- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Spring 2018
The idea that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” comes to
mind when considering the work of fiber artist Pat Kroth. A special kind
of creativity is required to see the potential in creating something that
is both intriguing and beautiful from objects that would otherwise be
Pat Kroth knows how to do just that.
All types of objects find their way into her artwork, including candy wrappers, loose threads, and even the occasional paper clip. Sometimes she finds the pieces, and sometimes the pieces find her. These objects—which most people would overlook—come together to create a finished piece of art that conveys a larger message.
Visitors to this year’s International Quilt Festival in Chicago, April 12-14, will have the chance to see Kroth’s work first-hand in an exhibit of her work, “Found and Stitched.”
For this edition of Friends@Festival, we spoke with Kroth about the exhibit and her unique style of fiber artwork.
Friends@Festival: Tell us about your background. How and when did you begin creating fiber artworks?
Kroth: My parents encouraged us to use our imagination and kept paper, crayons, glue, and more in the house when we were growing up. We learned to use materials on hand when we were playing together—so an old box became a pirate ship, an old curtain became a costume, etc.
I started as a painting major at DePaul University, panicked, and thought I needed a “real” job, so I transferred to the PE Department and got my teaching degree. I’d been competing and coaching gymnastics, so it seemed like a natural fit. I started teaching after college, then returned to University of Illinois to finish my painting degree. I created large abstract paintings, did some printmaking, and started exhibiting locally. A fellow gymnast asked me to coach at his gym, and that’s where I coached for the next 15 years.
I drifted into fiber art about 25 years ago, after a friend invited me to take a quilting class. I learned to hand piece and stitch. I had to learn how to use a sewing machine, and sewed all of my early pieces on a treadle or 1940s’ machine. And I took workshops locally to learn dyeing and surface design techniques.
I loved the tactile quality of fiber and the texture of the added stitched line. I love working with color and texture, so my work has evolved into incorporating found elements and non-traditional materials.
Friends@Festival: You say that items are constructed, donated, found, etc. You must have so many materials. How do you keep them all organized?
Kroth: My studio is a bit of constant chaos, but I do know where to find things. I tend to keep similar items together: fabric, fibers, yarns and threads, notions, paper, candy wrappers, etc. They are in different boxes, bins, and bags stuffed here and there on shelves and under work surfaces—not in color coded containers in any structured way. Many people might shudder or run for the hills, and it might possibly all look like trash to the untrained eye. I’ve told my kids, it’s not clutter, it’s “artist source material.” Some things are pinned to the wall or the doorway as a reminder or as subliminal inspiration waiting for the right place and time.
Friends@Festival: Do you get an idea for a quilt and then search through the stash? Or, do you see an object and get an idea
Kroth: It works both ways. Sometimes while I am working on a piece, I'll suddenly think of something in the stash that would be just perfect. Or perhaps I feel the piece needs a certain color or a little bling and I'll rummage around in my stash or wander around the house or garage to see if something strikes my eye.
People will sometimes send me "things.” I once created a fiber artwork that started with one New York subway token. Another piece was inspired by a single pink boa feather that was given to me. Like a magpie, I'm always collecting things. I may not know exactly how I will use it, but I am drawn to cast-off things. There’s also a bit of humor and playfulness in most of my work. My art is also about process, so I generally work intuitively, letting the work unfold as I go. In other words, I don't have an exact roadmap…it's about the journey!
Friends@Festival: What has your larger quilting journey been? Did you begin by creating pieces in your current style or transition into
Kroth: Early, when I started quilting, I became fascinated with Crazy quilts. I saw an exhibit of pristine, jewel-toned masterpieces and
really enjoyed them. I started creating a series of hand-embroidered
and beaded Crazy quilt jackets and vests. I was saving smaller and
smaller bits of fabric, and gradually started making art quilts from miscellaneous fabrics.
