Pat Pauly talks about how quilting has developed into an art

05:00 AM, May 19, 2013

Fiber artist Pat Pauly will conduct a workshop and sell her works at the Genesee Valley Quilt show. (Provided photo)/

Written By Michelle Cardulla

Upcoming showsSome significant fiber arts events are coming up in upstate New York. Here are some of them:
• Genesee Valley Quilt Club Show. “Magical Threads — Inspired Stitches” is the theme of this three-day event at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gordon Field House. Exhibits, vendors, lectures and demonstrations are all part of the event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 31 and June 1 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 2.
Some area quilting groups, including the designated charity of this year’s event, the Community Quilting Bee at Sojourner House, will be exhibiting. So will the Susan B. Anthony House, talking about how quilting bees helped spread the word of the suffrage movement and showing some of these quilts from the museum’s collection. Rochester Area Fiber Artists will be presenting the theme “Nature Behind Bars.” Finally will be a compilation of works fiber artists made in conjunction with the If All Rochester Reads the Same Book program this year featuring Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North.
Tickets are $10 ($8 for seniors, free to those 12 years and younger, $20 for a weekend pass). Call (585) 737-2369 or go to
• Innovators & Legends: Generations in Textiles and Fiber. This nationally touring exhibit opening next Sunday at Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn, features works by multiple generations of top-tier fiber artists. It is meant to talk about the evolution of the craft from functional quilts to decorative works and features 75 works by 50 artists. This is the exhibit’s only stop in the Northeast. An opening reception will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, with a lecture by one of the exhibitors, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval. The exhibit runs through Aug. 11. Go to
• Quilting by the Lake. This conference is expected to draw thousands of fiber artists from around the country and Canada to Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. Organized by Schweinfurth, there will be an accompanying exhibt during the conference, July 14 to 26, at the college’s Allyn Hall. Admission to that show, which also includes vendors of fabrics and supplies, will be $6. Go to

Frank, feisty and fun, Pittsford fiber artist Pat Pauly pieces together colors and textures to create vibrant, contemporary works. Her works have been exhibited in prominent shows across the country.

She also will be at one of the biggest events locally, the Genesee Valley Quilt Club Show from May 31 to June 2 at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Here, we sat down with her to talk about her works.

Q: Were your parents artists?

A: No, the closest thing was that my dad worked at a clothing company and did the window displays. I always thought that was interesting. But nobody quilted in my family. Zip. I taught myself. Eventually, I took a class. I was silk-screening fabric, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I thought I’d make it into a quilt. That quilt got into a show in Ohio, called the Quilt National. It’s like getting an Oscar for quilting. But I didn’t know that. There was no Web, so no one knew about art quilts. I got in twice again: 2009 and 2011.

Q: How long have you actually been creating these?

A: I’ve been doing quilts since 1981. Not steadily. There was a period where I had very young kids, so I couldn’t make anything that required a lot of thought (laughs). In the ’80s, my quilts traveled all over the states and were in some prestigious shows. And then I stopped for a period and then started again. Rochester doesn’t know about me. Other art quilters do, but not the general audience. The art world in Rochester doesn’t see fiber work as high art.

Q: Because it has the notion of being a “Sunday afternoon” craft?

A: It’s funny, I had an exhibit that I curated and installed works by 19 art quilters — it had one piece that was valued at $15,000. The gallery director asked me if this was correct. I answered, “Yes, these are really important artists!” This was an international show. Twenty pieces. I had people from Belgium and Canada and from all over the U.S.

The director was helping me put the work in the car, and he said, “Ya know, my grandmother quilts.” I almost gave him a knee. I thought, “Ya know, this is so not fair!” It’s tricky. That’s kind of the mindset.

Q: So educate us about your medium.

A: There’s this huge world of extremely talented fiber artists. The definition of the medium I work in is “contemporary quilts.” It has a front, it has a back and it has a middle, and it’s held together with stitching. That’s all it is. Some artists don’t have those three layers — some just work in fiber. Some are basically printmakers who happen to print fabric and then put it together. Sometimes it’s totally unrecognizable. People think they are paintings.

Q: When I first saw them, I thought they were paintings.

A: Well it’s kind of what they are. It’s exactly what they are. All my painting teachers wanted me to be a painter. The difference between the painting and my work: Sometimes I do paint canvas and I cut them up, but it’s the fact that it has been reconstructed. So it’s been put together and taken apart. Whereas with painters, they start with a known size and work from there. In my case, I don’t know where it might go (unless I’m working from an image I want to re-create some way). But even then, I don’t stick to the boundaries. I have the freedom to change it even after it has been constructed and deconstructed.

Q: You probably start with a sketch?

A: Not usually. Sometimes I might do a whole-size drawing and work from there, using that as a template. But not often. Most of the time it’s built spontaneously. I guess this is why I’m not a painter: I love to build things. I’ve always constructed things. I was always putting things together.

Like the piece I built for Greentopia. It’s big: 12 feet high by 24 feet wide. Black, white and gray, all recycled. It is all nylon — suitcase material. That was a true construction. I constructed that on a long-arm machine. I couldn’t run it through a (sewing machine), because you’d have to hold the weight of it in order to run it through the needle, so I basically had to run the needle over it. I stretched window screening on this 10-foot-long bed, and then I ran this sewing machine over it. I actually made it in six sections, each 4 feet wide. It is meant to be outside. It’s High Falls, so I called it Genesee River.

Q: So did you go to school for art?

A: I went to school to teach art. And I taught elementary art, which was tons of fun, but I was worn out. In my book, you actually get up and you teach. I had second through sixth grades. We did dyeing, ceramic art, puppets. We painted! We did batik (wax-dye fabric art). Batik, with 36 kids in a room — can you imagine, hot wax! I did it for five years. But teaching was fun.

Q: And after teaching?

A: I had all of these skills. I worked in Minnesota as a graphics designer for an architect. We came back to Rochester, and I worked for seven years at the Rochester Museum & Science Center as an exhibition designer. I did all kinds of wild things. I knew how to handle a saw. I could paint. I knew how to prepare things. I knew graphics. I knew how to sew. I know how to make things and prepare objects for mount. Then I went on as the exhibition designer at the Memorial Art Gallery. I realized I loved construction but also loved using color.

Q: You said you took a break from quilting?

A: I was an older mom, and I thought that having children wasn’t going to come around again, so I’d better devote some time to being with them. So I took a break; they were 2 and 4. For about 10 years, I didn’t make quilts, but my quilts were traveling all over the place. And they sold. Mostly corporate sales — they’re large-scale.

Q: You work full time as a fiber artist?

A: Yes. And I teach and lecture on art quilting. People happen to like my work, and they pay me to go out and talk about it. I’m thrilled. They write and ask me to come speak and teach. I say, “Sure. I’ll be there.”