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Quilt National is hosted by the Dairy Barn

Dairy Barn's Quilt National inspires artists, brings exposure to medium

This year, the Dairy Barn Arts Center, 8000 Dairy Lane, is hosting its Quilt National from May 29 to Sept. 5. 

In 1979, Quilt National was founded by Nancy Crow, Françoise Barnes and Virginia Randles. The intention of the exhibit is to promote the art of quilt-making and also to promote art itself outside of traditional parameters and exhibit the quilts in their true art form.

Being the 22nd biennial Quilt National, the exhibit displays the work of 84 artists from an overall of 14 countries and five continents.

Holly Ittel, Quilt National and exhibition director at the Dairy Barn, said the exhibition has traveled all around the world in years past. Due to it being a global exhibition, it is internationally recognized as the premier contemporary quilt exhibition.

“People have an emotional connection to this exhibition,” Ittel said. “In 2019, there was a visitor who came in from Germany with tears in her eyes and she said, ‘It's been my life's dream to visit Quilt National.’”

For many artists, Quilt National was also a dream to fulfill. Through a journey of learning how to quilt, many artists found it ultimately brought them to where they are today. The colors, patterns, shapes and sizes of the quilts are all personalized to every artist and their individualized eye for creativity.

Michael Ross, an artist from Pennsylvania, said the exhibit is a chance to see a full show dedicated to the art of quilt making. Ross said the drive, no matter the distance and time, is worth the experience at the exhibit: the chance to see the artists and their work evolve.

“Technically, it's a quilt, and it's not to diss the history or that medium and everything that this is evolved from, but it's really more of a means,” Ross said. “Because when I show people pictures of my work they go ‘That’s a quilt?,’ or they'll see a picture and they’ll ask ‘Is that a painting?’ I think it's kind of in that process – it's making more and more progress in being recognized as its own medium and fine art. It's going to take some time, but this is what we (artists) do.”

Like Ross, Sandy Shelenberger, an artist from Ohio, said the art deserves to be seen. Shelenberger also said, due to the range of artists, the quilts have their own variety and technique.

Shelenberger wants those interested in visiting to make their way out and hope those who do keep an open mind. 

“Look at it with an art lens instead of ‘Oh my grandmother quilts,’” Shelenberger said.


People gather to see the quilts at the Dairy Barn’s Quilt National exhibit.

The all-around difference of the quilts makes for a new view in every direction of the exhibit. Shellenberger said with artists using different techniques, the patterns may be hard to recognize but it overall adds to the creativity.

Margaret Black, an artist from Pennsylvania, said her quilts build off of each other and have a cohesive look if put side by side, which personalizes her art. Black encourages everyone to visit the exhibit due to quilts’ importance in everyday life.

“I think that people should come to see a fiber art quilt show like this, to see that it can be hung on the wall as art,” Black said. “Some collectors go home and measure the space above their couch, and then they come back and they'll buy a piece – and doctors offices and hospitals. So many of these are soothing quilts. It would give people more to think about, (rather) than ‘I'm on my way to the dentist's office’ or ‘I have to go see the doctor.’ When you're waiting in a hospital, it's so nice to have soft art on the wall…the texture of it – it's warm.”

For many, these quilts are a way to express feelings that are unexplainable with words. They each have a story to tell and an impression to leave.

The exhibit will be open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made on the Dairy Barn’s website. Those who are not able to view the exhibit in-person are able to view the quilts via YouTube.

With their passion and precision to display their artwork, Ross, Shelenberger, Black and all the other artists of Quilt National are able to communicate their talent through their work and encourage all to experience the effect of the event.

“It comes from the heart – that's why it's sometimes hard to show the work,” Black said. “I know that quilters will tell a bad event in their artwork just to move it out of their body and project it onto a quilt.”


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