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Prize-Winning Japanese Quilts on Display in a Cedarburg Barn

The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg has been selected as one of only three museums in the nation to host an internationally renowned Japanese quilt exhibit.The Japanese Influences in Fiber Arts exhibit features 33 award-winning quilts from Japan's largest quilt guild competition. The rest of the show contains pieces that have been influenced by Japanese design.

While Japan and quilting aren't typically associated with one another, exhibition curator Luella Doss says quilting is actually quite popular there. In fact, there are three major Japanese magazines dedicated to quilting.

But Doss thinks the quilts are right at home in the museum's 1850s farmstead.

"We are kind of excited because I'll bet these quilts have never been inside a barn before!" she jokes.

Highlights of the exhibit include the two quilts that won first place in the Japan Handicraft Instructors' Association’s contest.

The first place winner for traditional style is Stars In Heaven, created by Matsuko Morishita. The quilt was inspired by Morishita's travels to a faraway land, when she saw the night sky light up with stars for the very first time. Living in Tokyo, that opportunity is extremely rare.

In order to capture that memory, Morishita used traditional Japanese fabrics in a Chinese star pattern in gradations of color to make the stars sparkle. 

The contemporary style winner was Misawa Mikiko’s Grassland quilt. Mikiko drew inspiration for her creation from the grasslands surrounding Mt. Aso’s huge crater and the rhythm and colors of the grass as it blew in the wind. The grasses are burned in the winter, and as the seasons change, so do their colors. Mikiko used Thai silks to recreate the colorful grasses.

Such details are common in these extraordinary quilts, Doss says.

"Here you see tons of little cut squares with stripes to make a confection that would be pleasing to look at forever. That’s what makes a great quilt, by the way, is that every time you look at it, you see something different," she says.

In addition to Japanese artists, the exhibit also features quilters from the Middle East and America.

The exhibit's international flavor represents how modern quilting is taking off, Doss says. Quilts were first treated as works of art by the Amish. But modern quilters are taking the craft to a whole new level through analyzing the colors, the shapes and the how the positive and negative spaces are filled.

"It is a new examination and it’s a new generation, and we all embrace it," Doss says.

Japanese Influences in Fiber Arts is on display at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, Wisconsin from October 23, 2013 through January 5, 2014.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.