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Art & Life with Carol Anne Grotrian

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carol Anne Grotrian.

Carol Anne, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
When I began quilting in the late 70s, post-bicentennial enthusiasts and a vocal women’s movement were celebrating this American tradition. I learned the basics from that tradition and then was inspired by the new art quilt movement. Though I see all quilts as art, the difference here is function. Traditional quilts have been made for warmth on beds or laps; the art quilt, on the other hand, is meant to hang on a wall like a painting.

I began my own designs, but, unlike today, available fabric colors were limited by the fashion industry. My solution—learn to dye fabric. In 1986, I was the Massachusetts winner of the Great American Quilt Festival, held in New York for the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. While there, I found a book on shibori, a Japanese ancestor to tie-dye, came home and dyed my way through its many techniques.

In 1990, thanks to shibori’s organic patterns, I found my voice in landscape quilts. For the next 15 years, I sold shibori dyed wearables and landscape quilts at craft fairs. Exposure brought commissions, both private and corporate, including a 9 by 12 foot quilt for Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

Today, landscape still gives me more ideas for quilts than I have time to make them. My sense of place in these quilts emerged in New England, where I’ve lived since 1979. I’m a native of the Midwest and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil. I studied art at Washington University in St. Louis, MO in the mid 60’s and later art history at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. Quilting brought me back to making art.

Early on teaching these amazing textile traditions became an important part of my life. I’ve taught fabric dyeing and quilt design regionally, nationally and also in Taiwan. Though my wearables are now collector’s items and craft shows are in my past, I still make my living from my quilts, from teaching and from part-time bookkeeping.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
In an era when artists often join the protesters, I can wonder why landscape is still the focus of my art. Though one subtext is definitely ecological, my quilts are a quiet sense of place, based on locations I’ve experienced, what I call “breathing spaces,” that I wat to share. It’s a slowed moment, away today’s rush, temporarily stopping time, whether a season, hour of the day or tide cycle. So the subject is also time.

Unlike many quilters who begin by directly collaging fabrics together, I start by drawing, outdoors and in the studio. Then I use shibori to dye fabric to bring the drawing to life. My love of Asian art also led me to indigo dyeing. While my many colored quilts are usually portraits of specific places, my indigo quilts can tap my memory, and can become more universal and symbolic. I often turn to indigo’s meditative process when I need to renew my own energies.

Though landscape continues, my construction techniques have evolved. After many years, I shifted from piecing my quilt tops–cutting fabric shapes and seaming them together–tto raw edge appliqué. In appliqué, cut shapes of fabric are layered on a background fabric. Instead of traditionally turning edges over as shapes are sewn down, the edges are left raw, unturned. For me, this is more painterly and flexible. Sewing down a narrow strip of fabric resembling a brush stroke of paint is possible.

I have used a sewing machine for quilting—to create a bold line in the design or to hurry to meet a commission deadline–but today I indulge my love of the calm rhythm of hand sewing. This is reinforced by my current passion for another Japanese tradition—hand-stitched boro. Boro was invented to mend textiles with decorative stitches and patches. I also read haiku, Japanese poems, that are the perfect inspiration for my recent boro quilts.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
My first bit of advice involves work habits. For decades I would begin a quilt, continue from drawing to dyeing to sewing until finished. What followed was an uncomfortable circling around ideas, trying to decide what came next. Now I’m starting multiple projects, all at different stages, working on them as inspiration, energy or time allows, so when one is finished, there’s no down time. It can feel a bit chaotic, but it’s exhilarating, too. For me, continuity is truly important. When life intervenes and I can’t be in my studio for a number of days, it’s always extra work to get back in the rhythm.

The other advice I can offer is to have enough confidence to share your work with people you trust…an honest but kind spouse or relative, a neighbor with a good eye, even better find kindred souls and start a critique group. I’ve met with 4 other quilt artists regularly for over 30 years. Their support and understanding and the exchanges we’ve shared about our particular medium has been invaluable.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I participate in local exhibits, most recently at the New England Quilt Museum and the Brush Gallery in Lowell and at Highfield Hall in Falmouth, as well as in galleries and museums, both nationally and internationally.  Currently I have a quilt at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton and at the Bristol Art Museum in Bristol, RI. Later this spring, four commissioned quilts will be on display at the Mayo Clinic. I post upcoming exhibits on my website and my work can be seen in my studio in Cambridge.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Carol Anne Grotrian


  1. Pat Harrison

    February 16, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Wonderful to read about you and see more of your fabulous art!

  2. Jeanne Marklin

    February 17, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve followed Carol’s work for a decade. It’s great to read about her process and work habits. Her work is so intricate and beautiful. Thanks for the post and photos!

  3. Jan C Clark

    February 17, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    This is wonderful work!

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