Studio art quilts have been accepted into private, corporate, and museum collections around the world, including the Smithsonian. Many quilt artists have been instrumental in making this transformation a reality, and SAQA has played a fundamental role as well.
From a beginning group of 50 artists who joined Yvonne Porcella in 1989 to form SAQA, today the nonprofit organization has 3,476 members in 41 countries with 20% residing outside the USA. Not only artists belong—so do teachers, collectors, gallery owners, museum curators, business owners, corporate sponsors, and individuals. True to its founder’s vision, SAQA continues to address the needs of working quilt artists through annual conferences and regional meetings, workshops, webinars, publications, online professional development tools, educational opportunities, and networking resources.
In 2017, studio quilt artists have many venues for showing their work, with SAQA being the engine driving that increase. One of the group’s focal points is mounting museum-quality exhibitions with documentary catalogues and critical reviews. SAQA has exhibited with the International Quilt Festival since 2005 in a special, dedicated gallery space.
Lisa Ellis, Current President of SAQAIn 2016, there were 16 SAQA-juried exhibitions traveling around the world to 41 venues, including 13 museums and 13 international venues: five in Europe, four in Australia, China, and Taiwan, and two in Canada, not to mention 20 U.S. states. This does not include regional exhibitions managed locally by SAQA members.
All this effort is a remarkable achievement, but the group is definitely not resting on its laurels. “We are strategizing on the development of a secondary market for quilt art and we continue to support our artists selling their art, as we are building strong relationships with collectors,” says Lisa Ellis, current SAQA president. “One of our newest publications is the Art Quilt Collector. We continue to expand our regional program to connect our quilt artists to other artists near where they live, and we are writing a book: Art Quilt Retrospective: Fifty Years of Innovation. The book will cover art quilts and artists from the 1960’s to today.”
Yvonne Porcella would be proud.