Artist Shea Wilkinson likes the idea that quilts — even her modern interpretation of them — bring people together.
Wilkinson, a full-time artist, makes quilted pieces on black fabric backgrounds adorned with swirling, undulating stitchwork in an array of bright colors. She will show new work this spring at the Florence Mill Art Loft, and she is also getting to know other quilters in the city through her work with a north Omaha quilting club.
“People really think quilts are special,” she said. “I have heard a ton of stories from people about the relationships they have with quilts and the memories tied to quilts and quilt makers.”
Wilkinson started making quilts as a hobby. While living in Mexico, she taught herself how to quilt by watching online tutorials. She learned how to sew as a child, and her first quilts were traditional in style. She kept a sketchbook where she'd draw pictures, and she decided to meld the sketching and her quilts — her first sketch-based quilts featured images of aliens.
“I didn't consider myself an artist,” she said. “Aliens were what I could draw, so I stuck with those at the time. That kept me going forward.”
She has taken quilting in a new direction for the series that she'll show later this spring.
The serpent is the focus of her new pieces. She said she took attributes of the snake that have been written about in different cultures and thought about them when making the work.
“I focused a lot on the serpent being a life force in both the cosmic and human sense,” she said. “I thought about the snake as the thing that brings the universe together.”
Many of the works also feature images of shells, she said, with snakes emerging from their insides.
Last summer, Wilkinson met John Rogers, owner of Gallery 72, and started to work with him. She also is a studio assistant for Mary Zicafoose, a noted Midwestern fiber artist. She said both Rogers and Zicafoose are helping her improve her artwork.
“I think John saw that I was a good student and an overachiever,” she said. “I really took his advice to heart.”
Wilkinson said Zicafoose encouraged her to make larger-scale works and to work in diptychs and triptychs — series of two or three pieces that go together — to make a bigger statement.
Wilkinson said she has been doing community service work tied to the Union for Contemporary Art, a north Omaha-based arts nonprofit group. Every Tuesday she meets and works with the Golden Threads Quilting Club at the Charles B. Washington Library. Crafters at the club can use sewing machines and learn how to quilt — each quilter makes one quilt to give to senior citizens and one to take home.
“The experience has really changed my direction,” she said. “Other types of art can make people feel distance. But there is something about quilts they can relate to.”
Wilkinson said she will continue to work in quilts. She said she loves making and finishing the work, but there's something else about it that keeps her coming back.
“For me, it's the trance-like experience of listening to the rhythm of the machine and the way the needle moves,” she said. “It's a special state. That is probably what I am truly addicted to.”
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