Before making the trip back from Tucson, Arizona to Kenai in time for the birding festival May 15, Marilyn Kay Johnson went into her arts and crafts room in her summer home and reached for a plastic bag full of random thin strips of fabric.
“I need something to work on while on the road,” Johnson said.
She sat in the passenger seat and stitched the multi-colored pieces together while her husband Ralph Van Dusseldorp drove north. At night, Johnson would iron the quilt in the hotel room. As they made their way up to the Pacific Northwest, Johnson stopped into a shop in Oregon for a piece of batting to go between the layers of the quilt.
The couple caught the ferry from Bellingham, Washington to Whittier, a five-day ride. During that time, Johnson kept on her project throughout the day. In their stateroom on the ferry she hung the quilt on the davenport and examined her unfinished work to see what could be added. Even in her dreams she would think about her quilt and the designs she could create.
“I like to do a piece of it, stand back look at it, add to it, stand back look at it and watch it evolve,” she said. “The way I go to bed every night if I can’t sleep I picture all this fabric going together.”
By the time they arrived back on the Kenai Peninsula, her quilt, no larger than 2 feet by 2 feet, had been completed. The quilt, Johnson titled, “Road Trip” is one of two of her works on display in Gallery Too at the Kenai Fine Arts Center for the month of June.
The Quilt Art Show exhibit features 16 quilts in a range of sizes and dimensions. The stipulation for the gallery was that quilts had to be designed without the use of traditional patterns and had to be original piece, said show curator Connie Tarbox.
The variety of quilts on display is what makes the show unique, Tarbox said. A holographic quilt, a blossomed flower quilt, and a kitchen apron with a riddle titled, “Merry Berry Mama” are a few of the eclectic entries.
“We have some cutting edge quilts beyond traditional designs that have an expressive message,” she said. “We want to honor every piece and give it space on the wall that doesn’t conflict with the one next to it and lose its impact.”
Johnson, a retired snowbird, is a member of the Peninsula Quilting Guild. She has made large quilts for beds on commission, but her passion is traveling and she will always have a project to work on her travels. In August 2013, Johnson and Dusseldorp had a fiber art and photography show at the gallery that featured their artwork inspired from the regions they visited, Europe, Africa and the South Pacific.
“I have (quilts) I really enjoy because they evoke a time in my life,” Johnson said. “I hand-pieced a whole quilt in Africa. The fabric isn’t African but every stitch is in my point of view because that’s where I made it. It takes a long enough period of time that you experience life in the process.”
One of her favorite pieces is a silk screen scarf she bought in Tahiti with art from Paul Gauguin embroidered on it. She decided to add to it and set up as a sandwich quilt and added ribbons, beads, shells, buttons and worked in with needle and thread. She said it has made a great traveling quilt the last eight years and has pictures of her working on it through their world travels.
“I love the portability of quilts,” she said. “I want to sit on a beach somewhere or sit in the mountains or train or ferry. It’s really nice to have all those memories.”
Jan Wallace, who also has two quilts on display in Gallery Too, said the Kenai Peninsula has a strong quilting community. The Peninsula Quilting Guild has a membership of about 120 people and offers classes during which noted outside quilters are brought it to teach advanced skills like hand applique. The guild meets at the Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna periodically.
One of Wallace’s quilts stand out from the others. Three two-foot long stripes of fabric have a rippled 3-D effect. The use of sand colored layered fabric give a live feeling for land and water, Tarbox said.
“(Wallace) is experimenting with three-dimensional work,” Tarbox said. “It is fun for her pushing the edge and it is a unique piece.”
Wallace’s other submission is a large square quilt with a black border and purple circle designs. Tarbox said Wallace is known for her circle designs. Wallace said she made partial circles and fit them together to make them whole.
“I’m happy with the design but not with the color choice,” Wallace said. “Everything is a learning experience. One thing I love about quilting is figuring it out as you go.”
Johnson said she grew up with an art background and quilting goes back to her childhood. Her mother was a seamstress and Johnson always played with fabric, made doll clothes and sewed in her spare time. She also took up art painting and design but came to the realization that she loved to buy and collect fabric.
Her other quilt on display at the gallery is named, “Bear Squared” with red and black fiber fabric with cutouts of bears designed from Native Alaskan art. She said the scrappy quilt was pieced together from tiny chunks to make a bigger design and conceived being a celebration of southeast Alaskan art. She added one strip of yellow around the border as an imperfection, which she said allows the quilt to keep from offending the gods.
Johnson said she never has a laid out plan when she starts quilting, just likes to go at it and let it develop. With a vast collection of fabric collected on her travels, she said she probably uses more red fabric than any other.
“Without knowing we all work within a certain palate,” she said. “You don’t notice until you are done. It’s like buying shirts. You come back from the store and you bought another blue shirt the same as the last.”
The Art Quilt Show in Gallery Too of the Kenai Fine Arts Center opened Friday and will go through the month of June from Wednesday through Saturday. Johnson said a couple of the quilts will be for sale, but as for artist like herself, the quilts are reminders of a cherished moment in her life.
“Every quilt has a story,” she said. “I love hand quilting it is very satisfying and meditative. I like having a reason to keep at it.”