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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual

Kentuckians in Visual Arts

Quiltmaker Rebekka Seigel
Owenton, Kentucky

Who Rebekka Seigel started making quilts more than 30 years ago when she learned that she was expecting her first child. Because her grandmother had made quilts all her life, she thought that was something mothers were supposed to do. Her grandmother taught her the basics, but Seigel left the traditional focus of her grandmother’s work to express her own personal view of the world through her quilts. Her work has been included in exhibitions around the United States, including the American Quilt Society’s annual competition, where she has won awards on three occasions. Seigel also represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the first American Quilt Competition, which honored the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. She continues to create new works while working as an artist-in-residence for Kentucky schools and teaching workshops for adults. Teaching and exhibitions have taken her across the U.S. and to Northern Ireland, where she was an artist-in-residence in 1995. She was chosen to create the prizes given as the Governor’s Awards in the Arts for 2000. Her work is also included in many books on contemporary quiltmaking and craft, including Phyllis George’s books on Kentucky and American craft, and her quilts are part of the permanent collection of the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort as well as the Evansville (Indiana) Museum of Art and Science.

A quilt by Rebekka Seigel is featured in the Kentucky History Center gallery of the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum CD-ROM. You can also see examples of her work at her web site, Quiltartz.

What “I work with teachers to develop projects that enhance what they are teaching. I don’t just teach art techniques or create artwork with students in the classroom. The projects I create are usually a collaborative effort with teachers and take many different forms, depending upon the theme and whatever quiltmaking process we want to use. All of my classroom projects focus on the art of the quilt today and its importance in the lives of women throughout history. I think this is a very important discussion topic that provides an opportunity to explore the role of women then and now. In addition to my classroom work, I continue to create and exhibit new works.”

When “I don’t really have a typical day or hourly schedule, but I usually spend about two-thirds of the year in classrooms around Kentucky, dedicating the rest of my time and some time on the road to my quilts. I also spend a lot of time promoting my work to various shows and galleries.”

How “As an artist, the biggest challenge I face is maintaining financial stability. And making quilts is not a spontaneous art form, so it requires a lot of time and focus. Still, there’s exhilaration in watching an idea take on its physical shape. As an educator, being out of the studio and working on the road keeps me from focusing primarily on my own work. The most rewarding thing about all of this is that I am carrying on a traditional art form, developing its scope, and providing all sorts of artistic experiences for kids. In public schools, more and more art programs are changing to a purely lecture-based format—students don’t always get the chance to make art, even though they have to know how to write about it. There’s no real inspiration. The programs I present always have kids working directly with the needle and thread. The concentration needed for exercising their fine motor skills has a calming effect on them, and many find working with their hands to be an area of accomplishment that they were unaware of before.”

Why “I find that no matter what I do, I always feel rewarded at the end, so long as I stay passionate about what I’m doing.”

Getting There “Don’t expect to get rich—there is a different kind of wealth you find in this sort of work. Be prepared to work really hard, and be sure of your passion before you try forcing it. I am constantly amazed that I’m able to support myself through a lifestyle that is really for me. Six years ago I had the idea to build a body of work as an exhibit that I could loan to museums, instead of doing single exhibitions on commission. The exhibit’s theme concentrated on pioneering women, giving shape and color to their stories through each quilt and through a medium traditionally linked to ‘a woman’s work.’ I wanted to break through the traditional conceptions of women and quiltmaking and focus on the real history of women. The idea worked really well. I believe that finding your own passion is a reward in itself. With that, it is possible to do anything as an artist.”

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951