From Great-Grandma’s Quilts to Gallery Walls: The Creative Journey of Linda Dease Smith

It’s always wonderful to hear of quilts being recognized in a gallery setting, and even more so when the quilter in question is a long-time friend. Linda Smith and I first met over 25 years ago in Boone, NC, as charter members of the newly formed Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild. Before long, she and I found ourselves part of a small group of five within the guild, sharing common interests and quilting road trips. We called ourselves The Common Threads, and one of our goals was to exhibit our work on a regular basis.

The Jones House Community and Cultural Center, Boone, NC; photo courtesy The Jones House

The Jones House Community and Cultural Center, Boone, NC; photo courtesy The Jones House

Our first opportunity came in the summer of 1995, when we were invited to exhibit at the historic Jones House Community and Cultural Center in downtown Boone. The month-long show was quite a success, attracting the attention of (the sadly, now-defunct) Lady’s Circle Patchwork Quilts magazine, which proposed a feature article about us and our exhibit. I was honored to write the text for that article. Here’s what I had to say then about Linda:

Linda Smith is the risk-taker (of the group). She laughs when we call her that, saying that we really mean “I jump right in when I don’t have a clue!” Not so. Instead, she is virtually fearless when it comes to quiltmaking, eager to try each newly discovered technique, viewing each step as an adventure. Her work is experimental, fresh, and exciting.

Two of Linda's pieces from the 1995 Common Threads exhibit; even then, she was showing signs of "breaking out of the box." Photo by Michael Siede.

Two of Linda’s pieces from the 1995 Common Threads exhibit; even then, she was showing signs of “breaking out of the box.” Photo by Michael Siede.

Very little has changed since I wrote those words so long ago. If anything, Linda has become even more of an adventurer and innovator. As she continues to push her creative boundaries, she seeks also to explore new venues for showing her work.

Earlier this spring, Linda’s work was featured as part of a four-woman exhibit called Wrapped Up in You at The Gallery at Macon (GA) Arts Alliance. The other three artists were clay artist Malena Bisanti-Wall, jewelry designer Cheri Lesauskis, and mixed-media artist (and the gallery’s Fine Art Director) Heatherly Wakefield.

New works by my friend, Linda Smith, were part of a recent, four-woman show at The Gallery of Macon (GA) Arts Alliance.

New works by my friend, Linda Smith, were part of a recent, four-woman show at The Gallery of Macon (GA) Arts Alliance.

Like many of us, Linda started out as a strictly traditional quilter. She made her first quilt in the mid-1970s from a kit, and went on to quilt a few tops that had been pieced by her great-grandmother. As a career counselor (Director of the Career Center at Appalachian State University in Boone), Dr. Smith spent her days helping college students explore post-graduate options. What could be more natural than exploring post-traditional possibilities for fabric and thread?

“I started ‘going off’ in the mid-90s,” Linda recalls. “I had been making tons of little nine patches that I planned to use for a Postage Stamp quilt. I realized that wasn’t going to happen, so I started to explore other ways to use those blocks.” The Skewed Nine Patch quilt (in the photo above) was one of those early experiments.

Nowadays, Linda describes her approach as “somewhere between what if and why not.” Her contribution to the Macon exhibit included a series she calls Meditation. Its 12 pieces grew from a “somewhat non-specific, between-class” exercise inspired by a class with quilt artist, Hollis Chatelain. All 12 pieces were made using the same elements: two or three rectangles, nine squares, and some lines. Each measures approximately 13″ x 16.”

Linda Smith with some pieces from her recent Meditation series shown in Macon (GA) earlier this year. Her friendly companion is China, pet of the gallery director.

Linda Smith with some pieces from her recent Meditation series shown in Macon (GA) earlier this year. Her friendly companion is China, pet of the gallery director.

“As I began making these little pieces, I decided that if I liked the design, I would take it as far as I could with different fabrics, in different combinations, to create different moods. All were made entirely from fabrics in my stash.” she says. The materials are a mix of commercial fabrics, batiks, Cherrywood hand dyes, and others that she dyed or painted herself. “It’s amazing when you stop to look at what you have. I know that some quilters don’t want to cut into those ‘special’ fabrics. I want to use them! Sometimes I barely had enough, so I had to be creative.”

Four pieces from Linda Smith's Meditation series

Four pieces from Linda Smith’s Meditation series

Linda finished each piece with a clean faced edging (see Jennifer’s April 16 post) and a sleeve on all four sides to insert flat molding. Always on the lookout for the next innovation, she adds, “Next time, I might try affixing the pieces to artist’s canvas.”

From Linda Smith's Meditation series (13" x 16")

From Linda Smith’s Meditation series (13″ x 16″)

Detail of piece shown above

Detail of piece shown above

Another piece from Linda Smith's Meditation series (13" x 16")

Another piece from Linda Smith’s Meditation series (13″ x 16″)

Detail of piece above

Detail of piece above

In addition to the dozen 13″ x 16″ pieces, Linda continued to experiment, this time with size, ultimately expanding her series to include one larger piece (20″ x 24″) and a few small framed pieces.

