Sandra Hecht sees artistic possibilities all around, and her keen eye picks out colors and shapes almost instinctively. The Soldotna seamstress is one of 12 peninsula fabric artists featured in "Original Quilt Art," the new exhibition opening Friday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in Kenai.
"I've been sewing since I was 10 years old," Hecht said. "I started out making clothes for my Barbie doll. By the time I was in junior high, I made my own clothes. And it went from there."
Hecht moved to the Kenai Peninsula as a teen and graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1971.
By the early 1980s, at the urging of friends, she began sewing commercially. Her first commission was dresses for little flower girls at a wedding, and everyone loved the way they turned out.
"The Fish," by Connie Goltz, Soldotna
Photo by Jay Barrett
"I was tickled to death," she said.
She still does commercial tailoring, doing business as The Sterling Needle. She makes everything from star costumes for Soldotna High School to bullet-proof vests for police.
But her curiosity led her to branch out. Soon after she began selling clothes, she started combining dress scraps into quilts.
"I knew there was more to fabric than clothes," she said.
"Lady Geisha," by Lila-Ann Krohn, Soldotna
Photo by Jay Barrett
Along the way, she became a regular at fabric stores. She took classes, learning and sharing ideas with others, although she always preferred to strike out after her own, original patterns. She praised the folks at The Finer Point, The Pin Cushion -- where she worked for several years -- and Robin Place Fabrics for their encouragement and information.
"I kept slowly evolving," she said.
In 1987, Hecht got her first blue ribbon at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in Ninilchik. Other awards followed. But she felt hampered by the conventions of traditional quilting.
Inspired by fabric artist and former peninsula resident Beth Cassidy, she was determined to experiment.
"The Bath," by Sandra Hecht, Soldotna
Photo by Jay Barrett
"I had a really hard time breaking out of the mold," she said.
However, in the early 1990s she began playing with the artistic potential of fabric. Her first experimental piece was a stylized halibut wall hanging, which she eventually gave to a fishing friend.
Shortly after taking the plunge into fabric art, Hecht set it aside to work on a huge project: building and decorating her dream house with her husband, Paul. She applied the color and design skills of quilting and fiber art to a new medium, tile.
Not content to do counters and floors, she redid furniture with mosaic tops and even put a 200 square-foot tile mural on the storage shed outside.
Hecht runs the home as a bed and breakfast during the summer, using the quilts and fiber arts as part of the personality of the place. Combining the old and new is a recurring motif. She has purchased quilt blocks from the 1930s over the Internet to finish into contemporary furnishings and restored battered old furniture with quirky modern accents.
As the house nears completion, she is reaching back into her fabric basket for more experimentation.
"You know," she said, "you've just got to have a good time in life."
The Original Quilt Art show at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center is right up Hecht's alley. She relishes a chance to promote fiber arts in the community and admire the creativity and workmanship of other peninsula artists in the medium.
Everything selected for the show includes at least some quilting, defined as the stitching together of multiple fabric layers. That is distinct from piecing, the sewing together of different fabric to make a design, although the two techniques frequently are used together.
The diverse pieces include wall hangings and a stunning assortment of wearable art, some of which is qualified for national competition.
"There are some really talented gals out there," Hecht said.
Last year, the first for the show, she had four or five pieces on display. She has two new works in the new exhibit.
"Ricky (Gease, manager of exhibits) actually asked me to enter the show," she said. "I was honored."
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