Spring 2014 Newsletter
Above: Kim Ritter at the opening of her retrospective exhibit.
In an art form where many practitioners have distinctive styles, few are more distinctive than Kim Ritter’s…whimsical, colorful, stylized like comic books or anime, and with subtext both subtle and in-your-face.
The Houstonian, who lives with her husband, three cats, and two dogs, has been quilting for more than 20 years. Her artistic endeavors have also branched off into dichroic glass and art cars.
Friends@Festival spoke with Ritter shortly after the debut of a retrospective of her work at a gallery/warehouse near downtown Houston. If anything, the displays proved that she’s a singular artist always on the lookout for something new, and a new way to do it.
How did the idea for the retrospective come to fruition?
I was working on the Art Car Capitol of the World Float for the Thanksgiving Day Parade and met the owner. The president of the Houston Art Car Klub, Nicole Strine, introduced me to the owner, Bob Bacon, and suggested he give me a show. He looked at my website and agreed.
The gallery is so huge, and Bob wanted me to hang it right away, so a retrospective seemed ideal. I started exhibiting my quilts in 1994, 20 years ago. Abundance: A Retrospective of Art Quilts by Kim Ritter consisted of 50 quilts spanning 20 years and including ten new works made since Sept 2013.
How and when did you first get involved in quilting?
I have always been an artist. My first job, at age 12, was selling painted rocks and Christmas ornaments to a shop in Westport, Connecticut. At 14, when other girls were babysitting for 50 cents an hour, I was teaching arts and crafts classes to kids in my basement and pulling in $15 an hour.
I made only a few quilts before 1991. Two were Georgia Bonesteel “Quilt as You Go” quilts. In 1991, we moved to London and I signed up for a City and Quilt Guilds Patchwork and Quilting course, hoping to meet people.
I did not realize how serious the course was going to be: six hours of instruction once a week for two years for $200. We learned everything from six ways to bind a quilt, to dyeing, printing, screening, and all about the elements of design. It was a wonderful experience.
In 1993, we moved to Denmark, and I wrote the book Quick Quilting for a UK publisher. It has since been published in German and Russian, and also released in Australia and the USA.
What is more important to you: making a stunning quilt that people enjoy looking at, or making a more offbeat quilt that challenges people’s perceptions of quilts?
My quilts are whimsical and offbeat, but still have a tenuous connection to traditional quilts because they often involve repeated blocks. I like to challenge people’s perceptions of quilts, and turn them upside down.
I own a collection of traditional quilts, and love the history of the art form. I really get a kick out of it when people enjoy my work or see something there to connect with their own experience.
When people meet you, are they surprised that you don’t act/look like what they might think of as a traditional “quilter?”
Blue hair is the first clue that I am not your traditional quilter, along with the art car I drive. But on the flipside, people know I am an artist as soon as they see me. It leads to some interesting discussions about quilting and art.
Once, a driver was delivering some packages at my studio and said, “ Colorful house, hair, and car. Are you just a happy person or what?”
“Yes” I smiled.
“I am going home and painting my house!,” she laughed, and drove away.
What is the most amusing or offbeat anecdote having to do with your quilting?
My first quilt was a Lone Star quilt. I had no idea of templates or patterns. I just cut a bunch of diamonds and started hand quilting. Needless to say, it wasn’t fit for the bed, but the dog loved it!
Above: Ritter's "Solar Power" quilt.
A lot of your work concerns women and women’s issue. What sort of things do you hope to convey to your viewers with these quilts?
My earlier work was about the Goddess and Nature, but later I turned to the practical side of Womanhood. Women have to multi-task in today’s hectic world, and my work reflects that phenomenon.
My way of dealing with the stress is to laugh and poke fun at life’s struggles. Laughter is a way of conquering the things life throws at us. In 2009, Hurricane Ike destroyed my studio, leaving five feet of water in my house. The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft offered me an emergency Artist in Residence for October 2009 through September 2010, so that I could keep working, and I received a relief grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts in 2011.
During that time, renovations dragged along on the house, so we bought a studio space in the Heights [area of Houston] for me to work in. Within a month or two, my husband, son, and I all moved into the tiny space. Renovations to the property, which had formerly been an artist studio, began in earnest.
In 2011, after my artist in residence, I had no place for a quilting machine or big printer, so I took a break from quilting to marry off my son in 2011 and my daughter in 2012. We bought the house next to the studio and renovated it, moving in last August. In September 2013, I finally had a quilting and printing studio again and was off and quilting!
We dealt with the upheaval that the hurricane brought with lots of humor and love. It got us through the hard times, along with the help of friends. This humor and love is reflected in my work. My dragons don’t breathe fire; they play with butterflies. Our pets also helped us get through the hard times and some of the quilts show the pets’ antics.
Your newer works are even more whimsical.
Recently I have turned to pure whimsy. For years, I struggled with the advice of a male teacher who advised sternly to “never do cute,” while dishing the work of several of my favorite quilt artists. Now, I am finally ready to just be myself: whimsical, ironical, and funny.
I saw the Modern Quilt Guild exhibition at the International Quilt Festival in Houston and was blown away. I have been experimenting with a newer style of quilting, with more straight lines, and I have found it works well with my work, which has a lot going on in the picture itself.
Take us a bit through your design/creative process when you decide to do a new quilt.
I draw every day. I have stacks and stacks of drawings. I sort through them and decide on one to make into a quilt, and I refine the drawing. Then I make photocopies of the line drawing and color the block in several colorways. I scan in the colored drawings and play around in Adobe Illustrator with different patterns of symmetry to create the quilt. Many quilts are just one drawing, while others have multiple drawings that become one large full size drawing in Illustrator.
I print out the quilt or quilt parts if the quilt is longer than 42 inches on any side. My printer takes fabric up to 44 inches wide. I stitch the parts together as needed, and then longarm machine quilt the quilt. I apply a straight edge double fold binding and a sleeve, label, and signature.
Quilting is only one art form you are involved with. How does your work in glass and art cars influence your quilting and vice versa?
Right before the hurricane, I made my first art car and fell in love with being a daily art car driver. I made three other art cars after Hurricane Ike destroyed my first art car. Driving an art car teaches me not to take myself too seriously.
Art that is accessible to the masses, like art cars, reminds me that people want to connect with art. People do not want to be lectured or brow beaten over the head with it. A child once pointed to my house and told his Mother, “Look Mom, that’s where the happy car lives!” That is successful art for me.
When I had no room for a quilting studio, I began experimenting with fused glass. I found a way to use my thermofax machine and my line drawings to make dichroic fused glass art. Making the glass helped me improve my drawing skills and gave me an outlet for my creativity while I could not quilt.
Photo 3—A visitor studies one of Ritter’s quilts during the opening of the retrospective exhibit.
Photo 4—Detail from Ritter’s “Dragon” quilt.
Photo 5—Visitors enjoy Ritter’s work on display at the opening of her retrospective.
Photo 6—Ritter’s most recent Art Car.
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