Creative Lives – Julia Stephenson

By 13th March 2021Blog

Julia Stephenson is the Head of Arts at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, where our University course is based. Her talk gave us a fascinating (and often amusing) glimpse into the world of curating a museum space. While not a maker of art herself, we creatives would have fewer places to show it without facilitators like Julia.

stained glass quilt square

One of my American quilt-motif suncatchers in stained glass.  It’s a unique piece, but is it art?

Julia made several salient points about community engagement. I rather wished we’d heard her talk as part of our previous Uni module (Making for Place, Space or Audience) where she discussed some ways of involving members of the community from the outset of the art project. The end result is people ready to engage with the art once it enters the gallery or curated space who wouldn’t normally do that.

However, what stirred my interest most was when she raised the question of Art vs Craft. She used the example of one of Frank Stella’s quilt-like artworks that is now valued at umpteen million dollars. She compared that to value of a handmade quilt. My background includes a tradition quilt-making. I know first-hand the time and work that goes into one. What is the value of the quilt that was cut, pieced and sewn by my mother, and then hand-quilted by me and my aunts?  To me, of course, it is priceless. That experience of community, comeraderie and laughter remains with me although my parents and all their siblings are now gone.  Setting ‘mere’ sentimentality aside, it is a unique piece. There are (many) other quilts in the world made using that pattern, but the choice of colours, fabrics and stitching is unrepeatable. Why is Stella’s work so much more valuable?  Julia couldn’t say, and I can’t either. I do wonder if it’s a simple matter of the art market’s innate misogyny and sneering disdain of women’s work. But it would take more than a million dollars for me to part with that quilt.

More about Frank Stella: