TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

TAFA Members Talk: Helen Klebesadel, "I Love Quilts"

"Crazy Quilt" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 30 x 20

I love traditional arts, and in particular those fiber arts associate with women’s traditional roles.  Many of my large-scale watercolors celebrate the crochet work and quilting that were the creative work of the women I grew up around in rural Wisconsin.  In my paintings the hand work of women is not represented as part of the background, but are instead the point of the paintings.

As a child I was taught to sew, tat, knit, crochet and quilt.  My earliest memory of an artist at work is my great grandmother embroidering a fantastic crazy quilt and crocheting amazing bedspreads, but I was not taught to think of her as an artist or her fabulous creations as art until much later when I studied and became a part of the feminist art movement. As a returning adult student I was lucky enough to study and teach women’s studies as I worked toward my MFA. 

As a professor of art and women’s and gender studies I have long made traditional and cross cultural approaches to art a key part of my teaching and I have incorporated critiques into my core curriculum that examine the exclusion of particular arts associated with women, working class, and culturally diverse people.  Now, the day job I have, that supports my art habit, is Director of the Women’s Studies Consortium of the University of Wisconsin System, and I look for opportunities to keep the arts a core part of the women’s studies movement.

"Altared" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 20 x 30

The paintings of quilts are my most extensive series to date.  I have titled the series "Everyday Use" in reference to a wonderful short story by Alice Walker, which examines the meaning and core human values quilts can represent.

To date I have painted over thirty watercolor paintings of the quilts I wish I owned. While I am an enthusiastic viewer of contemporary art quilts, most of my paintings make use of traditional quilt patterns and employ fabric patterns I make up that are influenced by the aesthetics of particular periods.  I rarely just paint an existing quilt (except an instance of an artist-to-artist direct exchange where I painted a quilt portrait, described here.

"Dresden Quilt" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 22 x 30

In my artwork I try to connect common daily experiences to broader social issues.   I’m best known for my large, feminist watercolors, which often consider definitions of "female" and "feminine" in myth, folklore and stories, and examine how we value and devalue those things associated with women.  Embedded in that examination of values is a questioning of who we have been taught to call artists (men), what media we have been taught to call ‘Art’ (as opposed to ‘Craft’), and where we have been taught we will find art (in the white cube of the gallery rather than wrapped around a love one).  My paintings are a part of a larger effort aimed at fostering a shift in consciousness.

It has felt like a very natural transition to create designer fabrics myself.  Once I figured out how to convert sections of my paintings and watercolor experiments into designer fabrics using Spoonflower.com it felt like I had come full circle back to the fiber traditions of my youth.  It thrills me to know contemporary quilters are using my fabrics in their creative work.  I am currently working on a new series of fiber based works which will use the digital printing process I have learned creating the designer fabrics.  I look forward to sharing the results in the future.

"Tree of Life" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 38 x 29

Art making for me is intellectual, spiritual, and emotional work.  It is a visual thinking process that reveals knowledge we have but are not yet able to put into words.  Art can help society notice and feel things with greater clarity, and can provide opportunities to re-examine what we thought we knew.  While I do art about subjects that appeal to me or concern me personally, I have learned to trust that if I put the artworks out in the world they will find their audience.   I hope that part of that audience is here on Fiber Focus and at TAFA.


This post is a part of a series that I am running here on Fiber Focus about TAFA members.  To see the other articles that are a part of TAFA Members Talk and about TAFA, click here.   Interested in joining TAFA?  The guidelines are here

Helen also wrote a tutorial on how to design fabrics for Spoonflower.  Read the tutorial.  Visit Helen's member profile on TAFA for more info on where you can find her on the web.

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