By Natasha Ala, for the Redoubt Reporter
“And Every Quilt, a Story” is the name of the exhibit currently on display at the Kenai Chamber and Visitors Center. As in every story, this story embraces an ending. It is the last exhibit curated by Zirrus VanDevere, exhibits and culture coordinator, who is now off to New York to be closer to family.
When asked for final reflections on the exhibit, VanDevere shared, “It’s a very heart-rendering show. There is a lot of heart in quilts and it was a very heart-opening experience to be invited into people’s homes and listen to their stories and look at their quilts. It feels nice and very community oriented.”
VanDevere credits Jan Wallace, a local artist, as being very instrumental in her assistance contacting and inviting local quilters to participate in the exhibit.
I recently spent an afternoon with VanDevere as she took me through the exhibit and shared the history of many of the quilts. For each quilt in the exhibit there is a very touching story behind why it was created, for whom it was created or what story inspired the artist to create the quilt.
The first quilt we looked at together was entitled “Sunburst No. 1,” by Jack Ross. “This piece is also one that tells a story and I really like it because it was quilted by a man — dig it! It’s really quite beautiful,” VanDevere said.
“Sunburst No. 1” incorporates a large selection of men’s ties sewn into the quilt. Ross reflects on its meaning to him and his wife, Robin, in his artist’s statement:
“It is a memory quilt in a way because there are about a dozen or so ties that have meaning to us, such as the tie I wore when we left on our honeymoon, a couple I wore at work, African animals that remind us of our trip to South Africa, San Francisco highlights (Robin was born there and we started our honeymoon there and it is our favorite city), Alaska animals for our home here, Goofy because I am, multicolors because of my love for them, ‘Lion King’ for when we saw the live production in London and the Space Shuttle Discovery because I was part of the recovery crew when it made its first return from space in Edwards AFB.”
Next, VanDevere enthusiastically led to three quilts done by Mary Jean Koch.
“Mary Jean is a 91-year-old woman who quilts every day. Every day she gets up and quilts. When I met with Mary Jane and she told me the stories of her quilts I was moved, it was a very intimate experience for me,” VanDevere said.
There is fine stitching work on her piece entitled “Crazy Quilt,” and I am quite impressed with the fine technique and attention to detail in each of her handcrafted stitches. The fabrics of the quilt looks to be from an assortment of outfits that have been deconstructed and sewn together with artistic license in a fun and fanciful manner.
The exhibit also includes a rare showing of three quilts by the late Beth Cassidy, who was skilled in fiber arts and had exhibited her work widely across the country.
“This is the work of an award-winning artist who showed her work at the Cochran Museum and all over the U.S. I like the stretch between Cassidy’s highly accomplished work and showing a wrinkled blanket,” said VanDevere, pointing to a threadbare and much-loved baby blanket on loan for the exhibit from the Boyd family.
In Cassidy’s quilt, “La Salida de los Esperitos de la Selva,” which, literally translated means “the exit of the little hopefuls from the jungle,” Cassidy depicts the departure of spirits from the forest and emblematically portrays the destruction of a rain forest. Symbolic animals are e
mbellished and attached to the quilt, along with miniature cloth dolls and fragments of South American-patterned fabric. The quilt is playful yet foreboding.
The juxtaposition between quilts that were created to be art pieces and quilts that were created to be family treasures holds one thing in common — they share the stories and tell of the personal journeys of those who created them.
“I’ve drawn here together an array of pieces from the area that I find interesting to share on a larger scale, though I’ve learned that sharing quilts can be a very intimate experience, both for the designer and the viewer. Quilts tend to come from the heart and are best if received with an open heart,” VanDevere said.
VanDevere’s heartfelt contribution to the arts of the Kenai Peninsula will be greatly missed.
Natasha Ala has a bachelor’s degree in art and serves on the board of the Kenai Peninsula Art Guild. Ala also is the executive director of a Kenai Peninsula nonprofit organization.