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Disrupted Stones by Sarah Ward detail

A Fantasia of Fiber Arts: Quilt National ’21 Showcases the Best of Contemporary Quilts

Quilt National is uniquely positioned as both the premier international exhibition of fiber art quilts and one of Ohio’s most important claims to fame. And, until April 8, 2022, visitors to the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) Riffe Gallery can come see it for themselves.

Quilt National, a biennial exhibition, is produced and circulated by the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio. The Dairy Barn was saved from demolition in the late ‘70s by three passionate artists, Virginia Randles, Nancy Crow, and Francois Barnes, who used the space to create the first Quilt National, an exhibition celebrating contemporary quilting as fine art.


Disrupted Stones by Sarah Ward

Mesh by Sue Benner

When you tour an exhibition like Quilt National, it’s important to understand what makes a quilt a quilt. In structural terms, for Quilt National’s purposes, a quilt is defined as a unique design of two or more layers of fabric-like material connected with a stitch. Sounds simple, right? Oh, no. We’re just getting started.

In addition to the structural elements, quilters must also make a plethora of other decisions. They have a tremendous variety of the techniques at their disposal, ranging from the creation and sourcing of fabric, fiber, and other media, to the piecing, seaming, stitching, and construction of their works. Each finished piece is a kind of beautiful map of the artist’s decision making, process, and craftsmanship. For this reason, you’ll notice that quilt labels include materials and techniques (standard exhibition labels only list materials).

Where Once A Tree Was Standing by LeAnn Hileman

Each of the quilts has a story to tell. As your eyes work around the complexities of their surfaces and compositions, you can lose yourself in the world the artists have created. Some are clearly illustrative, while others are pure abstraction, and closer inspection rewards and delights the viewer. For example, Sandy Shelenberger uses a variegated thread in her final quilting stitches that pull the eye through her hand-dyed, pieced work.

Shifting Sands, Sapphire Skies by Sandy Shelenberger

Michael Ross’ quilt anchors the back half of the gallery with a composition strong enough to delight a viewer from across the room. But again, upon closer inspection, his use of a sparkling thread to quilt the surface allows the light to subtly shimmer all over the piece.

Mutations Number 1 by Michael Ross

Corona Spring by Irene Roderick

Many of the artists in Quilt National ’21 have directly confronted the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in their work. Irene Roderick found herself drawing on fabric and only later realized that the shapes were reminiscent of the COVID-19 virus’ structure. Jean M. Evans’ quilt depicts a single patio chair that captures the haunting loneliness and isolation that so many people have experienced in the last two years, tempered by a few hopeful daffodils in the background.

Sun on my Patio Chair, 2020 Isolation by Jean M. Evans

A walk through Quilt National ‘21 reveals work from 30 fiber artists from around the world, from quilts full of painter-like improvisation to those that are more traditional in construction. The exhibition features works that are hand-pieced and hand-quilted, and many are incredibly complex.

We invite you to come in and see these beautiful quilts in person, and if you want to learn more, there are exhibition resources available online and through the Dairy Barn Arts Center.

Quilt National ’21 will be presented at the OAC Riffe Gallery through April 8, 2022. For more information about upcoming programming, and to view a virtual exhibition experience, visit

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, 77 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215. 

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The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Aimee Wissman, 2020-21 OAC Riffe Gallery Marketing and Exhibitions Fellow
Featured photo: Detail of "Disrupted Stones" by Sarah Ward

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