Joan Schulze to share her quilt-making vision at ETSU

Joan Schulze

JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 8) -- Joan Schulze is quick to point out that she is a teacher, a writer of poetry and a longtime stitcher, but not a trained artist. Yet Schulze has been creating quilts as art since the 1970s and is now known as one of “the pioneers of the art quilt movement.”

Her teaching of the art and exhibiting of her own quilts have taken her to 17 countries. Schulze’s work is in many public and private collections, most notably in the National Museum of American Art, Renwick Gallery and Smithsonian Institution.

Schulze will share her foundational perspective and creative processes in an artist talk, titled “The Restless Explorer,” on Thursday, Oct. 15, at 6 p.m., in ETSU’s Ball Hall auditorium, as part of the month-long “LAYERS: Quilt As Form” exhibition at Slocumb Galleries. The presentation, like the exhibition, is free and open to the public, with a reception beginning at 5 p.m. and continuing after the talk.

Although Schulze didn’t start making quilts until the 1970s, she’s since written books on quilting as an art form, including “The Art of Joan Schulze” and “Poetic License.”

“Her work is well established and she is very well published,” says Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, “so it’s really great that we are able to bring in someone of her stature to talk about quilts, as well as to see her quilts in exhibition.”

When Schulze began her journey from stitching to quilt making, about 1974, there were only three or four books on the topic, she says.

“In the mid-’60s, I was not a quilt maker. I was a stitcher,” she says. “Somebody came up to me and said that they needed someone to teach quilts in the evening for adult education, and would I do it. So I took six months off from stitching and wrote what I thought was a quilting syllabus. There was so little [reference material] available.

“It’s an amazing way to jump in and then you recruit knowledge as you go along.  I was staying up late the night before class, hoping to keep ahead of my students, and they just came along for the ride.”

There were rules “floating around” about quilting, she says, “but if you don’t know the rules, then you don’t know you’re breaking them.”

Schulze’s own quilts, while perpetuating the quilt traditions of layers, stitching and form, often boggle the mind and fool the eye with their multimedia collages of photocopied paper images, text and poetry, glue, silk fabric, applying artist marks, stitches and scrapings and peelings to reveal the archaeology below.  Her quilts and collages represent personal “journal entries” through which “I can piece together the narrative of my life.”

She has been called “a dynamic force in the world of textile arts” and “a yin yang of disciplined industry and pure inventiveness” by art reviewers.

After 55 years of teaching, Schulze retired in 2013 to focus on her studio work. She has agreed to share her insider’s view of the process for “chasing ideas” – sometimes around the world – with her “Restless Explorer” talk at ETSU.

“I put together what I think is an interesting presentation that reflects how I work, where my inspiration comes from, share a few poems and illustrate what motivates me to keep going into the studio,” she says. “Hopefully the audience will come along for the ride and take home something that may inform or inspire.”

The following day, Schulze will collaborate on an artistic activity with ETSU students, where she says, “Nothing is in stone. Nothing is predictable. Past experience shows me that we all learn from the collaboration.”

For information about the talk or exhibition, contact Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at 423-439-TKTS (8587) or visit For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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