As an extention of her Meditation series, Linda made one larger, and two smaller, framed pieces.

As an extention of her Meditation series, Linda made one larger, and two smaller, framed pieces.

These days, Linda splits her time between three locations: Boone, Macon, and Amelia Island, FL. (After the Macon exhibit closed, the remaining pieces of her Meditations series went on to the Amelia SanJon Gallery in Fernandina Beach, FL.) While she admits that working from three places can be a challenge, she manages to cope very nicely. Boone remains the center of primary operation, “but I carry my Pfaff everywhere.”

Her quilting continues to become more collage-like. To this end, she takes not only quilting classes, but collage classes, recognizing that “the two overlap and inform each other.” She enjoys combining paper collage and quilted fabric.

One of Linda's pieces combining paper collage and quilted fabric

One of Linda’s pieces combining paper collage and quilted fabric

The fiber pieces are completed first and then hand-stitched to a collaged or painted canvas. Leaves and trees are a primary recurring theme and although she is often pulled to the more abstract (as in her Meditation series), trees and leaves always seem to pull her back.

Detail of Linda's piece combining paper collage and quilted fabric

Detail of Linda’s piece combining paper collage and quilted fabric

The Artist's Way (book) by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way (book) by Julia Cameron

For the past few years, Linda has belonged to a small group in Boone comprised of visual artists of various media who expand and inspire her– who encourage her to think outside the box. This group, an offshoot of a 12-week Artist’s Way workshop series, forced her to think of herself as an artist. “It’s been a very powerful experience for me.” At the same time, she continues to “treasure and cherish” the traditional quilting community, particularly through her membership and participation in Macon’s largely traditional Heart of Georgia Quilt Guild. Evidence of this dual appreciation is evident in her Macon home, where old and new pieces exist serenely side by side.

Two quilts by Linda Smith, one "vintage" and one recent

Two quilts by Linda Smith, one “vintage” and one recent

A closer look at that quilt on the wall: Linda's Funky Flowers

A closer look at that quilt on the wall: Linda’s Funky Flowers

As for sources of inspiration, Linda lists “lots of classes, lots of books (mostly quilt-related at first, but now expanded to include more art-related books as well), attendance at art shows and galleries, and Pinterest. I find so much inspiration there!”

Her advice to those quilters who want to try something new: “Don’t be afraid, don’t worry about what others will say about your art, forget the quilt police. A couple of years from now, my work may look totally different, which might be a good thing. I like to evolve.”

We’ll be watching, Linda!

Before I sign off, I’ve got good news for two SHWS readers–the winners of the double giveaway in our recent First Quilt, Latest Quilt post featuring Verna Mosquera. Ginabeth is the winner of the Prima Ballerina pattern and the packet of eight fat quarters from Verna’s Pirouette fabric line and Kathy Renz has won the packet of 5″ Pirouette charm squares. Ladies, please contact us via seehowwesew@gmail.com with your snail mail addresses and we’ll get your winnings on the way. Thanks again to Verna for providing so generously for our giveaway.

‘Til next time, happy stitching.Darra-signature

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7 Responses to From Great-Grandma’s Quilts to Gallery Walls: The Creative Journey of Linda Dease Smith

  1. Pingback: Autumn’s Blessings . . . Sweet, Delicious Apples! Tasty Recipes + A Pair of Snappy Apple Quilts |

  2. Deborah M says:

    Thanks for highlighting Linda’s work, which I may never have seen otherwise. Her Meditation pieces are especially inspiring! No question about it, she is an ARTIST!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Deborah. I was blown away when she sent me photos of her exhibit earlier this year, and was really pleased when she agreed to be the subject of a post. Her work is amazing. I can’t wait to see where her continuing journey takes her.

  3. Judy, SC says:

    Was the exhibit at the Jones House really that long ago? Remember it well. Love Linda’s work. She has come a long way. That exhibit was the first time I had seen hexagons used, other than in a grandmother’s flower garden. They were in one of your quilts as flowers. Like Eleanor I still refer to and enjoy my set of the Rodale’s series.
    Judy, SC

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Yep, Judy. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long–and that we’ve known each other even longer than that! That quilt with hexies was made originally for a North Carolina Quilt Symposium challenge. The challenge was to depict a traditional quilt block–literally. Mine was “Grannie’s Growin’s” (Grandmother’s Flower Garden)…with Nana watering her hexie flowers. As I recall, there were some really ingenious and funny entries: Churns Dashing, Contrary Wives…Great fun!

  4. eleanorlevie says:

    I still enjoy looking at “The Daily Bugle,” your collaborative work with Linda in Rodale’s Successful Quilting Library series, Creative Embellishments! You’re lucky to have such a talented friend!

    • Darra Williamson says:

      “The Daily Bugle” is still one of my favorites, Eleanor. At some point, I’ll need to show it here at See How We Sew. It was fun to collaborate with Linda. Her contribution–including the clever title–really made that quilt! Darra

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