There are a lot of things San Diego textile artist Gloria Hazel loves about quilting. She loves its stress-relieving powers. She loves how it reminds her of her South Carolina childhood and the grandmother who taught her how to sew. She really loves that her quilting skills allowed her to join the San Diego People of Color Quilt Guild, which she had been wanting to do for years.
But what Hazel probably loves most about the art of quilting is not what it does for her, but what it can do for anyone who wants to give it a try. And she is of the opinion that everyone should give it a try. The sooner, the better.
“It’s not hard. Most people think it’s hard, but it’s not. One of the things I love to do is teach kids how to put together a simple little four-patch or nine-patch quilt. When you learn something when you’re younger, it carries forward,” Hazel said from her home in Rancho Bernardo.
“I always think about what an impression the work I did with my grandmother made on me. I never thought anyone would call me an artist, but you never know. That little bit of knowledge might inspire someone to carry on this tradition, and who knows what they might create?”
Some of Hazel’s quilts and fabric dolls are on display in the Vision Art Museum’s “Expressive Liberations,” an exhibit of fabric art from the San Diego People of Color Quilt Guild. The exhibition — which runs through Oct. 3 at the Liberty Station museum — celebrates the artistic industriousness that flourished during the pandemic, along with the long cultural history of African American quilting.
Hazel will be talking about quilting, fabric art and her creative process during a Sept. 14 “Meet the Artist” virtual talk sponsored by the museum. She isn’t sure yet what she is going to say, but she knows that inspiration will strike eventually. As she and her fellow “Expressive Liberations” artists prove throughout the exhibit, it always does.
“Anything you want to express, you can do through quilting,” said the 67-year-old Hazel, who has won multiple awards for her quilts and her fabric dolls, both of which are on exhibit at Visions.
“If I can think of it and put it on paper, I can put it on a quilt. During the pandemic, I concentrated on teaching myself new skills. That helped me get through it.”
During the pandemic, members of the San Diego People of Color Quilt Guild did what they could to keep the group’s convivial spirit alive and their quilting skills as sharp as ever. They held their meetings outside with everyone wearing masks and practicing social distancing. They made baby quilts for the San Diego Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society’s layette program.
They also made quilted masks that were definitely pieces of art, and they made pieces of art that were definitely therapeutic. Many of these shutdown creations are featured in the Visions exhibition.
Pieces like Deborah Fitch’s “Collage Portrait of Deborah,” a self-portrait inspired by a class she and other guild members took with Los Angeles multimedia artist Kisasi Ramsess in March of 2020, just before the lockdown. Ramsess gave Fitch the idea, and the pandemic gave her the time to transform a selfie into the witty quilt currently hanging in the Visions gallery.
De Shon Hall’s vivid “Afrocentric Display” quilt was inspired by some African women she saw in a YouTube video. “I can’t draw,” Hall says in her artistic statement. “But I decided to take a stab at it and put my own spin on it. This is another one of my ‘what if?’ experiments that was successful.”
Guild member Alahna Kellough created her “Ebony Strength” mask to coax herself out of a state of lockdown depression. The mask — which features the colors of the Pan-African flag, an elephant and a lion, and the words “Fierce” and “Strong” — was Kellough’s reminder “to be courageous and unwavering during the time of uncertainty in our world.”
And for her “Kisses” quilt, Hazel was inspired by a photo she snapped of her daughter blowing her a kiss during their last mother-daughter visit before the COVID-19 lockdown. It is a loving portrait of a beautiful, thoroughly modern daughter created by a mother using the timeless skills she learned from her grandmother.
Like the other works featured in “Expressive Liberations,” Hazel’s “Kisses” is a fresh take on an ageless artform. It’s all part of the circle of creative life, and Hazel hopes the Visions Art Museum exhibition will bring a new generation of creative, passionate artists into the fold. There is always room for more.
“I love the fact that the guild is true to the traditional quilting, because we don’t want to lose that. People are saying this is a dying art, and we really don’t want that to happen,” Hazel said.
“That’s why being in this museum is so important. I hope people look at the work and say, ‘I want to try that, too.’ We need to get younger people to come in and see what they can create to keep it moving.”
The San Diego People of Color Quilt Guild’s “Expressive Liberations” is on exhibit at Visions Art Museum in Liberty Station through Oct. 3. The museum’s free “Meet the Artist” virtual event with Gloria Hazel is on Sept. 14 at 11 a.m. To register, go to visionsartmuseum.org.