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More than two years ago, Cheshire artist Kate Themel just happened to be in Athens, Ohio during the Quilt National awards ceremony. Little did she know that the chance visit would turn into an award of her own someday.
Having seen brochures for the highly regarded event, she attended and spoke to a few other artists who were displaying their art quilts in 2009. She also spoke to a few judges, something that proved valuable to her this year. Quilt National, which began in 1979, is held every two years, so Themel, feeling more comfortable with her craft, decided to submit a creation to be judged.
Themel remembered what the judges told her a couple of years ago, mentioning how they will look at a piece for five seconds, then move on. All the judges reserve comments until they whittle down the list of over 1,000 to around 100. In order to make an impression, quilters have to create a work that will not only stand out from the crowd, but remain on the judges’ minds as they view hundreds of pieces.
“I had to make something that would stand out like ‘Pow!’ It had to be bright, big, and colorful,” Themel said. “I decided to do the dandelion. My goal was to submit something before the deadline passed and I got in. I was thrilled.”
Themel started her 33-inch by 49-inch quilt “Dandelion” in 2009. It took her over a year to finish. She took photos that could not be digitally altered, and submitted them in the fall of 2010. She had to wait months before hearing from Quilt National as to whether she had been accepted and, in that time, she could not show the quilt to anyone.
“It was a long time between finishing the quilt and seeing it in the show,” she acknowledged.
Around February, Themel received the good news: her quilt was accepted into the show. The following month, Themel was told that she won an award, but they did not tell her which one she would be receiving. Out of 1,000 entries, 85 were selected for the show, and 14 were given special recognition.
“I didn’t know which one, but I was just over the moon that I had won something,” she recalled. “You could not pry the grin off my face. I was so excited.”
Themel found out she received the Young Emerging Artist Award when she attended the opening ceremony of Quilts National last month. Her quilt was even used as the cover of the postcard Quilts National sent out to guests and prospective donors. And, instead of her name on the identification badge given at the show, hers simply had a picture of her quilt, which people recognized immediately.
Her quilt was sold, but the buyer will have to wait two years before taking ownership, as it will be shown at different expos around the country.
“For art quilters, this is just like the Oscars. It’s incredibly hard to get into the show and I never could fathom winning an award,” she said. “Anything you can imagine can be done with textiles and thread. Quilting is a real art form. It’s not just a grandmotherly thing to do.”
Themel has been quilting for years, but is really taking it seriously now. She said winning this award was almost a validation to her that she does make artwork that other people like. In that vein, she said she is encouraged and excited to keep getting better and now looks at her quilts with a more critical eye.
“This inspired me to keep going and making what I think is good work. I thought my young, emerging artist days were over, but I guess not,” she joked. “It’s pretty cool that people are going to see my work.”
For more information on Themel, visit www.katethemel.com.