Southern Utah News Articles
Quilting natural beauty
“The elements of nature are spontaneous,” explained Susan Gilgen, famed landscape quilt artist. “I work in such a way that it never replicates perfectly, but evolves. It’s not going to be exact. It’s capturing the emotion of the situation.”
Landscape quilts refer to quilted artwork created to represent natural landscapes. They are usually created to be hung on a wall. Their origin is often first inspired by a picture or sketch, and then transferred into creativity with fabric and stitching. Some quilts are inspired by nature, from a picture, and occasionally an artistic rendition from a movie, family history, or a combination of these aspects of inspiration.
Gilgen is extraordinary in the art she creates through nature and quilting. The St. George artist was in Kanab on April 17, sharing her talents with local quilters. Her work is currently being featured in a St. George show entitled, Quilts; Reimagined with Sue Gilgen, January-May at the St. George Art Museum.
Gilgen’s artistic journey has been stitched with fabric all of her life. She sewed as a child, and later designed clothes, teaching at the Fashion Academy of Costa Mesa, California. In addition, she taught classes in California, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Utah.
In 1977, she discovered a new passion in landscape quilting, after taking a class from artist Natalie Sewell. That is when Gilgen’s artistic talents really took off. Only 16 months after embracing the new art form, she won awards for her work! She won the prestigious first place award for landscape quilts at the American Quilter’s Show in Paducha, Kentucky. She also won the art-naturescapes category at the 2010 Houston International Quilt Festival with her quilt “Autumn Birches.”
While living in Wisconsin, Gilgen was commissioned by the Wisconsin Arts Foundation to create the art prizes for the Wisconsin Governor’s Awards in Support of the Arts. One creation was featured in the Governor’s mansion.
Gilgen and husband Read moved to southern Utah. Parents of five and grandparents of 10, they immersed their life in the southwest. After years of working with the lush greens and autumn golds of Wisconsin, Gilgen became creatively inspired by the majestic mountains and beautiful colors of the southwest.
“I’ve always worked with fiber,” explained Gilgen, of landscape quilting. “I just got to a point that I wanted to try my hand at it.” She went to museums and studied the art, and thought about how to create the images in a quilt format.
How does one get a picture or sketch from concept to a quilted wall hanging? Probably with inspiration and talent that most of us do not possess!
“I typically follow certain procedures and techniques,” said Gilgen. “I begin by conceptualizing an original design. (She never uses a pattern.) Beginning with a piece of muslin, each element of the design is created by cutting fabric into shapes resembling natural elements, and layering them to create a picture.
“Much of the artistic joy in landscape quilting comes from finding a piece of fabric with just the right pattern, color, or visual emotion,” Gilgen explained. “All of the elements of good art, such as color, perspective and shading come to play as the design takes shape.”
Gilgen said upon approaching her subject, the landscape usually tells a story. Her work, “The Red Shawl,” was concerning a lost pioneer boy. “That’s a story quilt,” said Gilgen. She added, story lines play out in her head when creating most of her works.
“People are drawn to this art form,” Gilgen assures.