Quite the quilt

Next year, Indiana Governor’s Arts Award winners won’t be handed a sculpture or a painting. For the first time, they’ll be getting a quilt, and it’ll come from the art colony of Brown County. Daren Pitts Redman of Nashville has been chosen to create the 2015 awards. They’ll actually will be given in April 2016, to mark the state’s bicentennial and the 50th anniversary of the Indiana Arts Commission.

For the next three months, Redman will be making nine pieces that can hang on a wall out of hand-dyed cotton and wood from the Indiana Constitutional Elm tree.

The square-in-square design was inspired by Indiana Amish quilters and will use the colors of Indiana’s autumn leaves.

As far as IAC Executive Director Lewis Ricci knows, a Brown County artist has never made the awards.

Story continues below gallery

They’re given every other year to recognize significant contributions to Indiana’s livelihood and heritage.

The first one was given in 1973. Recipients can be individuals, communities or businesses, and in recent years have included Indianapolis native singer John Hiatt, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and heritage preservation society Traditional Arts Indiana which is run by Brown Countian Jon Kay.

Ricci said Redman was the selection committee’s “very unanimous” choice to make the awards because of how much her proposal wove in the “great fabric of arts in our state,” and because of her own achievements in the arts.

Redman said she decided to apply when she looked over the list of other award-makers and saw none was in her field.

“I thought, well, I guess it’s time,” she said.


g up the piecesRedman has earned honors herself recently. An Indiana Artisan, Redman was chosen as an artist with Quilt National ‘15, and in October, she finished an artist-in-residency at Grand Canyon National Park.She spent three weeks on the canyon’s north rim, hiking and photographing the nearly unbelievable natural hues of the Southwest landscape.

She dyed hundreds of yards of silk to match the rocks — silk, because it absorbs moisture more easily than cotton, and because water conservation was one of the themes of her canyon project.

Throughout November, a canyon-inspired, hand-dyed, 38-feet-long silk piece was draped in the atrium of Bloomington City Hall. She’s talking about moving it to the Brown County History Center in January or February.

Likewise, the landscape is inspiring her Governor’s Arts Award pieces.

They’ll be similar to “Autumn Brown County, Ind.,” a 76-by-34-inch quilt which is on a nationwide tour with Studio Art Quilt Associates Inc. through next summer.

One-by-four-inch pieces of cotton sateens are pieced together in columns and stitched into rows, the colors arranged to evoke the vibrant palette of her Brown County back yard in fall: Dominant, tall yellow poplars at the top; the brown forest floor at the bottom; and reds, oranges, blues and greens all popping throughout the middle.

She doesn’t use a ruler to cut the pieces. Each is slightly irregular, allowing each column and its colors to undulate and sway like branches — and adding to the difficulty of sewing them all together.

Each fabric is hand-dipped, without using any recipe. If the red meant to match her Japanese Maple doesn’t doesn’t have enough black in it, she dyes a completely new length of fabric until the color is exactly right.

“I buy a lot of fabric,” she admitted.

In a journal chronicling her 2012 autumn quilt, photos show clotheslines strung across her back yard, a spectrum of oranges and reds played against the leaves and trunks still holding onto them.

When it started raining and the leaves began to fall, she dyed more browns to add to the composition.

“It’s like when an artist has a bunch of different oil paints laid out, and you just pick the ones you want to use that day for that project,” she said.

Often, before they’re dipped, those fabrics are first rolled and wrapped with string, or folded and clamped between wood blocks to create various shapes, textures and voids in the color. Redman uses the Japanese dyeing techniques of Arashi and Itajime Shibori.

To make the Governor’s Arts Award quilts, she’s going through that whole process again.

She estimates each of the nine pieces will take 20 hours to make. She has until March 1 to complete them.

A time to sew

When Redman and her husband Dave moved to Brown County in 2000, she brought along a family heirloom: a pieced quilt top made by her great-grandmother. Redman wanted to finish it, but she didn’t know how.She took it to the Pioneer Women’s Club. After she found a member who could finish it, member Mary George Kipp persuaded Redman to keep coming back.Redman had sewn clothes, but quilting was a new skill — and one of the traditional arts the Pioneer Women work to keep going.

Redman was hooked.

She started taking workshops in traditional quilting, and then, on vacation in New Mexico, saw a contemporary art quilt by Ohio fiber artist Nancy Crow.

“I didn’t want to use patterns,” Redman said. “But I take photos everywhere I go, and I think, ‘Well, I can make a quilt.’”

Redman has since taken five of Crow’s workshops. Before she moved to Brown County, she worked in communications for Indianapolis city-county government. Now, quilting has become her full-time job.

She chooses not to use factory-dyed fabrics or quilt patterns because the resulting work is “all my own. It’s nobody else’s design,” not even the particular hue of her color mixture.

She doesn’t call her quilts “art quilts” — “you wouldn’t call a watercolor an ‘art watercolor’; you’d just call it a watercolor,” she said. But what she does is not just quilting, either.

At a recent Indiana Artisans show, she was surprised by how many people walked into her booth thinking her pieces were paintings. She loved watching their faces change when they reached out and touched them.

“They have a physical reaction to touching my quilts. Their face would break out into a smile and they’d say, ‘My grandma used to quilt.’”

She said her challenge now, as she continues entering contemporary quilt shows, is to continue creating work that nobody has ever made before.

Adding another layer of complexity to the arts awards project is using pieces of the Constitutional Elm — the tree in Corydon under which delegates sat in 1816 to draft Indiana’s constitution. It succumbed to disease in 1925.

The IAC gave Redman a 19-by-9-by-inch hunk of the remaining wood.

“There’s a big spot in it that was either, bugs ate it or there was a branch … anyway, it’s a total void,” she said. She and her woodcutter talked for an hour just about how to cut it.

She’d like to sew a square onto each quilt using a design similar to what Miami Nation Indian women would use to make wreaths honoring their ancestors.

She thinks all the Hoosier symbolism of her design won’t be lost on the recipients.

“Since they are from Indiana, I really think they’re going to like that they’re fabric, textiles, and it’s not paint or oil or limestone. … If they were from Illinois or Florida, they might think, ‘Why did they give me this fabric thing?’ But they’re from Indiana. Their moms and grandmas quilted.

“On stage, I think it will be fun to watch them touch it.”

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.