Deborah Fell

Art Quilts

Art quilts are a relatively new form of art. Woven into the very roots of our nation's history is quilting. Although art quilts are light years away from where our ancestors started, in reality they are just distant cousins.

Historically, quilts were functional; as in the words of architect Mies van der Rohe, "Form follows function," the design was often secondary to the function and purpose of the quilt. Quilts, like our music and fashion trends, are often a reflection of society. The great tradition of quilting is still embraced in the art quilt world but now has taken on a new sense of meaning and purpose. Quilts were often expressions of the world around us--they provided symbols for safe houses for the Underground Railroad; they provided a vehicle for grief when pioneer neighbors gathered the deceased person's clothes to create a 'mourning' quilt for the loved one lost--art quilts are contemporary expressions of these quests.

I make art quilts because they are a means of self-expression combining the beauty of art and the comforting tradition of quilting. I have made art quilts to celebrate great happiness, to depict shadowed confusion and to maintain the balance of my inner self. My designs often have a message or a purpose; many of the pieces are story quilts. Sometimes that message is whimsical and sometimes it is a message that poses serious questions about issues that have touched my soul or rocked my world in some way.

One of my greatest compliments came from my daughter, Emma, when she was five years old. She had a friend over and I was working on an art quilt in my studio. Her friend, Iasmin, was very curious about what I was doing. Emma replied, "That's my mom working. She is an artist."

During the school year I teach Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders at Urbana High School in Urbana, Illinois. I have done this job for over twenty years. Although challenging, it is a position that I continue to respect and am respected for. My job of passion is being a quilt artist. Perhaps one has enabled the other; I would not be complete without either of them.

When my children are older I will be a quilt artist full-time. I hope to teach art and devote the rest of my life to my passion. Until then, I will continue to dance through this busy chapter of my life and keep reminding myself that balancing it all is a feat in itself. I do art because I believe art makes a difference in our world; it is a gift we give ourselves and it is a celebration of our very souls.

The Craft League of Champaign-Urbana