I ultimately decided that nothing was too small, and nothing was off limits. The “Found and Stitched” exhibit features some of the larger artworks that I have created in this fragment collage series. One piece
will often be a springboard for another idea I want to explore or quilt I want to create.
Friends@Festival: Your attention to texture, color, and composition stands out. Were you involved in art before you became a quilter?
Kroth: As mentioned, I started as a painter, and also did some printmaking. I created some fairly large abstract paintings, (six to eight feet) using house paint and other sorts of paint with brushes, sticks, and my hands. I exhibited my work in local group shows.
I’ve been fortunate to meet with other artists along the way for critiques and conversation that encouraged me to find my own style. I liked working with bold color, but originally never felt confident about It. Gradually, I let the voice inside me take over. I think because I work somewhat intuitively, the things that interest me eventually find their way to the surface and become a stronger part of the work: in my case, color and texture.
I also enjoy working large, so installation work has become more intriguing to me. In 2014, my area was hit by a tornado. While my neighbors cut and burned debris, I collected branches and wind-blown objects in my backyard. In winter of 2015, I created a 12-foot installation called “Nest” at the Anderson Art Center in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I recorded audio stories of my neighbors telling their tornado tales, accompanying the art installation in the gallery. I am interested in pursuing the challenge of creating more “fibrous” on-site installation work in the future.
Friends@Festival: What is your favorite quilt to date? Walk us through the inspiration and creation of the design and the incorporated objects.
Kroth: This is a difficult question. I have several series of works that I am currently exploring: The Fragment Series, Sun-Print/Cyanotype quilts, Improvs, and Gardens. I probably have favorite pieces in each series. And because each quilt has a different story or inspiration, I enjoy each quilt for different reasons.
In the Fragments series I think Gypsy Rhythm is a favorite. I just wanted to create a large artwork (87” by 74” ) working as spontaneously as I could. That in itself is a challenge because there is a bit of engineering involved, as well as physical work to manage a large stitched artwork. I listened to lots of gypsy swing music as I worked; I let the sounds inspire me and tried not to plan too much. I originally limited my color palette to black and white, but then allowed just color highlights creep in. I worked spontaneously, free cutting fabric with scissors and layering the surface.
I stood over the layered background and started tearing long selvedges of colored fabrics and laying them on top. I added buttons and other objects from my studio without trying to think too much about how or where they would go. I stitched the whole piece in my living room, supporting it with every table in the house, and finally sitting on the floor wrestling a bit with my machine. I think it's a favorite because it was challenging, I learned so much in the process, and I was surprised and pleased by the final result.
I think it celebrates my love of fiber, music, and movement.
Friends@Festival: How does it feel to have your very own exhibit at International Quilt Festival and what do you hope visitors take away from seeing your work on display?
Kroth: I am thrilled to have my own exhibit at Quilt Festival. It’s a great honor to share my work with so many visitors. I feel my work is really not complete until others get to see it and, hopefully, enjoy it. Many of us spend long hours in the studio alone, so having artwork out in the public creates a complete circle. I think artists are often storytellers at heart, and this gives me a chance to tell lots of stories from my life experiences as parent, spouse, gymnastics coach, artist, athlete, adventurer, and more. I enjoy seeing people’s reactions, hearing their comments, and finding the threads of connection that we all have.
Q&A: Pat Kroth
“Found and Stitched” Exhibit
1. Gypsy Rhythm (87” x 74”) by Pat Kroth; photographed by William Lemke.
2. Gypsy Rhythm Detail by Pat Kroth; photographed by William Lemke.
3. ConText (50” x 50”) by Pat Kroth; photographed by William Lemke.
4. Garden Stampede (30” x 44”) by Pat Kroth; photographed by William Lemke.
5. Post Meridian Mambo Detail (full artwork 71” x 54”) by Pat Kroth; photographed by William Lemke.
6. Vortex (30” x 36”) by Pat Kroth.
7. Sweet Blooms Too Detail (full artwork 27” x 25”) by Pat Kroth.