EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Lifestyle

August 3, 2006

The fiber of quilting:Lowell festival covers diverse aspects of art in one of nation's largest shows

Think quilts just belong on your bed? The Lowell Quilt Festival will change your mind.

From embellished bras to museum-quality painted and sewn panels, few people are likely to look at quilts or quilters the same after attending this event.

"I think the quilting world is trying to get the world to recognize they are artists and art is sexy," said Laura Gawlinski of Andover, a fiber artist exhibiting at the festival.

"It's not your grandmother's quilting any more."

That's not to say the biennial, four-day citywide quilt-fest doesn't cover all aspects of quilting. To the contrary, it does, from the antique to the modern, through exhibits, vendors, lectures, auctions, appraisals and workshops.

The festival attracts more than 10,000 visitors, making it one of the biggest quilting events in the nation.

"What makes (the Lowell Quilt Festival) unique is that it's based in Lowell," said Betsy Abbott of Andover, who is taking part in the main juried exhibit, "Images 2006."

"Lowell is a textile town, and this honors the textile tradition," she said. "It makes people realize that textile arts are alive and well. The textile industry has gone through its troubles, but for this one week, there is something fresh and very exciting going on in textile and fiber arts. That, to me, makes it special."

Organized by the New England Quilt Museum, the only museum in the region dedicated solely to the study and preservation of American quiltmaking, the show started in 1983 at the Topsfield Fair. Since its debut, the festival has undergone quite a transformation, punctuated by the rise in fiber artists.

"Fifteen years ago, quilts were what your grandmother made," said fourth-generation quilter Signe Kaleel of Andover, who has two quilts (one traditional, one contemporary) in the main juried show.

"Now they are being juried into art shows," she said. "Fifteen years ago, when you said you were a fiber artist, people asked: What is that? Now fiber art has gone from being a cutesy craft to a serious art."

Quilting has also attracted artists who work in other mediums, like Gay Tracy of North Andover, a lauded painter who now also works in fiber. She, too, will show off her fiber work at the festival.

"It's difficult for me, it's hard," said Tracy of working in fiber. "I have been a painter for a long time, so I am used to that medium. I used to collage, so I'm used to working with fiber and paper, but I am not used to sewing.

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