The comedy of quilts

PTA presents 'Ha Ha, Made You Laugh'
Oct 29, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg

Right now in Gallery 86, a cow is hula dancing. A few feet away, unruly dogs are riffling through their poor owner’s sewing supplies, and a woman is seeking psychological help for her quilting addiction. The little gallery is an extremely busy place — thanks to the vignettes on the Professional Textile Artists’ quilts.

Though PTA has been around for decades (25 or 30 years or more, depending on who’s doing the math), it’s likely that you’ve never seen their work quite like this. “Ha Ha, Made You Laugh” shows the funny side of  quilting — a side many people probably don’t know exists.

Mary Stori, one of the 14 award-winning women who make up PTA, tends to sound tickled as she talks about this colorful cornucopia of quilts, which range from sight gags to satire.

“They’re just so fun to look at,” gushed the Crabtree artist.

And really are, with most demanding a double take. While Stori and several of her fellow members have been making off-kilter quilts for years, they’ve never grouped them together like this. In a lighthearted way, the show celebrates a move that many in PTA have made away from traditional patchwork quilts and off the beaten path. Though many of these women have grandchildren, they are not making your grandma’s handiwork.

Stori, who began quilting about 30 years ago, never did. Back in the early ’80s, when almost all quilters were following patterns and tradition, she was embellishing like crazy — and getting noticed for it. Her quilts, which are much more like collages than bedspreads, soon brought her recognition at competitions big and small. She also began teaching, eventually going everywhere from Iceland to Indiana. She feels lucky that when she first came on the scene, judges and quilt lovers alike were open to someone who stitched to the beat of a different drummer.

“Years ago, anything I could get my hands on that wasn’t too heavy, I’d put it on a quilt,” she said, not really joking.

These days, she embellishes mostly with beads, but is still always trying to push the edge of the envelope.

In her own way, so is each member of PTA.

Georgia Bonesteel, probably the most famous of the bunch, made a big name for herself on public television and with various books and classes. While she’s still known for her inventive takes on traditional quilt patterns, being part of PTA has shaken something loose in her. Something about meeting monthly in one home or another to critique, share and support one another seems to have shifted the perspective of many of the women, explained Bonesteel, who makes her home in Flat Rock.

“And then it’s like a new door opened up when a lot of us realized, ‘Hey, we can do picture quilts,’” she said.

While she and many of her fellow quilters still have a knack and deep love for geometric work, she explained that it’s exciting to see their pictorial creations come to life bit by bit at each meeting. At the same time, they’re showing pictures of their children and grandchildren and generally keeping one another up to date on their lives. She enjoys the camaraderie but also stressed that this quilt circle isn’t just about getting together. It’s about getting down to work — even if it means hearing a critique that can be a little tough to take.

“The word that we don’t want to hear is, ‘That’s interesting,’” Bonesteel said. “We want something that’s a little more interesting than that.”

Their current exhibit proves they’ve gotten what they wanted. While some of the quilts just make you smile, others are chuckle-inducing — and all feel fresh. Each one is its own little world, one in which Mario and Luigi are fixing pipes or a cow is literally jumping over the moon.

As Bonsteel put it, being humorous is a “totally new aspect” for many in the quilting community.

But not all — especially not in this group. Dort Lee, who lives in Leceister, has been quilting on the lighter side of things for a long while. Maybe she was always bound to, as she’s been excited by the world of appliqué for years. She’s not afraid to add (and add and add) little aspects in order to make her work pop. This attention to detail, in addition to often pun-tastic names, makes her quilts stand out.

“I try to put little funny things in there,” she said, describing details that even include the addition of fake fiber “chest hair” to one of her quilted characters.

With her work, like that of others in PTA, the point is not necessarily to be laugh-out-loud funny, she added. With so many different kinds of humor, from subtle to in-your-face, Lee hopes that just about everyone who strolls through the exhibit will find something that tickles their funny bone — even if only lightly.

“As long as they’re amused,” she explained, “I think I”ll be happy.”

For more information about “Ha Ha, Made You Laugh,” visit www.haywoodarts.org or call 452-0593. Many of the women of the PTA will be on hand during this Friday’s “Art After Dark” event, when Waynesville’s galleries and shops in downtown and Frog Level stay open late. The PTA will be holding their opening from 6 to 9 p.m. at the gallery, 86. N. Main St. And don’t forget “Saturday Stroll,” the following day, when Gallery 86 and others will be open — with many holding special events — from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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