Quilt Week: City
By Stephen Kopfinger, Correspondent
Sue Reno is proud to say she grew up with a needle in her hand. Sewing is a skill that has served her well.
The Lancaster artist has a home studio filled with the colorful cloth that goes into making what many consider an American classic: the quilt.
The quilt evokes a sense of craftsmanship and comfort -- something to snuggle under on a chilly night. Yet quilts are also works of art, as treasured as an intricate painting on a drawing room wall.
Quilt lovers will be able to sample a wide array of stitched art when the Kentucky-based American Quilter's Society kicks off its fourth show at Lancaster County Convention Center on Wednesday. Quilt Week, as the event is known, runs through Saturday.
And it's not the only game in town, so to speak. Two other shows, the 23rd annual Lancaster Quilt Show at the Continental Inn on Route 30 and the Lancaster Spring Quilt Show just across the street at Lancaster Host Resort, are running concurrently with Quilt Week.
Yes, quilt fans will find heaven in the Garden Spot this week.
As for downtown, it's literally welcoming the world. While quilting is often thought of as an American tradition, the AQS show at the convention center is hosting exhibits celebrating Australia and Egypt.
"In Australia, [quilting] has grown," says Tim Langlitz, marketing director with AQS, in a phone interview from Cincinnati.
The continent fondly known as "Down Under" will be celebrated at the convention center with an exhibit titled "Beneath the Southern Sky," which will showcase the rich beauty of the spectacular sunsets and nights that Aussies enjoy. Some 30 textile works will make their American debut here in Lancaster. Langlitz says the works are "amazing."
Australia will not be alone in this exhibit. Submissions from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States will be represented as well.
Reno, who calls herself a fiber artist rather than a quilter, has a personal connection to the exhibit. The curator of "Beneath the Southern Sky," Australian Brenda Gael Smith, is a friend.
"The boundaries keep expanding," Reno says of the quilting world. The Internet is a big help, truly bringing an old-fashioned craft into the modern age.
"The friendships we form are fabulous," Reno says.
Further contributing to that global quilting link is another exhibit playfully titled "Stitch Like An Egyptian." While the name evokes the whimsical 1980s dance hit "Walk Like An Egyptian," this exhibit will pay tribute to the craftspeople of an ancient land. They are the tent makers, and their place of business is the exotically named Sharia Khyamiya, or Street of Tent Makers. It's a covered passageway in Cairo, and a showcase for the beauty of cloth.
One could say that about quilting in general.
"It's really become an art form," Langlitz says. He's not surprised when people look at a quilt and react with "I thought that was a painting!"
Modern quilts, Langlitz says, might even make use of metallic fabrics and crystal accents. Designs can be minimalist or, as with Reno's works, a bit avant-garde. Looking at one of her works, you might find a depiction of an animal skull, or a tribute to the former Watt & Shand department store, which now houses the convention center.
"I had quite a love affair with that building," says Reno, who generally lets instinct guide her fiber art.
"I know when it's right, and I know when it's not right," she says. "There's a definite sweet spot in between."
Reno is planning to exhibit a quilt titled "Ginger," which is an explosion of color on cloth. It's what she calls a response to a time when she lived in India, land of spices. "Ginger" fairly jumps off the wall with bursts of orange, blue and white. It takes its name from the white ginger butterfly lily.
And yet, Reno has not forgotten her artistic roots.
"I was raised very traditionally Pennsylvania Dutch," Reno says. "We butchered our own meat. We canned everything."
That kind of self-reliance led to quilting. "That aesthetic very much informs what I do."
Reno's studio is located in the basement of her suburban Lancaster home, near Columbia. She's happiest when she's hunched over her Janome sewing machine, which hums away as a nearby coal stove throws off cozy heat.
"This is where all the magic happens," she says happily.
Quilting can also be a guy thing. Women do dominate the field, but there are several men who will show works at the AQS exhibit, Langlitz says.
Just to be on the safe side, there will be something of a "man cave" at the show, a Men's Den in the convention center that promises "furniture for resting," according to the AQS website.
Just don't grab any of those quilts to cover up.
"These are not blankets!" Langlitz cautions. "You can sleep under a $10,000 work of art, but I wouldn't want to!"
Reno sees herself as carrying on a tradition, mixing old with new.
"The tradition is always moving forward. I see myself as part of that continuum," she says. "We pay our respects to the past, but we are not trapped in it."
The American Quilter's Society's Quilt Week will be held at Lancaster County Convention Center, 25. S. Queen St., March 13-16. Tickets cost $12.60 for the public and $10.08 for members of AQS. For more information, call 800-626-5420 or log on to aqsshows.com.
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