Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rara avis: the fiber art collector


Birds On The Wire 18” x 20”
Forgive the gap in blogging! I’ve recently taken part in two art shows/sales in our town – well advertised, a fair amount of traffic and a LOT of work. I had a selection of small and medium sized quilts, framed and unframed watercolors. My sales of quilts (and believe me the prices were low…I wouldn’t dare tell any of the “quilt professionals” just quite how low!) were minimal. On the other hand, I had absolutely no problem finding buyers for my watercolour paintings, both framed and unframed.
Quilts seem to be a hard sell right now. For one thing few people outside the quilt world see quilts as art. Consider this quotation from the local newspaper’s article about one of the shows:
“Elizabeth Barton weaves quilts that, if viewed without texture, are just as abstract as paintings, never mind their usefulness..there is no reason ever to snuggle under one of her art quilts. Tack it to the wall for sure!”

Spuggies 18” x 18” (i.e. sparrows!)
The fiber art collector is a rare bird: Those who do buy seemed to fall into two categories: people who sew themselves, and folk art collectors. I sold one little piece precisely because the buyers identified it as being very like the work of a well known folk art painter and sculptor.
Quiltmakers themselves are very appreciative of the work and time and planning that goes into making a quilt, but alas they are not usually the richest of folk! Plus, they often feel that they could make a piece like it themselves, if they only got round to it! (ah yes!!). Also I’ve discovered that quiltmakers rarely go to art shows. Despite postcards, newspaper articles etc I think only one or two quiltmakers of the hundreds in the local area came to either of the shows though if you take the quilts to them – for example at a workshop – they are very interested.
The other big problem with quilts is that it’s very hard to make something under $100 – fabric is expensive – whether you dye it or buy it. Good thread is also very pricey and cheap thread is not worth working with, unless you’re a masochist! Even the simplest piece can take at least 20 hours which means that even if you pay yourself just $5 an hour, you’re easily over $100. I do love those folk who say “ah yes, but you enjoyed making it!” – as if somehow you should subtract your enjoyment from the price!!
It’s also difficult to give wall quilt as a gift, whereas a small painting that is fresh and lively will, the buyer feels, be appreciated by anyone. Sadly, they are not so sure about the lasting value, or the acceptance of, a fiber piece.
Institutions, on the other hand, love fiber art. I think mainly because they can get a much bigger fiber piece for their money than they can a painting! Plus, in many ways, quilts are easier to handle and to hang than paintings and you’re not worried that a falling quilt could rending someone unconscious!! Alas, with the recession, many institutions have given up buying art of any kind.
Now, however, with holiday sales out of the way, there’s a whole New Year to look forward to. I’m planning a series based on a very specific group of painters, so I’m in research mode right now which I love! Oh dear, perhaps I should be adding up how much I’m enjoying this ready to deduct it from the price of my future work!

If you have been, thanks for reading! And I’d love to hear about your experiences with art shows/sales……sorry about the slight hassle of copying a few blurry letters when you comment – it prevents a deluge, unbelievable deluge!, of spam.
Thank you! Elizabeth


Lorraine said...

OK, I'm still shuddering over the "tack" it to the wall suggestion! Thumbtacks? Staple gun? Argh!

Chris said...

I am guilty of not going to art shows, but your blog has got me motivated to start doing that. I do go to a lot of art museums. I think that if were not for me my husband would have never gone even to one art museum. He is a sports guy...good thing he married me or he would have missed out on some of the best things in life!
I am afraid that I am guilty of not buying quilts made by other artists because I am a quilter. I think I will have to change that as well. Maybe I will get my husband to buy me one of your quilts for my birthday next year.

I just got done taking your latest class at QU. It was wonderful as always.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you Chris!! those classes keep me going!

Elsie Montgomery said...

For some unknown reason, Google has my blog using a spam filter. Anything suspicious has to be verified by me, then published or tossed, or just left in the spam folder forever. I didn't do anything. They just put it on my blog. ????

Nina Marie said...

I find that here in NW PA if I keep my quilts at a certain price range - then they sell - as long as I get them in the right venue. I haven't tried to up my prices because I'm happy at that level. Still I don't have a magic formula - I just price them at what I want to get out of them. The reminder thought that a piece is at least $100 in materials is sobering though.

I just don't think that until fiber is considered real art to the general public - the prices will universally rise. I mean local water colorists get way more for their paintings here and they might or might not be on the same level as I am. but you know they are real artists - LOL!! The reporter's comments just confirm my views.

I just don't understand why if the public can accept art made out of practically anything - even garbage why its so hard to accept in fabric - sighhh - maybe its because its so ovary driven - LOL

also - just a thought - once I put my settings that I wouldn't accept any more anonymous commentors - my spam stopped entirely

Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Nina-Marie - thank you for your comments. Yes, getting to the right venue is really the key for all sales and particularly the art and craft show and sale.
And who made the artwork is ALWAYS more important than the art itself - that was very very evident in one of our sales where a prominent, well known charismatic male artist could barely hang his art on the wall fast enough!